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.

Navigating a #Career as a Makeup Artist – Lessons Learned

It’s near spring and this year has been busy so far but we are very pleased to be back with our readers. In this article, Christelle Pellecuer, expert make-up artist with tremendous experience and high many high profile clients and events across the UK shares her experience as a make-up artist and lessons she learnt along the way 

Did you know? –  In 2015 alone, the beauty industry generated $56.2 billion in the United States, with hair and skincare growing very fast and projected to generate revenues of near $11 billion by 2018.

Christelle was born in Madagascar, raised in South of France and now lives in the UK. Christelle has been working as a makeup artist specialised in the fashion and editorial since 2010. Christelle has worked on many different aspects of the fashion industry including music videos, TV shows, magazine shoots, product launch and fashion shows. Her work has been published in several magazines for example The Resident, a South West London magazine.

#CareerChat – What Does It Mean To Be A Good Leader?

leadership-article
Image: Image Basket

Are we born to lead or follow? Are there any certain, genetically determined traits found in some people that naturally puts them in a leadership position? In today’s post, Dr Monika Stuczen shares her thoughts on what it takes to be a good leader and simple tools that make for effective leadership. Enjoy reading!

I was born into an average working class family and grew up under communism in my country. I can’t say that my parents or the society helped me to become a confident child. I was rather treated like someone without any rights to speak, especially at school. If you spoke out loud, it was seen as a lack of respect towards adults and teachers so we always kept our thoughts and opinions to ourselves. As a young person, I was so shy that even a trip to the shop was a challenge because I had to speak and ask for what I wanted. I so hated this feeling of shyness and over years was trying to do everything to overcome it by exposing myself to many challenging situations which required me to be more open and take a lead.

“Writing is Fun and Escapism.” -A Journey into the World of Fiction

Are you thinking of writing your first novel or have you started writing but need that bit of inspiration to help you complete your first manuscript?  In this article, John Hancock, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Author of several academic textbooks in Molecular Biology and Cell Signalling shares his experience of writing fiction. John also shares some advice for prospective authors on taking the plunge into writing that first novel. Enjoy!

Writing is both fun and escapism. Having written quite a lot of non-fiction having the chance to write a story is refreshing. There is no right or wrong way to do fiction, by which I mean you can write about anything as long as it, hopefully, comes across as engaging and enjoyable. 

Bridging the Skills Gap – Are you Skilled to Kill?

essential-skills-for-winning-chess Employers say they can’t get enough skilled labour. Further and Higher Education institutions talk about embedding employability skills in the curriculum. On a personal level, what does being skilled mean to you?Have you identified the skills you have and the skills you need to stand out in your job search or in your current profession? Are there any gaps or are are you skilled to kill? In this article, Dr Nadia Anwar discusses the term ‘skills’ and the importance of skills training.

Skills come both naturally and through training. They are the weapons of power with which you can make a long lasting impression on the highly demanding job market and influence people who play a significant role in your success. Although present in all, most of the time, skills need to be acknowledged and recognized by a person so that they could be appropriately demonstrated in his/her private and public life. However, what are these skills and how are they acquired still generate confusion in potential candidates and hiring agencies.

Skills function as a measuring tool to judge someone’s ability or the degree of efficacy in performing a task.

However, a significant key to understanding any process that involves an interaction designed to assess someone’s ability in any field or aspect of life is to place the concerned person in the context and environment in which s/he is being judged. Not only that, the context also needs to be accommodated by tailoring the skills according to its demands.

Reflections – My journey towards global relevance

Personal development? Professional development? – These are terms that we hear quite often but what do they really mean to you as an individual? Is it simply about developing your skills or does it entail something more? In this ‘Reflections’ piece, Blessing Obinaju expatiates on this topic by sharing her journey of personal and professional development.

Finding your feet in the murky waters of global relevance.’ I recently read this article again on The Aspiring Professionals’ Hub. I will refrain from rehashing the entire message of the article because I want to concentrate on these particular points;

Begin with the end in mind – This is our mantra on the Aspiring Professional’s hub. In your field of study, area of business interest or chosen career, is there anyone, business or role model in that position you aspire to be in worldwide? Knowing something about the journey to their attainment or achievement could be a starting guide for you to start a plan for your own global attainment. These days it is not so hard to learn about global figures when you have Google and in most cases these global stars are on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter or have personal websites.

Have a plan – of your own for that career, design, business or idea BUT with a global audience in mind. For example, if you are choosing a course at University, think broadly about how relevant that course is another country or even worldwide before deciding. If creating a business plan, can that business service a need in another town, state, country, continent beyond your current location? So we suggest in whatever your goals or targets, THINK GLOBALLY.

Finally, personal development is catching fire within Africa. I do remember when I made the decision to pursue a career in academia; I was in my third year studying for an undergraduate degree. I remember the responses I received when I mentioned I was going into teaching. I also remember that to most of my peers at the time, it was the joke of the century.

What is my point?

I was perhaps fortunate to have found my first footing in the murky waters – deciding for myself what I wanted and who I wished to become. It would have been easy to have abandoned that footing simply because it was criticized. Why didn’t I? Well, I wasn’t looking at the immediate moment, I was looking at the end goal, as the article aptly stated, I was beginning with the end in mind.

So, how did I crack on?

