Learn to Negotiate Before Your Interview

February 16, 2018

In recent weeks, many well trained and educated fellows have been offered positions in industry and other non-academic settings.  While that is good news, some were caught off guard because they were asked about salary requirements, start dates, or seemingly offered the position.  Traditionally, large corporations and academic departments extend job offers by telephone after the interviews are over and you are at home, eagerly awaiting the call.  However, during some industry interviews in small or medium sized companies, they may ask you these questions as part of the interview. They can be asked by a range of interviewers including hiring managers, scientists, CEOs or HR staff.  Understandably, trainees may feel unprepared to answer such questions during an interview, and therefore fear they are making a mistake that could cost them negotiating leverage and even the job.  Here’s how to prepare to professionally and confidently address these questions.

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Assume the employer is in your corner  While tricky, this is a part of developing your relationship with the company and answering an interview question.  So approaching it from a positive place will benefit you.  When speaking with recruiters, many say that they are hoping to land the best and brightest talent and are eager to make you a good offer that you will accept.  Therefore, they are asking what you would like to have in advance, so they can begin to craft an appealing offer.

Learn how to negotiate and what is negotiable before you interview Review the archived OITE Careers blogs about preparing to negotiate and the ABC’s of Negotiation.  In general, this will help you to know the process.

Prepare to answer salary questions If you are asked about your salary requirements, you can craft a response based on your research of salaries for scientists in that area or company, and give a mid-range versus an actual salary number.  If they ask you about your current salary, you can be honest, and also remind them that it is for a postdoctoral fellow and not the current market rate for someone with your credentials.

Know when you can start  Before you interview for any job, think about what is an ideal start date for you.  Usually, it is preferred that employees provide a two-week notice of your departure from the job.  Typically, more time is often needed.  As a postdoc you will need to plan for transitioning your responsibilities in lab to help the PI continue in the research after your departure. Also factor in your time for packing and relocating.

Time to Evaluate the offer  Usually companies will give you one if not two weeks.  Don’t make a rushed decision or give them any indication that you have accepted the offer. It is to your advantage (and theirs) that when you accept the offer, you will be comfortable settling into the position.  We suggest reviewing the archived OITE presentation, and attending a future Industry: Negotiating Offers and Making the Transition workshop to learn how to evaluate an offer.  If you have other interviews scheduled that you would like to honor, it is good to be clear that you would like to honor those interviews before you accept the offer.

If you need further assistance, make an appointment with an OITE career counselor to ask questions and or have a mock interview appointment to practice your responses.  If you are part of our extended readership, contact a career professional in your institution or local area.

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Handling Unanticipated Interruptions at Work

February 5, 2018

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One of the most predictable workplace variables that successful scientists can learn to control for is an unexpected work interruption.   These breaks in service can range from changes in staffing and equipment malfunctions to anticipated breaks in the work due to the economy and/or inclement weather. Naturally, during such events (predictable or not), you will experience a range of reactions including awkward excitement, anxiety, fear, panic, frustration, anger or even avoidance and denial.  As a future professional, you will be expected to have the skills to manage such reactions and continue to act professionally as a leader. In fact, when you are applying to graduate/professional schools and jobs, you probably be asked questions about how you handle ambiguity or unanticipated changes in the workplace. Here are some helpful suggestions to help you cope with these disruptions in a positive way.

Accept the unexpected. Plan for it. Follow the leader.

You will handle workplace surprises with more confidence if you accept the reality that they will happen in general. To prepare yourself, ask your PI (or incorporate) plans to manage your research study. For example, if you are in a lab, review and follow established procedures for managing all aspects your research project during challenging times. If none exist, then consider taking the lead in designing a plan based on what you learn in the current situation. Feel free to consult others who have survived the interruptions in the past and follow their suggestions.

Heed the warning

Read your emails from administration, watch the news, listen to co-workers who you trust and your PI to be able to forecast interruptions. If you get advanced warnings, then take them seriously as discussed earlier. Avoidance will only increase your anxiety and leave you to struggle.

