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“You need more industry experience” – How to secure a life sciences job with an academic background

Rachel Salisbury our consultant managing the role
Rachel Salisbury our consultant managing the role
Posted: 27/10/2020

You’ve worked hard to secure your degree, or maybe even an MSc or PhD. You managed to secure a job at an established and well-regarded academic research institution. You’re working tirelessly on complex projects, often alongside professionals from the commercial sector. It’s time for the next step in your career, an opportunity to work directly for a sponsor. You’ve gained a lot of skills through your education and previous work, so you enter the job market, feeling excited about your career prospects and proud of your achievements.

Only to find that it’s not enough.

You get rejection after rejection, informed (or more often not so) that you need more commercial experience to secure a job in the commercial sector. But how can you get that experience if no one will give you a chance?

Sound familiar?

Don’t lose heart. In my line of work as a life sciences recruiter, I’ve seen many candidates with similar stories and there is a way forward.

Here are my tips:

Play to your strengths

Many of the companies within the clinical space originated within academic institutions, so academic experience is well regarded, especially by biotech’s; it’s just about finding the best suited company to you, where you can add value. It’s important to consider your strengths:

  • What therapeutic areas and phase of research have you been most heavily involved with?
  • Where could you apply your knowledge base?
  • What was your degree in, your MSc, your PhD?

Really take time to consider this. Manager’s love to know that you’re passionate about a particular area of research (ideally this is in line with the company you are applying to) and where you might be able to add value.

Pay attention to the finer details

Job roles in an academic setting are often broad and varied, comparable to a biotech setting. You’ll likely have collected experience across a range of areas, so fill out your CV with as much as you can – even the little things that you think are self-explanatory. It all counts, and it could be the difference between an interview or a rejection. Some top tips:

  • Be specific about your project experience (phase of research, therapeutic area, whether you were in a support or lead role). A clear summary of this can be useful, as well as details in each role entry.

  • A sentence or two summarising your key achievements in each position can be really helpful – where did you go above and beyond?

  • Detail any sponsor exposure you’ve had through your projects – have you worked on a commercial study? What interactions have you had with sponsors?

Keep realistic expectations

Don’t jump too soon – make sure you’ve gained as much as you can from your current role and place of work before launching your career into industry. The industry is competitive, there will be other candidates applying to the position, so the more related experience you’ve had, the better.

Think about whether now really is the right time to be making a move, what else could you do to expand your skill-set? Could you push for that promotion? How could you build your knowledge base?

Persevere and stay curious

Be persistent – don’t lose heart. Applying for jobs can become a full-time job in itself, but don’t be discouraged (as best as you can) by rejections.

Chase up your applications, ask questions – ask your colleagues, your ex-colleagues, your brother’s girlfriend’s Dad, who you heard works for GlaxoSmithKline. There’s always something to learn. Ultimately, those who are more persistent and eager to pursue opportunities will be more likely to find what they’re looking for.

So, to recap:

1. Play to your strengths

2. Pay attention to the finer details

3. Keep realistic expectations

4. Persevere and stay curious

Remember, everyone has to start somewhere in their industry career. There will be an opportunity when the time is right, for yourself and for your future employer. I have helped numerous candidates with this move, and it is worth the wait!

If you have any other questions or would like to discuss career opportunities further then please contact the team here.

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