A few weeks ago, I published a blog post, 6 Things I Did Wrong in My Industry Job Search, and it was super popular. In that post, I promised I’d be back with a “Things I Did Right” version, and here it is.
Context: I’m a remote medical writer in the U.S., and I have a Ph.D. in neuroscience. For more context, check out my other blog posts.
No long intro today, on to the list!
1. I had standards and stuck to my values.
You may know by now that I absolutely hated my time as a postdoc. I was miserable! Still, I didn’t let that lead me to accept jobs that I wasn’t thrilled about or say “that’s okay” to job responsibilities I wasn’t a fan of.
I actually turned down a few interview processes once I had interviews and realized they weren’t great fits for me. I didn’t necessarily do it during interviews, but after, I emailed them and said I didn’t think it was a good fit and that I was withdrawing my candidacy.
I know, in my blog posts I talk a lot about really looking into job responsibilities before you apply, to be really ready for interviews, but some new things still came up during interviews!
Maybe I could have done more research up front to even further minimize having to do that, but I’m proud for listening to myself and not moving forward with interview processes for companies that weren’t really sparking joy for me.
For example, one of them was a tiny startup based in my favorite city ever, and I was super excited to have the opportunity to move back there. But after the interview with the CEO and CSO, I just didn’t get the right vibe. They were SUPER friendly…a little, too friendly. They didn’t explain a lot of stuff to me under the guise of confidentiality, and wanted me to fly out to visit them for the next interview, and it all felt a bit rushed.
So I just listened to my gut and told them over email after the interview that I wasn’t interested anymore. They were nice and sent me a quick response to that, and I was really glad to not have moved forward with it!
2. I focused on what I wanted to achieve rather than what I was escaping.
During EVERY job interview process I had, someone asked me why I was leaving academia.
These questions were sometimes framed with the vibe of, “Is this what you really want? Are you sure you’re not just trying to get this job because you’re being pushed out of academia?”
Other times, the questioning had more of the vibe of, “I totally know how it feels to want OUT!”
Essentially, they want to suss out if you’re going to be enthusiastic about the work, like innately driven to try to do well, or you’re just going to be a bitter ex-hopeful-academic working for them because you need an income.
If you know anything about me, you know I’d always planned on leaving academia and never doing a postdoc. I stayed on in my Ph.D. lab as a postdoc because I couldn’t land an industry job right out of my Ph.D.!
I was literally DEPRESSED when I had to stay on as a postdoc. It felt like my dreams of getting a cool, sciencey, corporate job right out of my Ph.D. were shattered. I’m not kidding, signing the postdoc contract papers was one of the most discouraging days of my life.
So, I was THRILLED to leave academia.
But, did I say it like that? Not necessarily.
I was 100% genuine in my response to these types of questions by saying that I’d always wanted to make good use of my scientific and technical experiences in industry where I could have practical impacts and help patients and community members.
I was super excited to truly be doing something useful with my training and to not be withering away in the lab doing stuff that no one’s going to really use for anything useful in my lifetime – and I made sure to say that in as pleasant of terms as possible.
I give specific answers written out in my Job Interview Tips blog post, so I won’t get into them here, but I always framed my answers in the positive, “This is what I’ve always wanted” way, and that worked well for me.
Now, I don’t know how it feels to have any other feelings aside from elation at the thought of leaving academia, so I can’t relate to people who have more mixed emotions about leaving the ivory towers and getting a non-ac job.
Just know that this is not the time to vent about academia and the things you don’t like about it or are sad to be leaving behind.
Instead, frame your answer in an optimistic way, and talk about what you’re excited to achieve in the role with the skills you’re confident you have.
3. I communicated quickly and effectively with recruiters and hiring managers.
This wasn’t something strategic. I just have a habit of getting back to people very quickly.
This was pretty helpful in my job application process.
When I was asked about scheduling interviews or days I could do job interview assignments, I responded very clearly, no BS, straight to the point. I did what I had to do, like blocking off my schedule and scheduling experiments at times that wouldn’t conflict.
I also always made sure to send the recruiters 2-3 date and time options.
