Building Your “Soft Skills”

5. June 2014

Lauren Celano

This post was adapted from content on the Propel Careers website and BioCareers.com. It is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.

I often advise Ph.D. students on career planning and the various job options available to them. When I ask them to discuss their specific skills, many of them focus only on their research and technical skills. These are “hard skills,” such as genetics, computer science, chemistry or pharmacology. When I inquire about “soft skills,” I am often met with looks of confusion. Below are a few examples of “soft skills” that can help scientists become well-rounded job candidates in many different fields.

Teamwork
A Ph.D. student who works on a multi-disciplinary project team, for example, a cell biologist who works with a biochemist and a pharmacologist to understand a disease pathway, must have good teamwork skills to be successful. The same is true for someone who works on or leads a collaborative project with other labs in and outside of their institution, industry partners and foundations. These experiences provide examples that can be shared with potential employers to illustrate how one successfully worked on or led a team and learned through the process of working with others.

Non-Technical Writing
Many scientists are accustomed to writing manuscripts, grants, review articles, and of course, the ever-popular thesis. While this type of scientific communication is important, the ability to communicate with those outside your field of study is invaluable.

In fact, Albert Einstein is often credited with saying, “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” To develop these skills, students can make an effort to write for different sources, such as the school newspaper, departmental newsletter, association publication or a personal blog.

Verbal Communication
Public speaking is a valuable asset for the career scientist. Students can build this skill through teaching and speaking at conferences, departmental meetings, association conferences, as well as foundation and charity events. One should also take on leadership roles in student organizations and associations (for example, OSA Student Chapters) as well as groups such as Toastmasters.

Networking
Formal and informal networking opportunities are everywhere; you just need to know where to look. Examples include participation in student government, technical interest groups and clubs and professional and industry organizations. Some professional organizations even have student affiliates.

More generally, you can find networking avenues are through common interest, advocacy and charitable groups, and social and professional networking events. In fact, I would bet that there is a networking opportunity to be had just about every night of the week. You just have to be willing to seek it out, and more importantly, gather the courage to attend and participate. You never know who you might meet—it’s truly up to you.

In today’s job market, hard skills are not always enough to get you into that perfect role. Employers are looking for “the whole package”: people who have the right mix of both soft and hard skills. Take the initiative to immerse yourself in opportunities to grow and develop in new directions. The effort will pay off.

Lauren Celano (lauren@propelcareers.com) is the co-founder and CEO of Propel Careers, a life science search and career development firm focused on connecting talented individuals with entrepreneurial life sciences companies.

 

Academic careers, Career, Communication skills, Conferences, Job Search, Ph.D. Perspectives , , , , , , ,

How to Build Your Online Brand Using LinkedIn

12. November 2013

Lauren Celano

This post is based on content that has already appeared on the Propel Careers website and BioCareers.com. It is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.
 
Your online personal brand—the way that you portray yourself on the internet and how others perceive you—is very important for networking and job searching. Even if you are not currently looking for a job, you can use social media sites like LinkedIn to your advantage. Below are a few examples of how developing your LinkedIn profile can help you progress in your career.

Networking

After meeting new colleagues at a networking event, you probably follow up with a LinkedIn request. When someone clicks on your profile, what will they see? Will they only see your job titles, or something more descriptive, like details about what you have done in each of your positions? Will they see a photograph or a blank space where your profile picture should be? Will they see organizations that you belong to and articles that you have published, or has this information been left out entirely?

When people look at a LindedIn profile, they like to see a professional profile picture (so that they can figure out if they remember you), along with details about your background, experience and education. If you have a nicely filled out profile, then it shows that you are serious about your professional persona and by extension, your career.

Informational interviews

If you ask for an informational interview, the person you ask will almost always look at your LinkedIn profile before speaking with you, even if you send them your resume. They want to learn more about you and also find out if you happen to have any connections in common. Having some background and additional details about you will help them provide the most useful and relevant information during the interview.