Take a deep breath. Be Optimistic

Communicate using a realistic and positive tone to your co-workers and subordinates to stay resilient during this time.  For example, you could say, “While this is inconvenient, we need put the following procedure in action to maintain the integrity and future focus of our project moving forward.” Also utilize reframe any negative thinking and shift to a can-do attitude. For example, shift from a typical woe is me response such as “I cannot believe this is happening to me,” or “this is ridiculous” to “I (we) can handle this. Let’s put a plan together to keep the work moving forward”

Respond professionally

Using the problem-solving strategy of emotionally detaching and focusing on the moment will allow you to stay calm and in control of your emotions, and analyze the situation. Focusing on what is lost or interrupted has the potential will give the impression that you are ill equipped to handle change and ambiguity. By focusing on the present situation and setting up a plan, this will engage you in moving towards the future and communicate trust and optimism from your co-workers.

Take care of yourself. Practice wellness.

In these situations, be sure to factor in your personal wellness as part of the plan. In OITE, we encourage you to practice self-care during these times and suggest that you read and incorporate the strategies suggested Dr. Sharon Milgram’s blog about how to keep stress from derailing your work and life. For those of you who may have anticipate a break in work, we suggest viewing Michael Sheridan’s Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs article, Waiting is Hard to Do, for suggestions on incorporating wellness activities while waiting.   These plans can include taking walks, going to a movie, or even seek counseling to help you cope.

If you feel that you need further support, feel free to utilize all OITE workshop, counseling, and advising services to help you manage during these times. Our extended readers are encouraged to utilize similar resources in your area.


Tips on Applying for Federal Jobs:  Take Your Time and Do It Right

January 31, 2018

In recent weeks, the National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies have posted several positions for scientists that have captured the attention of interested fellows.  To help you prepare, the Office of Training and Education (OITE) recommends that you view the NIH YouTube video, How to Apply for a Job with the US Government.   In addition, here are some additional tips to help you prepare a strong federal job application.  It takes time to review applications and fill out the application.

Where are the positions and what GS level should I apply to as a Post Doc?

All positions are posted in USAjobs.gov.  There may be several positions posted that look similar so be sure to apply to those that are marked “Public” in the right-hand column if you are not employed in the federal government.  Post docs are not qualified for MP (Merit Promotion) positions because it requires that you are a current federal government employee seeking promotion. Most postdocs apply for GS (General Service) 12-13 positions.  

Am I qualified for these jobs?  Read job description and the Self-Evaluation Questionnaire.

We recommend that you read the OITE careers blog on how to read federal job advertisements.  Note that for federal jobs, there is a job description with qualifications and a required Self-Evaluation Questionnaire.  Before you apply, we recommend printing (or saving a copy) of each  job so you can highlight important skills including soft-skills (team, communication, leadership, etc.) that are required for each position.  Later, when completing your application, it is crucial that you use the skills to assure you’re your resume is evaluated by the reader.  On the questionnaire, be sure to give yourself credit by indicating the highest rankings of your skills and abilities and be sure that they are clearly stated on your resume.

 How much time should I spend on this? What kind of resume should I use?

Don’t rush.  Give yourself ample time to apply.  Carve out 2-4 hours (at least) to complete the federal application profile and enter the information.  While you have the option to upload a resume after you complete the profile, an HR reviewer recommended that applicants should use the federal resume builder because this is the format that they are accustomed to reviewing. Pay close attention to the suggested formatting (no use of bullets, use CAPS for keywords, using accomplishment statements).  Follow the tutorial suggestions on the website has clear directions for how to complete a federal resume.

I am a busy Post Doc.  How can I best invest my time?

Completing the federal resume will require that you have access to a lot of information (beyond that of a traditional resume) when completing your application.  You will be investing wisely because there is no page limit, and the more you enter will have a direct impact on the salary level and offer that you will be made. To save time, before you apply, collect important documents such as copies of your transcripts, previous employer information address, salary, hours per week, previous supervisors’ name and phone number.  Also collect the contact information for the references that you will use.  You should include all training, relevant to the job, certifications, patents, skills grants, awards, leadership, the sciences from undergraduate through your post doc years.

 How can I make my experience stand out?  

As mentioned, be sure to follow the formatting described in the federal resume builder Be sure to utilize the skill words that you highlighted in the job description on your resume and give specific accomplishments.  Here are two examples to help guide you (Please do not copy)

Example 1:     Ability to collaborate widely, both within NIH and outside the agency, and to work effectively as both a team member and team leader.

Collaborated widely both inside and outside of the NIH.  Managed scientific collaborations with a lab in another Institute at the NIH and additionally with the University of Texas. Team leader to set up timelines, phone calls, reagent swaps. Team member to strategize scientific directions, troubleshoot research challenges, perform experiments, and write publication.

