Still Waiting for the Phone to Ring…

April 27, 2010

cellieThrough my many forays into the job market, I have anxiously awaited responses from employers, either to application materials I had sent out in response to a job ad, or as a follow-up after I had interviewed with them. Through these experiences, I have come to identify several different employer communication styles:

The “As-If-You-Didn’t-Know-Already” late response guy, also known as the “In-Case-You-Were-Thinking-of-Calling-a-Moving-Truck” guy

This person is one of the most frustrating of the bunch. He is the one who tells you months (and sometimes years) after your application has been submitted that “the search process has ended and the position has been filled.” This typically happens after you have heard a conference talk by the very employee who had been hired for the position you applied for.

The “Affirmative-Action-Card” lady

This is an important person, as she provides proof of receipt of your application materials and keeps your hopes alive…but often fails to provide any further follow-up on the status of your application. Just when you were getting to know her better…

The “Just-Wanted-to-Keep-You-in-the-Loop-though-I-Have-Nothing-New-to-Share” guy

This is the most obsequious employer, a kindly chap who shares the every move of the hiring committee. Sample email posts include: “The search committee met today to discuss the applications,” “We are currently in the process of reviewing all of the materials submitted,” “I wanted to let you know that we have not yet decided which candidates we will bring in for interviews,” or “I’m having tuna salad for lunch today.”

The “Oh-Yes-I-Remember-You” lady

This person always seems surprised to hear from you, whether you met two weeks ago, or just phoned yesterday and was asked by this very person to call back at that particular time.

And finally, the dreaded “”

That is, crickets, and/or the Silent Treatment. This is the communication style we have all come to know and dread. Whither the manners of these mute employers? Could they not muster a simple, one-line text of email indicating (at the least!) receipt of our application materials? And what of employers who are incommunicado after you meet with them in person? This has happened to me and leads me to wonder—“Did I offend someone during my interview? Did I curse? Spit? Insult someone’s family? Have spinach in my teeth?? What was it??? Why are they not calling me?????”

While there are many interpersonal skills we need to engage during a job search, none seem as difficult as drumming up enough self-confidence to accept that communication styles, like people, vary greatly, and do not necessarily indicate a poor application or interview on our part.

The good news is that we do have the power to overcome substandard communication by following up. Following up with employers after submitting your materials or after an interview is completely appropriate. You might even consider following up with someone after a brief exchange at a career fair or scientific meeting.

The trick here is to use appropriate language. In regards to a job application, there are two questions I would encourage you to ask:

1)    “Have you received my materials?” (unless of course you have already received notice of this), and

2)    “What is the time line for your search?”

These questions can come at any point after submitting your materials electronically or via snail mail, and may be sent via email or asked by phone.

In regards to interview follow up, I would recommend two things:

1)    Send a thank-you email or letter immediately after you depart an interview—or at least within 24 hours.

2)    Follow up with a phone call or email if you have not received word of the outcome by two weeks time, and again, ask about the intended time line for the search.

As with most things, there are few caveats I’d like to share:

1)    Do not call an employer who has stated clearly, either on a website or via an electronically generated email, that candidates are NOT TO CALL.

2)    There are, unfortunately, sadly, and quite commonly, many employers you will never hear back from, regardless of follow-up tactics and conscientious behavior.

The key is to keep your spirits up, try to enjoy yourself, and use a variety of job search methods (and not merely apply for jobs online). Chances are you will ultimately be successful in finding a position you enjoy—with someone whose communication style suits you just fine.


The Great American Cleanup: A Great Chance to Build Your Skills

April 20, 2010

alum_canThe Great American Cleanup Exit Disclaimer, an initiative of the nonprofit Keep America Beautiful (KAB) Exit Disclaimer, began last month on March 1st and runs through May 31st of this year. Last year, over 3 million people volunteered for this initiative and cleaned up parks, schools, and waterways, planted trees and community gardens, started recycling efforts across America, and more.

While Earth Day is almost upon us, and while I’m an active member of the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Audubon Society, this is not a plug for you to get green and take an interest in cleaning up the environment–though I certainly support those ideas! It is instead an opportunity to bring to your attention the benefits of volunteering–including the fact that it can strengthen your candidacy for jobs.

In an article on GreenBiz.com Exit Disclaimer, Matt McKenna, the Executive Director of Keep America Beautiful, shared his perspective as an employer on the benefits of volunteering:

“[Many employers are attracted to] the skill set needed to be a volunteer: the ability to work in teams, they’re very self-directed, they help others in projects that aren’t necessarily their own.”

This willingness to help others with projects for which they have no direct responsibility is an especially appealing trait to employers seeking the best candidates, said McKenna.

