Most Common Mistake Scientists Make When Applying for a Job

This article was originally published here

July 20, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

In the world of human resources, there are a number of common mistakes that inexperienced—and sometimes experienced—job seekers make. Here are nine common mistakes. By avoiding them, the odds of getting the job you want go way up.

1. Didn’t follow directions.

Very common, especially in this age of online job postings and HR algorithms. An article in SmartScienceCareer by “Sven,” notes, “On a regular basis we post new positions on the major job portals such as EURAXIS, Naturejobs, Science Jobs, FENS job website and others. We give clear instructions to apply via a specific website because we want to filter out those applicants who apply to every job opening anywhere without any thought. However, multiple young scientists just send their applications to my personal email or to the email address of the HR department.”

So, it makes sense—when a company gives you clear instructions on how to apply, follow them!

2. Didn’t research the company, position and company culture.

As tempting as it is to immediately apply for any job that you look remotely qualified for, it’s a good idea to research the company first. Forbes writes “You can’t walk into a job interview knowing nothing about an organization than what you read in a job ad! Get on the employer’s website and learn about them. What is their business—what do they sell to their customers?”

3. Didn’t focus on achievements.

It’s very common for someone’s resume or CV to list skills and duties performed. And that’s important. But what a company really wants to know about you is what you accomplished, what you did for previous employees, what you can contribute. It’s common in modern CVs and resumes to have a section under each job listing, typically after a description of your duties, of Key Achievements, often a bulleted list. That can be accomplishments like: Developed and successfully submitted a $250,000 grant with the NIH, or, Implemented a new approach to gene analysis that helped identify three abnormal mutations.

4. Didn’t match skills and interests to jobs.

All too often, people submit applications for jobs where their skills or interests don’t match those the job are calling for. Not only will those rarely get past the HR screening algorithms, but they will be of little interest to the HR staffer eyeballing your resume. Sven, writing for SmartScienceCareers, said, “Ask yourself again: Am I a good fit? If you are not a good fit—do not apply! If they need an expert in e.g. electrophysiology and you have no experience in this domain, do not apply. You are wasting your time and the time of the supervisor. They must be completely desperate to take a candidate who has completely unsatisfactory qualifications. This cannot be a good environment for you.”

That said, if it’s an area you’re very interested in, and there are similarities to your skillset, there are ways of writing your cover letter and CV to suggest that you’re still qualified for the position. Just know it can be a bit of an uphill battle and will require some thought on your part to present a picture of someone with broad skills that can be applied to several different areas.

5. Didn’t network before.

It’s easy to find yourself isolated from the job market. But, particularly for life scientists wrapping up a PhD or even a post-doc, you should have plenty of contacts in the industry—people who were ahead of you in the program, peers you met at conferences and seminars, faculty members and their extended networks. Forbes writes, “Get out and touch base with the people you know when you’re job hunting! Have coffee, lunch, breakfast or dinner with new friends and people you’ve known for years, or take a walk around the lake or go to the library together. Most job seekers are too isolated for their own good. They sit at their computers typing away, but your job search requires human contact!”

6. Didn’t pre-interview.

Probably most people don’t, but it’s a great idea. Sven suggests that when you’ve identified a job that is a good fit, you should contact the principal investigator before you apply for the job. Make an appointment for a short meeting via phone or Skype. “Send a very friendly and polite email to the PI and ask whether you may call him/her to ask some questions about the position and the research project. This demonstrates that you are genuinely interested in this specific position and project.”

If they agree, plan for the interview. Keep it short, but ask several intelligent questions that you’ve prepared beforehand. This is essentially an informal job interview. Not only are you interviewing them, but they are interviewing you. It’ll help both of you decide if you’re a good fit.

7. Didn’t personalize cover letter and CV.

It’s generally not necessary to write a new cover letter or CV for each job you’re applying for. But, for the cover letter in particular, make sure you identify the specific person you’re addressing it to, if possible, and customize it for that position. With your resume/CV, some tweaks may be necessary to make sure your materials are laser-focused on the job you want.

8. Didn’t proofread communications.

Oh yes! This happens all the time. PhDs and MDs and top business executives with Ivy League degrees turn in cover letters or CVs with typos and grammar mistakes. Run spellcheck! Read it through. If spelling and grammar aren’t your strong suit or English is your second (or third or fourth) language, have someone who is good at it proof your materials. This is your first impression! Make it a good one!

9. Forgot that not every employer deserves you.

You have skills. You have expertise. You will be a great contributor to any company that hires you. If you don’t believe that, then you’re in trouble. But you made it this far, you should know you have worth. Forbes writes, “You are a tremendous candidate for lots of positions, but not every employer deserves you! If you don’t stand up for your own value, no one else will do it. You are smart and capable, whether you’re working or not.”

And don’t you forget it!

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