August 7, 2020

Commentary: Advice to the 2020 Class of California College Grads Entering Life Sciences

In the new C-19 world, competition for top life sciences jobs will be difficult. Be prepared.

By Leslie Loveless, Special to California Business Journal.

Soon-to-be college graduates are understandably nervous as they approach their virtual Commencement Day. The massive economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak are affecting most every industry, and job seekers will have to be nimble and patient as they enter the job market.

In California, the life sciences industry, with more than 3,400 companies employing more than 300,000 people, is working around the clock to develop testing tools, diagnostic equipment, treatments, therapies, and vaccines to accelerate an end to the COVID-19 crisis. And over the short term certainly, life sciences companies in the state will require talented and driven young professionals to enter the health care, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, diagnostics, and precision medicine sectors to help in this effort.

Those of you who are entering the life sciences during these uncertain times must set high standards for yourselves as the competition for top jobs will be tough. As CEO of a search firm for life sciences executives, I offer a few suggestions gleaned from my years of experience working with candidates and companies across the spectrum:

  • Reach out and talk to people. This is NOT the time to be shy. As part of your preparation to enter the job market, speak to as many people in the life sciences industry as possible to gain their insights into what companies are best suited for you, how you can effectively pursue those opportunities, what landmines to avoid, and what questions you should ask. Reach out. Make contacts on social media. Expand your personal networks now more than ever.
  • Enhance your S.O.F.T. skills. I subscribe to the growing field of thought that within the life sciences, the set of S.O.F.T. skills (i.e. Self-Others-Feeling-Thinking) you possess are equally as important as the set of hard skills (i.e. technical knowledge, experience, and know-how) you bring to the table. Scientists can develop cures for cancer and other diseases, but not all scientists manage people well. Companies are now well aware that emotional intelligence, composure, and compassion are absolutely critical qualities for top executives to lead successfully, so they are actively seeking candidates who exhibit such skills from day one.
  • Carefully choose the positions you wish to pursue. There may be a lot of appealing opportunities within the industry that intrigue you, but you only have so much bandwidth to pursue those that are truly within your strike zone. Base your selection not just on your interest and skills, but also on the company culture and how well you will fit in. No two companies are alike, and you can learn a lot about them through social media and elsewhere. Also be mindful of the company’s talent development practices and team structures and how they would apply to you. Be discriminatory. Use this thought exercise to gain a better understanding of yourself and how you want your career trajectory to play out.
  • Market yourself appropriately. Be very deliberate in your self-representation. Don’t exaggerate your experience or skills in your CV or on social media, but make sure you specify those areas where you bring knowledge, expertise, and value. Your resume must be well-written, crisp, intelligent, and customized for the specific job opportunity you are pursuing. This is your very important opening sales pitch and it must resonate with your prospective employer.
  • Take the interviews to the next level. Use this important face time to gain trust, make a connection, and reaffirm the value that you bring to the company. Don’t be overbearing, but be confident and smart. This begins and ends with your preparation. Know everything you can about the company, its mission, products, people, and marketing. Maintain eye contact. Ask intelligent questions. Take the time to listen. Demonstrate your interest, sincerity, and character. Be real! And if you cannot win the position by being real, it is not the right company for you.
  • Stay visible. It may seem like a simple thing, but take the time to reach out to thank each of those who met with you, and to reassert your interest in the company, its mission, and the position. Incorporate any specific points into the message that underscore the unique value you will bring to the company, highlighting any new ideas that you learned about the company and its operations during the interviews. Effective relationship building and maintenance will serve you well, not just now, but over the course of your career.

The job market awaiting Members of the Class of 2020 will be uncertain, at least for a while, but opportunities abound for graduates in the life sciences, particularly here in California. The best candidates will be prepared and able to move quickly to secure the most prized positions at the very best companies.

Leslie Loveless is the CEO of Slone Partners, a nationwide life sciences executive search firm.

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