Career Exploration Road Map

April 15, 2019

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The career exploration road map is a tool that was developed by Bill Lindstaedt and Jennie Dorman to help students/trainees visualize the career exploration process and track their progress. This tool was initially developed for graduate students and postdocs at the University of California, San Francisco, but is now available for all to use.

The road map is intended to be career neutral as it is often understood that many trainees are considering both academic and non-academic career fields at the same time. The map guides you through six different stages of career exploration with a color to match each stage.

1. Self-Assessment (green)
2. Investigation (yellow)
3. Reflection (orange)
4. Synthesis (red)
5. Job Search (purple)
6. Reassessment (blue)

It is a board game style which walks you through key questions you should be asking yourself at every stage of the process. For example, in the first self-assessment stage, questions include: What am I interested in? What am I good at? What is important to me/What do I care about? What careers do I have a hunch I might like? What careers fit my interests, skills, and values?

The creators designed this specifically to help break down the process into more manageable steps. We all know that thinking about career exploration is important – vital even – to future success, but it can feel so overwhelming and time-consuming. Career exploration and decision-making is rarely a linear process hence the map’s circular outline. You may find yourself going through each stage multiple times for varied different options. While that can feel frustrating, it is also a part of the process that helps you eliminate bad choices and zero in on good fit options.

If you are feeling stuck and unsure about where to go with your career, give the questions in the career roadmap a try; and remember, if you are at the NIH, you have access to a variety of career resources and services, including many workshops/events as well as one-on-one career counseling. If the career roadmap is of interest, you might find the OITE workshop on Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success particularly helpful as well.

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Using Online Job Simulations for Career Exploration

April 8, 2019

13Are you considering a career in medical writing? Intellectual property? Program management? Regulatory Affairs? Science Education and Outreach? And beyond?

If so, you should check out online job simulations which allows individuals to test out various jobs. It can be difficult to find internships or detail opportunities that allow you to see if a field is a good fit for you in real life. And while informational interviews are fantastic, they don’t allow you to try things out for yourself. This is where an online job simulation can be of help.

You can explore information about a variety of careers of interest to scientists, such as science policy, university administration, editing, etc. and then you can choose a simulation that gives you instructions for typical job tasks in that field. Currently, there are thirty-one simulations on the site, but more seem to be in the works.

Thi Nguyen, Associate Dean for Graduate Career and Professional Development at Washington University, led the development of these job simulations and notes that each task was reviewed by professionals working in the field to ensure authenticity. The purpose of these online simulations is to help scientists understand what a career actually looks like and whether they would enjoy typical tasks. Many postdocs have also found a newly discovered confidence about their skills sets by completing simulations.

Each simulation is designed to take between 4-8 hours and participants have deliverables to provide. Initially, this might seem like a bit time commitment and a lot of work; however, it is a key way to more fully explore a field. The deliverables are not evaluated and Nguyen encourages students to focus more on the process and not the outcome by asking, “Did you find yourself hungry to learn more about it? Did you find yourself in a little internet rabbit hole because you had fun?” If you were engaged, perhaps that is an indicator that this might be the right fit for you; if you were bored, it might be worth exploring other options.

As noted in a Science Careers article, Luisalberto Gonzalez became interested in becoming a patent agent after attending a career panel, but he still felt unclear about what the job entailed and whether he would even be qualified. He completed one of the online simulations and noted that it helped him understand that he could probably start his job search sooner rather than later. After completing the simulation, he felt assured he already had the skills necessary to make a career pivot.

Have you tried an online simulation? If so, comment and let us know how it was for you.


Interviews at Consulting Firms

March 18, 2019

Consulting as a general label can feel very vague, especially given that it is a huge and diverse industry. There are many different types of consulting firms and areas of practice within one firm. Some management consulting firms specialize in giving advice on business strategy and operations (downsizing, acquisitions, restructuring) while others are known for their expertise in specific industries like technology.

No matter the firm or the focus area though, consulting firms mainly run on their people and the intellectual capital they possess. Consultants are branded as smart problem-solvers who are expected to deliver results and firms look for candidates with these skills:

Top 5 Consulting Skills

  1. Analytical skills with a keen problem-solving ability
  2. Interpersonal skills and an ability to work well on a team
  3. Strong communication skills – both oral and written – especially presentation skills
  4. Creativity with a leaning toward an entrepreneurial spirit
  5. Ability to cope with pressure while maintaining flexibility

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How These Skills Are Tested in Interviews
Most consulting firms have a standardized and rigid interview process which consists of several stages for an applicant. Generally, you can anticipate an initial phone screen and multiple rounds of in-person interviews, where there will be two areas of focus: case interview and behavioral/fit interview.

Phone Interview – A preliminary phone screen is usually a half-hour conversation with either an HR representative or a consultant/partner. Expect a mix of standard interview and behavioral questions. Sample questions could include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Walk me through your resume.
  • Why Firm X?
  • Why City Y?
  • Why consulting?

