Time for another success story! What follows is a story of how planning, drive, patience, and perseverance helped me launch into a career as a biotechnology equity research associate at a Wall Street bank just four months after finishing my Ph.D. in Microbiology. That’s right people. NO post-doc for me!
I have lurked this forum for probably close to four years, and I listened to the advice of the moderators and regulars. They know what they’re talking about. Networking and informational interviews are scary. But, once you get started you will quickly realize that there are very nice, helpful, friendly people outside of academia that are willing to give you some of their time. Be respectful of their time, and don’t expect them to give you ANYTHING other than some information/feedback. Do not EVER approach networking as an immediate gratification experience. It’s a learning experience and you might not realize what you learned right away – but trust me – networking/Informational interviews are ESSENTIAL for the academic, with NO work experience, to get a foot in the door.
Key things I did that I think made me successful:
1. Listen to the advice of this forum. It all started here for me. It works. Network. Informational interviews. Do it. Hone the skills. You may feel awkward and come across as awkward at first, but you’ll get better and your awkward inner scientist will bloom into a social butterfly that can relate, and communicate your value beyond pipet skills to non-academics.
2.Know what you want, and let yourself have it. I wanted to be an equity research associate – so I talked to people in the field via informational interviews (largely cold contacting via LinkedIn), and really learned what would set me apart on that stack of resumes. If you don’t know what you want, networking is a way to figure it out. And word for advice, really figure this out because interviewers want candidates that really want THEIR job – not just ANY job. If they sense that you’re all over the place in your career aspirations, it will hurt you. Make sure your answer to the “Why do you want to be [insert job title here]?” is your strongest job interview answer.
The last obstacle in your way once you know what you want, is yourself. Stop playing the victim “I’m a PhD and I am banned to post-doc purgatory for life!” If that’s your attitude, then that will be your reality. If you want something different, let yourself have it by putting in the work to get it.
3.Drive. Once I knew what I wanted, I put in the work to look appealing to employers. I did some free work as an unofficial intern for a bank during my PhD. I also studied for a exam that MBAs and finance professionals sit and pass at a 40% success rate – and I passed despite ALL the material being new (corporate finance, economics, fixed income, derivatives, financial statement analysis, etc), but I had to study 2 hours a day for 6 MONTHS to do it. I knew from my informational interviews that taking this exam and working as an unofficial intern would help set me apart from the resume stack. It showed drive. It showed initiative. Put in the work. These types of things are good stories to tell come interview time.
4.Patience and perseverance. Rejection hurts and it seems easy to just give up. I almost did. I had several phone conversations and coffee chats with networking friends whining about job interviews that I thought went well, but didn’t go anywhere. In fact, after four months on the job search I was talking about trying some other areas and giving up on equity research after being passed over after multiple interview stages for more qualified candidates. I thought I didn’t have a chance – there would always be someone better in New York City applying against me. A week later I had two verbal offers from two Wall Street banks I was certain had a better candidate to offer to. I was on cloud nine! And my network was really at full gear working for me because I was interviewing at a third place at the time and my network let me know about three other open positions they could introduce me to. Don’t give up. If you want it bad enough, you will be patient. If you build your network, they will be there to support you, keep you from giving up, and point you out to opportunities to pursue.
Now, if you’re thinking – that’s fine and dandy for you, but I don’t want to be on Wall Street. I want to work for industry as a scientist. Networking IS your path, too! I know at least six PhD friends that went straight from PhD into pharmaceutical or biotech companies that are names that are well-recognized. Regardless of whether they entered through a post-doc program or straight into a scientist position, they had networked into that position. You don’t need to be best friends with someone on “the inside” – in most cases it was a third or fourth degree connection that got them there. Figure out what your connections are, and use them to your advantage. Don’t have any? That’s because you need to search harder – or you need to make them yourself.
Know what you want, and let yourself have it.