Does this sound like you? Do you regularly jump in when others need help in the lab? Whether this particular trait comes naturally to you or not, you might consider spending some time volunteering. The act of giving your time to help others can improve your mood, help you to think more clearly, and strengthen skills you can bring back to your current position immediately…and make you a more attractive job candidate in the future.

To find a volunteer opportunity that appeals to you, visit Get Involved!, Serve.gov, or similar sites. Or get your hands dirty on Thursday.


Common Errors in Preparing Application Materials: How to Avoid Them: Part 2

April 12, 2010

Guest Writer: Elaine Diggs, NCC, Career Counselor in OITE’s Career Center

In a post to this blog last month, I described several errors I often see when reviewing application materials for fellows who are seeking employment Writingfollowing completion of their time as trainees at the NIH.  The errors we considered were using a curriculum vitae (c.v.) when a résumé is the proper document to use, and failing to state specifically in a cover letter how your background and qualifications match the requirements of the position for which you are applying.

Listed below are some other errors I frequently see when reviewing c.v.’s, résumés, and cover letters:

Common errors made when writing c.v.’s and résumés:

  • Including a skills section in a c.v.; not including a skills section in a résumé for a technical position in industry.
  • Including poster presentations in a résumé.
  • Using acronyms that are not defined the first time they appear.
  • Failing to use action verbs in your resume to describe what you did, how what you did made a difference in improving the efficiency of a process, reducing costs, promoting collaboration, etc.
  • Very significant data relevant to the position for which you are applying is buried at or near the end of the résumé.
  • There are spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, or inappropriate information included such as birth date, nationality, marital status, or native language.

Common errors made when writing cover letters:

  • Addressing a cover letter to “To Whom it May Concern.”
  • Using a generic cover letter not tailored to the particular position for which you are applying.
  • Focusing in the opening paragraph only on what you want in a job (how the position will advance your career) and not on what you would bring to the job and how you can help solve the employer’s problems.
  • Writing the body of the cover letter as if your cover letter is a journal article—giving explicit and elaborate details about the science underlying your research without explaining its relevance to the position you are applying for.

If you are prone to make any of these errors and need to know how to avoid them, I (or any of the other OITE career counselors) am happy to meet with you.  E-mail OITE-Careers@od.nih.gov to schedule an appointment.  Here’s to your career success!

Elaine Diggs


Finding the Perfect Postdoc

April 8, 2010

mag glassIf you are thinking about applying for a postdoc, there are a few points to consider before starting your search.

Do you need a postdoc?

If you are nearing the completion of a PhD program in science, you may think that your next career move should be a postdoctoral fellowship of some kind. However, your PhD alone qualifies you for a myriad of opportunities. A few potential job titles for science PhDs include: Congressional Fellow, Museum Educator, Medical Illustrator, Regulatory Affairs Specialist, Freelance Science Writer, Investment Manager…and this list goes on. To explore what types of jobs are available for PhD-level scientists, check out the career profiles Exit Disclaimer on Science Careers Exit Disclaimer. If you are undecided about which particular career path is right for you, schedule an appointment with a career counselor at OITE by emailing  OITE-Careers@mail.nih.gov.

Of course, some positions do require some postdoctoral training experience. Institutions ranging from community colleges to research intensive universities have come to expect candidates to have training beyond a graduate degree. Likewise, many positions in industry require some time at the bench as a postdoc upon completion of a Ph.D. program.

Postdoctoral appointments may also serve as apprenticeships in a variety of science-related occupations beyond bench work. If you are contemplating a move to science policy, take a look at the AAAS fellowships (below). Likewise, if you are thinking about technology transfer but need to gain more experience before moving into a permanent position, consider the NIH Tech Transfer fellowship program (below). Again, it is helpful to know what type of position you would like to hold long-term before you start applying for postdoc positions. If your long-term goals still need defining, visit an OITE career counselor soon.

Where to look for postdocs

Once you have determined that you do, indeed, need some postdoctoral training for your chosen field, there are several ways of going about your search.

1) You can check the job listings of well-known journals, such as Science Exit Disclaimer or the Chronicle Exit Disclaimer for postdoc listings.

2) You might also check out online journals/sites associated with your discipline or professional society.

3) You can take a look at the current NIH postdocs available.

4) Lastly, you might try the approach most commonly used to find a postdoc–contact a potential PI directly to ask whether you might be able to work with her as a postdoc. Think about work that you have read about recently, breakthroughs in your field, etc. Contact someone whose work really excites you to explore the possibility of training with that person.

