Many trainees are transitioning into non-research careers. Navigating this transition can be tricky, as the available resources are still scarce and fairly inconsistent in universities across the U.S. Various companies are offering uniform career advice to their clients in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). One of these very well respected companies, STEM Career Services, is a full service career counseling and job placement company. Their general mission is to help trainees start and sustain a career outside of academia. Dr. Josh Henkin, founder of STEM Career Services, has given numerous career workshops at national meetings. At the 2017 AAAS meeting in Boston, MA, Dr. Henkin held a workshop entitled “Transitioning into a Non-Academic Career,” which was very well attended and successful. The goal of the workshop was to explore the skills and best practices for trainees to transition out of academia. Below we summarize and highlight the main points from this session.
Develop a strategic approach: What is the best approach to job searching? In the “traditional” approach, trainees typically start looking for jobs towards the end of their training (which is too late), and are oftentimes not aware of what they are passionate about, or how their skills match desired positions. Alternatively, the “strategic” approach is focused on accumulating relevant experiences (internships, part-time jobs, volunteer work, committee participation) early on. This is critical in learning what you like/don't like doing, and will increase the transferable skills that can be added to your resume. It will also help you meet potential mentors and build your network along the way. Ultimately, this strategy can make you the best candidate for the job, helping you “beat out” your peers who are not being "strategic" in preparing early for their future careers.
Start career preparation early: A key component of the "strategic" approach is to start career preparation early on in your training. You need time to acquire a vast set of relevant experiences and to masterfully execute an elevator pitch that you are comfortable with before your first "real" job interview. Starting early will also give you time to develop a large professional network of people who can help you navigate the job search process. Effectively networking and building strong, high-quality, and real one-on-one relationships with them takes time. Once you do that, they may become invaluable colleagues for you while in your new position. This early preparation also allows you to perfect your resume building skills, and therefore making your resume stand out, and increase your chances of being a more compelling and desirable candidate for your desired job.
Craft an elevator pitch: An elevator pitch can be used in both formal and informal settings. Practicing the elevator pitch in an informal setting (i.e. non-stressful situation) gives you a great opportunity to refine/perfect it, so that when the formal (i.e. more important) settings come along you are more comfortable and prepared to talk about yourself. That way, you will ultimately be well prepared to answer the infamous question “tell me about yourself” during a job interview. The elevator pitch is typically very short (usually less than a minute long) and includes things you might think of, such as name, background, experience, and career goals. It is critical to also use this opportunity to highlight what makes you unique by including a few key and relevant experiences and distinctive pieces of information about yourself. Also point out how you best fit into the culture of the company and why you are the best person for the job.
Network effectively: As highlighted in this session, effective networking is an essential part of getting a job (over 70% of jobs are found through networking). Networking can be mutually beneficial to you and your “internal advocate” within a company. For your “internal advocate,” the benefits are getting referral bonuses and an improved status within a company for successfully identifying talent. For you, this is the best way to learn about a job opening and obtain a desired position. In addition, networking can be helpful in finding people to support/mentor you during your career search. As networking is intimidating for many people, do it when you are at your best, bring along a friend, and practice your elevator pitch as much as possible, especially in non-stressful situations.
Make your resume engaging: The resume is the first impression an employer has of you. The good news is that you can tailor it to highlight what you want them to see. Your resume is both a way for them to see your accomplishments on paper and to get to know you as a person. So don’t forget to also bring your personality into the resume - employers want to see both, in order to assess your overall goodness of fit into the company culture. You want the resume to be relatively short (around 2 pages) and engaging early (in the top 1/3rd of the first page). It should also be easy to read - so include bullet points instead of long sentences, and highlight important points using different fonts. Finally make it a story about you, but focus it on them. What do you want the recruiters to think about when looking at your resume?
Create a master resume: Having a master resume listing everything you’ve ever done (positions held, publications, skills, interests) is a good idea, as it can minimize the amount of work needed to create a position-specific resume later. Each job you are applying for will likely require different types of skills and experiences. Thus, if you already have this master document ready and up-to-date, you can easily extract necessary information to create different versions of your resume to fit specific job descriptions.
Generate a position-specific resume: Once you created your master resume, make the position-specific resume highly customized and tailored to each job you are applying for. Showcase transferable skills that matter to that particular employer. Explain why you are the best fit for the job by highlighting how your skills align with specific points in the job description. A good rule of thumb is using 85% of the resume for things that are specific to the job you are applying to, and the remaining 15% for other relevant things you want them to know.
Make career planning ongoing: A crucial piece of advice is to make career planning an ongoing process during your training. This is also good advice to keep in mind during your entire professional career. Continue to build relationships and grow your network during this time, and try to develop skills for a variety of potential jobs. Keep an up-to-date online profile (including LinkedIn) to help prospective employers find you. Also, know yourself - know what you are passionate about, and think about how your skills may be transferable to a number of job opportunities. Set goals along the way and devise a plan to achieve them. Don’t be afraid to take risks, seek out new opportunities, and ask for help along the way.
Read the interview with Josh Henkin for Career Perspectives (ASCB COMPASS) to learn more about his advice for career transitions. If you would like to get in touch with STEM Career Services for your career transition needs, find them on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. You may also connect with Josh Henkin on LinkedIn or contact him at: email@example.com.
Here you can also find many other excellent articles from ASM on these topics, such as general career exploration, elevator pitches and networking, which may also help you navigate your career transitions.