How can I most effectively present my qualifications to employers?

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brainRachel from King’s College London in the UK asked:

I completed a masters in neuroscience in 2006 and have been trying to get a job in the field ever since. I’ve done other jobs and about 2 years of voluntary work in between then and now to get into scientific research. However I was unlucky in my choice of voluntary work. One of the places I worked had trouble attracting grant money and the other made around 50% of its staff redundant. Due to having such a bad time I feel I didn’t do as well as I could have done; I did very well in my masters (for my dissertation I gain a distinction). How do I put a positive spin on my experiences? I know that this field is right for me because I enjoyed my masters so much and many of the temporary positions I’ve had, have not been ones which I’ve enjoyed anywhere near as much.

Hi Rachel

You are in a very unique and highly specialized field. I know you are aware of that fact, but job seekers often lose sight of that reality when they looking for their next opportunity.  They apply the “conventional wisdom” standard to their circumstances (which is usually neither conventional nor wise!) and begin to make assumptions about their search, employers in general, the job market and their qualifications. Please do not do that!

Here are some tips I hope you will find useful.

Be both smart and well informed

Make sure you understand the breadth and depth of the job market in your field.

What is the job market for professionals in your field?  Where do people in your field work?  Geographically?  By industry?  What is unique about pursuing a career in neuroscience?

The better informed you are about the specific dynamics of your industry, the more strategic you can be in pursuing employment.

The Society for Neuroscience posted a very interesting article on its website on Preparing Neuroscience Graduate Students for the Job Market.  It also hosts a NeuroJobs Career Center online.

The British Neuroscience Association website also has a neurosciences jobs page.

You may already be aware of these resources, but I share them just in case you are not.

Sell, don’t dwell

Be prepared to “sell” what you offer and not “dwell” on what you do not.

It is very easy to focus on the negative, particularly when you have faced difficulty in your career.  If you dwell on what went wrong (or didn’t go right) in presenting your background and qualifications, employers will view you as problem-oriented.  If you sell what you learned through your experiences, how your path makes you qualified to work in your field, employers will view you as solution-oriented.

You did well in your studies – focus on that.  The work you did in your various volunteer and other positions was good – focus on that.

Unless your job was to attract grant money, the fact that one of the places you worked had trouble attracting grant money is not a negative aspect of your candidacy.  It was not your fault that one of your employers had to lay off employees because of staff redundancy.

As a job seeker, your primary objective is to give potential employers reasons to consider you for employment. It is not to give potential employers reasons to not want to consider you.

Sell what you offer, don’t dwell on what you don’t.

Set goals you can achieve

Approach your job search methodically and give yourself the opportunity to be successful.

Measure your progress week by week.

At the start of each week, set some job search-related goals that are realistically attainable that week.  At the end of the week, measure your progress against goals you set.

Perhaps in the first week, your goals will focus on information gathering; identifying the resources – online and elsewhere – that you need to be accessing on a regular basis to stay informed about industry trends and aware of developing opportunities.

In the next week, you might focus on accessing those resources and on relationship-building.  Who do you know and who do they know?  Who can assist you and how?  What are you doing to connect with and/or stay in touch with colleagues in your professional network.

Each week, you will probably build in some direct job search activities, as well.

If you set weekly goals  that are achievable, you will give yourself a chance to be successful in the short-term, and you will be able to  recognize the progress you are making.  You will also be able to hold yourself accountable in the short term.

Why are short-term goals important?  If you are not achieving your short-term goals, it will be extremely difficult to achieve your long-term goal of getting a job.

Good luck!


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