Should You Work with a Coach to Enhance Your Life Sciences Career?

Life coach

Just what is a career coach? These practitioners have been compared to personal trainers for your life, your champion, cheerleader, advocate, partner and sounding board. Coaches have helped untold numbers of individuals get their careers on track and live their passions.

If you’re wondering whether a coach could help with your career issues, ask yourself:

  • Do you look forward to going to work every day – or dread it?
  • Are you doing what you want to be doing?
  • Ten years ago, did you picture yourself doing what you are doing today? Did you expect more from your life and career?

If you’re not where you want to be, a coach can help.

Coaches can help define goals, while supporting, motivating and encouraging their clients. They can help you identify your skills and strengths, a process that builds confidence. A coach can also help to pinpoint barriers and obstacles standing in the way of your success. On Addgene blog, Joanne Kamens suggests that hiring a coach will inspire you to take the job searching process more seriously.

Complicating the issue of hiring a coach to work with is the fact that there is no single, best type of coach or unique set of training and credentials to consider. Many certifications are available in the career-coaching space. Some coaches also have no certification and simply declare themselves coaches. In most states, career coaching is unlicensed and unregulated. While certification standards vary, coaches with some kind of certification may be better than those with none because they show a commitment to a certain quality level. A background in psychology or counseling, along with training in career development and career theory, are desirable. Kamen suggests asking for referrals. “Are there scientists you know who have had a successful coaching experience?” she asks. “Some university career offices, postdoc offices or professional organizations can provide referrals.”

Some coaches guide clients through the entire career-planning and job-search process; others specialize in certain aspects, such as interviewing, networking, branding, or social media. Still others focus on a specific field or discipline, including life science. “Life sciences companies generally take on more risk,” notes Craig Martin, Master Certified Coach and CEO of Martin Global Leaders, Inc., “and there is pressure to innovate within a limited time frame, influenced by availability of capital, regulatory agencies, and intense competition. Thus, there is a high degree of pressure and stress that the coach must often address for life sciences leaders.” Martin explains that specializing in the field “allows the coach to understand he or she is working with generally highly educated scientific and technical professionals whose focus is to innovate new products.”

The volatility and constantly changing nature of the biotech and pharma industries play a role in the need for specialized life sciences career coaches, says Jackie Bandish, head of life sciences recruiting and operations at The Bandish Group. “It is fast-paced and ever changing, with mergers, acquisitions, and rightsizings. Many people will say they are afraid of the smaller start-ups and feel ‘safe’ working for big pharma; yet they, too, will experience the same uncertainties,” she says.

Insider knowledge from specialized coaches positions job-seekers well. “Career coaches who focus on life sciences professionals know the trends and key players in the industry far better than generalists can,” points out Chris Pohalski, career strategist for STEM professionals, at the Career & Personal Development Institute in San Francisco. “They also understand the skills sets, experience levels and career pathways in what can be an otherwise bewildering thicket of job titles and roles. Career coaches specializing in the life sciences also tend to have a network of contacts and former clients in those industry sectors,” Pohalski says. 

Life sciences professionals, Bandish notes, can benefit from career-coaching to navigate their career and be on top of their game in case of a job loss. A coach can guide them through strategic career planning. Martin asserts that life sciences professionals “must learn to lead in a way that may not come easily to them given their ‘head’ oriented work and rigorous academic path.” He cites development of emotional intelligence as crucial because life scientists must succeed in “an environment that on the surface devalues it, but which is crucially necessary to build strong teamwork and cultures to achieve ground-breaking results.” Pohalski observes that he frequently encounters life sciences professionals “who have deep expertise, but struggle to tell a concise, compelling story about themselves or their work, whether in their resumes, in their professional intros and LinkedIn profiles or during interviews.” Pohalski teaches clients tell a good story that is relevant an audience that includes recruiters, managers, other scientists, and non-scientists. 

If you choose to work with a coach, be sure both of you set expectations for the process – know what’s expected from the coaching and what’s required to achieve those expectations. Be sure to ask questions and don’t proceed until you’re satisfied with the answers. Ask the prospective coach for references. Most coaches also offer a free sample coaching session; take advantage of that offer to check for coach-client fit.

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