How to convert a scientific CV into a business CV

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Seán is back with another guest post, this time on the tricky subject of turning your scientific CV into a business CV! Seán explains how to make a good first impression with your cover letter, and shares some tips and tricks for making your CV more business-friendly.

A huge problem that many scientists feel when leaving the lab is having insufficient business experience to make the transition out of science. And so with little business experience, what kinds of jobs can they apply for? However, every day many scientists do make a successful transition into the world of business, without a sniff of an MBA on their CV. Most of my friends have now gone on to work in sales, marketing, business development, IT, consulting and project management, just to name a few professions and roles.

Like everything (not even science unfortunately), there is no magic formula to make your CV appear as a business masterpiece. However, tailoring your CV for an HR department and a business manager can definitely make a big difference to whether you get to the interview stages of the job process or not.

Below are some of my tips and advice that may help you when making that transition out of science:

The first impression

From your cover letter the HR department and employer will make a judgement on whether you are a candidate who is truly interested in working for their company, or someone who has just sent another job application hoping that they make it to the interview stages. Therefore, it is critical that you tailor your cover letter to suit your prospective company, including how you align with their interests, how you understand the competition, how you have excelled to get where you are and how you’d be an asset to work for their company. Furthermore:

  • Give a brief description of their competitors and where they stand within the market;
  • Describe how X, Y, Z of your experience directly relates to the role and makes you an ideal candidate;
  • Describe the highlights of your career, what successes you have achieved, and how your determination to succeed would directly align with their business goals.

Your CV will give the HR department and your prospective manager an insight into how you structure your thoughts, your experience and exactly what your role was during your PhD and post-doc. So clearly outlining your exact roles, and how you excelled in these roles, is critical to getting through to the interview stage.

More tips for a business-friendly CV

Project management is a phrase that many PhDs and post-docs use in their CV to describe the skill of managing a research project. However, this can be taken as a given in many cases and thus expanding more on how you managed your project will set you apart from other candidates. Expanding on the objectives, goals and outcomes of your projects, and what experience you gained, provides valuable information for your CV. A little more detail will give your prospective employers a lot more insight into how great you really are!

Managing grad students and undergraduates during your PhD and post-doc alerts the HR department and your manager to your experience in working as a senior in a team, and displays that you are ready to take on responsibility, no matter what the position is. Highlighting how you managed these grad students, took their projects to completion and how you helped troubleshoot their issues along the way shows that you’re a team player and ready to take action.

Use some business terminology. It’s very likely that your new employers will been out of the lab a few years, or may not have any scientific background at all. Therefore, speaking the common language of business will resonate and allow them to see you as a business person (Chris says: my free guide on how to translate your skills into language employers can understand can help you with this).

Demonstrating further training and outreach will show whoever reads your CV that you have an interest in life outside of the lab. Further training and outreach will also show an employer what steps you’re taking to make yourself successful and useful in a career outside of the lab. If you haven’t taken any training courses yet in business, consult with your University’s career advice counsellor and see what courses you can take up for free.

Awards. You may not have won an Oscar or Olympic gold (yet!), but nothing screams success like winning an award, no matter what it was. If your peers had to compete to win this award and you beat them to the post, place it on your CV. Winning awards also shows employers that you can get things done, within a timeframe and be successful at doing it. Furthermore, it shows that you are competitive and likely to succeed within their company.

Putting some of these tips and tricks into your CV will help you to stand out from the crowd. Getting through the interview stage is the next part of the process, but with such a great CV, you’re sure to get the job!

About Seán:
Seán was a PhD student at University College Dublin and a post-doc at Cambridge University, where he studied mechanisms of cell division. Currently Seán run an ELISA assay company where you can find some great information on ELISA assay protocols and ELISA kits.

How to get a job using LinkedIn

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In the first ever guest post for Jobs on Toast, Seán Mac Fhearraigh explains the benefits of using LinkedIn during your job search. Enjoy!

When I decided to leave my job in science back in 2013 I knew I had to update my CV, be proactive in applying for positions and with some luck I’d hopefully get a position I was after. Two of my friends who left academia had recently got positions with pharma companies, so I decided to ask them for advice for my job hunt. The first answer I got back from both of them was to join LinkedIn – a near instantaneous response from both of them. They said that it helped them to find a job more quickly, it added to their résumé and it allowed them to make some connections to employers and recruitment agencies which improved their employment prospects.

LinkedIn was founded in 2002 by Reid Hoffman, Allen Blue, Konstantin Guericke, Eric Ly and Jean-Luc Vaillant and has since become the premier networking site in the world with over 260 million plus members from over 200 countries and territories and was recently bought by Microsoft for $26 billion. Currently more than 3 million companies have LinkedIn pages to promote their brand and recruit employees and therefore it provides the perfect platform to promote yourself and look for a new job.

You may have a LinkedIn account already or you may just be starting one up. So here are few tips on how to impress through your LinkedIn profile and show that you’ll be a star employee for any company. I’ll go through the sections of a LinkedIn profile and discuss what should be relevant – hopefully making you stand out as an impressive candidate!

The summary and experience sections

The opening section on many LinkedIn profiles is the summary – an optional inclusion on your profile. Your summary speaks volumes about your experience and in less than a few hundred words shows how serious you are about yourself and your career. Although not always included, I think this is a great section to tell the world in 100 to 200 words about your achievements so far in your career. It’s a great starting point to demonstrate some key successes and how motivated you are as an employee.

