Career Pathways in Biotech and Pharma: Launch your Career in Industry: Become the Standout Candidate

Recently, I attended a panel Q&A discussion at the American Biomedical Research Conference for Minority students (#ABRCMS2017) with speakers from several biopharmaceutical organisations (Biodesix, Genentech and Novartis) sharing their personal experiences as candidates and recruiters and offering advice on how applicants can be standout candidates.

The discussion was aimed at delegates from all aspects of the bio and medical sciences and included undergraduate, postgraduate, post-doctoral candidates and faculty members.

According to the speakers, there is no one size fits all approach to recruitment and attraction of candidates by employers in the biotech sector however, these employers generally are attracted to stand-out attributes and skills.

The panelists included –

Dr Alex Gaither (Novartis),

Dr Garry Pestano (Biodesix),

Jonathan Zarzar ‎(Genentech) and

Pam Leung (Genentech)

The range of the questions were on CV/resume, culture fit, personal branding and interviews. I have collated some of the questions asked in the session and included some of the responses from the panel.  

For advice on writing a great CV, do read our previous post here

ABRCMS
Image source – E. Adukwu

 

Question – Should I provide CV or resume and is there any need for the covering letter?

The employers generally advised that it is important to provide the #CV and #coveringletter when contacting an employer. One of the employers mentioned that if it is relating to an application, the employers would normally indicate what you as a candidate would need to provide e.g. CV and covering letter or completion of an application process.

One bit of advice offered was for candidates to “Build your CV as early as you can” as this should be an ongoing process to remember the activities you have taken part in and a record of the skills gained

Differences between with academia and industry. Are the skills required similar or different?

This is a very common question asked by students and according to the panel, they look at it differently.

“Obviously your record of accomplishment is important but what we really want to know is how much more can you do?”…”When we hire, in our thinking, we are looking for the person a year or two in advance”…”We also want to know that you can last for the years ahead” – Alex

” if you are determined, you can pick whichever path you want to follow and go for it.”- Garry

Can you expand on culture-fit and what it means?

This question was asked because one of the employers had mentioned that sometimes there is a hidden conversation around “culture-fit” in some organisations he had encountered.

“I have worked with some brilliant scientists that are unable to work well in a team”….we really cannot have such people. You need to be able to fit our culture of teamwork, be a team player and be excited about developing the science and pushing the industry/organisation forward….What we want to know is how well you are going to react and move the company mission forward” – Alex

“You get to work with people in other areas and sometimes you might be the only scientist in your team so the skills you need to have are; how to negotiate, get data from others, communication etc… sometimes we do bring in consultants to help transition our culture and help us create values to shape our culture. Culture allows you the opportunity to have a safe space to excel” – Garry

A short presentation about the importance of branding was delivered by Jonathan (Genentech). He talked about the “elevator pitch” but also mentioned the importance of defining the concept of YOUR personal brand and highlight how it can benefit you at the job or workplace.

For articles on elevator pitch and how to use the elevator pitch to land a job, the Forbes article by Nancy Collamer  is a good place to start.

Anything you do not recommend someone talks about with regard to his or her personal brand?

the idea of a personal brand is about “messaging”, “getting yourself through the door…..think about it in terms of aligning yourself to what the company or your contact is looking for” – Jonathan

“we all have a brand; how we dress, how we carry ourselves and how we engage, these are all parts of that brand. It is something you need to pay attention to; it is the eye contact, level of voice, tone etc. Like it or not, we are constantly being watched and assessed by someone.” – Garry

“every single interaction in a professional space is a part of your brand” – Alex

How do you know it is too much information (TMI) in terms of branding?

“don’t talk about money; don’t continuously talk about what you did in the past; do not always revisit where you were especially if you are at an interview – recognise why you are there!” – Alex

“there is a fine boundary on what you should be sharing and maybe what you should not” – Garry

Should I be applying to a company where there is a lot of competition and many applicants?

“if you did not choose not to apply to university or a specific programme even though it was competitive, you should not shy away from applying for a competitive position.” – Garry

“actually attending a meeting or conference already puts you in a competitive space, you are likely to be recognised, and you can make a good impression, which can go a long way” – Alex

Phone and/or video interviews. Any advice?

One of the key suggestions given here was the importance of preparing like you would if you were going to a face-to-face interview.

Also, speak slowly, it is easier to talk on the phone. Also, make sure you do research the company. (Pretty simple!!) – Jonathan

Interviewers tend to ask, what your biggest weakness is. How do you advise applicants to answer this question?

According to the employers, this is a question that can often trip a lot of applicants and candidates however they remarked that it is a question that candidates can be smart about and be creative.

“it is about recognising what you need to work on and telling the employer what you are planning to do to” – Jonathan

“there is no right answer. What I am impressed by is the creativity in those responses. This question can show how you think, your behaviour and also create interesting conversations or further discussions at the interview.” – Garry

How should students explain gaps in work history when applying for jobs?

biotech is looking for more people at the moment so sometimes we do not look at these when we recruit – Jonathan

The other speakers suggested that it is dependent on the circumstances!

Do you accept international applicants for internships? 

“Genentech does accept international interns. We have about 500 interns and constantly looking for the best” – Pam

Quite a fascinating session and lots of great advice I wish I had as a student. The #ABRCMS2017 is a great four-day conference which had over 4000 student delegates from over 350 colleges and presenting in twelve STEM disciplines. You can find out more and see information about the conference, organisers and sponsors by visiting their website here

Hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you would like to discuss any aspects of this article or have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us at info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com.