There are a lot of communication-related things in life that require a sort of…momentum. Whether that’s dating app conversations, apartment rental logistics, even planning trips. A bit of momentum of back-and-forth convo and matched energy really helps things move along. Once things die down, it’s harder to get that activation energy back up and the process going again.
I’d recommend folks to respond to job application-related communications within a day (I wish I could say a shorter timeframe but I don’t want to sound too wild) if possible. No, I’m not a professional career coach. But it really wasn’t hard for me to respond even within a few hours because job apps were really important to me.
4. I was honest about my abilities, and, well, everything else.
One thing I learned during my 3 years or so of tutoring, interacting with client parents, and working with tutoring managers was the importance of being honest about my abilities.
I know it sounds obvious, but I learned from experience that fudging your abilities is NOT WORTH IT.
I’ve had embarrassing moments in my tutoring job where I said I could tutor precalc and then started with the student and couldn’t do it. I had to go to the manager to fix the situation and get switched off with another tutor.
Since then, I’ve been super open about how I can literally only tutor 2 subjects. I still got a ton of work and made about $500 a month! I have a blog post about it if you’re interested in how I went about doing that.
This is also true for labwork and my time as a grad student. Being honest about what I knew always helped me and those around me work efficiently.
I even told that story – about not being able to tutor precalc – in my job interviews as one of my prepped stories in case I had to mention something anecdotal.
Trust me, potential coworkers and managers are SO much happier hearing you be honest about what you know and don’t know, rather than seeing you try to fudge up some answer to make yourself look good every time. Wouldn’t you want the former if you were recruiting a coworker?
5. I judged jobs by their job description, not their title.
I think something that limits people who are looking for jobs to apply for is being too stringent about the actual name of the roles they search for.
At least from my limited experience, I think it’s more important that you apply for roles that are a good fit for you, job-wise, than to get a job just because the title is what you’ve wanted or think is cool.
For example, when I was looking for Support Scientist roles to apply for, I used multiple search terms such as “Support Scientist”, “Technical Support Scientist”, “Customer Support Scientist”, etc. I cared more about what the jobs I was looking at entailed, rather than the exact name of the jobs.
Same for Medical Writer. I didn’t have any regulatory experience and didn’t want to write papers, so I didn’t restrict myself to just “Medical Writer” jobs because a majority of those jobs required experience with pharma, medical devices, and regulatory agencies. I also looked up “Science Writer”, “Medical and Science Writer”, “Health Writer”, “Health and Science Writer”, “Life Sciences Writer”, and those titles with the word “Content” thrown in as well.
It helped me find a ton of jobs across all sorts of cool domains. Yes, I’m completely aware they range in job responsibilities – and that “Medical Writer” and “Science Writer” are very different.
That’s the point.
I was more open to looking around and finding jobs that truly interested me, rather than SOLELY sticking to “Medical Writer” jobs with no other descriptors.
This helped me find and apply for lots of cool jobs I didn’t even realize existed – writing for medical device and pharmaceutical companies, on life science education topics, for research institutions, etc. Exactly the type of thing I wanted to do after grad school!
And eventually, I landed on my current job.
6. I separated myself from my research topic.
I had no loyalty to my Ph.D. research topic. I couldn’t care less if I never talked about it or studied it in my future job.
I personally think that helped me a TON with my job search because I came across as someone that was flexible and eager to learn new things, rather than having my self-esteem buoyed by something that was temporary.
I still played up and highly valued the skills I obtained during my Ph.D. training. I just knew I didn’t have to use them strictly in the context of the disease I studied!
Coming across as resourceful and reliable always helped in my job interviews, and I think that R&R is the way to industry!
I say this in almost every blog post of mine that’s relevant, but these are just my own personal experiences.
These things worked for me, which is why I wrote about them, but they aren’t going to necessarily work for you.
I think they will, but I’m not telling you what to do.
I’m just glad that even though I made a few mistakes in my job search, I also did a lot of things right – probably more than 6 things, to be honest! And I think that helped me have a pretty smooth job search.
Remember, if you have any questions, want to follow up on anything you read here or in any of my other blog posts, feel free to email me using the Contact page or by sending me a DM on Twitter. I’d love to chat!
Until next time!