Example 2: Scientific and administrative management of a portfolio of grants, contracts, and fellowships including the stimulating, planning, advising, directing, and evaluating of program activities of research awards.

Plan, advise, direct and evaluate scientific activities. Plan projects for self and team to understand the movement of group II introns. Advise peers and supervisor on best course of scientific direction including advocating to use a new method for understanding a scientific question. Direct a technician and masters student in daily activities including setting weekly goals, monitoring progress and adjusting experiments based on data collected. Evaluate scientific activities to understand biological mechanisms, troubleshoot challenges, provide options for new scientific methods, write reports and other publications.

After you have followed the suggestions above, feel free to make an appointment with an OITE career services counselor .  There are also many web-based and written guides, feel free to visit the OITE library and reviewing several helpful resources on applying for federal jobs including a Troutman’s The Federal Resume Guidebook, 6th Edition to see additional federal resume examples.  For our readers beyond the NIH, we suggest working with a career counselor in your area or through your university and visit your local library or bookstores.


The Way to Go: SMART Career Resolutions

January 8, 2018

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Happy New Year!  It is that time of year to make career resolutions that you will accomplish during the next 12 months.  Two years ago, in the New Year Careers Blog we suggested that trainees make an appointment with a career counselor.   This year, to be more confident that you will accomplish your career goals , we suggest that you utilize the SMART goals strategy, Specific,Measurable, Achievable, Results driven, Time-specific when creating your resolutions.  Using this strategy will take you further..faster!  Here are some detailed examples for fellows to consider as you create your career resolutions for 2018.

Postbacs

General Resolution:        Apply or re-apply to Medical School

SMART Resolution:          By June 15, 2018 I will submit my completed error-free AMCAS or AACOMAS application for admission to medical school. I will have attended an OITE Applying to Medical School workshop, had a personal statement critique, reviewed and edited my AMCAS application, used MSAR to  identify a list of 15 medical schools (3 reach schools, 10 within in range and 2 safety schools), achieved my MCAT score goal by June 1, 2018 (before I apply), obtained all letters of references needed, have obtained sufficient direct patient care, research, and leadership experience.

Graduate Students

General Resolution:         Apply for postdocs

SMART Resolution:          On June 2, 2018 (or 6 months prior to completion of my doctoral degree of my) I will apply for at least 4 postdoctoral research fellowships with a clean, critiqued, error-free CV, application letter, research statement that I created utilizing OITE career counseling, workshops resources, talks with my PhD advisor, NIH PI, science professional associations, and researchers that I meet at conferences.

Postdocs, Visiting and Clinical Fellows

General Goal:                                    Start applying for jobs

SMART Academic Resolution:     One June 1, 2018 (or eight months prior to the last day of my post doc) I will apply for 2 academic jobs with an CV, Cover Letter, Research and Teaching statements, and a well-developed job talk presentation that have been critiqued by OITE staff and my PI.

SMART Industry Resolution:        One June 1, 2018 (or 6 months before post doc ends) I will apply to jobs in a chosen industry with my resume, cover letter that has been reviewed by an OITE career counselor. I will have had a mock interview for industry positions, attended the Career Symposium in May 2018, conducted 3 informational interviews

Please join the OITE team for our January Wellness event,  Setting Goals for the Upcoming Year, on January 18, 2018, 2:00-3:30pm, Building 50 Room 1227.

 


Waiting is Hard to Do

December 18, 2017

Blog written by Michael J. Sheridan, MSW, PhD, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs, Michael.sheridan@nih.gov

It is December 2017, and while many are preparing for holidays, if you are trainee, you are probably asking yourself, “I haven’t heard back from a number of medical schools, is there something I can do to move them along? Should I assume I won’t get in?  Will I get an interview at the graduate programs that I applied to?  I am waiting to hear from academic positions …is there anything I can do?  The good news is that, if you haven’t heard anything yet, you are still being considered. With the holidays fast approaching, it is probable that most communication will resume in the new year.  The reality is that waiting for a response is hard thing to do.

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Dr. Michael Sheridan, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs offers some strategies to help and writes that an area to be aware of while you wait is what is going on in your mind – specifically, the “inner chatter” that is present. It’s important to realize that you “talk” to yourself more than anyone else and thus, what you are saying makes a difference.  There are two particular qualities of this inner chatter to be mindful of – the “when” and the “what.”

