Behavioral Interviewing for Scientists

April 11, 2017

Behavior based interviewing is an effective tool used by many science industry recruiters and graduate/professional school admissions officers.   They differ from technical or scientific interviews because they are designed to give a glimpse into how you will perform in the future on “soft skills” by having you reflect and talk aloud about behaviors that you have done in the past. The answers that you provide will inform the interviewer about your potential for succeeding in their organization or school based on your experience in such areas as being an effective team player, ethical and professional, and using your critical thinking , leadership, communication, and problem solving skills.

Often interspersed with scientific interview questions, behavioral interview inquiries will usually start with, “Tell me about a time when…,” or “Give me an example of a time when….”  The best responses to require you to specifically describe actions and behaviors that you used in the past s and then describe the outcomes from this approach.   The SAR technique is an excellent formula to use to create the best answer. Memorize the following acronym and then recall it when you are answering questions.

S              Situation – the background to the problem that you are going to discuss

A             The actions (behaviors) that you took to address the situation from this role

R             The results of your actions

The more thoroughly you describe your behaviors the better the interviewer is able to visualize you fitting into their organization.   You can use examples from the lab, graduate or undergraduate school, internships, work, community, and leadership roles.  Industry and academic examples are welcome.  Here are a few behavioral interview questions for you to try:

  • Tell about a time when you had to make a difficult decision at work.
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
  • Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
  • Give an example of a time when you had to arrive at a compromise with members of your team.
  • Describe a situation in which you had to adjust to changes over which you had no control.
  • Give an example of how you set goals and achieve them.
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
  • What do you do if you disagree with your boss?
  • What do you do if you disagree with your co-worker?
  • How you would you deal with a co-worker who wasn’t doing his or her share of the work.

Your interviewer may ask additional clarifying questions such as:

  • What were you thinking at that point?
  • Tell me more about what you specifically did at that time?
  • Lead me through your decision-making process.

Although awkward, go ahead and answer their questions because they are attempting to understand the full spectrum of specific behaviors that you used in the situation.

To prepare for the behavioral interviews, identify several examples of past experiences in which you utilized the soft skills mentioned earlier.  Select examples where you accomplished something, overcame an obstacle, or something did not go as planned.   Feel free to choose academic experiences and non-academic experiences.  Next, practice answering the questions using the SAR technique.

For more practice, visit the OITE website  make an appointment for a mock interview with a career counselor to receive constructive feedback on your answers to behavioral interview questions.  We encourage you to visit our interviewing blogs or skills workshops.

OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.


Making the Most of Your Experience at NIH: The Scorecard

February 6, 2017

I arrived at NIH in October 2015. I attended the workshop “English Communication for Visiting Scientists” (ECVS) workshop in February 2016 because, as non-native speaker, I wanted to improve my communication skills. I remember that I was afraid of asking my PI to sign the written consent I needed to register for it. I soon realized how unwarranted my fear was! My PI was glad to know that I wished to improve my communication skills. This has been the first lesson I learned from The Scorecard: “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.”

The ECVS workshop. The 2-day workshop itself was very useful. I learned and practiced how to write professional e-mails and to be assertive. But most importantly, I realized that I was not alone. Instead, I was surrounded by people who understood the fear and the frustration of jumping suddenly into a completely different world. During the ECVS workshop, I learned about the Scorecard: an intensive training program to be completed within 6-months. The program (Fig. 1) envisages 10 scores earned by completing the workshops/activities. They are  grouped into four categories: career development, mentoring, leadership/management, and communication.

scorecard1-002

Fig. 1. Representation of the Scorecard categories. Numbers in squared brackets represent the points needed to complete each category. The activities I included in my scorecard are in bold.

The Action Plan. I am a person who likes challenges, so I decided to try and draft an action plan (Fig. 2). First, I identified among the listed courses/activities the ones I was most interested in. Then, I looked at the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) calendar, planned when to attend them, to ensure that I was able to meet the deadline. Last but not least, I identified what I call the “milestone” of my program, i.e. the most difficult and time intensive course. In my case, it was the “Scientists Teaching Science (STS) 9-week course”. I knew that completing it would have motivated me to keep following the plan. Among the other activities that I included in my plan, I chose to attend the Workplace Dynamics IV and V workshops and the mentoring course, and to give a presentation at OITE. I will briefly describe them in the next paragraphs by highlighting why I think they have been very useful for me.

scorecard-3

                        Fig. 2. My “action plan” to complete the Scorecard.