Behavioral/Personal Fit Interview – Don’t minimize the importance of your answers during this portion of the interview. You are often being evaluated for your fit with a particular team as well as the overall culture of the firm. Many firms report using the “airplane test”. This is when the manager will ask themselves, “In addition to having the qualifications and technical skills to do the job well, would I want to be stuck on an airplane or in an airport with this person?” Sample questions could include:

  • Tell me about a time when you exhibited leadership.
  • Give me an example of a time when you solved a problem creatively.
  • What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
  • What role do you normally assume within a group/team?
  • Tell me about a mistake that you made recently.
  • What is the last book you read for fun?

Case Interview – This is often an interviewee’s most dreaded part of a consulting interview, but it needn’t be if you remember that there is often no right or wrong answer. In a case interview, the interviewer will present you with an open-ended business problem or issue and ask you to discuss it or solve the problem.

There are two types of case interview methods:

  1. ‘Go With the Flow’ Cases (most common) – Your job is to ask the interviewer logical questions that will enable you to make a suitable recommendation. You are driving the discussion.
  2. Command and Control Cases – The interviewer guides the discussion and the case has a lot of quantitative work and brainstorming components.

Cases can cover any number of topics. It will be important for you to answer using a framework. Familiarize yourself with common frameworks; many samples can be found in books like “Case in Point” or “Crack the Case” as well as fee-based websites like AcetheCase.com. For case interviews, remember to ask questions and clarify any of your assumptions. It is extremely important to externalize your internal thought process as you lay out your strategy for answering the question at hand.

 


So, What’s a Detail?

March 4, 2019

Post written by Sandra Bonne-Année, former postdoc at NIAID and current detailee at OITE.

If definitions like ‘an individual fact or item, a minor decorative feature, or a meticulous cleaning of a motor vehicle’ come to mind when you hear the word “detail”, you are certainly not alone. As a postdoctoral fellow at NIH, I had a vague understanding of what a detail was and no real understanding of when or how to secure one. The “detail” is a chance to volunteer in another work-space to gain skills and exposure to careers.

Entering the final year of my fellowship, I had reached a point of utter frustration with my research projects, dismay with my job search and confusion about my career path. In commiserating with other fellows during informational interviews, I would be asked, “Why don’t you do a detail?” However, the particulars on where I would find such a position were always left out. I began researching detail opportunities and after several emails and a few interviews I found myself no closer to securing a position.

So, I decided to ask for help on the matter and in doing so I landed my detail in the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE). I know it sounds a bit serendipitous. It certainly felt that way, but what I found was a person who recognized that my interest in science education and outreach aligned with the work being done in her office. She could also see that I could benefit from the experience of working outside a laboratory setting. While my experience might not be the norm, many postdocs are able to secure detail opportunities simply by doing informational interviews with offices of interest. Don’t be afraid to ask what opportunities might be available within an office.

How do you go about finding a detail experience of your own? The first thing I’ll say is there is no one way to land a detail and no two experiences are the same. Keep in mind a detail experience can be created for you given of course that your interest and the circumstances align. Lastly, detail opportunities can also arise through job openings depending on the needs of the hiring office, your enthusiasm and qualifications. Details can be full or part time experiences, in which the later may encompass a hybrid of research and office time. When negotiating a detail opportunity, try to maintain an open line of communication between your detail supervisor and your PI, whenever possible. This is particularly important for a smooth transition or when crafting a schedule that includes both research and office time.

Explore the OITE Job Board or the Office of Human Resources for more information on detail opportunities at the NIH. The Office of Human Resources website includes opportunities for various levels so be sure to select opportunities that fit your experience level.

So, whether you’re interested in pursuing a different career path or feeling like it’s time to move away from the bench entirely, a detail may be the perfect experience for you to immerse yourself in a new environment and learn new skills. For me, once I was separated from the bench, I was able to spend more time working on myself by implementing more wellness and stress management techniques. By virtue of my detail office, it afforded me more time to devote to working with an OITE Career Counselor and enroll in a Job Search Group that allowed me to work on self-assessments, job search material and creating a realistic plan for my next job search. The experience also allowed me to take on new responsibilities, learning new skills and rediscovering things about myself that I had long forgotten. Ultimately, stepping away from the bench allowed me to rediscover my passion for research and what drives me as a scientist.


Core Competencies & Blog Resources

January 14, 2019

There are four groups of skills that all trainees need to have to help ensure success in their careers. These skills are not only beneficial for success if your current role, but are vital skills to continue to develop in order to excel in future career paths. Below are descriptions of these skills sets and a listing of blog posts on each topic. Check out the posts to delve a bit further into each subject area.

Core competencies include:

COMMUNICATION
We communicate with people everyday:  writing papers, sending emails, giving presentations, or discussing ideas in meetings.  In almost every job, the ability to share thoughts and ideas clearly with others is a necessary competency.

Blog Posts to Check Out:
Difficult Work Conversations
Negotiating Across Cultures
Interviewing with Confidence
Improving Your Writing Skills
Public Speaking for Introverts

CAREER READINESS & EXPLORATION
Starting your career search requires a strong set of skills:  From preparing for job interviews and writing cover letters, to networking and using social media for finding jobs or opportunities for collaborations.