Job interviews

If you are actively interviewing for a new job, it’s also extremely likely that the people interviewing you will look up your LinkedIn profile. As in the previous example, if your profile does not have a lot of detail, then it isn’t helpful to the interviewer. You will have missed an opportunity to showcase yourself early on and leave a positive impression before the interview even starts.
 
Recruiter searches

Recruiters, either internal or external to a company, routinely search LinkedIn to identify individuals who could be good matches for jobs they are working to fill. They search using keywords as well as title, company, education, etc. If your profile isn’t complete, then you won't be easily picked up by their searches. Even if they do manage to find you, without important information in your profile, recruiters may not contact you since they won't be sure if your skills and experience are relevant to the position.

In today's web- based world, information is everywhere. The way people brand themselves online matters more than you might think. You can give yourself an advantage by spending some time to ensure that your LinkedIn information is complete and up-to-date. Good luck building out your profile—the effort will go a long way!

Lauren Celano (lauren@propelcareers.com) is the co-founder and CEO of Propel Careers, a life science search and career development firm focused on connecting talented individuals with entrepreneurial life sciences companies.

 

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Advice for Listing Research Details on Your Resume

6. November 2012

Lauren Celano

This post is based on content that has already appeared on the Propel Careers website and BioCareers.com. It is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.

When you apply to a job, the details listed on your resume provide your future employer with information about the type of job you are looking for. Everything matters—the key words you include, the way you phrase your accomplishments and experiences, how you order your bullet points, etc. These details build your brand.

RESEARCH ROLES

Include research techniques. If you are looking for a job doing bench research, make sure you include the major research techniques that you used during each of your roles, as well as a separate section listing all of the methods you have ever used and know well. A hiring manager will want to see both the current techniques and previous ones. Whether you are a post-doc or an industry professional, listing these details is important to show growth.

List relevant details. Many companies use resume-parsing systems to input a candidate's details on their job skills into their database. Companies then scan resumes against job descriptions to see which candidates could be a fit. Resumes without details listed won't come up as matches, and you will be passed over in favor of candidates who have listed the relevant skills.

Be specific and thorough. Include research techniques that match the desired job description only if you have experience with them. Customize the resume for each job. Don't just list a general term like molecular biology techniques. Elaborate on exactly which technique you have experience with, such as molecular cloning, recombinant DNA methods, PCR, site directed mutagenesis, DNA isolation, purification, and sequencing, Southern blotting and Northern blotting. Don't rely on a hiring manager to guess that you have the right experience. Don't be afraid to take too much space when listing skills; you can recover some of that through clever formatting: by using a smaller font for the list, as well as going from a vertical bullet point list to a horizontal one.

NON-RESEARCH ROLES

Don’t include research details. Resumes for non-research roles should not include details about research techniques, since these are not typically relevant to these jobs. If you are considering a role in clinical research, disease and/or therapeutically relevant experience is important to highlight. You can include high-level information about techniques you know under each of your experiences, but you do not need to include an entire section on research methods. Sending a research-focused resume for a non-research role will indicate to the potential employer that you are not sufficiently interested in the role that you are applying to because you did not bother to tailor your resume to the job.

Highlight transferable skills. Hiring managers for non-research based roles prefer to see more transferable skills and experiences such as: leading teams, managing collaborations, working with clients, managing projects, strong communication and writing experience and mentoring, rather than specific laboratory skills and techniques. For a non-research role, extra-curricular or community service activities should also gain more prominence on your resume. For example, note if you write a blog, work as a teaching assistant or serve as the president of a charity. These activities highlight your transferable skills, especially if your previous job or academic experience is heavy on laboratory research and not much else.

What you decide to include on your resume is important. The details tell a story and indicate the type of position you are looking for. Be focused and strategic. The effort will pay off!

Lauren Celano (lauren@propelcareers.com) is the co-founder and CEO of Propel Careers, a life science search and career development firm focused on connecting talented individuals with entrepreneurial life sciences companies.