Career development. The milestone of my program – the STS 9-week course – is, in my opinion, a must for fellows aiming at an academic career. One of the assignments is to write the teaching philosophy statement, a fundamental piece of the academic job package! Having the opportunity to have a person with a long-term experience in education, read it and provide constructive feedback is priceless. Moreover, the course is entirely on-line and the teacher provides students with useful hints on how to organize on-line courses and incorporate active learning techniques in the classes. I simply loved it.

Leadership/Management. The Workplace Dynamics series opened my mind. At the beginning of the workshop, as soon as I realized that I had to practice by speaking to the person close to me, I wanted to run away! Yes, I am an extremely introverted person. I am afraid of talking to people, especially in a language that is not my mother tongue, and I prefer to write e-mails. E-mails that most of my colleagues never read, because they prefer to communicate verbally. It took me a while to realize that my approach was ineffective. The workshops provided me with helpful hints on how to address the differences in the personalities and communication styles between me and my colleagues that and made me more successful at work.  After attending the two workshops I needed for the scorecard, I decided to complete the series and I am going to attend the next Management Boot Camp.

Mentoring. The “Summer Research Mentor Training course” was another very helpful workshop. Similar to the STS course, one of the assignments was to write the mentoring philosophy statement. I have recently used both assignments as drafts for an application for an academic position. During the course, I learned the importance of aligning mentor/mentee goals and expectations and assessing differences in communication and learning styles. We all tend to communicate and teach the way it is most effective to us. Recognizing that what works for us does not necessarily work for other people and learn how to manage those differences is the first step to become an effective mentor. I look forward to have the opportunity to mentor a summer student.

Communication. As an introverted, not native speaker, presentations were a huge obstacle for me. I love to design and sketch them out but, until several months ago, I would have paid someone else to deliver them in my place. Most importantly, I would never have volunteered for a presentation. I now realize that my fear to present caused me to miss many valuable opportunities to practice! Now things have changed. Taking part in the activities suggested by the scorecard helped me to practice and build my confidence. I now look forward to presentations rather than trying to avoid them. The author of a book entitled “The Exceptional Presenter” states: “The time to practice is during your normal daily routines, when habits can be formed and mistakes are not costly.”

Final thoughts. All that said, the Scorecard simply acted as “firestarter”. The goal of earning a training certificate motivated me to engage in the program and meeting the deadlines helped me to stay on track. However, as soon as I realized how useful the program was, I attended many other courses beyond the Scorecard. When I earned the ECVS certificate, however, I was really surprised to know that nobody else completed the scorecard before me. So, I decided to write this post to encourage other fellows to engage in it.

Please fellows, don’t think you don’t have the time and don’t be a “rat in the lab”!  Please bear in mind that the knowledge you will gain by completing the Scorecard training program will help you feel better in your lab, communicate more effectively with your PI and colleagues, and develop your career. And please, please don’t miss any opportunity to practice your communication skills!

So, what are you waiting for? The next ECVS workshop is on March 1st, don’t miss it!

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This post was written by guest blogger, Dr. Antonella Ciancetta, Visiting Fellow at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and first fellow who earned the English Communication for Visiting Scientists Certificate


Making the Transition from the Bench to an Office

January 17, 2017

Managing transitions is an issue that you will likely face throughout your career. Many PhDs choose to leave the bench to work in an office. While some things stay the same no matter where you work, some of the cultural changes that accompany a desk job may be surprising. Here are  some identified by members of the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE):

Dress Code Alterations: While there’s no need to follow the lab dress code any longer (yay for sandals!), you also probably can’t dress as casually in an office. This dress code varies by each office setting, so you will want to find out as much information as possible about the workplace before interviewing, and then ask questions about the work culture and take note of how people dress when you interview. Likewise, you may want to consider wearing layers, as you will no longer have the added warmth of your lab coat or from being surrounded by running heavy equipment. For me personally, I did not realize just how many of my clothes were related to cartoons, sci-fi, or sports teams until I started working in an office. Thankfully, OITE has a more casual dress code than some places, so the transition was not as expensive as it could have been—but some of you may have to add a budget line for clothing.