If possible, try to be as direct as possible about your achievements and how they impacted your company, lab or career to date. Saying it in as few words as possible and delivering your experience in a structured manner is recommended. Long paragraphs don’t come across well and don’t make for good self-promotion. Also, with your employment history just a short scroll down, you don’t want to waste all your time writing a huge paragraph that no one will read! As mentioned, try to be short and direct about your achievements and strengths.

Following on from your summary is the experience section. In this section you list companies that you’ve worked for or volunteered with. Like the summary, being as concise as possible and listing out your experience always looks good. If you can list your experience in bullet points, great! But if not, try and use one or two sentences to discuss roles or achievements you’ve had with these companies or labs. If possible, put your best experiences/skill sets/ achievements at the top of the list, as these will be the sections that are read first.

Furthermore, try to get some recommendations from co-workers or managers that you’ve worked with. Although you may not have them as a reference on your hard copy CV, it looks good that people will recommend you, based upon your time working with them.

Using LinkedIn to make connections

One of the great strengths of LinkedIn is that it allows you to connect with decisions makers, whether these are Professors, Managing Directors, CEOs or job recruiters. Since LinkedIn connections are based on who you have in common with other people, having high quality connections says a lot about your personality and character and provides a recommendation by association (it’s not how many you know, it’s who you know). If possible try to connect with as many Professors, managing directors and CEOs. At the end of the day, these are the people who make the decisions in employing or recommending people for positions.

Also creating connections with recruitment agencies is advisable. LinkedIn provides an easy to scan format for recruitment agents to browse through CVs and select candidates that they think are relevant. Furthermore, with many HR departments using LinkedIn as their primary source to identify candidates for positions, connecting with them will be beneficial to your job search.

When reaching out to connections that you don’t know, it’s always good to follow up with a thank you and an explanation for why you wanted to connect with them. Over the past few years of working in a lab and then at a biotech company I have found that people rarely, if ever say no when reaching out and looking for some help or even the chance to talk. Don’t be afraid when making connections, it’s rare that people refuse! Finally, sending a direct message after making a connection with someone you don’t know leaves a good impression, showing that you’re not a robot and allowing you to open up further conversations down the line.

A professional portrait can immediately make a good impression for a prospective employer, recruiter or new connection visiting your profile. Therefore try to use a head shot of yourself smiling, dressed smartly with a light background or outdoors. Furthermore, staring directly into the camera will give a strong air of confidence and capability. A big don’t for LinkedIn profile pictures is using your Facebook/Twitter profile picture. Since LinkedIn is a professional network, separating your private life from your professional life is important when presenting an image of yourself.

Think of LinkedIn as your online CV

LinkedIn is there to tell recruiters and potential employers how great you really are and how much of an asset you would be to any company. Therefore it’s important to project yourself as much as you can within your account. Like a text version of your CV, try to include what awards and/or achievements you may have, what languages you speak (no matter how basic a level) and what scientific publications or otherwise you have. Showing any initiative that goes beyond your regular day-to-day work always looks great on a CV and shows that your interests go beyond working in a lab or for a company.

Nowadays it’s perfectly acceptable to apply for jobs using your LinkedIn profile as your professional CV. Many leading companies including Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter accept links to your LinkedIn account instead of submitting a text version of your CV. However, if you do decide to submit a text version of your CV instead of providing a link to your LinkedIn account, it’s important to have direct alignment between both profiles. More than likely, once a recruiter or an employer receives a text version of your CV, they will search for you LinkedIn profile to get further information. If there are any discrepancies or your LinkedIn profile is not to update, it might affect your chances of securing an interview.

If possible try to align your cover letter applications for jobs with your summary on your LinkedIn profile. While this may not always be possible (as you’ll change your cover letter for different positions), keeping key elements within your summary and cover letter will look good to prospective employers.

Get endorsements for your skills and expertise

The skills and expertise sections on your LinkedIn profile is one of the last sections on the page and therefore it’s not as important or relevant as some of the sections higher up in your profile. However, skills and expertise can say a lot about you as a co-worker and your capabilities. Skills and expertise are a list of activities that you’ve selected which people can endorse by simply clicking, similar to a Google +1, a Twitter favourite or a Facebook like.

From looking through peoples’ profiles, I observe that endorsements for skills and expertise are based on two factors: how long you’ve had a LinkedIn profile and how popular or good a colleague you’ve been (not necessarily how good you’ve been at these tasks). For prospective employers, skills and expertise endorsements might suggest that this candidate is a friendly outgoing person who works well in an office and in teams.

And finally …

Something that can be very transparent on LinkedIn is when your colleagues are looking for jobs. On many occasions I’ve noticed how people’s activity increases, what companies they begin to follow or what connections they make. Within months I’ve seen ‘say Congrats to John on his new Job’ on their LinkedIn broadcast, or them announcing that they are moving on from their company! To avoid everyone knowing you’re on the job hunt you can change your personal setting to prevent broadcasts of your LinkedIn activity. Simply go into Settings and select ‘turn off activity broadcasts’.

About Seán:
Seán Mac Fhearraigh was a PhD student at University College Dublin and a post-doc at Cambridge University where he studied mechanisms of cell division. Currently Seán runs an ELISA assay company where you can find some great information on ELISA assay protocols and ELISA kits.