How to choose among postdocs

There are three guiding principles I would suggest as you evaluate different postdoc offers:

1) Know yourself

What do you need in order to thrive as a scientist? Do you need to be surrounded by colleagues or working alone? Would you prefer a very casual work environment, or something more formal? Are you interested in building skills in a particular technique? Do you need to have access to particular equipment for the work that you’d like to do? You have to have a clear picture of what YOU want before you try to evaluate what a work environment has to offer.

2) Know the institution

Does the institution have an office for postdoctoral services? Do they offer career counseling for their trainees? Is there a postdoctoral association? If not, are there other ways that you will have an opportunity to network with postdocs at the same institution? Are there professional development opportunities available, such as grant writing courses, training on delivering presentations effectively, English as a Second Language courses, and more? Explore what you will have access to before you make your decision.

3) Know your potential advisor

Think about what’s most important to you in an advisor. Are you looking for a very well-known scientist who carries a great deal of prestige, but may be absent from the day-to-day workings of the lab, or are you looking for someone whose work may not be as well-known, but could be a great mentor to you? That is not to say that these two things are mutually exclusive–there are certainly well-known scientists who are extraordinary mentors–and lesser known scientists who are not great mentors. Still, it is important to have a clear view of what you need in an advisor/boss before stepping into a situation.

Also, try to meet your potential PI in advance whenever possible. Whether or not that is possible, be sure to talk with current and former postdocs to get a sense of this person’s leadership style, the culture in the lab, etc.

Finally, clarify expectations on your part and your potential advisor’s part before you begin your training. Be upfront about what type of project you hope to work on, what skills you want to learn, what your PI wants you to accomplish, and any other questions you have regarding the position. If you expect to take a project with you when you depart, you must establish this with your advisor in advance. If you expect to travel to meetings frequently, inquire about the possibility before you begin.

Consider special postdocs

Be sure to explore special postdocs if there is a particular type of training you need, or if there is a fellowship that would make you more marketable in a chosen field. The list below is far from comprehensive, but hopefully provides a glimpse of the types of fellowships that exist.

Happy hunting!


Preparing for Graduate and Professional School

April 7, 2010

Below are the contents of today’s LIVE chat with OITE regarding graduate and professional school choices.

Live Chat with OITE, April 7, 2010, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm

If you have additional questions after reading the text of the chat, please contact Dr. Sharon Milgram.


Where the Jobs Are: Opportunities in the Federal Government

April 1, 2010

Last fall, the Partnership for Public Service conducted a survey to assess projected hiring needs for agencies within the federal government. The survey Exit Disclaimer found that nearly 273,000 jobs will be available in the federal government through 2012, and of these, 54,114–a full 20% of all positions–fall into the medical, public health, and general health sciences category. These numbers are only projections and will be impacted by the actual number of federal employees who retire in the next few years, but the federal government will still post a significant number of job openings from 2010-2012.

Following are a few of the federal positions currently available. I list these particular jobs to highlight not only the broad range of positions available within the government, but also the diversity of agencies seeking candidates with scientific, medical, or public health educational and experiential backgrounds:

  • Health Education Specialist, Atlanta, GA (National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention)
  • Epidemiologist, Cairo, Egypt (National Center for Infectious Disease)
  • Pharmacy Residency Program, Indian reservations across the U.S. (Indian Health Services)
  • Chemist, various U.S. locations (Customs and Border Protection)
  • Biological Science Summer Internship, throughout the U.S. (Department of the Navy)
  • Foreign Service Engineering Officer, vacancies throughout the world (U.S. Agency for International Development)
  • Environmental Education Specialist, Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, Kotzebue, Alaska (Department of the Interior)

If you are interested in exploring a career with the federal government, consider these tips from the Partnership for Public Service Exit Disclaimer:

1. Start at USAJOBS.gov to explore current job openings, but also check the job pages of agencies that interest you, as each government agency does its own hiring.

2. Identify a job of interest and read through the job announcement carefully.

3. Follow the application instructions closely.

Most federal jobs will require you to respond to a series of Knowledge, Skills and Abilities questions known as KSAs. Your answers to these questions are very important, as they may distinguish your application from others and move you forward in the hiring process. For assistance with writing your KSAs, visit the following two sites from MakingTheDifference.org:

4. Be patient, as the federal application process can take much longer than the application process in the private sector. However, it is possible to follow up with an agency if you need to make a decision. Use the agency contact listed in the job posting to get in touch.

If you are still not convinced that federal employment is for you, check out the Top 10 Reasons to Work for Government Exit Disclaimer. As MakingTheDifference.org puts it: It’s not just making a living, it’s making the difference.


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