Greater Interdependence: Being at the bench is often solitary work, and can allow you to have greater control over planning your day. However, in many offices (especially when you first begin), you may need help from your co-workers to find your way in the new setting. Your work might also involve more planning and execution as a team than what you currently experience, and you may discover a shift in power dynamics that differ from the lab (i.e. multiple supervisors for different projects rather than one PI). This can have some very positive aspects. According to Virginia Meyer, Director of Student Services for UGSP, “Even if you are friends with everyone in lab, there’s still a feeling of competition for resources, publications, attention, etc. Here [at her current office position], I feel like we work more collaboratively towards a goal rather than competitively on our own projects.” Therefore, it is important to have a “team” mindset, and to try to learn others’ favored method of communication so that you can all work together well. Additionally, depending on what kind of office you work in (such as anything involving the public), you may need to become accustomed to interacting with people from a variety of backgrounds all day. Many scientists mention that navigating team management and leadership is an early issue that they face in their career transition, and being able to interact well with others is an important soft skill that employers seek. In order to better prepare for these issues, you can attend some OITE workshops such as the Workplace Dynamics series and Management Bootcamp.

Changes in communication: When asking others in OITE about surprises in shifting to an office position, the sheer amount of emails that they receive came up multiple times. Keeping track of and replying to all of these messages can take up quite a lot of time, and easily derails your day. Likewise, there are additional office tools within email services such as Outlook (sharing calendars, meeting invitations, etc.) that aren’t commonly used by most scientists, but very useful in an office setting. “That first month of understanding Outlook and the volume of emails I received was overwhelming,” said Lori Conlan, Director of both the Office of Postdoctoral Services and the Career Services Center. Integrating some of these tools into your workday now could save you some time in the future. Additionally, in case you are not already using them, it is important to become accustomed to writing professional emails and the etiquette involved.

Hours Vary Less: Partially due to the increased interaction necessities mentioned above, it is important that you work within a more normal time range that is comparable to what is held by everyone else in the office. So while there are fewer odd time requirements (no need to be in lab at 7 am!), you may not have as much flexibility for maintaining the hours that you prefer. Also, there may be additional requirements or paperwork in order for you to request time off for appointments or vacations. Furthermore, while you are less likely to need to work on weekends, snow days are different because you might be able to telework. While teleworking can offer greater flexibility, it can also lead to unique challenges (technical difficulties, teleguilt, etc.). I find teleworking beneficial because I am able to gain back the time I would otherwise spend towards commuting, but I also enjoy being able to easily interact with my colleagues when I come to the office. Whenever possible, becoming used to more “normal” working hours now can help make this transition easier.

Different Physical Demands: “I think one of the things that surprised me the most was realizing how much physical activity I got when I was in the lab,” said Phil Ryan, Deputy Director of the Graduate Programs and Student Services. Thankfully, being away from the bench means fewer consecutive hours on your feet. However, the transition to spending the majority of your day sitting can be strange. Most desk work will also involve staring at a computer screen, which can take some time to get used to as well. Also, since you no longer work in a lab, keeping food and drinks at your desk is allowed and it can be easier to avoid getting dehydrated. Unfortunately, this increased availability can easily lead to snacking all day, and never taking real breaks because you can constantly continue working. This combined with a more sedentary workday can make it more difficult to stay in shape, and never taking breaks can lead to ceaseless eye strain while hunching over a keyboard. Therefore, it’s important to keep the benefits of occasional breaks in mind as you transition, and to continue (or finally implement!) self-care practices.

Lab Actually Prepared You Well: One of the best surprises that those interviewed, including Yewon Cheon, Director of the Postbac and Summer Research Program, mentioned was that “the skills that you learned in the lab are actually transferrable to an office job like this. All of the analytical skills and experience working to find a solution have been very useful.” Even if on bad days, you might feel as though you aren’t gaining any desirable skills from the lab, the truth is that you still learn a lot that is useful for other careers. If you need help identifying any of these skills, you can use this activity, and perhaps talk to a career counselor. Should you still feel that you are missing transferrable skills that would be really useful for an office position, you can try to gain them by serving as a volunteer or on a committee.

