Jobs Outlook for the Life Science Class of 2016
June 2, 2016
By Angela Rose for BioSpace.com
As graduation day approaches, thousands of life science majors across the nation are preparing to take the next step in their career journey: finding their first real-world life science job. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), many will be successful. The organization’s Job Outlook 2016 Spring Update, which examines the hiring intentions of employer members, states that businesses expect to hire 5.2 percent more new graduates from the Class of 2016 than they hired from the Class of 2015.
That’s great news for young professionals eager to join the staff at biotechnology, pharmaceutical, medical research and medical device manufacturing companies in industry hotbeds or other parts of the U.S. In fact, in one such hotbed—Genetown—26 percent of the life science job postings in the first quarter of 2016 were for entry-level positions requiring between zero and two years of experience.
When discussing the organization’s findings and what they mean for new life science professionals, Peter Abair, MassBioEd’s executive director, recently told BioSpace , “Hiring at the entry level is pretty strong for new grads. It varies somewhat year to year, but generally about 23 or 24 percent of all job listings are pitched at the entry level with zero to two years of experience.”
Of course, landing one of those jobs—whether you’re a biology, microbiology, molecular biology, neuroscience, biochemistry, clinical laboratory science, pharmaceutical science or biomedical engineering major—takes preparation and effort. Whether you’re still in the midst of your studies or just about to graduate, consider this advice from Abair.
1. Emphasize the skills life science employers need in employees.
Whether you’re writing your resume and cover letter or interviewing with a hiring manager, it’s important to prove you have the essential skills the employer requires. What are these skills? “They’re going to vary depending on the job, of course,” says Abair. “As far as the core science-based positions, they include an understanding of the underlying science and the ability to think critically. If you can add technical skills as well, you’re going to stand out as an applicant.”
Abair says that for certain positions, technical skills may be even more important. “Those tend to be production positions,” he adds.
2. Don’t forget the soft skills, either.
“Time and time again we hear from employers that demonstrating soft skills during the interview process is also a key,” Abair says. “These soft skills include the ability to collaborate and work on a team. Oftentimes, when an employer sits across the interview table from an applicant, they’re not considering just the degree they have or technical skills they’ve learned but whether he or she is someone who can work effectively in a team environment. Soft skills can be the differentiator between two candidates with strong critical thinking and technical skills.”
3. Sell your industry work and academic lab experience.
Whether you’ve completed one or more internships or co-ops, or have done volunteer work in the life sciences, Abair says it’s very important to tell potential employers about those experiences. “Even when we look at jobs requiring zero to two years of experience, there is a preference for candidates with at least limited real world experience in their background,” he says. “If you haven’t been able to complete an internship or co-op, make sure you can demonstrate what you’ve done in the academic lab and explain how that translates to a corporate lab setting.”
4. Learn everything you can about the industry.
Far too many new grads have a limited understanding of the industry they plan to enter. “A vast majority of employers tell us that their applicants have a poor understanding of the industry,” Abair says. “So somebody who walks into an interview with a very good understanding of the industry is going to stand out.” What sort of “understanding” do you need? “You need to understand the ways in which private sector labs are different from academic labs,” Abair adds. “You need to understand standard operating procedures, good lab practices and good manufacturing practices. And for non-science jobs within the life sciences, you need an understanding of the breadth of the industry and how it all works.”
5. Finally, take your time when applying for life science positions.
Don’t cut corners if you want to land a life science job Abair advises. “In the past year, I’ve listed three different positions here at MassBioEd. They were non-science positions in administration and economic research,” he says. “But because we have ‘biotechnology’ in our name, we received a huge number of resumes. About 80 percent of the time, those resumes weren’t accompanied by a cover letter that explained why it made sense for the professional to apply for the position. That’s a nonstarter; it makes it easy for the employer to say no. And among those that did have a cover letter, most were generic. They said things like, ‘this is my biotechnology background’ even though they weren’t intended for a biotechnology position.”