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.

New Year’s Resolutions 2016: Time to get on the scales or simply just eat it?

It is yet only a few days into the New Year and as usual the “lists” are probably getting longer or even shorter with each passing day or perhaps floating around in your wallet, ironed out by your fridge magnet or like myself, on my little “whiteboard”. I’m sure you know what I’m on about, the fated ANNUAL New Year’s Resolutions conlist!!

New year
New Year’s Resolution – A fantasy or fallacy.               Source: happydiwali2015cards.com

So what exactly have you decided to do? Are your plans or lists achievable or are they the usual 2-3 week strong effort and 11 months and 1 week grumble and regret for even bothering to think you’d do what you wrote?

I’ll tell you mine, well the first and main one!

Projections NOT resolutions – My (Emmanuel) 2015 went as fast as a bullet and my 2015 resolutions list became a distant memory long before spring. So after lamenting on my failures of 2015  my little eureka was to cheat a little ahem! simply change the wording (very easy right?). So, no resolution this year but achievable, meaningful, valuable yet exciting projections that I can quantify or evaluate at the end of the year. This, as a starting point, I was forced to set realistic targets! At least with  target i can have a focus and it trumps an unrealistic resolution which is akin to you dreaming of marrying the queen and becoming King of England…it’ll never happen and you know it 🙂

What else?

#PhDChat – 5 Common CV mistakes and how to overcome them!

4. CV Mistakes

Have you applied for positions you believe you have ALL the requirements and skills for but never seem to get past the first hurdle – an invitation to interview? In this article, Dr Jeff McGarvey, identifies common mistakes made on CVs by applicants for job opportunities in his laboratory. Although this article is directed at science graduates, many of the points Jeff addresses are relevant to non-scientific disciplines.

I recently advertised an opening for a microbiologist position in my laboratory with very specific requirements including: minimum education of a BSc. (MSc. preferred), experience working with pathogenic bacteria (Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria etc.), and molecular biology experience (DNA extraction, cloning, PCR, DNA sequencing, etc.). After 3 weeks, I received about 35 CVs from candidates wanting the job. While the majority of CVs were well written, there were a few that did not serve the candidates well. Here are a few of the most common problems I encountered.