Overall, there are a variety of fantastic office careers for scientists, all with unique challenges and rewards. By learning more about potential cultural differences, as well as the environment and expectations at your new position, you can help smooth your transition when leaving the bench and entering a new workforce.

Post written by guest blogger, Courtney Kurtyka-Welsh, Education and Outreach Specialist, Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) at the National Institute of Health


Staying Sane During the Waiting Game for Professional School Admission

December 19, 2016

You successfully applied to a range of medical or dental schools and now are anxiously waiting to be contacted about interviews and (hopefully!) acceptances to these schools.  During this time, it is normal to feel anxious, worry that you have not provided enough information, or think that there is something else you can do to improve your chances.  Maybe you are tired of family or friends asking, “have you heard yet?”

Here are common challenges and strategies to help you maintain your sanity and manage stress during this time:

Common Questions

  • Is it okay to call or email the schools and ask for an application status update?
  • Call only once. Curb your desire to call repeatedly.  Sometimes schools feel like students put them on re-dial with the volume of individual calls!
  • I want to update my application materials. Is this a good time to do it?
  • Some schools accept updates to applications and will publish this clearly on their webpage. If you do send updates, it should contain only SIGNIFICANT additions (e.g., papers published, new clinical experience position, completed science courses with a grade, leadership).  Remember that the on the original AMCAS application, a description of each experience is limited to 750 characters—this limit remains. In most cases, an update should be a concise bulleted list.  If you have a publication, use the formal citation.  No lengthy letters with veiled pleas for acceptance. One update letter is acceptable, a second is pushing it unless it contains something amazing.
  • I have been placed on a waitlist for an interview or acceptance. Does this mean I won’t get in?
  • Being placed on a waitlist or in the hold file is not a rejection. This means that you still have a possibility for acceptance. Some schools are sorting through their acceptances and attempting to figure out their yield rate before extending more invitations to interview.  Schools with a high number of applicants are still reviewing applications as well.
  • Should I send a letter of intent?
  • Submitting a Letter of Intent at this point in the cycle is of little value. You applied to the school, so the committee knows you want to go there.  It is not going to move you into the ‘accept’ category if you are not there already.  Letters of intent should not be sent to all schools.  Rather, letters of intent should be reserved for the school where you can guarantee that if you are accepted you would turn down other offers that you may have.  Check out the US News article on letters of intent.
  • How long can I expect to be on a waitlist?
  • Expect significant movement from Waitlists and Hold files after 15 March. Another time will be around  April 30 of each application cycle year, when admitted applicants are required to choose a medical school to attend and decline multiple offers.  This way, medical schools begin filling these spaces. Still, many in April, May, and often up to one week prior to the first week of medical school.
  • I have begun to receive rejections from schools to which I have applied.  Should I plan to re-apply next cycle?
  • Each year, many students are not admitted to school and decide to re-apply to medical school and successfully matriculate in later years.   You should re-apply when you have significantly improved your application materials and experiences. Meet with mentors, career or professional school advisors, medical students, and admissions officers to get feedback on how to strengthen your applications.  You may need additional clinical hours, research, or leadership experience. You could work on strengthen your AMCAS application and personal statement.  You should be practicing your interview skills.  See the 2015 blog article, “So I didn’t Get in Medical School Now What

Step 2   Do’s and Don’ts in the waiting game
Here are some do’s and don’ts behaviors that many applicants may default to during times of high stress.

Don’t

  • Launch a social media rant about schools or admissions teams. Admissions committees and students check social media.
  • Complain to admissions officers or medical students about the perceived amount of time it is taking for them to reply to you for interviews or admissions decisions.
  • Contact each school more than once to check on the status of your application.
  • Re-take the MCAT yet without significant preparation. Your goal is to raise your score significantly before re-applying.

Do:

  • Surround yourself with positive and healthy individuals, mentors, groups, and activities
  • Meet with advisors, career and personal counselors who can support you through this period.
  • Continue to show your continued passion for professional school. This includes staying involved in a combination of clinical, research, leadership, service, coursework activities.
  • Prepare for interviews. Many professional schools are now using the Multiple Mini Interviews.
  • Stay emotionally strong and resilient
  • Practice healthy coping behaviors including exercising, healthy eating, and involvement in social activities and mindfulness
  • Utilize any cultural, spiritual, familial, and other personal support to maintain hope and develop coping skills and strengths.

Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with medical school advisors, wellness or career counselors who can further support you during this process.

* OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.


PART I: Managing Mentoring Relationships – Tips for Mentees

June 13, 2016

Perhaps you are a summer intern or you are managing a summer intern?

Regardless of your role, managing the mentor-mentee relationship can be a difficult task.  Attempting to creating a good personality fit  and work style with your mentor, and effectively offering and using feedback, all while managing ever-present demands in the workplace can prove to be a tough and confusing experience for both mentors and mentees.

Wondering how you can better choose and create a positive working relationship with your mentor or mentee?

Here are some ideas for mentees:

Take control of your career path, even when under the wing of a mentor. Even when you’ve found a mentor and created a good relationship, it is up to you to direct and own the relationship. So show leadership and direct it towards what you need. Once you’ve found a mentor, it is easy to sit back and assume that your path is set to go, or to defer to the mentor for all thoughts and directions. This can be a dangerous mindset to fall into though, because it removes you as an agent in your own professional future. Beginning mentoring relationships with a clear discussion of mutual goals and expectations is crucial. In a similar vein, as you continue in your relationship with this mentor, an ongoing periodic checkup is also important, to continually evaluate these mutual goals and expectations, and to assess whether the mentorship is still beneficial.

Become an expert at receiving feedback. It is always easy to accept a compliment, but part of becoming successful in any professional enterprise is accepting and working on your weaknesses. Therefore, it is crucial to be receptive to both positive and negative feedback given to you by your mentor. This means that you listen carefully, demonstrate that you understand, make your best attempt to adjust your performance based on this feedback, and then, after some time and effort, seek additional feedback on how well you’ve progressed. A helpful tool in improving receptiveness to feedback is to focus on your mentor’s communication style, how they offer feedback, and in turn, how you react to it. Also, remember that mentoring is a two-way street, and giving feedback to your mentor can be a valuable tool in boosting your working relationship.  This could come in the form of asking clarifying questions regarding directions or in advocating for yourself by saying, “I tend to work best when ____. Could we find a way to accommodate this?” 

Transition effectively if it is not working out.It is easy to become demotivated if you find that your mentor relationship is not working out the way you want it. Despite this, it is important to keep in mind that mentoring relationships can be complicated by many factors, including: differences in work style, communication style, changing motivations, and evolving workplace dynamics. Make sure to keep focused on your goals, and to leave emotions out of it. Once you find a new mentor, you can work to continuing to achieve your goals.

It cannot be overstated how important and complex the mentor-mentee relationship is. For the mentee, it could very well be a jumpstart into a lifelong career. For the mentor it could be an opportunity to profoundly impact a young researcher, as well as improve the mentor’s own communication and leadership skills. To ensure success, stay engaged, be clear in your communication, and take ownership of the opportunity.

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Next week, in Part II, we will discuss tips for mentors.


Multi-Generational Workforce

January 22, 2016

There are now at least four generations in the workforce which can present both opportunities and challenges.  A multi-generational workforce has an ability to blend the unique experiences and skill sets of each generation into one shared mission. However, with this blending can come some challenges, especially when it becomes evident that each generation possesses a different mindset and attitude about work.

The generations that find themselves colleagues are: Vets/Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, GenXers, Millennials/Gen Y, and soon to be Gen Z.  It is not uncommon to see a 58-year-old Baby Boomer on a work team with 24-year-old Millennial while reporting to a 41-year-old GenXer.  Traditionalists (also referred to as Vets) are fewer in numbers but often retain a position of power and influence.  We can all think of at least one example of an older PI who has no plans to retire anytime soon.

Dates and categorizations of generations often vary according to source but generally the breakdown is as follows: Traditionalists/Vets – born between 1920-1943; Baby Boomers – born between 1944-1960; Generation X – born between 1961-1980; Millennials/Gen Y – born between 1981-2000; and soon to Gen Z – Born between 2001-present.

Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials have the highest numbers in the workplace and many have tried to identify the key strengths and challenges for each generation.  For example, an organization, EY analyzed the characteristics – both positive and negative – of these three main generations, including how they are perceived by others.

