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7 Tips to Apply for a Non-Academic Job with a Life Science PhD

Simon Smith

Anyone with an advanced degree knows academia is competitive. Harvard, for example, accepts 4.6% of applicants. But it may surprise you to know that the non-academic world is even more competitive.

Example? A few weeks ago, I recruited for a Scientific Liaison. I had one opening. I received 65 applications in a few days. That's a 1.5% chance. More than 3 times as competitive as Harvard.

Yet many applications didn't reflect this level of competitiveness. Nor did they tailor it differently from an academic application targetted to a principal investigator.

While our technology helps scientists at the bench, we also want to help them become successful beyond the bench. So here are 7 tips based on our hiring experience:

1. Make Sure You're Qualified

Seems obvious, right? But many people who weren't qualified (or didn't read the job posting) still applied. Did they think there was no harm? Wrong. Because they might qualify for other positions in future. But their first application would suggest they apply for anything. Or don't attend details. And this is a permanent taint.

2. Follow the Instructions

On a related note, be sure to read and follow instructions. We asked for a one-page resume and short paragraph stating why people wanted to work for BenchSci. It wasn't optional. It was intentional. We need succinct communicators. Yet I received many five-page resumes and long cover letters. In some cases, people didn't even bother with the paragraph. These are immediate disqualifications.

3. Tailor Your Resume to the Position

I received many resumes that highlighted research achievements and publications. These were impressive. But not most critical for the role. The job posting described specific skills and experiences we sought. For example, presentation skills. The most successful candidates highlighted these in short resumes. And they summarized other accomplishments in a few bullets.

4. Put in the Extra Effort

I know when someone submits the same resume and cover note they submit everywhere else. And I know when someone makes extra effort because they want this specific job. They've researched the company, beyond the about page. They use the product. They've thought about our pain points, and how they could help. This effort goes a long way. After all, if you don't put effort into your application, how much effort will you put into the job?

5. Show (Don't Tell) Why You're the One

Saying that you're dynamic, or entrepreneurial, or a great communicator, is easy. What experience do you have to back this up? What stories have you chosen to tell in your resume or cover letter? Provide concrete proof to back up your claims.

6. Ask Great Questions

If you follow the above tips, and receive a request to meet in person, be sure to come prepared. When I reflect on my 18-year career, I realize something. My best hires asked me the best questions in their interview. There's a direct, positive correlation. The more times I found myself saying, "that's a great question," the better. Asking great questions shows a lot. It shows you did research. It shows you're thinking about the role and company. And it shows you'll challenge us to be better. This said, don't ask questions that convey arrogance. For example: don't ask about frequency of salary reviews. We haven't even made an offer yet. Don't be presumptuous.

7. Assume You're Competing Against More Qualified Candidates

Finally, here's a general tip: assume that you're competing against people more qualified. Be paranoid. Make sure you address the tips above. Then go even beyond that. Consider how you can stand out. Show genuine passion and enthusiasm. Avoid making blatant mistakes, such as calling people you meet the wrong name. And for goodness sake, don't use ALL CAPS!

If you can do that, you'll have a great shot at a non-academic job. (Assuming you're qualified.) So keep an eye on our openings!

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Topics: Career Development

Written by
Simon Smith

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