“Wow, you quit your job without the next one coming up?” I almost whisper into the phone. I speak to Clara, a biomedical scientist with a PhD and two years of industry experience. She had serious problems with her boss, tried and failed to resolve them, and resigned.
Although I run the risk of being viewed as overly conventional, I ask her, “Couldn’t you have stayed in your job until you received your next offer? Aren’t you afraid of unemployment? ‘”Ah, don’t worry,” she replies. “I’ve seen that it is so easy for so many colleagues to get their second job in industry that I never thought of being out of work for too long.” And it turned out: While two years ago she had to write 80 applications before she was offered a job, this time she received three of only 10 applications.
Getting that first job after graduation can be challenging for graduates of some fields, but moving from that first job to a second seems a lot easier. Why exactly is this difference so great?
We worked in career development for scientists for nine years and kept coming across the same three reasons. First, you get better access to an industry network. and since networking is an integral part of professional development, most people attach increasing importance to this activity as their careers progress. Second, you got a broader outlook on career opportunities and horizontal mobility in general. And third, you have developed industry-specific skills.
However, you don’t have to wait to start your first job to work on your skills. Here we look at four typical skill gaps new graduates have (or at least believe) and break down ways they can be fixed before they leave the academy.
Working in a regulated environment
Almost every privately run laboratory or production facility is GxP-certified or complies with ISO standards, which means that strict quality guidelines and regulations must be adhered to. While university laboratories are typically not certified to these standards, there are ways to show that you can work in a regulated environment. A good example is compliance with the documentation standard required to file a patent. Alternatively, you can set up your own mini quality management system, for example by motivating your laboratory colleagues to write standard operating instructions for the instruments in the laboratory. As an added benefit, this will help avoid unnecessary downtime from inexperienced users and give newbies a smoother start. Another idea to show that you are well suited to work in a regulated environment is to act as the health and safety officer for your laboratory.
Formal leadership experience
This skill gap is often just a perceived gap. Most of the graduates were leaders in many different situations: for example in a sports club, in teaching or in research supervision. Point out these responsibilities when applying. Leading without formal position power is more difficult than from an official role, so emphasize these experiences as well. Be confident when calling yourself a leader in the making.
“Industry makes money, science spends it,” says a famous joke. For this qualification gap, you can use any experience that has brought you into contact with money, either privately or professionally. If you feel like you are still missing some of that experience, you can volunteer to help your boss with their next instrument purchase or to submit a grant application. As you can see, working on your skills doesn’t have to go against the interests of your colleagues – it can be exactly the opposite! Also, mention possible commercial applications of your research in your application documents.
Being able to communicate your work to a wide variety of different people is a very important skill. Can you work with the marketing team to find the unique selling proposition of your invention? Can you share results with clients who have no academic background? That void can be filled before graduation by volunteering at science communication events and outreach activities, or simply by taking on the challenge when the non-scientists in your family and friends ask you over coffee, “Tell me what exactly are you doing? do during this PhD? ‘
Overall, employers want to know that you are able and willing to fill your skill gaps and that you know what you are signing up for. They often do this by asking for “relevant industry experience” in their job advertisements. If you lack this experience, don’t despair. Identify your skill gaps and tailor your academic education to actively close them. In applications, highlight how your academic (and other) experience affects the skills needed in the industry and describe in an assertive way what you have learned.