The “when” of your inner dialogue refers to how much the mind is focused on either the past (“I wish I had remembered to put X in my application.” “I should have had so and so critique my letter before I sent it.”) or the future (“What will I do if I don’t get any interviews?” “If I don’t hear back from them by the end of this week, it means I didn’t get in”).  The reality of both past and future musings (or let’s face it, worrying) is that it is truly wasted effort as you can’t change something that’s already happened and you can’t predict what is going to happen in the future!  The only moment you have any control of is the current moment – and even then, I’m talking about control of your own thoughts and behaviors – not the actions of others or the eventual outcome.  Focusing on what you can do versus what you can’t lowers anxiety and builds confidence.

The “what” of your inner chatter has to do with the overall message or tone of what you are saying to yourself.  Are your thoughts harshly self-critical? (“I know I did a terrible job on that personal essay – I probably sounded really stupid”) Do they have a doomsday or “catastrophizing” flavor to them? (“I didn’t get this position, which means I won’t get any of the others I applied for either”)  Or are they balanced and positive? (“I know I won’t get accepted by everyone, but I probably won’t get rejected by everyone either” -“I’ve done the best I can and I can handle whatever the next step needs to be”).  A good thing to cultivate during the waiting is compassionate self-talk, or treating yourself with “the same kindness, care, and concern that you would treat a good friend” (Dr. Kristen Neff, www.self-compassion.com). So notice what you’re saying to yourself and if it is not supportive, ask yourself if you would say this to a good friend.  Chances are, you would offer something more encouraging, so try being your own good friend!

In addition to Dr. Sheridan’s suggestions above, we invite you to visit our most recent blog, where we suggested some activities to engage in during the holidays that will help you prepare to continue pursuing your career goals in 2018.  Also, be sure to visit our OITE web page as well to attend workshops and schedule an appointment with a career counselor.  If you are one of our extended community readers, please check with your home institution and local resources for career services. We will see you in 2018!


Building Bridges Towards Your Career During the Holidays

December 11, 2017

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Cheers! The months of November and December is the time, annually, when workers from the NIH and across the globe take time to celebrate and relax.  During this time, the communication between future job and graduate school opportunities slow down for a couple of weeks.  Even if your research is continuing, PIs and trainees may take a few days off.   This will give you an opportunity to schedule some time and focus on your career development.  Of course, the OITE’s wellness model encourages scientists to have a healthy balance between work and time to replenish your mind, body, spirit and connections with others.  Here are some easy career development activities that trainees can easily schedule in, that will build your career spirit!

Re-kindle professional relationships

During the next few weeks utilize the relaxed schedule to continue developing and reconnecting with your colleagues who will enjoy learning about your status and future goals. Send a holiday card, set up a coffee chat or phone call to re-connect with mentors to strengthen your professional relationships You can also carve out some time to conduct an informational interview, gain clinical and volunteer experience.  Discuss your career plans with others (verbally) to build your confidence articulating your professional career goals while gaining support.

Read! Read!  Read!

Read at least two hours per day will serve you personally and professionally. In fact, reading is one of the recommended methods to help applicants prepare for the MCAT CARS section and interviews.  You can read a variety of media including short stories, novels, newspapers, and professional journals and news magazines to you will increase your ability to read critically and more quickly and effectively.  It will also keep you up-to-date on current issues in your field and in the world.

Revise your resume, CV, cover letters and practice interviewing

Use portion of the time to update your job search correspondence materials including your CV, resume, cover letters and other application materials while at a coffee shop or watching TV. While it is time consuming, it is a necessary part of managing your anxiety about applying to jobs or graduate schools in the future.  Allowing yourself the time to practice interview questions with a trusted friend, family, or colleague can help you hone your skills in this area as well.

Review and update your social media profiles

Employers and graduate schools admissions staff often review the social media sites of their applicants. This is an excellent time to manage your on-line image.  Create and update your profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Set privacy controls, add professional photos and delete any questionable language and images.   This is a time to connect the image that you want to project in 2018 electronically and in person.

Re-energize with physical activity

Whether it is cold, warm, snowy or balmy, the holidays are great times to enhance your physical well-being through active or mindful exercises. These activities will strengthen your ability to be a strong co-worker and have a positive outlook.  Take a walk, jog, dance, listen to music and/or take time to breathe.  If you must be indoors, then go to the gym, swim, engage yoga or mindfulness activities are wise uses of time.

Also, as you are building your professional bridge to success, retool by visiting the OITE website and read through the selection of blog articles, videocasts, and other materials that are designed to prepare you as professional scientists. When you return, you will have engaged in the four areas of the OITE wellness model and begin 2018 with refreshed and strengthened career goals!


