‘Tis the Season for Your Career Development

December 17, 2014

The holiday season is a time when many of us are trying to finalize year end work projects on top of managing personal obligations.   While trying to handle holiday stress, it is easy to lose sight of your own professional goals during this time of year.

Many job seekers protest, “No one’s hiring right now, anyway!” or “I’ll just start job searching in the New Year.” Whatever the excuse, the holiday season is actually a great time to focus on your own career development.  Here are a few reasons why:

Holiday Networking
Your inclination may be to wait until sometime after the holidays to dedicate time to your search; however, the holidays are actually a great time to begin networking. The increase in holiday parties allows for you to cross paths with people you haven’t seen in a while as well as connect with new individuals. Take advantage of December and the increased association with family, friends, and other groups.

The other advantage during this time of the year is that you have a reason to reconnect. Whether through holiday greeting cards or emails, it is the perfect chance to help sustain professional relationships. Just be sure to personalize these greetings and don’t fall back on a general mass email.

Holiday Vacation
More free time and a lighter work load can allow you to accomplish a lot more than you normally would. Use the holiday season’s lull to get caught up on a few things. Fine tune your resume, cover letters and LinkedIn profile.  Research new companies to target or make a list of potential contacts.  Or maybe, you’ll want to use this slower time to pause and reflect on the past year and what you are hoping to accomplish in the upcoming year.

Holiday Traffic
No, not that traffic! The traffic on the roads might be horrendous as you travel during the holiday season, but the website traffic to job search sites decreases dramatically in November and December.  While your competition is sitting around a fire sipping eggnog, you can be submitting your application now.  This often means that you are looked at within a smaller pool of candidates. You also have the added benefit of getting in before the peak application times of January and February.

The holidays can be a special time of the year and it can be a great time to relax and rejuvenate. It doesn’t mean that you have to put your search on hold though. Using this time wisely can help prepare you for career success in the New Year.  However you celebrate the holidays, the OITE wishes you the best!


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.


You Need to Write Better Emails

May 12, 2014

Image of a blue envelope with a slip of paper denoting an "@" symbolEmails are a huge part of everyday life. Look at your own inbox and I am sure you will agree. In today’s world of constant digital communication, strong writing and effective communication skills are more important than ever. Especially if you are job searching, remember that all of your correspondence throughout that process is being critiqued. You only have once chance to make a good virtual impression, so pay careful attention to detail!

Here are some of the most common email mistakes to avoid:

1. Misspelling the recipient’s name.
Many people have uniquely spelled names or a name that is difficult for you to type correctly. Autocorrect can be your worst nightmare in this regard. Compound this with the fact that people generally focus on their name within a document and can immediately spot an incorrect spelling. So, whatever you do, double check your typing and make sure you are spelling the person’s name correctly.

2. Using an incorrect title.
If you are not sure whether you should use Mr. Ms. or Dr. then do a bit more research. Look around online and within LinkedIn to find the most appropriate title. When in doubt, address someone more formally to avoid offending them.

3. Stop defaulting to Dear Sir/Madam.
The best email communication is personalized and this is a generic catch all that often goes awry. Too many female colleagues complain about the number of “Dear Sir” emails they receive daily.

4. Skipping the salutation and valediction.
General pleasantries might seem like unnecessary filler to you, but they can help warm up the tone of your email. They are especially important when you don’t know the person you are emailing very well. Simply starting with your text and no greeting and ending without some sort of closing can come across as curt. Take the time to properly address your recipient (“Dear Dr. Smith,” or Hello Ms. Jones,”) and to close your email effectively (Best regards, Your Name or Thank you, Your Name).

5. Using a vague subject line.
Give your reader a heads up before they even open your message. By using a descriptive subject line, you are helping to get to your point quickly. Your reader will probably thank you for cutting to the chase and saving a bit of their time.

6. Don’t resend an unanswered email!
Forwarding an unanswered note to the same recipient with no new message can be perceived as annoying at best and rude at worst. Try to include a note saying, “I know you are busy, but did you get a chance to look at the message I sent about X?”

7. Don’t spam an entire office/department with the same question.
The problem with sending the same email to multiple individuals is that you often forget to tailor for each individual. So Mr. Jones may get Ms. Smith’s message and quickly realize the spammed message upon receipt. Don’t assume that co-workers aren’t conferring and making notes.

8. Avoid textspeak.
Abbreviations, non-governmental acronyms and emoticons are way too casual to include within a professional email. Always err on the side of formality.

Following these tips will help you avoid some of the most common email faux pas. Effective emailing can help you network, job search, and perform well in your current job. For even more tips on writing effective emails, check out a past blog post here.

What mistakes have we missed? What are some of your email pet peeves? Let us know in the comments!


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.

 


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….

 


Review of ResearchGate

March 24, 2014

Screen shot of a user profile on ResearchGate. The user profile highlighted is Ijad Madisch, one of ResearchGate's founders.Recently a few trainees have inquired about ResearchGate, so we decided to take a further look at this site. It was founded in 2008 by two physicians who discovered that collaborating with a friend or colleague (especially one across the world) was no easy task. They created this website with the intent of helping make scientific progress happen faster.

