Friday, January 24, 2014

Interested in Interviews? Part 02: Your Application

Submitted By: Issel Anne Lim, PhD
Department/Affiliation: Radiology / F.M. Kirby Research Center

After finally getting that oh-so-elusive academic degree, we then need to figure out how to get a job. Whether you're trying to get an interview or get the offer, here are a few things to think about: showcasing your skillscustomizing your application, and brainstorming your interview answers.

Part 02: Your Application

Now that you've got a pretty good skill set, how do you showcase yourself? Well, at the least, potential employers will want to see your résumé or curriculum vitae, along with a cover letter. 

A résumé is a summary of the skills that you're bringing to an organization, so don't forget to customize each résumé for each job that you apply to. Oftentimes, a non-technical person will be searching through applications to find someone that may match a particular job, so sprinkle your résumé with words or phrases from the job description. You may want to include a "Summary of Qualifications" that summarizes how your skills will be useful to that particular organization. Also look at the job description's requirements; for example, some government positions want to know how many hours you worked per week on a particular project. Limit your résumé to two pages maximum, or only one page for some consulting jobs.

For many academic positions, teaching jobs, or some consulting firms, a curriculum vitae (CV) is acceptable. Unlike a résumé, a CV is the history of your professional life. CVs can be much longer, since they're lists of what you have accomplished in relevant fields. However, don't use that as an excuse to list every little detail about every little thing you did. Keep the job description in mind. If you're applying for a teaching position, emphasize your teaching history. If you're applying for a consulting position, emphasize your business history. If you're applying for a policy position, emphasize how you've made an impact on the community. If you're applying for a science writing position, emphasize your communication skills by listing your blog posts or articles.

For each bullet point, think about "STAR": Situation/Task, Action, Result. What was the situation or problem at hand, and what task did you need to do in order to solve the problem? What actions did you personally take? What were the results of this endeavor? Use action verbs, so that you sound progressive and keep the reader moving. Include numerical values where possible, in order to describe your impact -- for example, "Organized publicity campaign that grew membership from <10 people to >300 on our mailing list." Focus on what you did, not what the team did.

A wonderful resource is the JHMI Professional Development Office. Dr. Donna Vogel and Dr. Gaelle Kolb are especially skilled at honing in on what employers are looking for, which aspects of your résumé or CV should be emphasized, and how to whittle away the fluff. For example, you may be quite proud of your long list of conference abstracts; however, if you're applying for a non-academic position, then the titles of these abstracts are less important than saving space. Instead, you can use one bullet point under your PhD section that says, "Co-authored 2 journal articles, 3 oral presentations, 5 posters for international journals/conferences." The PDO hosts useful seminars on developing a powerful CV or cover letter. These seminars, funding opportunities, and job postings are listed in their weekly newsletter.

Applying for some jobs also includes essay questions that require you to answer a particular prompt. For example, "Describe a leadership position." This is an opportunity for you to not only show how awesome you were, but to also describe skills that you can offer to this particular job. Above all, make sure that you answer these in a logical fashion; the "STAR" process helps to organize your thoughts by explaining what the problem was, how you solved it, and what the results were. If English isn't your first language, then have someone read over your essays to check your grammar and general tone.

The final step is composing a cover letter -- even if a job description doesn't specifically call for a cover letter, if you're sending someone your résumé, you'll need to send an email. Whether it's a formal letter or a more casual message, make sure that you tailor it to the job offer and the company. Usually, these start with a greeting (from "Hello!" to "To Whom It May Concern:"), an introduction ("I'm a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University..."), why you're writing to them ("Through this website, I saw that you have a position open ..."), a quick summary of your particularly good qualifications and how they'd fit in with the job ("I have been writing for the JHPDA blog for xx years, and would love to continue developing these skills in scientific communication..."), a description of your attachments ("Attached are my résumé and cover letter"), how to contact you if they need more details ("If you have any questions, my phone number is..."), and a closing. Your email signature should have your current title, where you work, and some type of contact information like phone number, website, and/or email address.

[This is the second part of a series of three blog posts that list a few tips on the job-hunting process. Other sections are Part 01: Your Skills and Part 03: Your Interview]

* A version of this article has also been published in The Transcript, a newsletter from the Hopkins BioTech Network.

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