It’s the final year in graduate school, and you might be worrying about how to find a job. The steps scientists should take to land their dream job are:
- Begin your initial job search.
- Know the essential skills for the role.
- Know what your skills are and what needs to be improved.
- Connect your current skills to potential careers you find.
- Narrow down your list.
- Fill any skill gaps with professional development.
- Prepare your base application materials.
- Tailor your application materials to each job you plan to apply to.
The rest of this article will expand upon these points – whether you’re just starting from the beginning, or already in progress. Furthermore, it will provide you with good starting points to help you make a smooth transition from graduate school to your potential career in life science research.
1. Begin your initial job search.
There is no way for graduating scientists to land their dream job without the initial job search.
Therefore, begin on a job search engine and use keywords to search for a job. If your background is in molecular biology – that’s a good first start.
In time, your broad keywords such as molecular biologists, microbiologist, geneticist, etc. will be narrowed as you discover positions that populate from your search.
- Your University’s Job Board/Career Center
- Networking with professors
- Searching different company’s Employment or Careers pages
2. How to identify essential skills for the role.
While job hunting, the difficult thing to overcome is that feeling of having no skills relevant to your potential careers. Keep in mind that as a graduate student, you actually have diverse skills gained throughout the years. However, to stand out from other candidates applying for the same Ph.D. job, you need to highlight relevant skills on your application package.
Before starting to look for a job, you should identify both your technical skills and transferable skills.
What are technical skills?Technical skills are the expertise and hard skills you need to perform specific tasks. For example, a biotechnology job will likely require technical skills such as genetic, genomic, molecular biology, protein biochemistry or microbiology techniques.
What are transferable skills/soft skills?
Transferable skills, also known as soft skills, are skills useful for many different careers. These skills can help you to progress through the completion of tasks in your future employment settings. Many of these skills are necessary for building social and professional interactions. They include leadership, teamwork, project management, problem solving, and communication skills.
Below are examples of three different categories of transferable skills:
Working with People
This skill category deals with interacting with other people. Some examples of these skills include collaboration, conflict resolution, and communication skills.
Working with Data or Information
This skill type helps you process data and information. These skills can include statistical knowledge, basic programming, bioinformatics, protein structure prediction, and data visualizations.
Working with Technology
This skill type is associated with computers and equipment, including installing software, designing websites, installing, troubleshooting, maintaining, and repairing equipment. For example, for a job related with microscopy techniques, you can include your experience with installing and maintaining an inverted fluorescence microscope for your laboratory.
Here is an even more detailed list of several other transferable (soft) skills to use to evaluate yourself.
3. Know what your skills are and what needs to be improved.
You’ve conducted your initial job search, and you have an idea of the general skills these positions need. Now it’s time to do a self-evaluation for these skills.
- Ask yourself what skills do you have?
- Ask yourself what skills are missing?
- Determine what skills you could attain easily with a little development.
- Determine what skills are the hardest to develop or would take the longest to learn?
If you want to stay focused, list these out for yourself. Then, determine whether these missing or hardest-to-develop skills are preferred or required by most employers. You might find that a few of them are not critical.
4. Connect your skills to potential careers and create a solid list.
Before you go back to job hunting, it is important to perform career assessment. A career assessment is the process of deeply learning more about your skills, interests, strengths, weakness and values. We already talked about skills, but your interests and strengths are also critical to ensuring the job you get is the one you absolutely want.
To reflect on your interests and strengths during your career assessment, think about:
- What motivates you?
- What are you passionate about?
- What pitfalls do you encounter?
- What environment helps you thrive?
- Do you work better independently or in a group, or both?
- Would you like to work for a small lab or a large lab?
After the assessment, go back to job search websites and look for a job opening based on education level, keywords, and locations. Make sure you copy down all the information, including job description, required and desired skills, for each career — possibly into a spreadsheet or document. If you land an interview, you’ll want to go back and reference the job description and other information posted, because the position may no longer be listed online.
Once your list is formed, match your skills, values, and interest with the careers.
This process can increase your confidence level and improve your chance to enter a job interview.
5. Narrow down your list of potential jobs.
After performing career assessment and listing out potential jobs, the next step is to narrow down that list. When reviewing a job announcement, ask yourself these following questions:
- What do I like and dislike about this position?
- What are the positives and negatives of this position?
- Can I see myself in this position for a long time? If not, will this position help me to move on to another role?
These questions will help you rule out jobs that don’t fit your goals. You may also find it helpful to set priority levels – 1 being the highest priority and 3 being the lowest priority to apply for.
