Network Your Way to a Biotech Career

TERMINATION. The word itself has different meanings depending on the context. In the situation where it is used to describe the end of one’s employment, there is but one interpretation; he or she will be unemployed and finding a new job will not be easy. With a larger percentage of corporations in America undergoing reorganization or “downsizing”, a greater number of employees, including biotechnology engineers and scientists, will see themselves in this unfortunate position. Once the initial shock of “termination” wears off, it is often replaced with a feeling of panic; ‘How do I find a new Biotech job?’ Relax. There is a very effective method that can be used to conduct a successful job search. It is known as NETWORKING. If used effectively, networking can be a rewarding experience which will often result in a better position in terms of job satisfaction and salary.

Where does one begin? First and foremost, it is important to understand what networking is all about. For many people in the biotechnology community it involves an entirely new or different philosophy for conducting a job search. It means researching a company to determine if that firm would have interest in your background. It means contacting a knowledgeable person who may be aware of biotech career opportunities, and finally, it involves speaking to that person with the primary intention of obtaining advice. This is one of the key points pertaining to networking; you are contacting a prospective employer not for a job, but for advice. By writing that person, you are telling him or her that you value their opinion and you are requesting their advice in seeking companies which may have interest in your background.

In the last few years I have had the opportunity to speak with many people who work in biotech. In most cases, when asked how they planned to undertake their job search, the response I received often sounded something like this: “check the newspapers, respond to ads and contact recruiters”. Six months later, when their job search was stalled and a feeling of hopelessness had set in, they realized that something was drastically wrong.

A recent study conducted by the American Society for Metals (ASM) revealed that the majority of biotechnology jobs are placed through referrals. Networking is your best opportunity for finding a job in Biotechnology, and by relying on the most common methods, you can expect minimal results. Perhaps the following will offer further clarification. Assume you see an advertisement in your local Sunday paper for a position which you consider to be applicable to your expertise and interests. You respond with a cover letter and attach a copy of your resume.

Consider the following scenario at the company which placed the ad. The person responsible for opening the resumes may be a secretary or receptionist. Assume this person has been given guidelines and instructed to make three piles; yes, no, and maybe. The following profile describes the number of resumes received on a particular day:

        Day 1 – 15 resumes
        Day 2 – 25 resumes
        Day 3 – 50 resumes
        Day 4 – 35 resumes
        Day 5 – 25 resumes

On the subject of recruiters there is a range of possibilities. In most cases they will not be interested in you unless they have a “job order” for which you could be a candidate. A recruiter I know who specializes in civil engineers told me he receives 100 or more unsolicited resumes a week. Most firms consist of a couple of people with minimum staff support. Therefore, they rarely have the time to review every resume that comes across their desk.

Chances are that you have been contacted by a recruiter in the past. Why? Recruiters are networking experts. When they receive a “job order”, they contact people who they know within the biotech industry to obtain new leads. If you had contact with a recruiter in the past, he may have called you about a particular job he had in mind. If you were not interested, chances are he asked you if could “suggest” someone he could contact. This is networking.

Before you begin your job search, you will obviously need a resume. In addition, you will need to develop letter writing skills that match your personality and style. The primary purpose of a networking letter is to convey a message that you value that person’s opinion, and hence perhaps he or she could assist you as you conduct your job search. Keep in mind that you are not asking your contact for a job; you are requesting their help in locating names of individuals or companies which may have interest in someone with your background. Who should you choose to write to within a particular firm? That depends on many factors; the size of the firm , the “accessibility” of your contact, the nature of their business, etc. If you feel more comfortable approaching the VP of Biotechnology rather than a Biotechnology Supervisor, write to the former. Try and contact the person responsible for hiring someone with your expertise.

Once you have mailed your letter, wait a week or two before following up. It typically takes a few phone calls to finally contact the person. It is critical that you do not give up; the leads that person gives you could be considerable. The worst that can happen is that the person tells you your letter was received, but they cannot offer any advice. Thank him for his time and go on to the next contact. In the event he or she can suggest leads, make sure you carefully note the information provided, and act upon the suggestions or leads. In other words, the process starts over again. Finally, if the person has been considerate and taken the time to assist you, I strongly recommend you write and thank them. Not only do you appreciate their help, you show them what type of person you are!

As you repeat the networking process over and over again, you realize several things. To begin with you are progressing in your job search every day. You are controlling where your resume is circulated, and you have a “hands-on” approach to contacting potential employers. Note how this compares to answering advertisements or using recruiters. Sooner or later you begin to speak with people who are interested in your qualifications, and will want to meet with you to discuss employment.

Networking can be a very rewarding experience and for those who have found new positions via this technique, no other method compares. It takes time to develop your letter writing skills, to feel comfortable telephoning the person you have written, and following up on the suggestions given. Networking is a full time job – yet the rewards may very possibly offer more Biotechnology opportunities than you had at your previous position.