The collective personas of each generation are frequently discussed and debated.  Boomers are often seen as productive, hardworking team players who are devoted to organizations, but they are also often viewed as the least adaptable and tech savvy.  Gen Xers are often seen as adaptable, entrepreneurial problem solvers, but they are also often viewed as cynical about authority figures and disliking traditional or rigid work environments.  Millennials are often seen as passionate, globally-minded, and efficient multi-taskers; however, they are also often viewed as self-entitled and lazy.

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Antagonistic exchanges between members of different generations often get a lot of attention and it can be easy to simply focus on differences.  Remember though that generational terms, like Boomers, Xers and Millennials are often oversimplified labels. Sure, each generation does develop a certain kind of collective identity, but individuals in each generation may not exhibit any of the characteristics commonly associated with their generation.  Knowing each generation’s general characteristics might be helpful in better understanding an individual who belongs to that generation, but there is bound to be a lot of variability as well, so beware of generational generalizing.

If this is a topic that you’d like to learn more about, you might be interested in signing up for OITE’s Workplace Dynamics workshop series. And lastly, just for fun, you might want to take this quiz offered by Pew on “How Millennial Are You?”



What Are My Transferable Skills?

March 23, 2015

Image of a stick figure with a question mark over head with different colored arrows pointing in different directions.Whether you are seeking a career in academia, industry, government or the non-profit sector, it is important to communicate your skills to employers. There are skills that almost every employer seeks no matter the sector. These often include: analytical, writing, leadership, communication and problem solving skills. Your work as a trainee has given you many opportunities to develop these skills. As emphasized in a Science Careers article, “The Transferable Postdoc,” don’t underestimate these abilities.

You can identify skills that you have already developed which will transfer to your next professional position. If you think about examples that show when you used these skills, you will be more confident about presenting these skills to potential employers.

In a training position, you may have strengthened your skills in a variety of ways. A postdoc experience is deconstructed as an example in the chart below:

Transferable Skill
Application of Skill
Analytical and
Problem-Solving Skills
Designing, planning and trouble-shooting projects
 Writing Skills Writing memos, reports and
papers for publication
 Public Speaking   Skills  Presenting your work in a lab
meeting or at a professional conference
 Communication Skills  Negotiating how to carry out projects/experiments with your
PI and/or colleagues
 Leadership Skills  Mentoring postbacs, graduate
students and other lab technicians

The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) has determined six core competencies and they even created a self-assessment checklist to help you rate your current level. This can help you identify any gaps in your skills set. If you haven’t yet taken time to focus on some of these skill areas, particularly the communication and leadership skills, you can find opportunities now to get involved. Organizations like Felcom, your professional associations and NIH Institutes or Centers can provide good opportunities to develop skills.

• Volunteer to work on a committee or group to plan an event or program.
• Volunteer to mentor postbacs or summer students.
• (Professional Development) workshops and events also provide ways to strengthen skills or learn new ones. At the NIH, the OITE offers workshop on topics that include: teaching science, leadership, how to deal with conflict and many others. Check with your institutions to see what services they provide.

There are many other resources available to help you identify your strengths and skills. Start with myIDP*, http://myidp.sciencecareers.org/. This assessment tool will get you started thinking about skills interests and values, and can help you start planning your next career step with more confidence.

As a follow up, then meet with a career counselor, who can help you with goal setting and career planning as well. If you are an intramural trainee, you can make a free individual appointment with a career counselor by going to: https://www.training.nih.gov/career_services.

 

*Noting this resource does not constitute an endorsement by NIH OITE


Job Searching While Pregnant

January 15, 2015

Pregnancies can bring joy and excitement along with new responsibilities and new worries. Searching for a job is not an easy task; however, it becomes even a little more complicated when you are expecting.

There are often tough decisions and a variety of factors to consider throughout the process, such as:

Sharing Your News or Not?

If you are in your second or third trimester and visibly showing, then this decision is often made for you. Employers will figure it out when you show up to an interview with a bump. Even so, many women struggle with the timing of revealing a pregnancy to a potential employer. Should you be upfront with your employer as early as a phone interview? Or should you hold off until you have an offer in hand? Obviously the answer will vary greatly for each individual depending on her situation.