Academic careers, Career, Communication skills, Job Search , , , , ,

Using LinkedIn to Land a Job

15. March 2012

By Lauren Celano

This post is based on content that has already appeared on the Propel Careers website and BioCareers.com. It is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.

In today's competitive marketplace, being able to differentiate yourself is critical. LinkedIn is a useful tool for branding yourself, showcasing your background, building connections and job searching. It's hard to imagine how people functioned without it. Many people have asked for my advice on how to best use LinkedIn to search for jobs. Here are some tips for maximizing the value of this tool.

Build out your profile. When creating your profile, think about who will be reading this information. Your profile should explicitly state who you are, what experience you have, and what skills you master. Potential employers will almost certainly review your LinkedIn profile. The more professional you can make it, the more attractive you become as a candidate. This shows that you are serious about your career and your personal brand.

Your profile should include additional information, such as lab techniques you know, presentations you have given at large conferences, publications you’ve contributed to, etc. Many companies and recruiters use LinkedIn to search for individuals with specific skills. If you have these in your profile, you increase the chance of being "found" by an HR person when they search. If you do not have details listed, then your chance of being identified is almost zero.

If you are a student or postdoc, state when you think you will be done. Without this information, companies may be reluctant to contact you about jobs. Recruiting is extremely time-consuming, so the easier you can make it for companies to know what you want and when you will be available, the better.

To learn specifics about building and taking advantage of your LinkedIn account, use the LinkedIn learning center. Don't forget, your online presence is often the first thing that potential employers see, so don't lose the chance to make a positive first impression.

Have a professional photo. In general people are extremely visual, and they remember faces more than names. For example, if you meet someone at a networking event and send him or her a LinkedIn invitation afterwards, your profile picture will immediately help them to connect your name with your face.

Your image is part of your brand. Ideally you should have a professional take your photo. However, since most digital cameras work well enough for this purpose, that is also an acceptable way to go. Have a friend take your photo, stand against a blank wall, avoid objects of distraction, have a professional outfit on, and smile. This extra effort will go a long way.

Make sure that your name on LinkedIn is the same as the one on your resume. Potential employers will almost always look at an individual’s LinkedIn page as they are reviewing resumes. If they cannot find you, it creates a red flag. If the name on your resume is different than that on your LinkedIn account, make them the same so that you can be easily found.

Link to people you know. As you grow your network, only connect with trusted contacts. In this way, your network becomes personal and actually useful for you as you grow in your career. Aim for quality, not quantity. Adding a lot of people just to increase your numbers actually dilutes the value of your network.

Do not send a LinkedIn invitation to a hiring manager. Most people are very selective about their LinkedIn connections. If you ask to link to a hiring manager who does not know you, he or she may feel uncomfortable, and this could hurt your application chances.

Join groups. If you are looking to learn more about a certain area, join a LinkedIn group related to it. There are thousands of groups available. When you are new to the job search, using this feature is extremely valuable for getting a lay of the land. To find groups, search for them by keyword under group categories. Use the following link to learn more about groups in your LinkedIn profile. You may be surprised by how many groups are relevant to you. Also, you can become an active member or a group and share your expertise. This can build thought leadership.

When requesting a connection, mention where you met that person. People are busy and have a lot of things on their mind. The easier you can make it for people, the better. If you met someone at a international networking event and are following up with a LinkedIn request, you may want to write in the subject line: "International networking event follow up." In the body of the LinkedIn request, you might say something like: “Dear X, It was a pleasure meeting you at the international networking event on DATE. To follow up, I would like to link into you so that we can keep in touch.”

It is amazing how many times people don't do this. I wonder how many LinkedIn requests do not get answered because people cannot remember the context in which they met someone.

The connections you develop over time are a valuable part of your professional career, so respect your network, be responsive, and finally, keep it human.

Lauren Celano (lauren@propelcareers.com) is the co-founder and CEO of Propel Careers, a life science search and career development firm focused on connecting talented individuals with entrepreneurial life sciences companies. 

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