In the Information Age, it might be tempting to think of job hunting as a kind of point and click trip down the information superhighway. Calling up a near endless number of Web sites, such as hotjobs.com, monster.com, BioMedNet, Genome Jobs, or Bio Online, E-mailing a resume and cover letter, and waiting for a response may seem an appropriate tactic. However, interviews with recent job seekers, employers hiring scientists, as well as those in the job-hunting profession offer a rather somewhat old-fashioned picture of finding work as the new millennium dawns.
"Most people get jobs from somebody they know," says Emily Klotz, manager of Postdoc Network, which is part of Science's Next Wave that includes a job-hunting section. "You only have to be on the other side of the desk once to realize you're going to hire someone that you know or that's been referred to you by someone that you know," she adds. Basic personal contact, meeting and talking to people at meetings, getting to know others in the field--networking, in short--as a way to find a job is still "a pretty big gorilla" in the job-hunting jungle, says David Jensen, managing director of Search Masters, a biotech and pharmaceutical recruitment firm in Sedona, Ariz. Networking is good because it allows people to become familiar with you and your work," says Linda Zuckerman, a scientist with Genentech's bio methods development group.
The Job Hunt as a Research Project
Graduate students and postdocs are not as ready as needed for effective networking, according to Klotz. When lecturing graduate students and postdocs on science jobs, she says they often express interest in certain careers but rarely contact her for information (such as contact names, pointers), despite her encouragement to do so. Getting in touch with such people can help prospective job seekers build a database of names they can use in their hunt, comments Jensen. Searching the Web's biotech job sites can lead to jobs, but the information on these sites can also be a source of potential contacts. According to Jensen, "If I were looking for a job, I would use some kind of database software to list companies and names of people who work in those companies. Often you do find the name of a hiring manager." While companies typically don't start their hiring process more than 60 or 90 days before they add an employee, Jensen says, job seekers should start building a contact database a year or more before that.
One method that job seekers can use to build their files is through informational interviews. Zuckerman recommends approaching representatives from companies at meetings or similar venues and then suggesting an informational interview to learn more about the company. Another job-hunting approach Zuckerman recommends is contacting various professional groups.
The way to think about job hunting, says Jensen, is to cast it in terms of a research project. "People tend to fall apart when it comes time to job search because they're uncomfortable with it. Scientists have this ability to manage information gathering for their own research projects, but when it comes time to search for a job, they forget all of that. Klotz asserts that "some graduate students and posdocs wouldn't hesitate to call someone or E-mail someone for a protocol, but when it comes to asking someone for job advice, they don't know what to do or they get panicky. Doing the research, figuring out the best [job] options, and pursuing that like an experiment is a great analogy."
Effective interviewing and presentation skills are also important in presenting oneself as a good candidate for a job. Teresa Steininger, who is taking a job as a researcher at SRI International at Menlo Park, Calif., recommends, "Work on your presentation skills. I think that's really where you're going to impress people." She advises job hunters to build this expertise by seeking assistance from others whose presentation skills they find impressive.
Job and career fairs can offer opportunities to hone interview skills, says Jensen. Job seekers often stand in line at job fairs to speak to a human resources representative and only have five minutes to talk about themselves. "This can be very valuable, because it helps you [become] succinct in your interview style; it helps you find out what questions people ask of you when they look at your [curriculum vitae]," he says. And interviewing tips are available elsewhere as well; the Postdoc Network, for example, is slated to hold a session on interviewing skills at the February 2001 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Francisco.
Zuckerman advocates having not just a CV that details education, training, and publications, but one that is fairly detailed and describes specific skill sets. "Instead of saying 'I did a postdoc at UCSF in T cell biology', say, 'I used flow cytometry to look at T cell phenotype'." Zuckerman also recommends getting help from a resume center to fine-tune a resume. "I actually did that. It was very useful."
The emphasis on networking and database building is not to suggest that the Web and all it offers should be ignored. Like any technology, the Web has its place and is best used within limits. According to Patricia Janak, assistant professor of neurology at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco, the Web can be used to gauge the job market and determine the level of demand for various types of specialties. Jensen advises not using the Web to post a resume. "Resume posting ... is not very efficient. It can be hit by the occasional search engine, but is unlikely to pay off."
Job seekers who use the Web should focus only on those sites devoted to career fields of interest. As someone hiring postdocs, Janak posts ads on the Web at online sites of organizations such as the Society for Neuroscience, "and I do get responses to the ads. I know it's working at some level," she says. "I need that level of recruitment, because as a junior person I don't have a network of my own built up, where postdocs might seek to work with me," she says.
The online career center Biospace (www.biospace.com) offers a large range of job openings classified by location and size from large companies to start-ups, says Ian King, marketing manager. And while he freely acknowledges that networking is definitely a significant factor in getting a job, he hastens to add that because of "the scientific advancements we see, companies are exploring a variety of avenues to get the message across that they have a variety of positions available, and Internet postings, newspapers, and career fairs are all still huge pieces of the pie."
Scientific temporary staffing agencies provide another job option in seeking permanent positions and agency representatives are often at job fairs. "'Temp to hire' is a huge deal in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry," notes King. People can get hired for three or four months on a temporary/trial basis and move to permanent positions. Temp agencies are also helpful for people who are interested in changing fields.
Whatever technique job seekers choose, it's important to remember they are marketing themselves, says Jensen. And while selling oneself may conjure up images of a used-car salesman, Jensen comments that selling oneself "simply means talking about yourself in positive terms." Getting a job in science is really not very different from getting a job in other fields, says Zuckerman. "You want to have a good resume, you want to have a polished talk, and you want to be a professional."
Harvey Black (email@example.com) is a freelance science writer in Madison, Wis.