Confused about (realistic) career options

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Confused about (realistic) career options

Postby Susan H. » Thu May 25, 2017 8:22 am

Dear forum, I am a 42 yo PhD chemist who works in Big Pharma - development/production interface of chemical drug synthesis. Unfortunately, I am not really happy, but seem not to be able to move on or change. I am trying to explore other career options by applying at other companies, but seem not to be successful. Is my cv just not good enough, or is it a perceived lack of personality? I see colleagues around me that do less in their job, care less, make silly mistakes, and they seem to be happier. A recent 360° feedback with >40 of all kinds of colleagues of mine showed that I am perceived as a strong contributor, and that I am too critical of others and myself. I would like to think that I am able (intellectually and character wise) to get a group leader position, and got some strong appraisals in that direction, but also negative feedback, especially from people who don't know me well, so my first impression seems not to be favourable. Any advice what I can do to move up? Any input much appreciated. Thank you.
Last edited by Susan H. on Thu May 25, 2017 11:55 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Confused about (realistic) career options

Postby Steven Z. » Thu May 25, 2017 10:24 am

At your current company it sounds like you may be too good at your job. That is a problem that people that are very good at their jobs are prevented from any development that would remove them from their current position. The only way to overcome that I'm afraid is to move outside the company.

As for your job search. Unfortunately job-searching with a PhD in Chemistry is brutal and in many respects you need to be thankful to even have a job at all. Being over 40 in a STEM field not to mention you seem to indicate you are an introvert with your description are stacked against you as well. I've seen introverts more discriminated against than people who drink and sleep on the job. Modern HR "theory" is that everyone has to be this big bubbly extrovert and that introverts are poor communicators and team players that aren't fun to be around. They even subject applicants to pseudoscience psychometric tests at many corps that ask do you like to hang out at parties and such to screen out introverts.
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Re: Confused about (realistic) career options

Postby PACN » Thu May 25, 2017 11:18 am

Are you getting interviews at other companies and just not any offers? Or are you not getting any interviews? If you are not getting interviews, the problem is likely at the resume stage-- its not presented well, your experience isn't a good fit for the position, etc. If you are getting interviews, its likely your resume is just fine and the problem is coming at the interview stage.

My other question would be, what are you doing to address the negative feedback that you got? The next time you go through this review process, will you be able to show improvement? Don't think of it as being a problem with your personality, which you can't change, but a problem with specific behaviors, which you can change. For example, you say that you are perceived as being too critical of others. Do you provide people with positive as well as negative feedback? Are you realistic in your expectations? It can be hard to work under someone who expects perfection all the time. Everyone makes mistakes, the best you can do is help them figure out how to minimize and/or prevent them.
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Re: Confused about (realistic) career options

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu May 25, 2017 6:15 pm

Hi Susan

Thanks for coming to the forum for some ideas. It sounds to me as if you require some interviewing skills improvements. While it could be possible to change the general perception that others have of you at your present firm, that would likely take quite some time. Just like in junior high or high school, we develop a reputation in a company. Movies about how suddenly someone turns into the "cool kid" at school don't happen all that often in real life. Steven Z. could have been correct when he suggested you might be a bit of an introvert. (Too bad his post goes south from there ...). It's OK to be an introvert. Companies have scientific ladders as well as management ladders. Plus, not every manager is a wild and crazy extrovert!

If your company offers external training on managing others, take it. But I think that going elsewhere is a good idea. You'll have a chance there to start fresh. Read here and other locations about skills in networking and interviewing and go for it.

“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”- Alain de Botton
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Re: Confused about (realistic) career options

Postby D.X. » Fri May 26, 2017 2:41 am

Hi Susan,

Solely based on the tiny amount of Information, and emphasis on tiny, regarding your work-style, I'm familiar with it.

I've worked with many from what I call "back-end" highly scientific functions across Technical Production/Operations, QC, CMC, Drug Supply, Technical Regulatory Affairs, and commonly what I see is alot of what i call within function, subject matter Expertise, and work styles consistent with what I will over-archingly call, poor communication skills as perceived by others.

Don't get offended. There are many things manifest in that, can be you introvertism, can be that you're such an expert that you can't explain your data well to others without your Expertise, or maybe you get annoyed if someone is not at your Level of understanding. How that manifests itself may be reflected in you express yourself. Maybe you think you're explaining it well but others aren't getting it. Or maybe you have a sense of fustration in your tone of voice perhaps do to an annoyance you have to explain something technical. I'm saying you, but I'm being General here. And based on my experiences looking in from the "front end" (I'm on the commericial size).

