Overcoming Goal Setting Challenges

January 15, 2014

Image of a chalk board with post-it notes ascedning a stair case reading: Set Goal, Make Plan, Get to Work, Stick to it, Reach GoalRecently, the staff here in the OITE had a dose of our own medicine.  Our boss asked us to complete a document about our professional goals and needs. This document reminded many of us about how we tell trainees to “fill out an IDP”.

For a group of professionals in the career development field, we were all surprised how hard this document was to complete.  Now, we have a whole new appreciation of what our trainees struggle with when we ask them to do the same thing.

A favorite quote from one personal document was: “These goals seem a bit random, because at the moment that is how I feel about preparing for the next step.  A bit out-of-focus and not sure where to go next; I am not sure what I am missing.” Sound familiar??

So why was it so hard for us?

  1. Telling our boss what we want to do next is tough.  No one wants their current boss to think they are unhappy with their current job.  Sometimes one can actually be really happy, but this document makes it feel like you are telling them all of the ways the current position stinks.  And if the boss thinks we are not happy, or are we are thinking of moving on… the boss may think less of us or perceive us as not giving 110%.  So, we struggled with how honest to be.
  2. Not having a clear understanding of where you want to go next, nor what you need to get there.  This is like the interview question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”  We all honestly just want to say, “Happily employed”.  But this question really is at the heart of career development.  What trajectory do you want to go on?  For some of us we feel like we are in unchartered territory, there is no obvious next step.  Therefore it is hard to understand how to prepare for it.
  3. Assessing where you are personally and what you need to work on takes a high level of self-awareness and honesty.  This really means taking a hard look at your strengths and weaknesses and then charting how these will influence your career path.

How did we overcome the challenges?

Taking time to sit and think. This is the type of exercise that takes time, and time is always a limited commodity.  We are all busy.  But, like exercising, this is one of those things you need to do for your personal good.  We all finally had to set a deadline, and for many of us this is the reason we finished.

Find a way to structure your thinking.  For some of us, that was pulling out an IDP document.  Others of us did a personal SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).  Some people made lists of items.  Whatever works for you, find a way to give yourself some starting points so you are not just looking at a blank piece of paper.

Asking career mentors.  Hopefully you have heard our mantra of multiple mentors.  Here in the office we chatted with each other (peer mentors) and other staff to put some ideas on the table to discuss the pros and cons.

Realizing that this is just a process, and not a commitment.  The goal here is to have a document to start a career journey, not to make a long term contract to a particular career choice.  By continuing the conversation with a career coach, thinking more, and exploring– this document will morph as we make choices for our futures.

 

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The Industry Job Search is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

September 2, 2013

Professionals in business attire running toward red finish line.

For an industry job for scientists, the interview process generally takes six to eight weeks.  Starting with an initial phone screen, successful candidates move on to an on-site interview where they usually meet with a number of people from the organization and give a scientific presentation.  Next is the final interview, during which a verbal offer may be extended.  What is not as well elucidated is how long the overall search process is likely to take.

The rule of thumb in industry is that your job search will take one month for every $10,000 of the job’s salary and generally longer for your first industry position.  The positions sought by postdocs often times have annual salaries approaching $80,000, so it is easy to do the math.  It is likely that your industry job search will last the better part of a year.

Therefore, a job search is more akin to a marathon than a sprint.  As with many successful long-term projects, it is important to set and meet interim goals along the way. Weekly and monthly objectives are recommended for your job search.   The most critical areas to make continual progress on are:

  • Develop and follow a target list of companies.
    The most common targeting criteria include: companies with a common research focus as your experience; companies within your preferred geographic locations; and companies in which you have contacts.  It is important to follow company news, which may include information on key employees, strategies and financial reports.  For smaller companies in particular, news of a large cash inflow, an initial public offering (IPO), or a licensing deal is often a harbinger of increased hiring.  Overall, this type of data can help set you apart from other potential candidates when that interview comes because you have done your “homework.”
  • Create and foster your network of industry contacts.
    Effective tools for this step are LinkedIn, in which you can sort by company name to identify your contacts within your target companies, and the NIH Alumni Database.  Informational interviews are a good place to start to acquire not only information about particular jobs or a company’s working conditions, but many other answers to the varied questions you may have.  You may even be able to get advance information on potential job openings before they are posted.  From these initial contacts it is important to then expand your network to include their contacts.  A great final question for these sessions is, “Is there anyone else that you might recommend that I speak with?”