I was privileged to have had close relatives who were already in the field. Thus, it was easy to research the steps required to attain the height I envisioned. I devised my plan (including options for any derailment or obstacles) and relentlessly followed it. Of course, nothing ever goes strictly according to a laid out plot – it wouldn’t be life if it did. However, what happens when you have a plan is, there is a calculated margin of what I love to call “happen-stance”: occurrences that take you by absolute surprise, frustrate and completely throw you off your path. I’ am sure that some of you are stomping your feet at this moment and screaming ‘Provide us with a detailed breakdown.’  I won’t tease you longer. For those of you who are Nigerians, you will be able to follow the path more closely. I wouldn’t be an academic if this piece had no schematics. So, here’s the plan and I am happy to say I am currently in the last phase.

Image courtesy of Blessing Obinaju.
Image courtesy of Blessing Obinaju.

So, how has this impacted me, re: global relevance? First, one of my most cited papers as an academic is the very first article I published shortly after my M.Sc. This and the various presentations at conferences during the Ph.D., have been quite relevant to placing my feet firmly on the cobbled stones that help us cross the waters which divide relevance and insignificance. As an academic or an aspiring academic, you can never attend enough conference, workshops or seminars in your field. More importantly, my academic experience and my ability to continuously adapt my plans to fit my goals – despite challenges that the world would always throw my way –  resulted in a book – The DANCE of Life: A guide to living your best life every day. It has also opened opportunities to share my experience as a STEM ambassador for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network as well as in several other forums.

There were some critical control steps in my plan;

Location, location, location – Even though I gained my Master’s degree from a country other than that where I currently hold lectureship position, there was no debate over whether or not I should return to my home country upon completion of the degree. It was more of a forgone conclusion because I knew I was aiming for a lectureship position in my home country and that position would pay for the Ph.D.

Think long term – Notice that my very first job was a volunteer opportunity (yes, it was in Nigeria!). The point of this was, while I was job hunting for academic positions, the volunteer position which was still an education role, ensured that there was no gap period on my CV and I gained additional work experience.

My candid recommendation

Never underestimate the value of internships and do not overlook volunteer opportunities either. Just be certain that they are related to or somewhat impact on your end goal. It is also important to state that the most invaluable tool to really finding one’s feet within those waters is, an ability to constantly increase your bank of knowledge and not just in your area of certification. Being well-versed and well-read isn’t just an attribute of the rich and affluent – thanks to technology – everyone can be. It only takes being proactive and of course, actually desiring to reach your envisioned peak, whatever that is.

Blessing Obinaju is an Academic Researcher, Career Counselor, Life Coach and Image consultant. She works in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Uyo, Nigeria. She is also the Principal consultant at La Belle Vie, providing life coaching services to individuals. You can find her on Twitter @ObinajuBE.

#UniAdvice – Three simple tips that improved my academic writing.

Writing 1Do you approach writing assessments with fear or excitement? Do you procrastinate till the day before your paper, dissertation, essay, technical report is due because you just do not like writing. In this article, Emmanuel shares his journey to becoming a better writer. No one is born a great writer, we all have to work at it!

Speaking to my students in a revision class this afternoon about writing dissertations, I was reminded about some of the advice I received that changed my understanding of writing and actually made me appreciate academic writing and dare I say, start to enjoy it. The funny thing is that like many other students at university, I enjoyed creative writing.  I could write for fun, tell stories and create tales etc. However, I found academic writing challenging. I will share three of the key bits of advice I received during my masters and doctorate.

The first major change in my writing came from my MSc project supervisor (and mentor) who told me that my writing was too modest. Initially, my thoughts were, of course it should be modest. Clearly I did not understand the logic behind the statement and as she occasionally reminds me, she read my work about ten times before giving the go ahead to submit (I despaired at that point). Looking back over the years, my writing was modest for many reasons – one in particular which resonates with many students which is cultural background. Coming from a cultural background where you are not meant to criticise or question ‘authority’ creates a writing mindset where you write like you are walking on coals of fire “softly softly” just to get through the writing rather than express your ability, knowledge and critical awareness. She said, “Your writing is a reflection of your personality” so project yourself well through your writing.

The second bit of advice that got me through my academic writing was the importance of planning your write up before you put pen to paper or better still, fingers to keyboard. With the experience of marking dissertations you get to see different levels of engagement and ability to write but it is all so easy to see the unplanned dissertation or thesis write up. An unplanned dissertation or thesis is usually more difficult to write and for the marker hard to read or follow. Without planning, written work can lack coherence and structure. So what to do? There is no generic first step but before you start writing it would be helpful to seek advice from your tutor, adviser or supervisor (who obviously understands your topic or project) about how to plan your writing and what would be important to communicate in your work; review past successful dissertations in similar subject areas and have the key materials you need to begin your writing. For example, if writing a science focused dissertation or thesis, without  a well written ‘Methods’ and ‘Results’ section, you are unable to articulate your findings and tell a good story. Many Universities provide writing support through their learning development units so take advantage of them!

The third key I received from my doctoral supervisor was simple but effective. Writing a thesis is like telling a story. Considering these great bits of advice came from women, does it mean women are better writers???? Food for thought. Back to reality now, if you cannot tell a critically appraised, logical and well written coherent story then your write up would not be received as well as you might think or believe. From personal experience and talking to several examiners, it is common that at the end of a viva (Oral examination) examiners tend to comment on the quality of the writing and in some cases how easy or nice or pleasant a thesis or dissertation was to read. Think about this, if your work is easy and pleasant to read, perhaps it would be easy and pleasant to assess??? So remember, tell a good story (not a narrative) of your academic work or project and ensure it reads well and makes sense before you press the submit button.

Many thanks to my supervisors for the key tips that ensured I developed a liking and value for my voice on written academic work. Please share your own tips in the comments sections. For any suggestions or tips about getting through the academic writing process, please feel free to email us at info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com. Connect with us on Twitter @emmanueladukwu and @amaratweets.  

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