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Jul 11 / Sarah Sheesley

SciPhD Bootcamp at Wayne State Shows Scientists the (Business and Social Savvy) Paths to Industry – Part II: Creating Your Brand Through Strategy

by Lauren Tanabe

Targeting, Take One: Your Resume

There were many useful take-home messages from the SciPhD bootcamp at Wayne State this past May, but perhaps the most important was that job seekers must create a targeted resume for each job posting.

Randall Ribaudo, co-founder of SciPhD and bootcamp leader, recommended that attendees dissect a posting into its technical, business, and social requirements, making sure that they address these in the resume and cover letter. Another key point: Where possible, use the same phrasing as the job posting. This will help create a specific resume that has a better chance of actually being read. But the reason is actually twofold: lots of companies run resumes through software that looks for specific keywords and then assigns a score. Applicants have a better chance of making it through the software filter if they use the same language the company uses.

Ribaudo suggested including a “Summary of Qualifications” section that highlights an applicant’s most important competencies and encouraged the use of accomplishments, which support the claims made in the summary statement with results.

Larry Petcovic and Dr. Randall Ribaudo, Co-Founders of SciPhD, photo by Lauren Tanabe

Networking: The Quickest Way to Get Your Resume into the Hands of HR

For Ribaudo, every outing (business or social) is a ripe opportunity for networking. (Read more about networking in my previous post on the blog.) He noted that in addition to virtual networking, job seekers should take face-to-face meetings more seriously (and always be prepared with a business card). When a connection with someone is made, make a note of pertinent info (such as where you met, what you have in common, why meeting them is valuable). A follow-up email should include an extra personalized line at the end that lets them know you view them as a person and not just a resource. As Randy noted, always look to add value to your new contact’s life whenever possible.

Stop Avoiding Potentially Fruitful Connections

Ribaudo encouraged attendees to start networking with anyone, such as vendors who come to the lab or who commonly attend conferences. They have contacts all over the place, and a conversation with them may provide access to those contacts in industry, business (and beyond).

These rich pools of connections don’t just apply to vendors. Every single person has a vast social network, whether or not she realizes it. We’re social animals. But this can be a challenge for introverts or less ongoing individuals.

For Ribaudo, breaking the ice can be quite simple indeed, since what you and the potential new contact share is: Location. Walk up to anyone and say, “Hi there. What do you think of this seminar/meeting/talk/city?” Next, listen carefully to the response as you think about what to say next. After a few questions, you’ll be in the middle of a conversation that doesn’t require much effort. The hard part is getting started.

Any advance preparation that might be needed? Have a 10-second answer prepared about what you do (technical), how you do it (business savvy) and how you engage with others (social). Then tweak your answer to match the audience. Talking to someone from HR? Explain your science in broad strokes: “I work to develop new drugs to treat Alzheimer’s.”

Targeting, Take Two: The Interview

The SciPhD experts emphasized that when job seekers land an interview, their work is not ending, it is just beginning.

One of the primary objectives of the bootcamp was to jolt trainees out of “expert mode” and into “learner mode” – something the cofounders believe is a big obstacle for those trying to get into the job market. This means that you are always deferring to the interviewer, trying to learn exactly what information they are after.

So, when an interviewer asks about the prior industry experience you don’t have, say something like, “Yes, I saw that in the posting. But, I think I can do this. Please help me to understand what it is about industry experience that you are looking for. I’d be happy to address it; I can talk about my technical skills, or how my time in academia helped me to develop specific business and social skills.” Then convince them that you have the equivalent experience.

What Should You Know Before Going into Your Interview?

The experts at SciPhD urged job seekers to explore the company, its mission and its products as well as its organizational structure and scope of its business ventures. Be sure to consider what you promised in your resume. As mentioned before, think of situations that illustrate each social and business skill you listed on your resume (consistency is key!).

If the interviewers are scientists, pull some of their most recent papers on Pubmed and ask questions about their research during the interview. They’ll be impressed that you went the extra mile.

Finally, work on your handshake, dress appropriately, maintain eye contact, and never, ever interrupt. Remember, you must shift from “expert” to “learner” mode. You are catering to the interviewer.

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The student attendees I spoke with were impressed by the breadth of information the SciPhD bootcamp covered.

Ph.D. student Ben Kuiper at SciPhd bootcamp. Photo by Lauren Tanabe.

Ethan Brock (the cancer biology student I mentioned in Part I) thought the information was incredibly useful. He tells me that he now feels more secure in his ability to market himself: “Their lecture completely changed how I viewed these processes [interviews and negotiations] and the tips I learned will be invaluable to me once I begin searching for my career.”

Ben Kuiper, a 4th year biochemistry graduate student at Wayne State, will be defending this July. He says that he was surprised to discover that he was, indeed, more likely to be an “expert” as opposed to a “learner” – “As a scientist, I tend to take a question at face value and blurt out my answer right away. To me, it was helpful to recognize this tendency, so that during an interview, I might better [understand] the purpose of a question (which might be to find out what the person is like) rather than just answer the question.” He is currently applying for jobs and says he will start using the targeted resume approach: “I hope it works!”


The BEST Program is happy to announce that in the spring of 2018, it will host Part II of the SciPhD careers bootcamp, on “Excelling and Advancing at Your Job,” on the Wayne campus. More details to come!

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