Since interviewing for a particular job normally takes only six to eight weeks but your total job search can take upwards of a year, it is likely that you will face some disappointment along the way. Taking care of yourself is essential. Scheduling time for activities such as exercising, meditating, spending time with friends and loved ones, and speaking with a therapist and/or career counselor is often helpful to job-seekers.

This is important not only to cope with possible frustration or sadness, but also to maintain your edge during the interview process.  Feel free to connect with the OITE for guidance and support. https://www.training.nih.gov/career_services.


How a Mentor Helped Me Succeed…and How I Now Get to Help Her

July 10, 2013

Post written by Lori M. Conlan, Director of the Postdoc Office and the Career Services Center at the OITE

This week I had lunch with the first mentor I had outside of the lab environment. In 2006, I had just left my postdoc to join a non-profit in Manhattan—the New York Academy of Sciences. I knew I could do the job running a career development program for graduate students and postdocs, but I was clueless about how life worked in an office. I started on a Tuesday, and by Friday I was sent off on my first business trip to Miami. One of my colleagues, the VP of marketing and membership, went with me. Through out the entire trip she explained the rules of the trade and actively engaged me in business meetings with university leaders. She was never officially charged to be my mentor, nor did I specifically ask her to be my mentor—it was a relationship that grew organically due to the integrated nature of our work. Over the next year or so this terrific mentor helped me learn to develop successful marketing campaigns, improved my non-technical writing, taught me how to be persuasive, and most importantly how to navigate office politics and big egos. I always knew that she was giving me more than she was receiving, but she has always been passionate at mentoring the next generation. We loosely stayed in touch after she left the organization, a common thing that happens with networking and mentoring. I was always appreciative that she smoothed the transition from the bench to the desk, but never knew how I was going to give back in the circle of networking.

Fast-forward seven years. She and her husband are moving to DC for his job and she is looking for connections here. Now, I am happy to be on the other side giving back to the networking relationship. We chatted about what her passions are and how she can relate her skill sets to those passions. She went away from lunch yesterday with broader ideas about the types of places she would like to work, specific venues in DC, and even a few introductions. I know she is a master networker, and has met with tons of people as she explores what is next in her career, but I did feel like I gave back a bit for all the good she did for me years ago.

When I talk with fellows about finding mentors, they often ask, “But what do I have to offer them?” So, as you ponder setting up mentoring relationships and you wonder about how you will give back to the relationship—don’t underestimate what you may be giving back in the future. Mentoring always leads to positive outcomes for both people in the relationship. And what those positive outcomes are changes as your lives change. I hope you too find a mentor that you can connect with for years to come.  And don’t worry if you lose touch, these good mentoring relationships can always be re-invigorated no matter how long you have been apart (even seven years in this case).

Check out the OITE’s other blog posts for more on mentoring and networking


Tips on Conducting a Job Search Anywhere

May 20, 2013

Do you need to find a job in a geographically limited area far from your current location? Maybe your significant other just found a dream job, or maybe you just always wanted to live in Seattle, WA – whatever the reason, a remote and geographically limited job search poses a distinct set of challenges that require some strategizing to overcome. Here are a few thoughts that may help from a person who recently was searching for a job in Dallas, TX, while living in Bethesda, MD.  These tips are useful in any job search, but particularly for conducting a remote search.

Begin the search early. Job options tend to be reduced when they are limited by geography. Imposing boundaries on the location means relying on fewer potential employers. The more time you allow for finding a job, the better.

Use your network. Your network should be your first resource in a remote job search. Know the histories of the people in your network, and keep up with their current locations. Ask people currently or historically linked to the area for suggested companies or connections. Some of your contacts may work for a company with an office in that location and may be willing to send out feelers on your behalf. Always ask permission before using a contact’s name or, even better, ask them to provide an introduction.