Blog Posts to Check Out:
Best Practices for Resume Writing
Guide to Cover Letters
Five Most Common Networking Excuses
How I Overcame My Fear of Informational Interviewing
Career Options Series

LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT
Any position that requires managing people requires effective teamwork skills.  Are you the president of your student group, or supervising others in your lab?  Then you need leadership skills.  Not only do we need strong people management skills, but you also need project management skills, such as being able to set realistic milestones for your research or thesis, and then hitting those deadlines.

Blog Posts to Check Out:
Good Mentoring Guidelines
Identifying Mentors and Getting the Most Out of Your Mentoring Relationships
Manage Your Time with a Tomato
A Tool for Feedback: Situation, Behavior, Impact
There Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day – Time Management Tips

TEACHING & MENTORING
Teaching and mentoring skills help us share knowledge with others, and go beyond the classroom setting.  More experienced employees often share knowledge and information with newer ones, which helps the entire team or organization be more effective.

Blog Posts to Check Out:
Tomorrow’s Professors: Preparing for the Academic Job Market
Getting a Faculty Job, Revisited
Managing Mentoring Relationships – Tips of Mentors and Mentees
Writing the Teaching Statement
Basic Overview: The US Academic System


New Year – New Career?

January 1, 2019

Happy 2019!brooke-lark-194254-unsplash

According to this article, fewer people are making new year’s resolutions to exercise or lose weight. More people (37%, up from 6% in 2018) are focusing on saving money. Others seem to be resolving to make new friends (11%), get a new job (12%), and find love (7%).

If you are among the 12% looking for a new job this new year, here are some career resolutions that can help you stay on track.

  1. Resolve to be more accountable by joining a job search group.
    If you want to make a change in your professional domain, you should start by making SMART resolutions. SMART is an acronym used to describe goals as :

    S
     = Specific
    M = Measurable
    A = Attainable
    R = Realistic
    T = Time-bound

    Many resolutions are too vague and don’t put in the accountability often needed for success. For example, often individuals find that having a workout buddy can help them actually get to the gym because there is now an external source of accountability. If you think you would benefit from having an external support group and you are at the NIH, consider applying for the 2019 Job Search Work Team. This support group will meet weekly for a month in order to promote career-oriented action steps among members. For more details, see the online application here: https://www.training.nih.gov/sas/_20/1558/

    If you are outside the NIH, consider creating one of your own with friends/colleagues. This could be a great way to kick start your new year and stay on track!

  2. Resolve to do one thing.
    This seems like a manageable resolution, right? Too often, people make too many resolutions and then become overwhelmed about where to start. Choose just one thing and follow through. If you need some ideas on what that one thing should be, check out our monthly calendar of suggestions here. Whether it is speaking with your PI about your career or making an appointment with an OITE career counselor, choose one thing and do it.

  3. Commit to your own wellness.
    Job searches and transitions are rife with stress. Not only are you trying to continue to be successful in your current role, but you are actively searching for the next best step for yourself. It can be a struggle to feel calm and centered when your schedule feels chaotic. Try to build activities into your daily routine which can help, whether that is arriving at work a bit earlier to get through emails or spending some time at lunch meditating. If you are at the NIH, there are many resources and activities that focus on wellness. You can see the full listing here.

Designing Your Life

November 27, 2018

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Many of us struggle when it comes to making big life decisions, in part because of a black and white framework that permeates our decision-making mentality.  Have you ever wondered how one decision can lead you down an entirely different life path? Whether it is choosing a city, a job, or even a college major, your decisions add up to help determine your overall trajectory.  Accepting one job offer could lead to satisfaction and success; the other could lead to dissatisfaction and failure.  It’s anyone’s guess as to which is which.

Stanford professors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, wrote book called “Designing Your Life” which attempts to apply design thinking to life decisions. They created an “Odyssey Plan” which encourages individuals to map out a variety of different options. The authors believe that we all contain multitudes. Each of us has enough energy and talent to live many different types of lives; all of which could be interesting and productive.

The goal is to realize that there are many different careers and options for you – none of them necessarily better or worse than the other. Here’s how to start:

  1. List three different five-year plans
    Remember there is no right or wrong choice here. Your first plan could be your current life. Your second plan could be something that you have always dreamed about doing. Your third plan could be a practical back-up to your current life, if for some reason you lost your job or some other life event happened.
  2. Give each plan a six-word title and write down three questions about each version of your life.
    The questions are intended to be though-provoking for you, such as: “Would I like owning my own business?” “If I own an art studio in Brooklyn, would I miss living in the Midwest?” “Do I want all the student loans that come with medical school?”
  3. Rank each life plan
    Consider the resources you have to put this plan into place as well as your confidence level about whether you would really like it. The final scales asks you about “coherence” and how much sense this makes overall.

The authors recommend sharing your plans with close family and friends, not necessarily so they can critique each plan, but so that they can reflect and ask you questions. It might even be a shared group activity that they partake in as well.

To start designing your own life options, check out their online worksheet here: http://designingyour.life/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/DYL-Odyssey-Planning-Worksheet-v21.pdf