ResearchGate has been described as a mash up of familiar social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn because it contains profile pages, groups, job listings, the ability to leave comments as well as “like” and “follow” buttons. However, this social networking site is designed exclusively for scientists and researchers. According to ResearchGate’s site, there are four million users and their primary aim is to:

• Share publications
• Seek new collaborations
• Ask questions and hopefully receive answers from like-minded researchers
• Connect with colleagues

ResearchGate is free to join and members can upload copies of their papers. All papers will be searchable, which also allows users to track and follow the research publications of others in their field. Researchers are encouraged to not only upload successful results but those from failed projects or experiments, which are stored in a separate but still searchable area. The official mission of this site states: We believe science should be open and transparent. This is why we’ve made it our mission to connect researchers and make it easy for them to share, discover, use, and distribute findings. We help researchers voice feedback and build reputation through open discussion and evaluations of each other’s research.

Some critics of ResearchGate argue that even though the site states that there are four million users, it seems there are a lot of inactive profiles. Another criticism has focused on the fact that there hasn’t been much buy in from senior researchers meaning a high percentage of users are students or junior researchers. If you decide to create a ResearchGate profile, make sure you tailor the notification and privacy settings associated with your account since some members have complained about unwanted email spamming.

At this point, ResearchGate shouldn’t be the only site you use for networking, but it can be another helpful tool to connect with like-minded scientists/researchers and additionally it can be another way to help promote your work. As with any site, the more effort you put in, the more you will likely get out of this resource.

We would love to hear your thoughts about ResearchGate! If you have used it, what do you see as the pros and cons? Do you have any recommendations for future users?

**Compilation of Readers’ Reviews**

* In addition to networking, it is extremely useful as a research tool. A couple of points:
-When users sign up the website automatically adds the publications that have your name and appear in your profile, it also continues searching and when one
publishes an article it is also added automatically.
– It also suggests to connect with people that you cite and people who cite you so it is a tremendous tool to keep up with people in your field.
– People can ask questions about experiments and also get immediate feedback if they have questions about a publication instead of having to wonder.
– It allows you to follow senior investigators the same way one can follow a celebrity on Twitter, but there are no tweets and unless you ask a question all the conversations are personal,
there are no “wall postings.”

* It seems to be getting some traction with senior investigators. In the future, it may become more relevant to academia than perhaps LinkedIn.  Within ResearchGate, it is easier to connect with senior investigators because requests are not sent to connect, rather one just “follows” researchers.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Staff Scientist

March 4, 2014

Name: Anna Burkart Sadusky, PhD

Job Title & Company: Staff Scientist, Omeros Corporation

Location: Seattle, WA

How long you’ve been in your current job: Over two years

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Jurrien Dean, MD; NIDDK, Development Biology Lab

What do you do as a Staff Scientist?
As a Staff Scientist, I initiate, direct and execute technology development projects.  Basically, I design and perform experiments at the bench utilizing hypothesis driven research.  These experiments include cell-based assays as well as animal research models to support our drug discovery pipeline.  As a Staff Scientist, I am expected to work independently and maintain a broad knowledge of state-of-the-art scientific principles and theories.  I am expected to write technical reports and present my findings to the research team on a routine basis.  I am also tasked with presentations to directors and senior members of the company, including the executive board.  As a small business, we are eligible for a number of public and private grants, so additionally, I am involved with grant writing to obtain funding for various research projects.  Our company also protects our intellectual property by filing a number of scientific patents, and I am responsible for writing the scientific background for several of these patents.

What do you research?
I was hired primarily to support G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) research and development.  GPCRs mediate key physiological processes in the body, and of the 363 characterized GPCRs, only about 46 are currently targeted by marketed drugs.  These GPCR-targeting drugs represent 30-40% of all drugs sold worldwide, thus there are a number of GPCRs that still could be targeted for drug development.  Omeros uses a proprietary high-throughput cellular redistribution assay to identify small-molecule compounds that target GPCRs.  It is our hope that these small molecule compounds will lead to the development of drugs that can act at these receptors which have been linked to a broad range of indications, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, pain, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, learning and cognitive disorders, autism, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and several forms of cancer.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
Having such a broad scientific focus has been the hardest transition for me.  In graduate school and my postdoctoral fellowships, my research was focused to one field, namely reproductive physiology.  At Omeros, I am expected and relied upon to become the expert for several different research areas, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and metabolic disorders.  Even within cancer, my projects have targeted esophageal cancer, glioblastoma, and leukemia.  At Omeros, I have to be knowledgeable about these different research areas and I have to be prepared to leap quickly from one project to the next.  Additionally, although I have input on these research projects, ultimately the executive board makes decisions regarding which projects move forward through the drug discovery pipeline.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
A strong understanding and foundation in the principles of cell and molecular biology are essential requirements for my position.  Being able to think critically and creatively is also important.  Staff scientists are hired because of their PhD training.  They are expected to work independently and efficiently.  Management and senior staff make important decisions regarding the direction of discovery research by relying on their scientists.

