Making the Most of a Career Fair

April 21, 2014

Image of silhouettes holding briefcases behind the words "CAREER FAIR"Ahhh, career fairs. It seems they are a rite of passage in a career search. Career fairs are a good idea to research companies and network. Career fairs are a bad idea if you think you will walk away with a job (statistics show that less than 2% of attendees get a job directly from a job fair).

So, how do you navigate a career fair? Here are some tips:

1. Before going to the Career Fair:
* Develop a strategy to maximize your time at the event.
* Identify target organizations by reviewing the list of participating employers (for the upcoming Montgomery County Career Fair, that list can be found here).  If someone has a job posted that interests you, bring that job ad with you.
* Practice your elevator pitch – be ready to talk about your work experiences, skills and abilities.
* Prepare specific questions for each recruiter/organization.
* Review and revise your resume and print copies that you will have on hand the day of the fair.

2. When first arriving at the Career Fair:
* Make a name tag and place it on your right side, so that when you shake hands with recruiters, they can easily glance up your arm to your name tag.
* Review the employer list for any last-minute attendees.
* Take a deep breath, calm your nerves, and scan a map of the venue.  Pay special attention to your priority organizations. You will want to go to these first.

3. While meeting with the recruiter*:
* Note, we said recruiter. The staff at a career fair will not be a hiring manager. It will be someone from HR who is knowledgeable about the company. This is your time to see if this company fits your interests, and to gain more information about the hiring process at this particular organization.

* Make a positive first impression by remembering all the keys to successful interviewing including a firm handshake, warm smile, eye contact and a confident voice.
* If you have a job ad, bring it to their attention. See if you can gain any more information about how to position yourself.
* Take advantage of the opportunity to try to build a rapport with the recruiter, but don’t monopolize their time.
* Ask about the hiring process for the company but don’t ask questions about salaries, vacation time and other benefits.
* Get a business card (or at least contact information) from each recruiter.

4. After leaving the recruiter:
* Immediately jot down any notes on the back of his/her business card that will help you remember the conversation or key points to follow up on.
* Network with other job-seekers! Some of the attendees are your competition of course, but sharing information and resources can be quite beneficial.

5. After leaving the Career Fair:
* Follow up and thank each recruiter you spoke to at the fair.
* Organize your notes and contacts. Then, devise a timeline for making sure you sustain your new connections.
* Manage your expectations. A Career Fair can be a great way to get face to face with a company; however, like any networking activity, the payoff is not always immediately apparent, so
make sure you continue your other job searching activities.

 


Assessing Your Skills, Values & Interests

April 15, 2014

Three overlapping cirlcles. One circle reads "Interests," the other "Values," and the last "Skills"Whether you are a postbac, graduate student, postdoc or clinical fellow, you probably have wondered how to blend your individual interests, values and skills into a satisfying career. Self-assessment is an integral part of an effective career planning process and involves asking yourself about your:


Skills

-How good am I at different lab techniques or giving talks?
-How are my language, mentoring, training, writing and communication skills?

Interests
-What interests me? For example, do I prefer running the experiment or writing up the experiment?

Values
-What is important to me in a job? For example, do I need to have a lot of variety or do I prefer to have a pretty consistent schedule?
-What do I value? For example, do I value having autonomy and independence or do I value being a member of a team?

 

There are many ways to assess your interests, preferences, values, skills and priorities. Here are a few resources to consider:

1. Career Counseling
If you are part of the intramural program at the NIH, schedule an individual meeting with a career counselor in the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) to talk about your career goals and preferences and ways to do some formal self-assessments which will help you develop a plan to reach your goals. Not at the NIH? Check with your institution, graduate program, or postdoc office to see what is available for you.

2. Developing an Individual Development Plan
MyIDP.org is a free site designed especially for PhDs and it provides:
– Exercises to help you examine your skills, interests, and values
– A list of 20 scientific career paths with a prediction of which ones best fit your skills and
interests
– A tool for setting strategic goals for the coming year, with optional reminders to keep you
on track

3. Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success
This videocast and materials from this past workshop will help you understand how your personal interests, skills, and values contribute to your future career success. A major theme is taking ownership of your decisions. Important topics include: the importance of career decision making, self-assessment, transferrable skills, networking, defining success, personal needs, work/life balance, and defining short-term and long-term goals.