Narrowing down these positions will help save you so much time since the application process is long and tedious.
In addition, learn more about different types of application documents needed to apply for the job.
6. Fill skill gaps with professional development.
Perhaps, in your gap analysis, you discovered that you lack some working experiences or essential skills that are critical for getting hired for positions you’d really like. In this case, you should find some opportunities to build your resume before you graduate.
For example, a good way to get some experiences working in an industry setting is to apply for internships.
On the other hand, to get a job as a college professor, you must have teaching experience, publish papers, and write a grant proposal. Unfortunately, during the graduate school, the opportunities to develop all of these skills at the same time are often hard to come by.
Therefore, consult your mentor and discuss some ways to build these skills.
7. Prepare your base application materials.
Familiarize yourself with all necessary application materials, including a cover letter, a resume, or curriculum vitae. Take your time when preparing them and carefully select essential information to put in each document.
8. Tailor your application material and apply to your narrowed down list.
This advice is an absolute must to get noticed by employers. Resumes that show you singled out this position and can demonstrate why you are a good fit for the role will resonate better.
Remember, after applying, the next obstacle is getting the interview.
Since you’ve spent time narrowing down your list, or at least setting priority levels, you only have to tailor application material for a smaller range of jobs.
Be sure to especially spend time on your cover letter. This is one of the first ways of creating a good impression for employers.
This article goes into greater detail about preparing your application materials including your cover letter so that you get that interview.
When should graduating scientists begin applying for jobs?
So, when is the right time for a graduate student to start applying for a job? The answer depends on how tight your schedule is closer to graduation. However, the sooner you start applying for a job, the better.
Tips to smoothly move forward from graduate school
Find a guide or mentor.
Looking for a job can be hard, so one thing you can do is to find help and suggestions from career counselors. Otherwise, find out if your university has career-related forums. These forums provide students with an overview of different types of jobs and careers.
Although these career-related forums are not associated with job recruitments, they usually invite some speakers to share insights about different career paths, the requirements to enter the careers, and the job responsibilities.
Another option is to attend online career-related resources, such as GoldBio webinars: “Transitioning from Academia to Industry,” “10 Tips to Become a Successful Scientific Principal Investigator,” and “Resume Writing for Aspiring Industry Researchers.”
You can view these webinars here:
Perhaps, you are familiar with the phrase “it’s all about who you know.” This phrase means connections give someone a better chance of getting a job instead of the qualifications. Unfortunately, networking is probably the secret ingredient in many successful job searches.
So, how can you network your way successfully into employment? As a graduate student, you may have to attend and present your research in professional meetings. These meetings are actually networking events to build your connections with people outside your laboratory and university. Even if this is outside your comfort zone, the more you speak with others in this setting, the better.
For example, you can introduce yourself to a current employee of a company. This is an opportunity to show your interest about the company, ask some questions, listen carefully and ask to connect with the person on their LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is a good place to make connections and find job openings. Make sure you create a LinkedIn page and keep it up to date.
When searching for a job, use this connection and ask some details about job opportunities with their company. If by chance, this employee is on the hiring committee of an opening position, she or he may recommend you to apply to that position.
Start building and keep updating your resume.
Another step that you can start early is to develop a working file for your resume. First, prepare a Word Document or Google Doc containing your resume by identifying all of your technical and transferable skills. Keep updating this resume as you develop new skills and accomplish new goals.
Remember that every position has unique qualifications and requirements. Therefore, you must build a specific resume for each position and reword your original (master) resume file based on the job announcement.
For example, for industry jobs, find the required and desired skills from the job description and treat them as keywords. Make sure you include your skills based on these keywords in your resume. The hiring managers or HR representatives usually use these keywords to consider few selected candidates and move them forward for the interview process.
Start job hunting early.
Start early to see what’s out there in the job market so you can learn about necessary and hirable skills for particular careers and build these skills ahead of time.
Browse potential jobs from websites, such as HigherEd, Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn. Or else, try to find job recruiters.
Otherwise, you can go directly to the career site on a company’s website and look for openings. Answer each question on the application form and insert your skills based on the required and desired skills stated in the job announcement. Pay attention to details and follow their instructions. Be sure to save the questions and your answers, in case it’s referenced in an interview later. After that, attach your cover letter and resume.
A few months earlier before your graduation day, start applying for a job. Sometimes it takes time for the hiring committee to start interviewing candidates, decide whom they are going to hire and inform the decision. Therefore, instead of waiting, apply for additional jobs. You can also broaden your career of interest to increase your chance of getting a job.
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