Flexibility and adaptability are also important.  As I mentioned before, as a staff scientist I balance several different research projects and I have to be prepared to move quickly between cancer research to central nervous system disorders to metabolic disease.  I am constantly reading papers to keep current with these research areas as well as up to date with research methods. 

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
Presentation skills are extremely important. I meet with many different people on a weekly basis, some of whom do not have a scientific background.  Therefore, my presentations must change depending on the audience, whether they are scientists, company board members, outside business people, or patent attorneys.   In any given week, I can present the same information multiple times with different presentations every time.

Writing is also an essential skill for this position.  As I mentioned previously, grant and patent writing are tasks that I am assigned.  Since we are a smaller biotech company (~100 employees), we are all extremely busy.  People rely on my writing abilities and do not have the time to rewrite material that leaves my office.

My best advice to postdocs is to sharpen these soft skills during your postdoctoral fellowship.  Force yourself to select oral presentations instead of poster presentations when you sign up for conferences.  Look for opportunities to write not just scientific papers, but also grants or articles for the general public, such as in newsletters or magazines.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I love that I am constantly learning in this position.  I get to research new techniques and explore such vastly different areas of science, which is very exciting.  Also, there is an immense satisfaction knowing that your research can one day lead to the development of drugs that can treat human diseases.

What was your job search like?
About six months before I moved to Seattle, my husband, who is an active-duty Army officer, found out that he would be stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), located approximately 40 miles south of Seattle, WA.  I started my job search immediately because I was unsure about the Seattle biotech job market.  Over this six month span, I applied to any science job that popped up in a 70 mile radius of JBLM, and in total I applied to close to 80 jobs.  I found many of the job postings online.  Additionally, I had been a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle from 2005-2006, and I was fortunate to have developed and maintained a professional network here in Seattle.  These connections in Seattle kept me apprised of job openings and in some cases forwarded my resume directly to hiring managers.

During my job search, I was also fortunate to have attended several biotech job fairs in the DC metro area.  At one of these job fairs, there were companies present that had offices/locations in Seattle and I was able to speak directly with hiring managers for these Seattle locations.  These hiring managers were helpful because they told me that the hiring landscape in Seattle was very insular and that the PhD job market was saturated.  Many of the hiring managers mentioned that their companies were only interviewing Seattle-area applicants, and some job postings included that only local residents should apply.  In my cover letters I would emphasize that I was relocating to the area, including a specific time frame for my relocation, and also including a Seattle area mailing address (which the sellers of our house agreed to let me use two months before we closed on our house).

I found the job posting for Omeros online and sent my cover letter and resume to the email address they provided for the hiring manager. The hiring manger reached out to me after reviewing my materials and invited me for an interview the first week following my relocation.

What was your interview like?
I actually had a total of three different interviews.  In my first interview, I met separately with three people, including the supervisor for this position.  All three were interested in my research background, specifically regarding the scientific design and approach for my projects.  They also inquired about my reasons for pursuing a career in biotech and for my relocation to Seattle.  They were extremely interested in my publication record, specifically how involved I was in the writing, submission and review process.  Each interview lasted approximately 30-45 minutes and after meeting with all three people I was asked for a list of references.  After contacting my references, I was invited back for a second interview to give a presentation on my postdoctoral research at the NIH.  I met with all the senior scientific research staff, essentially everyone with a PhD in the company, including the original three people I had met during my first interview.  For my third interview, I was invited to meet directly with the CEO of the company.  Following all three interviews I was then offered the position.

In hindsight, how would you have done your job search differently?
In hindsight I probably wasted a lot of time applying to positions for which I was overqualified.  Because my job search was remote and geographically limited to Seattle, I applied to any scientific job posting in the Seattle area.  However, my experience in biotech has shown me that when a position lists a bachelor’s degree as the education requirement, there is little chance they will a hire someone with a PhD.  I probably could have eliminated about a quarter of the jobs I applied for if I had focused solely on the jobs that required a PhD.

I also would have reached out to more people for informational interviews.  I mistakenly believed that I had to meet with people in person for these informational interviews and rather than expanding my professional network, I relied mostly on prior connections.  In the past couple of years, I have been contacted for information interviews by numerous postdocs, and nearly all of these have been over the phone or email.

Any last bits of advice?
At the PhD level, you are no longer merely hands at the bench anymore. You will eventually play a larger role in making decisions for guiding research down the company pipeline.  Your time at the bench will diminish and you have to be prepared to go from the bench to the boardroom.

For your job search, don’t be afraid to reach out to people.  Most people are willing to share their experiences and to offer help.  It’s up to you to establish those connections.  Lori Conlan always emphasized the importance of networking.  Listen to her and take advantage of OITE and all of their resources!