Do not limit yourself to professional contacts. Talk to friends, alumni associations, volunteer organizations, members of your religious institute, or anywhere else you may find an unexpected lead. If you are a member of a professional or volunteer organization, contact the local chapters to make some connections. Seek local people at conferences. Make your job search as widely known as possible – the more exposure the better. Conducting a secretive job search poses more of a challenge, but typically you can advertise pretty broadly without you current boss finding out.

Use job Sites. Job sites will be your friend. Most career sites filter searches to a specific area or radius around an area. Check out the state labor department for local search engines. The City of Dallas website had links to six local search engines.

Know your business. If you are looking for an academic job, search all the universities. For me, looking for a job in science policy in Dallas meant searching anywhere that might have a policy/government relations office, like non-profit organizations and universities. After finding some leads, go back to your network and look for the connections. Cold e-mails to directors or assistant directors (managers) located in offices of interest can end up in future leads or even a job.  So don’t be afraid to write them a note.  None of the offices I contacted were hiring at the time, but I continued to receive several leads from the people I contacted with in those initial cold e-mails.

Be flexible. Compromising a little on the job you are seeking may go a long way towards finding a position. As a person recently preparing for a science policy career in Washington, DC, where policy jobs are plentiful, now moving to Dallas, TX, where science policy jobs are next to non-existent, I had to broaden my search to jobs with similar skills requirements and career goals. After some considerable research, I found a job in the communications office of a local university requiring many of the same skills and tasks that I enjoyed in science policy.

To recap: start early, use your network heavily, use search engines wisely, cold call companies of interest, and use your network even more.

What are your suggestions or experiences for a remote job search?


You forgot your job packet email attachment– What now?

February 25, 2013

You found an awesome job posting or graduate program, crafted the perfect curriculum vitae, and created a cover letter capable of convincing the staunchest of holdouts that you are a vital addition to their team. The only problem is you remembered to attach your resume after pressing send on your cover letter e-mail. Forgotten attachments happen to everyone, but the job application process is where you are supposed to distinguish yourself as a better candidate than everyone else. So – now what?

Unlike many career advice searches on the internet, there are not a lot of professional sites with comments on forgotten attachments. The obvious action requires you to send the forgotten materials; otherwise there is no chance for success. The real question remains: How do provide the missing information while saving face?

Do you apologize for the mistake? Do you try to act as if it never happened? The best route is to resend the same e-mail (with the attachment this time) with a comment in the title about the inclusion. Do not write a long, apologetic paragraph about forgetting the attachment. This reaction makes a big deal out of a common mistake and can make you seem insecure. At the same time you need to say something to differentiate the new e-mail from the old one so the hiring manager or principal investigator does not think you are spamming them. One postdoc recently forgot to attach their resume to a cold call e-mail and recovered by simply sending the same e-mail entitled “Employment inquiry at blah with attached resume”, and received a positive response.

For the most part, human resources and principal investigators tend to be pretty forgiving. Just keep in mind they are judging you at every interaction – this can be a time to show your ability to recover gracefully from a difficult situation.

Mistakes made during the application process may come back to haunt you during the interview. Keep in mind that if you are being interviewed that the company/ principal investigator thinks you might be a good fit for them. Do not be the one to bring up a past mistake. Do not give them a reason to deny you the position. Only talk about a past error from your application process if they ask about it. Be prepared with an answer that puts you in a positive light, not something like you were too busy applying to their competitor and forgot the attachment to them.

Of course, the better strategy is to remember the attachment. Make a list of things, mentally or written down, that you always check before submitting any application. Some items to include can be; properly addressing the cover letter, attaching the required documentation, filling in the subject line, and using spell check (spell check will not reliably catch names).  Leave a comment with other items you think the email proof-reading list should include.

 

 


Understanding Emotional Intelligence: perhaps a secret to success?

February 19, 2013

Last week at the NIH, Daniel Goleman delivered a talk about Emotional Intelligence and how it influences leadership.  The premise of Emotional Intelligence is that understanding your emotions, the emotions of others, and how the two interact allows us to be more successful and happier.

Emotional Intelligence suggests that to be successful the following traits are important:

  • Self awareness:  being able to assess and understand your emotions and having self-confidence
  • Social awareness: having empathy, organizational awareness and service orientation
  • Self-management: having emotional self-control, adaptability, initiative and optimism
  • Relationship management: developing others, influence, providing inspiration, conflict management and teamwork

While that all seems well and good, we often hear that scientists lack these types of people skills.  The urban myth is that as long as you are smart enough you can succeed, without having to worry about how you interact with others.  But, there is no researcher that operates in a vacuum—especially today in the word of team science and collaboration.