Then that gets to the Feedback which is marker of people's perception of how you work with others.

You mentioned personality, I admit when I started working with Folks on the Technical side, I felt many personalities were, well, dry. And to the extent that it is not true, once I took time to understand the "People" in the functions as individuals..furtherest from the truth. Warm People and funny but their outward work-style was something different. You might say us commericial guys are shallow and bombosterous right? Outward perception. You'll find the opposite if you dig deeper wiht the individual.

So to your Problem, you have a perception issue and Feedback pointing to perhaps you DO Need to look internally.

Dave mentioned in the short to mid term, expect no changes with that perception even if you start to modify behavior today.

Perhaps changing companies is a step for you is it is an opportunity to "re-invent" yourself with a new bunch of colleagues. If you're applying for Jobs, emphasize your leadership competencies, what exactly makes you a leader? Emphasize times when you've seen an issue and brought a Team together. Emphasize times when you were Project Managing and you brought other functions on board or identified other resources etc. things like that.

Internally, try to take Baby steps to get more cross-functional or even within function exposure. If not on a Technical Production Management Team, try to get on one. Look at manufacturing functions accross Drug Supply, is there something here you can get some time on? Talk to your Commercial Folks, maybe the have some in market challenges where you can propose a few Projects, i.e stability studies to improve shelf-life Claims in emerging markets etc.

You work in a big pharma, how's your internal Networking going? Also you should have Access to development resources that you can align on with your Supervisor. You want to be a Group lead, is there a Company Management program you can take? Most companies will have offer ainternal or external course for developing line-management.

Also, have you ever done a formal MTBI? (Meyer-Brigg)? That will tell you a bit about yourself for example if your tend to be more introvert.

If you are an introvert, don't let bother you. Being an introvert is not a sign of being anti-social. quite opposite. Introverts are social, you just find your energy in small Groups of People. And success as an introvert vs. extrovert interms of climbing the ladder is about 50 50. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, they're blowing hot air.

Ok best of luck and yes i'm on the Commercial side MTBI....i'm a ISTJ....the non-informed would call me as far left/anti-social scale as one can be per MTBI. The only other Person in my MTBI Group of 40 who got that was a QC chemist. If you take MTBI, remember it doesn't predict anything, it helps you understand a bit of who you are so maybe you can have a discussion with yourself.



Editing to also give some real-world advice.

1. Dont' be too self-critical externally. Acknowledge mistakes but don't acknowledge knowledge gaps or unknowns as falts watch how you're communicating. Others will take too self-critisim as a sign of weakness and hold it against you, politically. Do be arrogant but don't be self-defeatist. Have conviction when you express an unknown. Not fault.

2. Becareful when asking Feedback. Do it when you know it will work for you not against you, and becareful who you ask it of. Only with People who intimately know your work. When I read you have formal Feedback from 40 People..aye aye aye aye. Why? Seriously? Who said to have this? That Person is not your friend but a Person working against you, or just has no clue i.e a bumbling management baffon. OK, so in your next Company or Team or it here. Get Feedback yes but careful when formal. Most companies who capture formal Feedback Limit it to a Group, say max 8 People and you chooose who those People are.
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Re: Confused about (realistic) career options

Postby Susan H. » Fri May 26, 2017 10:16 am

Dear forum members, many thanks to all four of you for your great replies which are surprisingly spot on - very much appreciated. I have been applying very sporadically - and probably half-heartedly - solely via the internet over the last 1.5 years (10 applications in total), and got 2 interviews, 1 f2f in the UK, and 1 telephone interview for a US based position (I currently work in Switzerland). I am not sure if it's my CV or my interviewing skills that are not convincing - I assume both, obviously the whole thing does not work. I have done a postdoc in the US and have worked for 3 (including my current) different Pharma companies over the last 12 years. I am an INTJ personality, and one conclusion of my recent feedback exercise which was seen through by an HR consultant was that I am exceptionally good at what I do, but need to work on my general appearance, on criticising others without their losing face, and be more aware of cultural differences. D.X., I see your point about the danger of asking randomly for feedback, but choosing a large group was advice given by my former boss, and to be honest, I don't care much about any negative consequences, I'd rather have negative feedback than none, and even provoked feedback by persons who I know are not in favour of me. Some comments were really illuminating. There is also a better prospective position in sight within my company but I am not entirely sure if that is right for me and if it will materialise at all. And yes, I agree with you, a fresh start sounds most appealing, but apparently does not come easily. I think my main issue is that I have lost my passion, so I need to find it again, for there is nothing else (e.g. no family - shame on me). So thanks again for offering your perspectives, this helps a lot.
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Re: Confused about (realistic) career options