Many women who aren’t overtly showing want the hiring manager to get excited about their skills and qualifications first and foremost before sharing their news. By law, a company can’t deny you employment because you are pregnant; furthermore, you are not legally required to disclose that you are expecting. Often times though, even if you are a stellar applicant, many employers will view your pregnancy and upcoming maternity leave as an inconvenience and an offer won’t be extended. While this is illegal, it can be difficult to prove that was the reason behind a company’s rejection.  Most companies and recruiting managers will automatically bring in legal counsel regarding personnel/hiring situations as a precaution.

At some point, you will have to share your news, but the timing of this is often a very personal decision. If you are lucky enough to do so, starting a job search early is ideal. Conducting a job search early on in your pregnancy can be easier because you will be able to avoid these potentially awkward conversations and it will also allow you more time to review the benefits of potential employers.

Assessing a Job’s Benefits

Now, more than ever, medical insurance options and leave benefits will be at the forefront of your mind. Many employers have specific guidelines about when employees are eligible for certain benefits. For example, some employers don’t grant maternity leave benefits unless you have been in the job for at least one year. These are all factors to consider ensuring you and your little one are covered.

Many companies in America, including the federal government, don’t even have an official leave policy for new mothers forcing them to use some combination of vacation/sick/short-term disability/FMLA leave. The challenges that pregnant mothers and new moms face has been highlighted in a Washington Post article, “The Sad State of Benefits for New Moms on the Job.” This article highlights the case of Peggy Young, a UPS driver who recently sued the company under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

When job searching, the truth is that you are often not privy to a company’s full benefits package until an official offer has been extended. The importance of evaluating maternity leave, prenatal care, and child care options are often paramount for pregnant job seekers.

There is no “right” way to approach a job search while pregnant and many women successfully look for and land a job during this time. For women who have gone through this process, what did you find helpful? How did you manage morning sickness and interviewing at the same time? We’d love to hear your challenges and successes. Leave a comment or email amanda.dumsch@nih.gov.


Soft Skills = Today’s Critical Competencies

August 20, 2014

Image of a person surrounded by eight different bubbles. Each bubble represents a different soft skill, such as "presenting" or "being on time."Traditionally, soft skills were viewed as a secondary bonus to an applicant’s technical skill set; however, in today’s extremely competitive job market, employers are looking for proof of a mix of both hard and soft skills. In fact, recruiters will view a lack of demonstrated leadership or extracurricular activities on your resume as a potential red flag. Illuminating this fact is a study which shows that 60% of managers agreed that soft skills are the most important factor when evaluating an employee’s performance.

Recognizing the extreme importance of soft skills, The Department of Labor (DOL) developed an entire curriculum on the subject entitled, “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success.” Targeted toward teens and young adults, this program was created as an introduction to workplace interpersonal and professional skills.

The DOL’s list of key soft skills is very similar to OITE’s core competencies; it includes:

  1. Communication
    Permeating almost every aspect of a job, this skill is often ranked first among employers. It includes your ability to speak, write and present.
  2. Enthusiasm & Attitude
    Employers get frustrated with employees who are resistant to change or unable to adapt to new directions. Having an open and upbeat attitude will help your group generate good energy and move forward on projects.
  3. Teamwork
    There will be aspects of teamwork within every job. Leaders and project managers often lament that most of their jobs are spent trying to get colleagues to work effectively together. Therefore, it is essential to your career to work cooperatively and be able to participate in group decision-making.
  4. Networking
    Like teamwork, networking is about building relationships. It also involves critical elements of communication and the ability to represent yourself effectively to others.
  5. Problem Solving & Critical Thinking
    There is no shortage of challenges and issues that can arise on the job. Employers want employees who will be able to face these problems critically and creatively by gathering enough information in order to develop a solution.
  6. Professionalism
    No matter the job or the industry, professionalism is a critical key to your success. Professionalism isn’t one trait – it is a combination of characteristics. It often means conducting yourself with a high level of responsibility, integrity and accountability. Part of professionalism is having a strong work ethic and being willing to go that extra mile. Another integral component is being dependable, trustworthy, and always following through on your projects.

Soft skills are no longer undervalued by employers. Make sure you are practicing these skills in your current position and/or seeking out opportunities to develop these skill sets. You will not only be helping your professional development, but you will be especially thankful the next time you are in an interview and they ask you a common behavioral question like “Tell me about a time when you had to utilize effective communication skills within a group setting,” and you have a stellar anecdote to share.