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.

Brand You! – Developing your online social presence.

Social mediaGoogle yourself – don’t worry, no one’s watching and I won’t judge you! Were you pleasantly surprised, alarmed or was everything just as you expected? Most of us think we have no social presence online because we do not have any social media accounts but that can be far from true. If your search yielded no results, is that what you really want? Whether you work in sales or not, we are all in the sales business. We are constantly selling our services – skills, expertise, experience – or products and to do this we need to NETWORK. Think of social media as networking with the biggest audience possible – the whole world. In this article, Amara shares how some of these social tools can be used to boost your professional presence and develop your unique and personal brand.

I  like to think of my social presence as not just how I present myself as a professional (and as a person) to the public but also how I am perceived by that public as well. Every time we interact with individuals or organisations, we create an impression whether we are immediately aware of it or not. This is true whether this interaction occurs face to face or online. Social media has become a powerful connection tool and I am constantly reminded of this by the number of guest articles we have received by people I have never met in person but have had the opportunity to connect with online or have just found The Aspiring Professionals Hub through Facebook or Twitter. 

So where to start? For ‘digital visitors’ like myself, I’ll share some examples of some tools and how we can use them to build an online social presence.

LinkedIn

Do you have a LinkedIn account? If no, why not? In my opinion, LinkedIn is the most important ‘place’ for aspiring professionals to be ‘seen.’ Think of LinkedIn as a Facebook for professionals. Your profile is akin to a CV and you are in control of what you choose to reveal or not. Establish a professional image by using an appropriate picture in your profile – no holiday snaps from the beach please! LinkedIn can be used to build connections with other professionals but just as important, you can follow organisations and join groups relevant to your field. There is virtually no discipline that is not covered by a group and if there isn’t one for you, why not start one? Are you naturally shy and find it difficult to walk up to someone at an event and introduce yourself? Look them up on LinkedIn and invite them as a contact. I always recommend adding a short note to the basic LinkedIn invite message introducing yourself. Be professional.

There are many recruiters on LinkedIn so your dream job may just be a new contact or updated profile away. Remember that all recruiters have to work with is your profile, so ensure you update regularly and truthfully. Joining your alumni’s LinkedIn group can help you develop relationships with alumni working at your target organisations who may be willing to offer advice and mentorship. Don’t ignore your LinkedIn page, share posts that you think are relevant to your contacts and within the groups you follow.

Twitter

Twitter could very well be one of the easiest and quickest ways of establishing connections and developing your online social presence. Using 140 characters at a time you can share what you’ve written, information you find insightful or you can follow that company you really, really want to work for, learn about different industries and global brands. For your professional Twitter account, I would recommend using your name in your handle, for example – @amaratweets, @emmanueladukwu, @AspProfHub) – so people associate your handle with your person. I have been pleasantly surprised when someone I have not ‘met’ before has walked up to me and said hello because they recognise me from Twitter. When writing a bio for your profile, make sure that people can understand what you do and not just who you are.

Whenever I attend a meeting or conference, I use hashtags to share information from speakers as well as connect with other attendees. Another way to interact with people in your discipline is to attend webinars and tweetchats. Don’t be shy, contribute to the conversation. Be nice, reply when people ask you questions or send direct messages, retweet what other people are saying. Don’t worry if you do not have many followers in the first 3 days, it takes time to build a network. This rule applies whether building a network face to face or online. You are building your brand – be careful what you tweet especially if you are tweeting on behalf of an organisation.

Facebook

A lot of us are already using Facebook to connect with our family and friends but it can also be a powerful professional networking tool. As of the first quarter of 2015, Facebook had over 1.44 billion active users and with this, the world can really be your oyster. I would advise that if you want to project your professional social presence using Facebook you maintain two separate personas.  I do not think there is anything suspicious about doing this. If potential employers are going to be checking job applicants on networking sites, it is in your interest to find a way to keep private things private. Alternatively, set your privacy settings to manage what you share with your ‘friends’ vs. your professional contacts.

Build your network by adding contacts, joining relevant groups and liking pages where you can connect with like minded professionals. I am learning how important it is now to not just be a silent observer but contribute meaningfully to conversations.

Blogging

Of course, I hadn’t forgotten. Blogging is a communication tool that can really allow you share your story. Everyone loves a good story, it doesn’t matter if you are sharing something personal or communicating your point of view on recent events. If you are a creative person, you can showcase some of your products on your blog. We all know people who have made millions off blogging. Like I said earlier, online, your potential audience is the whole world!

Know your audience and write for your audience. Don’t be afraid to mix things up on your website. Keep improving. Link your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to your blog and use social media to disseminate your work.

There are other tools like Google+, YouTube, ResearchGate. You don’t have to be involved with all of them. Find out what works for you and work it!

My rule when it comes to developing my social presence online is to be authentic and true to my values as well as being professional at all times. I try and practice #netiquette. Always have at the back of your mind that when it is online, it is forever. My mantra is, ‘if you don’t mean it, don’t post it!’ Project an image that you are proud of. It can be intimidating living in the ‘socialsphere’ but you can manage how much you put out there. In my next post, I will discuss some tips for managing your online social presence.

I am left wondering what the next decade will bring. Do you think a day will come – if it isn’t here yet – when our online social presence will mean just as much, if not more to employers than our CVs and personal statements?

HeadshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology and Food Science,  Amara is developing her career in academia – providing teaching and learning solutions in UK FE and HE Institutions as well as conducting research in Food Microbiology. Amara believes in the combined power of education, mentoring and productive relationships as essential tools for building successful careers.

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