EAdukwu

About the writer – Emmanuel Adukwu, Ph.D. is an academic, scientist innovator and content writer and co-owner of the aspiring professionals Hub . He has a PhD in Microbiology and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK). For more about Emmanuel, visit the about us page here.

#NationalInclusionWeek –Inclusion, Diversity and Equity in the Workplace, How are you Performing?

It is hard not to notice globally the topic of race and gender taking centre stage due to recent political  decisions in Europe, the UK and of course the US.  The impact of the politics has and continues to affect professional and work environment e.g. the uncertainty around #brexit and research, job mobility between the EU and the UK, #Charlottesville and the after-effects  etc.

What might have gone unnoticed, was that last week was #NationalInclusionWeek in the UK. This is an annual campaign to raise awareness of the importance of inclusion in the workplace and the benefits of an inclusive and diverse workforce to business growth.

What is #Inclusivity and why is this important?

“Inclusion” in itself as a term is self-explanatory and is “about making sure that people feel valued, respected, listened to and able to challenge. It’s about recognising and valuing the differences we each bring to the workplace and creating an environment where everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources and can contribute to the organisations success.”

Sounds easy doesn’t it? That should be the minimum expectation in any workplace however the reality is different. In all aspects of professional engagement: workplace, research and governance etc. there are several identified barriers to inclusion (NIHR)

  • Cultural and institutional barriers
  • Attitudes and beliefs
  • Emotional and psychological barriers
  • Issues of mental capacity
  • Financial barriers

In the educational sector, inclusion is also a key problem with some barriers more deep-rooted e.g.

  • Physical barriers and accessibility still remains a major barrier in the UK and beyond. Students with learning and physical disability are less likely to access education and resources due to unavailable ramps, doors and well trained personnel.
  • Curricula is a key barrier to inclusion as closed or region-centric curricula does not cater for students from diverse background. In the UK, the National Union of Students (NUS) has started a campaign “Why is my curriculum white?”  aimed at challenging what had been identified as a non-diverse curriculum as a means of shining a light at the lack of diversity in education in the UK.

Overcoming the barriers of inclusivity is undoubtedly not a straight-forward process however there are suggestions to how to achieve this. The NIHR paper on diversity and inclusion in research highlighted three key ways that these barriers can be overcome through:

  • Organisational policies and procedures
  • Flexible ways of working
  • Innovative ways of working

Are there benefits to inclusion?

The evidence suggests that inclusivity and diversity are important in developing a richer culture in the workplace and very important, organisational growth. A recent report by the worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in 2015 showed that companies in the top quartile with gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns above the industry means and where the ethnic and racial diversity were in the top quartile, the figures were around 35%.

Other benefits of inclusion include

  • Diversity of thought
  • Wider reach and wider network
  • More innovation

For more about the benefits, see the Forbes article here

Personal views

In the years I have been actively involved with the issue of diversity and now inclusivity, I have found that this conversation is often viewed through many lenses and it is important to engage with these different viewpoints however what should not be lost is that diversity/inclusion/equity for all should be a human right for all and the ethos of any good organisation should embody that.

Here are some lessons I have learned that might be of benefit for organisations interested in supporting and developing a diverse and inclusive workforce

  • Inclusion cannot be achieved without “Intentional” initiatives and thorough policy review. A lot of organisations attempt to address diversity without evaluating the impact of historical policies on promoting exclusion.
  • Inclusion, diversity, equity is not about deficit. It is about “It is about valuing all individuals, giving equal access and opportunity to all and removing discrimination and other barriers to involvement.” keystoinclusion.co.uk
  • The message of inclusion needs to start early e. children and young people need to be taught to embrace, welcome and respect the views of others and the abilities of the “different” others. In organisations or departments where diversity is lacking issues such as bullying, harassment and gang-mentality in the workplace are very likely.
  • One of the surprising threats to inclusion and diversity is fear! You are more likely to exclude others when you have “doubts”, feeling of “uncertainty”, questions about whether others will “fit in”. To achieve inclusion, organisations need to have bold and emotionally strong leaders.
  • Finally, leadership is an important drive of inclusion. Leaders need to understand the value and importance of inclusivity and to be champions of inclusion and diversity as it is very difficult to achieve without that.

A recent example of a leader using his platform to engage the conversation and promote the discourse was seen last week when Lt General Jay Silveria superintendent of the Air Force Academy addressed 4,000 air force cadets saying “What I wanted the cadets to see…I wanted them to see all of them as an institution protecting these values…I wanted to have a direct conversation with them about the power of diversity, about the power of our make-up. …we need those diverse ideas and that’s the message I wanted them to hear”.

The video of his address has gone viral and whilst the army operates differently from other organisations, the speech/initiative by gen Silveria has not gone unnoticed and shows there is mileage in taking a stand as a leader and it is possible for leaders to lead from the front on the issues of diversity and inclusion.

Is your employer  inclusive or diverse, or are you a new employer interested in developing a diverse workforce, you might find this simple checklist useful. See full article here

Simple checklist for inclusivity
http://diversityintheworkplace.ca

To my knowledge, the #NationalInclusionWeek went almost unnoticed across many organisations in the UK. Did your organisation celebrate or put on an event last week to celebrate inclusion? Do share with us! To find out about organisations who are participating in this campaign, see the link here

You can also read

 Hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you would like to discuss any aspects of this article or have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us at info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com. 

edison1

About the writer – Emmanuel is an academic, scientist and regular blogger. He has a PhD in Microbiology and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK). He is actively involved in supporting, developing diversity initiatives at organisational level and is keen to support local, national and global initiatives to encourage inclusivity.  For more about Emmanuel, visit the about us page here.