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My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Awesome Stuff
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

This week I will answer questions sent to me by a LabSpaces reader. I welcome additional input from readers who have their own experiences with industry job hunting and using recruiters. Please do feel free to share your knowledge.


I have really been enjoying your posts on your experience with working in industry. I am coming to decide that I want to jump off the academia boat and try something else. The main problem with doing that is that I have no idea where to start. Would you mind discussing the "hows" of finding a job in industry? How is an industry type resume compare to an academic CV? Where should I look for PhD level positions? Are there recruiters or head hunters that help people find positions? Answers to any of these questions would be extremely helpful and appreciated.

How to find a job in industry and where should I look for PhD level positions?

There are a couple of approaches one can take for biotech job hunting. I would recommend using the typical search engines to start. is one and is another. These websites can give you an idea of what companies have openings currently and allow you to do broad searches. You'll notice a lot of recruiters posting their jobs so this can give you an idea of some of the most active recruiting firms.

Another good location to find industry openings is Ed Green's Job List. This list contains mostly sales and marketing positions but will have a very good range of biotech positions all over the country (including field application scientist jobs). If you are actively looking for jobs right now, I recommend signing up for this email list.

If you have an idea of what companies you'd like to work for, maybe because of location or because your expertise is in a narrow field, then check each specific company website for positions. Depending on the size of the company, it may be helpful to connect with someone you know who works in the company (or someone who knows someone) to help you get your resume or CV fast-tracked to the hiring manager. This is where is especially handy. is my online rolodex. I use it to keep track of all of my contacts and to find people for business development. can be your online webpage if you don't have one. Many recruiters are using linkedin to identify candidates for their job searches also. So get set up on linkedin if you have not already and if you have an account but haven't filled out your profile, start making it look good. Virtually everyone in the biotech community has a profile so you can start building your network immediately. Using linkedin, I can search companies and figure out who I know on the inside so I can work a job opportunity from more than one angle.

I've seen some excellent job positions posted on recently also.

PhD level positions will be posted on all of these same sites. Try looking at the individual company website to narrow down your search to positions specific to your degree.

For a complete list of all biotech companies all over the country, check out this amazing webpage put together by You can search by state and city. This is a fantastic resource.

Industry type resume vs. academic resume

My advice is to write the resume for industry with a focus on achievements, goals, and skills.  You should also have a separate section listing your technical skills/ expertise, especially if the job posting specifically mentions that candidates with a certain technique are preferred.

Academic resumes often begin with a list of each project name and goals of the project. This may not be enough information for an HR manager to know whether you fit the requirements of their job. Consider that the first person weeding out resumes may not have a science background and not understand a project title. But they know what keywords they are looking for, in terms of techniques and skills.

For example, I pulled up a resume from a list that was sent to me a couple years ago when I was hiring. Here is what was at the top section of resume/CV since it began with research experience (after name and address, etc.):

  • Developed a genetic system in Streptomyces griseus DSM40695 using protoplast transformation methods; this accomplishment provided a major breakthrough for the project.

  • Performed functional analyses of biosynthesis genes through gene disruption, gene complementation, heterologous expression, and bioassay which led to the isolation and characterization of nonactin biosynthesis gene cluster.

This sounds impressive but I have no idea what this person knows how to do. It tells me nothing about how this relates to my job posting. I'm left wishing to read more about the major breakthrough.

We are looking for the resume to specifically match the needs of the opening so the more you can design your resume to the job, the better your chances. Yes, this means that for each job you apply for, you may want to make some minor edits to your resume, inserting key words from the ad or re-ordering your experience to make the most relevant first on the list, so the hiring manager doesn't need to get to page two before they see anything relevant to their job.

It would be ok to list your project titles and goals in this way as long as you also list below it what techniques and skills you know which overlap with what I want in an applicant.

The person I hired had her resume written much different. She started off with her professional experience and gave her position, title, years of work and then the following:

  • Responsible for developing molecular methods for detection, quantification, survival and source tracking of disease-causing bacteria and parasites in watershed areas.  Commonly used techniques included bacterial culturing, DNA isolation, PCR, real-time PCR, DGGE, capillary gel sequencing.
  • Managed grant based and privately funded research related to development of bacteriophage based therapeutics as alternatives to antibiotics for aquaculture, agriculture, and human applications. Built and maintained collaborations. Contributed to IP development.  Supervised research associates, technicians, and fish hatchery staff.

