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Reflections on job hunting from Ingrid Tigges

Congratulations for deciding to read this document. By doing this, you are doing more for your career than many others. I had to look for a job because my PhD topic didn't work out for me and I had to stop it. Thus, I had to find a job fairly quickly and with the draw back of not having finished the PhD.

This document goes from the start of the search to the job interviews.

Ask yourself

What do you like and not like? What are your skills?

I guess you have heard this a hundred times. But it is important. Otherwise you are going to look for the wrong kind of jobs.

What does the job market look like?
When looking for jobs I focused on Germany. Find the big websites where jobs are advertised. I checked them each day with (in my case) the key words biology, biotechnology, pharma. One thing I realised that I wanted to do was a trainee program. When applying for jobs you need to keep in mind that what they are looking for is often not research focused. It is about developing current group leaders and the like. Research in such companies is important, but the money is made with the production. Many jobs are around production: Improving production processes (development), production and quality control. To stand out having worked in those things is a plus. If you go for such a job think about whether you validated instruments or methods during your PhD? That might be useful, especially if you worked to GMP standards. There is a big area of development and maintenance of laboratory software. This can include things like adapting the software to the purposes of a company, helping users with problems etc. There is also the area of quality control of software: all software which is in some way related to the production of drugs needs to be validated. It looks like a lot of paper work, often done by external consultant companies. This is definitely a growing field. Consultant companies look like an interesting option if you like the pharmaceutical stuff but don't want to work in that industry or want something more varied where you get to know different companies.

Don’t wait till you need to find a job to find out which kind of job you want to do! At least in Germany the companies often want knowledge in specific techniques, be it HPLC, qPCR or programming in C. If you know ahead what you want to do, you can use your PhD to learn those techniques. Why not simply analyse your samples with another technique? That might give you some new insight and you learn what the job market requires.

Before starting to talk about applying for jobs, I want to focus on networking: I know many of us complained about things like the team building event or about going to conferences. “It is pointless”, “It takes you away from my work”, etc. ... but NETWORKING IS CRUCIAL for job hunting. Yes, in capital letters. You are a beginner in applying for jobs. Use the knowledge of the people around you. And tell them that you are looking for jobs. Assume that no more than 10% of your applications will lead to interviews. Those people will also support you, being there for you if you get another ‘no’ from a company. My network helped me with job interview practice and correcting my cover letters among other things.

I actually got my job after setting up an account at Xing; some weeks later a person from the MathWorks contacted me. I had a series of job interviews with them and now I work for them. It is not the area I thought of working in (I thought of pharmaceutical/biotechnological industry), but technical support is an interesting job where you can progress.

Some tips: Get a professional photo taken that you can upload. It simply makes a good impression, and the few dozen quid it costs are a good investment. These networks are business networks, not facebook. I have heard from one friend that mentioning your hobbies there is ok, but don't join groups that are non-business. Click on other peoples profiles. At least in Xing, which is more focused on Germany, the owner of the profile sees that you have looked at them. You want to increase your network into the direction you want to go for your new job. Join groups that are related to what you do/want to do. You can start this ahead of the desperate need for a job. Look for job offers. And of course, write your profile in a way that is interesting for possible employers. Simply look at other profiles and adapt their style accordingly. That is what I did and how I got my job.

Writing a job application
Start with a good template and target each job specifically. Try to include all the points the job description is asking for and give proof for things you claim you can do/are. Be concise. It should be less than a page including header and the like. Yes, that is possible. For your CV use a template as well, take advantage of Warwick careers service for checking CVs and general advice: they are very good. Expect to write 20–50 job applications, and if you can write 5 per week you are doing well.

Job interviews
Companies often don't answer in a week, often waiting till their internal dead line has passed and then making their decisions. So you will easily wait for a month. However very long waiting time can often mean ‘no’. This is not statistically proven or validated in any way. Just be prepared to get lots of ‘no’s (the above mentioned 10% invitations to job interviews is realistic). Prepare for the job interview. Make your life easier and go to careers advice. That's the step where I needed them most. Remember Alison's talking about soft skills, about writing down situations in which you have shown leadership skills etc? I can now confirm that this happens in reality. And to make your life easier, here a list of questions I got asked:

What other interviews and offers do you have?

Time frame (when can you accept and start?)

Will you be relocating on your own?

Looking back on your education experience, describe a time when you had an idea with conflicting another team member.
What was the challenge for you?

What were your thoughts at the time?

What specifically did you do?

What was the final outcome?

What would you do differently?

What did you learn as a result?

Describe your method of organizing your daily work or projects.

Describe a time when you anticipated that you wouldn’t be able to meet a deadline.
What were your thoughts at the time?

What specifically did you do?

What was the final outcome?

What would you do differently?

What did you learn as a result?

Tell me about a time when you found yourself without the specific technical knowledge to perform an essential task or project. What did you do?
Give an example of a time when you had to teach/explain something to someone who was having difficulty understanding.

Who was the person?

How did you try to teach them?

What was the outcome?

From your list of referees, can you pick one person and identify what they would say are your biggest strengths?
What might they say is an area for improvement or development?

What makes a team player? What are the qualities you look for? Provide 3 examples:

What are your salary expectations in Euros?

Others questions include:
Why do you want this job?

Why do you want to work in this company?

Why should we take you?

Where do you want to be in 5 years?

What do you do if something does not go according to plan?

Do you have any questions? (Probably don’t ask about salary in the interview, do that off line)

Tell me about your CV (I think this turned up in every single interview)

Be prepared to get asked questions relating to your cover letter.

They will ask questions about skills you said you have and which are important for the jobs

In which situations have you shown leadership skills?

In conclusion
Don't expect your first interview to go well. These things require training and practice. And don't go too low with your salary requirements. Being informed about the salary in your kind of jobs is important. Companies won't take you if you are too expensive but it also makes a bad impression if you go too low (and of course more money is always useful). If you have to move, asking for support for relocation is useful. The company might pay for it and bigger companies can have people helping you with moving.

If this goes well, congratulations. Once you get your contract, read it carefully. And ask someone with more experience to read it. How long is the probation period? Is your position correctly described? How many hours work per week? What happens if you have to work more? Is that payed extra? How much holidays do you have per year? How long is the notice period? Are you allowed to change to a company that is working on something similar? Is anything mentioned about salary increases?

Some comments that don't fit it into any category or need sorting
I like Matlab, it is my future. But if you want to use your Matlab skills in your job, you don't get around learning C. I don't think I have seen many jobs that require Matlab but not C. The book “The C programming language” by K&R is a good start. In fact I thought myself the C basics in a bit more than a week using that book, boyfriend and friends. Outside academia Matlab is used mainly in engineering (car industry,..) at least in Germany. In the UK it is also used a lot in finance.

If you have read to here, congratulations! I hope it is useful for you. I really appreciate feedback on this. Though I have written this document for you, it is also meant as a reminder for myself so that I can go back to it in some years time when I want to change company.