So, how do you become more aware about these topics, and use them to become more successful?

  1. Reflect on how you respond to stressors.  Are there particular things that you know are hot buttons for you?  In the topics that cause you stress, are there any similarities?  What happens?  Be detailed when you think of these; who is involved, what do you say (or not say), what is the outcome?  What do you wish you would have done or said?
  2. Practice different responses.  One way to get a better response is to practice it, even if it does not feel “right”.  Think about this as writing with your non-dominant hand.  It is possible, but it takes practice to make it legible.  Is there a time when you saw someone else handle a situation well, what can you take from that challenge you witnessed?   When you reflected on a situation did you see another response that would have been better?
  3. Understand the other person’s position.  This is not to say that you agree, but that you see the problem from their perspective.  How can you use that information to build a working relationship?
  4. Breath.  By focusing on your breath you can help reduce stress.  This is also called Mindfulness.

There is no passive solution to understanding these topics, you have to practice.  We teach techniques in OITE leadership and management courses.  Workplace Dynamics covers understanding yourself and others and our Management Bootcamp has a whole session on working with Emotional Intelligence.  We have even started to present these topics at national meetings such as Experimental Biology.

If you are an NIHer, you can Watch Daniel Goleman’s talk from last week.  If you want other information on Emotional Intelligence check out the book list on sites such as Amazon or from your local library.

Research the topic, and learn to be more successful in science by embracing that people are part of our success.


Making the Transition to a New Position

November 26, 2012

You have a new job!  (or hope to soon).  Here are some tips to make the transition to your new position successful and as easy as possible.

First, remember that transitions are always tough.  While you are likely very excited about a new position, the transition can be overwhelming, especially if you are moving to a new location. You are closing out a chapter in your life that has likely lasted between two and five years (or more).   You are saying goodbye to friends and colleagues and disrupting an established routine—so some anxiety is totally normal.

Finish strong and leave your current job on a positive note.  Finish those last minute experiments, organize those freezer boxes, clean your personal spaces (bench, desk, etc), train other people in the group on what you do, and organize/clean/save important computer files and emails.  This always seems to take longer than you think it should, and many of us have put this off to the last minute and then scrambled to finish everything before we walk out the door.  Also, decide how many of those last minute experiments can honestly be done before you leave.  Someone else in the lab can likely perform the rest after you leave.

Make sure you take time to say goodbye to people.  Things can be chaotic as you transition, and sometimes we forget the people.  Schedule enough time to say goodbye (without over-scheduling so that you are going crazy trying to keep your social calendar in check).

If your new job requires you to move, ask the organization you are moving to for relocation help.  Even if this will just be a colleague that will point you in the right direction for good neighborhoods, childcare, restaurants, etc.  Finding a good place to live will make the transition much easier.  You can even search the alumni databases or Linkedin to find other people who are in that location to get guidance.

Make a plan for your arrival at your new job.  Some recommend a 90 day plan of what you would like to get done.  A good book on is The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins.  Also, if you are heading to an academic appointment, you may want to read Making the Right Moves (published by HHMI), and At the Helm by Kathy Barker.  Create a summary and overview of your position, as you see it.  Then make a list of goals that you should (and can) complete in your first 30, 60, and 90 days.  In this, also mention the assumptions that you have and any required resources needed in order to make this happen.  This gives you some good guidelines and goals as you move into a new position with many other unknowns.

Build a good reputation with both your new boss and your new coworkers.  Be part of the team.  Volunteer to tackle doable projects.  Ask your co-workers on the best places for lunch and coffee (and even invite them to share in a cup of coffee with you).  Don’t try to integrate too quickly into every conversation.  Remember, these people have built a bond and you will need time to really understand all of the nuances of the relationships.

Finally, make sure to take some time for your own work-life balance.  Finding new places in the community is a great way to find a new support system, to gain friends and to make this transition less lonely.

So good luck!!!  And keep in touch…..your transition now makes a terrific success story for those coming through the ranks behind you!