4. Completing Online Self-Assessment Exercises
There are many free self-assessment exercises to help you identify your goals, values, skills and motivations for work.
a. The LifeWork Transitions site offers many great activities. Step 3 – Redefining Your Self: Passions, Preferences, Purpose is especially helpful in assessing your life and work values.
b. Steward Cooper Coon offers many free online tests, including:
Career Values Test
Motivated Skills Test

5. Attending the Workplace Dynamics Series
The Workplace Dynamics Series offered through OITE is another tool to help you with self-assessment around areas like communications skills, teamwork, conflict and diversity.

Self-assessment is not an easy process and it won’t happen overnight. Give yourself the time, space and energy to be introspective. Knowing your skills, values and interests will allow you to be a more effective job searcher because you will have a sense of roles that would or would not be a good “fit” for you. Having a good idea of your own values and interests can help prioritize your professional goals. This focus will allow you to ask better questions during informational interviews and employment interviews alike.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Review Toxicologist

April 7, 2014

Name: Omari Bandele, Ph.D.

Job Title & Company: Review Toxicologist, FDA, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), Office of Food Additive Safety (OFAS), Division of Food Contact Notifications (DFCN)

Location: College Park, MD

How long in current position? 10 months

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Douglas Bell, Ph.D., National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

What do you do as a Review Toxicologist?
In our Division, we evaluate the safety of chemicals in food packaging materials that may migrate into food over time or that may contact food during the manufacturing process. Some examples are chemicals used in the manufacturing of potato chip bags, microwave steam bags, meat diapers used in supermarket meat packaging, and antimicrobial washes applied to meats and produce in processing plants. We work to ensure that these food-contact substances are safe for consumers at the estimated level of exposure. As technology advances, food packaging materials are also becoming more sophisticated, and the safety of these chemicals must be evaluated before they reach the market.

Are you working in a lab?
No, as a review toxicologist, I no longer work in the lab. When a company submits a notification to use a food contact substance, we search our internal databases as well as publicly-available databases to gather relevant safety information that will aid us in making a safety assessment. Sometimes, there are chemicals that our office may want additional safety information on and, at that point, we may ask FDA research labs to conduct studies to help fill the toxicology–related knowledge gaps.

What are the most important skills you utilize in your current position?
One of the essential skills for being a good review toxicologist in our Division, is the ability to thoroughly search databases, study reports, and published literature to identify relevant information to make the most informed safety assessment of a food contact substance as well as its impurities. I have developed an even greater appreciation for how important it is to be objective when reviewing this information as our decisions may affect people’s lives.

Writing is another very important skill. The ability to clearly and effectively write up safety assessments with justifications that are supported by the available information is needed for the companies, other reviewers, and the general public to understand the rationale behind our assessment of a chemical.

Do you work as a member of a team?
Yes, for each notification we receive from a company, a four-member team composed of a consumer safety officer and toxicology, chemistry, and environmental reviewers is assigned to evaluate the food contact substance and any of its impurities that may migrate into food or contact food during the manufacturing process.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
It is especially satisfying to know that my efforts have a rather immediate impact on human health. When I walk the aisles of the supermarket, I personally see the contributions our Division makes to protect the public’s health. I used to think that food packaging was composed of inactive materials that only served as a container for my food; however components of food packaging are quite functional, and some of the science involved is really fascinating. This keeps me intrigued. Although I’m no longer at the bench, this job has allowed me the opportunity to remain close to the research and also learn how experimental studies are used to guide regulatory decisions.

This position has also provided a better work-life balance. Lately, we have been having a lot of snow here. In my prior research positions, I would have been trying to figure out a way to get to the lab to salvage my experiments. With this job, as long as I have my computer and access to our network, I can work from anywhere. I really appreciate that part of it.

What has been the hardest part about transitioning into this career?
In the lab, I was constantly moving on most days. One of the biggest adjustments has been getting acclimated to spending a significantly greater portion of the workday at my desk in front of the computer. Another adjustment has been learning to evaluate the results from experimental studies to make regulatory decisions. Also, since I no longer work in the lab, I must make the most educated assessment of a substance based on the available toxicity data. I have had to adjust to the fact that I can’t go into the lab and design an experiment to help me address a question.