Considering a Career in Biomedical Data Science? What you need to Consider

December 4, 2017
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Word Cloud Created by Jodian Brown using the generator found at https://www.jasondavies.com/wordcloud/

Written by Jodian Brown, Ph.D., Computational Chemistry, IRTA Postdoctoral Fellow OD/OIR/OITE, National Institutes of Health

Data science – it is a field of study that has exploded over the past few years. Consequently, there is a lot of interest from our trainees. To provide tangible insights into strategies trainees can undertake to transition in this field, the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) recently hosted a panel workshop on Careers in Data Science and Computational Biology.

To some the field of data science may seem new, yet, a core group of scientists may oppose that notion. This core group includes, but is not limited to, computational biologists/chemists, bioinformaticians and even geographers. These professions have been harnessing computational approaches and power to make sense of scientifically-relevant data for decades. However, the exponential rise in smart technology (such as smart phones and smart cars) has been linked to a significant surge in the need for persons that can use computational approaches and power to efficiently use and analyze large amounts of all types of data. And from this need is born the term data scientist. Harvard Business Review dedicated an article centered on the role of this job in the 21st century.

A tangible percentage of this rise in generated data can be attributed to biomedically-relevant sources. Over the past two decades, advances in scientific tools and techniques (e.g. high-performance computer clusters, molecular structure elucidation, and genomic sequencing) have drastically increased the data and knowledge within the biomedical enterprise. Thus, at this juncture we need scientists who can integrate their scientific background and interests with computational tools and approaches to tackle these vast data.

What skills should you consider developing if you are interested in pursuing a data science career? During the Careers in Data Science and Computational Biology workshop four main pillars important to this transition in data science were identified as:

  1. ability to understand and employ mathematical and statistical approaches
  2. programming ability
  3. at a minimum, peripheral knowledge of computer architecture
  4. ability to effectively communicate your work

Translation of the above pillars into practical approaches may include taking mathematics/statistics courses (e.g. machine learning or deep networking) as well as learning programming languages such as Python or R. The next step after improving your mathematics and computer language knowledge is to find a project of interest that ideally is related to your research and use available computer resources to execute project. Often, learning about computer architecture may occur on the fly but it is strongly recommended that you commit to understanding the basics. Various computer platform, analyses and visualization software are freely available (watch video of workshop for some suggestions). Here at the NIH there is a number of resources that you may access. The NIH’s High-Performance Computing (HPC) team offers several free classes (which provides introductions to supercomputing in science and Python) as well as maintaining the HPC cluster that some trainees may access with the appropriate project and proper approval from supervisor (Note: PIs pay for such use). The NIH Data Science Mentoring program accepts applications from NIH individuals who want to mentor or be mentored in data science. For more information on this mentoring program (which needs mentors) you can contact Ms. Lisa Federer via her email lisa.federer@nih.gov or Dr. Ben Busby at ben.busby@nih.gov. Dr. Ben Busby is also a great resource for those with proficient programming abilities who would like to apply them to hackathon projects.

A noteworthy caveat is that skills listed above may be easier to acquire if you are earlier in your career (e.g., postbac and graduate student) as you may possess more time and/or flexibility with regards to your research responsibilities. In contrast, senior trainees such as postdocs and research fellows may have more time constraints and project responsibilities. Nonetheless, if you are a senior trainee or employee it may be amenable to construct data science projects that are directly related to your research. Furthermore, the application of user-friendly computer software is highly recommended if an extensive programming background is not present.

The landscape of data science is broad and the depth of skills involved will depend on the subspecialty. A researcher in data science may be responsible for generating, extracting, analyzing and/or visualizing data and/or developing the tools to do so. Most data scientist positions will often rely on more than one of these subtasks. Thus, as you begin to explore and acquire skills in the field of data science, you can determine your preference of being on the side that makes “biomedical sense” of the data or that develops the tools or both.

The panelists at the OITE-hosted Careers in Data Science and Computational Biology workshop provided great insights into the advantages of having data science skills whether you are interested in an academic or non-academic career.  In addition, specific tools that trainees can assess and use to improve their data science skills were highlighted during the panel discussion. A video recording of this workshop can been found here.

Finally, remember that there are other resources, including career counselors who are happy to talk with you about career exploration, are available here at the OITE. You can schedule an appointment with one of our career counselors via visiting this link.