Postby D.X. » Fri May 26, 2017 1:00 pm

Hi Susan H,

Well i'm with you on a couple Points - I'm also in CH and when I first moved here as an "off-the-boat" American, I also had alligations of critcising others with them losing face and lack of cultural empathy issues which well to be honest, I was guilty as charged. The title of ignorant American that they gave me was deserved. Enter growth and development where today I'm more Schweizeriche than the Schweizeriche. So they tell me. And I'm very happy with those changes I went through.

Luckily i had opportunity to re-invent myself by both development which did include switching companies but I was able to over come my transgressions as a bad auslander :) :) at my first Company.

Regarding negative Feedback. You want contructive criticism. Not negative Feedback. Feedback given without a solution for improvement is not constructive. I would say be a be more politically Aware here, so called negative Feedback can and is used against you by HR here in CH, unless you have a Feedback that is linked to development that is "safe Harbour" and a part of leadership development program. Yes ist ok to have it as part of Performance Review but 40 Folks is a bad idea no matter how you cut it. If it happens another time scream and call HR immediately. That is bad Management practice.

So watch it here ok?

Good luck und auf wiedersehen aus Der Schweiz

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Re: Confused about (realistic) career options

Postby Susan H. » Fri May 26, 2017 2:05 pm

Hi DX, many thanks for sharing your insights. It was a confidential 360° feedback as part of an internal leadership training, and apparently not even my manager is allowed to see the feedback or the evaluation/conclusions. My real question is, what do I need to do, how do I need to be in order to be overwhelmed with job offers?
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Re: Confused about (realistic) career options

Postby Ana » Sat May 27, 2017 10:40 am

Hi Susan, to your last question "what do I need to do, how do I need to be in order to be overwhelmed with job offers?" my answer is "get out there and meet people face to face".

It is certainly possible to find jobs on-line, but the probabilities of success are much smaller. That's because they only see your CV (easy to focus on a few tangibles and not on the global picture), because there are many other candidates applying to the same job, and because many jobs are not even advertised online.

Look, after working in academia and pharma I am now a consultant. My job is pretty much an eternal job search, always meeting new people, starting conversations, and if everything goes well then discussing doing business. Most contracts are project-based so I'm constantly looking for "new jobs". And there is nothing in my experience that beats a face to face or a referral.

A usual problem of people that have worked for pharma companies for a long time is that their network gets restricted to those inside their company. While colleagues in the business side get out and meet a lot of people, us, scientists, stay on campus and make many internal friends. That's a big problem when you want to get a feeling of what company might be growing their chemistry department because you don't have external contacts. Ironically when you have been long enough in pharma that starts changing because by then most of your former colleagues have left (high turnover) so suddenly you know people in other companies.

I would suggest that you reach out to your network of colleagues who are outside your current company (from your former companies or colleagues that have left) and tell them that you are interested in new opportunities as a group leader. And that in parallel to that you start getting out and meeting relevant people. Usually conferences are the best for that. It could be paid by your company, but being in CH I think you have enough local conferences to just take 1-2 days off and attend on your own. The more people that you know the more opportunities you will hear about and the greater the chances that you will get "overwhelmed with job offers"!

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Re: Confused about (realistic) career options

Postby Susan H. » Sat May 27, 2017 11:44 am

Hi Ana, hi all, thank you so much for your answers! I am an introvert and struggling with going out there. Last year when I was invited to an on-site interview in the UK (great job at a medium Pharma company) I even didn't contact a very nice business acquaintance upfront who actually (still) works there (and I didn't get a job offer). We had known each other from a successful and pleasant collaboration when I was still working at a contract manufacturer. I would have hated him thinking that I wanted to exploit our relationship. There is probably wrong with me, but I have to live with that. So I am looking for other ways to call attention to my skills. And I feel the following dilemma: people need some time to appreciate me/see my advantages, which means I should probably not change companies so often, but at the same time I crave for new beginnings in order to change. Any thoughts?
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