What was your job search like?
Prior to my current position, I was an FDA ORISE fellow in CFSAN’s Office of Applied Research and Safety Assessment (OARSA) where I worked on several projects that were of interest to OFAS. This research experience helped me to get my foot in the door and provided me the opportunity to network with people who are now my co-workers. After my NIH post-doc, I knew I wanted to work for the FDA, which really helped me to focus my job search. As an NIH and ORISE fellow, I attended seminars on how to submit a competitive application through the USAjobs.gov website, which provided helpful insight. I also reached out to several FDA employees for informational interviews and to request their assistance in my job search. By networking with FDA employees, I was frequently made aware of upcoming job opportunities for which I should consider.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
In my previous position, I could go most of the day without talking to anyone. Here, I can’t do that. There is a lot of communication back and forth with coworkers to share knowledge regarding various chemicals or how to apply FDA guidance in different scenarios. There is also a lot of brainstorming to discuss how to proceed on issues related to some submitted notifications. You definitely have to be able to work within a team environment and communicate effectively. You also have to be able to write effectively – I do a lot of writing. However, writing up my assessments differs from writing up my research findings in a manuscript. We also must be aware of the phrasing we use in our writing to ensure that it accurately represents the views of the Agency.

Any last bits of advice?
Attending career-related events helped to open my eyes to a new career path away from the bench. I didn’t realize I wanted to work in regulatory science until I attended a career seminar as an NIH post-doc where I heard about the speaker’s career in regulatory review.

I sought out opportunities to do non-technical writing, and I think that really helped me. For example, at the NIH, I wrote for the Environmental Factor and as an ORISE fellow I wrote columns for BioCareers. My current supervisors wanted to see that I could take technical information and write it in more general terms. I would also encourage others to seek experiences outside of the research lab.

Before I got this position, I considered applying to a program that cost about $30,000 and lead to a master’s degree in regulatory science. Now, I am unsure if that would have made me a better applicant because none of my coworkers have this credential; however, some do have a DABT certification.


How I Used LinkedIn to Get a Hiring Manager’s Attention

April 2, 2014

Part one of a two-part series written by guest blogger Dr. Phil Ryan, Director of Student Services at the Office of Intramural Training and Education.

I am in an enviable position because I love my job. Regardless, we should all be looking forward in our career and thinking about what the next step entails. While I am not actively pursuing new positions, every now and then a job posting comes to my attention and piques my interest. I am sure many of you have had a similar experience. Usually the scenario goes like this: you see the job title and it sounds like something that really interests you. Next, you click on the posting and read the job description and you really love what you are reading. Then, you scroll down to the qualifications section and your heart sinks a little bit. The degree and field in the education section does not match your own. The position description lists years of experience that you don’t have on your resume and the wording they use does not match any of the official titles you can list on your resume.

The truth is if you submitted your resume through the normal channels, it would not get forwarded on to the hiring manager for them to review. But, you feel certain you can do that job, do it well and really enjoy it. This experience recently happened to me and I want to share how I used LinkedIn to overcome some of these barriers in order to grab the attention of the hiring manager before I ever submitted my application.

Step 1: Get Prepared

The first thing I did was find the Web page for the department in which this position was located. In many job postings it will list the title of the person that position reports to. Sometimes, it just lists the department the position will be in. Either way, with a little searching online you can often find the director of that office or department. After I found the director of the office in which this position was located, I looked him up on LinkedIn and searched the Internet for other information on him. I found a couple articles he had written and I read them.

Then, I changed and updated my LinkedIn profile. This is one of the benefits of LinkedIn. On a resume it is hard to stray from your official titles for a position. But in the experience section of your LinkedIn profile you can highlight the activities you are involved in even if they aren’t a part of your official job. You can also include links to your projects available online, or to Web pages of organizations or events you have been a part of. You can highlight whatever projects you want to highlight in the Projects section. Most importantly, your summary can be used to clearly communicate what it is you are passionate about.

Step 2: Reach Out

Once my profile was updated and organized to make me look like a great candidate, I sent the director a request to connect. It read something like this:

“Dear Mr. Director, I am interested in the position of [position title] in your office. I have read a couple pieces you have published and really like your take on [field]. I hope we can link in to share resources and network.”

Notice that I offered up another reason for him to accept my invitation other than to discuss the position. It’s important to realize that my offer of sharing resources and networking was sincere. Even if we were not able to discuss the position, I was making a connection in a field of interest to me professionally.

Within three days we were talking on the phone about the position, the field in general, and our respective career paths. I had not even submitted my application and I was basically having a pre-interview! At the end of our conversation, he encouraged me to submit my application. Within a week of my LinkedIn request, I was on Skype interviewing with the entire hiring committee and was later flown out for an in-person interview. As a career development professional, I had to ask if my application would have made it to his desk had I not contacted him through LinkedIn. He would not go so far as to say “no,” but he certainly did not say “yes.”

The end result was I was offered the position. After careful consideration, I respectfully declined to accept the job. Why? Well, that is to be continued in another blog post….