Podcast: How to find your dream job
How to find your dream job? First of all you need to get to know yourself. This is the personal inventory that Tina talked about in podcast #4. Now in order to find a dream job, your own personal dream job, you need to know about the other side as well, the job market. When thinking about this I always have comments like these ringing in my ears: “I´ll soon finish my PhD, but there are not many jobs for us out there. I don´t want to be prof, don´t want to marry a science subject. And industry seems too slick for me!”
I guess you can anticipate what I want to boil down to? Look at the whole iceberg, not just its tip. Get inspiration from looking at the entire picture and see the whole variety of jobs that is out there for you. And even if you feel like you already have set your eyes on a dream job, you might find out that there are more options which fit you even better or you learn more precisely why it is after all, really your dream job you´re currently eyeballing.
Looking at the tip of the Iceberg without looking below the surface can of course lead to frustration, such long studies for just a handful of different career paths? In fact, the “classical” job paths mentioned above only cater for less than half the graduates. But where do all others end up? After all, there are really not many long-term unemployed scientists out there?
First of all, get an overview
Try to get an unbiased overview first, one where there have not been any sorts of “filters” over it. If you find a list of alumni from your own institute, or get help from LinkedIn with making one, then you can look up where they went and get inspiration of what you can do for yourself. If you´re up for it you can count how many of them went into “classical” jobs and how many found their own niches in the labour market. You´ll probably be surprised that the outcome of this does not represent the distribution of booths at the latest career fair you visited. Yes, there are a number of people getting professorships or who become team leaders in big companies, but you´ll also stumble across several examples of people who work for the government, as freelancers or in a start-up. Whatever interesting stories you´ll find, the take home message will be that there are many, many jobs for PhD scientists out there.
The nice thing about this approach is that you look at a slice of the population which represents your own background very neatly. Now you have a rough landscape in front of you, you see a few places you haven´t imagined to be there beforehand. You can also look at aggregated data, like reports and statistics, to get even more inspiration for what is possible with a science degree.
What to do with all the options you´ll find?
Quite possibly, your head is spinning after this exercise. Soooo many job titles, so many companies, so many sectors and an hour ago you didn´t even know that the interface between the sectors is a professional ecosystem on its own. But how to structure this avalanche of information? Certainly, reading about the relevant terms is an inevitable part of the exercise, there is a multitude of high quality sources out there, naturejobs and sciencecareers to name just the most obvious ones. But then it´s time to get personal. Which of these jobs caught your interest? What would you like to learn more about? Do the available texts all sound too positive to be true, and you´d like to get to know first hand info if it is really that cool to work there? Then dig into your network.
Let´s take an example and let´s go for a pretty difficult one straight away, then many of the easier ones will seem trivial. Say, you read the term “Regulatory Affairs Manager” and get first information about this job field from the internet. The rough picture you get sounds interesting to you, working between clinical research and the drug agencies in order to get the drugs approved, much writing, many legal aspects, general terms you might find interesting. But from the glossy description in the job guide, from which each and every job sounds like the gateway to heaven, you can´t judge whether it´s an extremely tedious job in which you have to hack month after month into a 5000 page behemoth of a document, or if you are the broadly educated expert bridging fields as varied as science and law. What you could do is to find people who work in this field already and ask them, plain and simple. Let´s say LinkedIn only gives you three hits from indirect contacts, and all have ten years experience in big pharma, high-level people who surely won´t waste their time with a student without any relevant experience? No chance?
The secret sauce about networking
We get to the core of networking here. It´s all about mutual help and gain. Sometimes you give without having received anything before, and of course it also goes the other way around. If you politely ask, you might start the relationship by receiving something. But it is by no means the case that you are a useless parasite sucking someone else´s lifeblood. No, you show interest, you research into what connection you have with this person and link up to that, for example “I spoke with my fellow student, Sarah Rosenthal about prospects to work in the field of Regulatory affairs. She mentioned you, as she really enjoyed working with you during her Master thesis at company X. I would like to know if I can ask you a few questions about your job, particularly X, Y and Z.” Now he´ll think ”Oh, there is someone who has shown interest enough in my person to look these things up and, hey, nice to hear from Sarah. And, of course if he arranges according to my schedule, I can give him five minutes, talking about myself is anyway something I enjoy.” And this regulatory affairs manager will thereby work on his very own network, maybe the contact with you or Sarah will one day be relevant to him, after all both of you will hold interesting positions soon.
Got it, just ask for it. You have nothing to lose as long as you give the other side the chance to say “no” in a polite way. And if you want to request more time you can go to more elaborate schemes. “I´d like to write an article about the daily work of a regulatory affairs specialist for our student magazine. Following the recommendation from Sarah Rosenthal, we would like to ask if you would be available for an expert interview?” That´s of course a commitment to also write this article, and to show it to the interview partner in the end, but clearly serves a double purpose here, you get a lot of info yourself, you have established a new contact- and even a little article in your name! And the term expert interview makes it sound nice and professional and underscores your respect without you being a bootlicker. And this sort of in-depth info will add more to your landscape of future jobs than just places, meaning individual jobs, now you´ll also start to see paths between them, streets and maybe even the odd shortcut.
Sounds like a lot of work to you? It is indeed, but two things should be taken into consideration. Transforming your academic credentials into an adequate job should be worth some time investment, otherwise the whole exercise at university was for nothing. And you are not alone. There are many other people sitting in the very same boat as you, your study mates for example. Just meet up and exchange information in peer-to-peer study groups, give feedback on your CVs, talk about which job types and companies you found and which approaches for application you used. Do mock interviews and assessment centers. Invite an alumnus for a small round of coffee into your peer-to-peer group and you can also hear the stories from introverts, who might not want to go on a stage at a career fair and tell their story to 100s of people, but who feels happy in your cosy round. Peer-to-peer groups are even more important when digging into the highly fruitful market of the small and medium-sized companies; it´s much harder to understand this complex part of the jobs landscape of these many small players than knowing the top three companies in your field. But with smart research and information exchange, you´ll get to the bottom of this part of the labour market as well.
Networking, the centrepiece of your job hunt, should be structured – a little bit at least – as soon as possible. LinkedIn, outlook and other tools can be of great help, but whatever you use, make sure that your interview partner will receive a copy of the university magazine with his name in it straight after print. Otherwise you turn all the hard work you put into this contact into frustration from both sides and you would plainly appear unprofessional. Such follow-ups can be organised extremely easily, I for example just use a simple excel sheet, in which one column enables me to filter for the planned follow-up dates. Dr. Turner 23rd of December, Santa Claus, 25th December. Easy.
So, please get away from the notion that only the classical scientists jobs are “real” jobs for you. You as scientist are simply too well qualified to limit yourself that much. Look deeper into the jobs which you can do and explore an interesting path in this wonderfully colorful landscape of jobs for scientists. Have fun!
Written and spoken by Philipp Gramlich, co-founder of NaturalScience.Careers. Originally published by PhD Career Stories.