These are just two examples from her list of experience, but notice the difference. I don't care what organism she worked or what genes they used for analysis in their lab. I care that it is microbiology, that she uses all the techniques we use and then some, and, most importantly, she contributed to IP (intellectual property) development. My ad said that experience in the patent process or an understanding of IP was preferred. So for me, seeing "IP" in her resume was a major plus. This was someone I wanted to talk more to.

She also supervised people, even though she wouldn't be supervising in this job, the fact that she has done so tells me she works well with others and has the ability to be promoted into supervisory roles. She is independent and a leader.

More positives and this gave her an edge over her competition.

She also had a section on her CV of relevant skills (techniques), invited lectures, and poster presentations. All important because communication skills were very important to me and having lectures and posters tell me she is willing and able to put herself out there and talk to customers.

But there is something else, and that is the cover letter. I remember reading some blog posts a while back where some PIs said that in academics, they really don't read the cover letter. I can't remember where those posts are and perhaps some readers can comment as to whether that is accurate.

The cover letter is very important for applying to an industry job. It must be written specifically for the job post. Do not write one cover letter and then send it to every company. This is a sure way to put yourself out of the running. A cover letter needs to touch on why you are the best candidate or a good fit for the job, what skills you can bring to the organization, and why you want to work for them. What is it about this company that makes you apply? Have you always loved our products? Do you feel that our company is breaking ground in an area that you find exciting and want to be part of? Do you want to work with the leaders in reasearch on (fill in the blank disease) and think that our company will allow you to put your passion into your work?

Seriously, this is important. We want to know that you want to work for us. Not that there is no other company hiring, even if that's true. Show us that you really want to be a member of our team and why. If not in your cover letter, then you will want to talk about this in the phone or in-person interview.

I thought it would be helpful for you to see an example of a very good cover letter. This person did it exactly right. The cover letter should not be long and wordy. It just needs to give an overview of your qualifications with enough information to get you to the next step. Here is the example:


I saw your add on for a Research Scientist in Microbiology and believe I am the candidate you are looking for.  I have a Ph.D. in Comparative Biomedical Sciences with a minor in Biotechnology, and have worked in the field of Microbiology for the past four years.  I have extensive experience isolating bacteria from [sample type a], [sample type b], and animals for diagnostic purposes.  This includes culturing, identification and DNA sequencing.

I was first introduced to your products in 2004, when I held a postdoctoral position with the USDA.  Our research involved development of molecular methods for detection and source tracking of disease-causing bacteria along the Santa Ana watershed in Riverside County.  More recently, I worked for a company in Sorrento Valley as a lead scientist where I was responsible for overseeing privately funded, applied research focused on novel bacteriophage isolation and characterization to treat bacterial pathogens.  I also supervised a staff of research technicians and associates.  Along with basic research, this position involved consideration of IP development (including patent searches), manufacturing, and regulatory processes for product design.  Unfortunately, the company was having difficulty securing funding to continue operations so I was forced to consider employment elsewhere.

I have attached my resume and list of skills I have successfully learned over the years. I am highly motivated and easily multitask and think I would be a great asset to your company.  I look forward to hearing more about this position.

This cover letter hit several key points from the ad posting.  It didn't need to hit every point, just enough for me to know this person is a fit and is worth checking into further. Sample type a and b are exactly what we work on, so putting this into the cover letter was the perfect hook. There was no way I would not phone interview someone who had experience in our field. And the last paragraph, the words "highly motivated" and "easily multitask" were right on. "I think I would be a great asset to your company"- that's the attitude I am looking for.

Also, this cover letter was in an email with the CV attached. Basically, when I talk about the cover letter, I just mean your introduction to the person who will be reviewing the CVs and resumes.  It is not always a formal letter.  This is your first impression to the company so it must be clear, impactful, and well communicated.

Ok, so to summarize, the resume or CV should focus on achievements and skills directly related to the ad posting. Less focus on project titles and more on what you know and how it fits with the company.

Are there recruiters or head hunters that help people find positions?

Yes there are. There are a lot of head hunters actually. Some companies will use a headhunter to pre-screen candidates for them, to reduce the workload of HR in reviewing hundreds of resumes. Other companies prefer to do the screening themselves to save money. It depends on the company and the position. For bachelors and masters positions, a head hunter or recruiting firm may be the perfect way to go. Most companies will hire people on after a designated amount of time as a temporary employee. For PhD level candidates, most likely they are not going into temporary positions and are going to be higher paid employees so the cost of using a recruiter could be prohibitive. It really depends. Positions in sales, marketing, and executive level are often courted by recruiters however, less so for scientists, in my experience.

For a PhD in the sciences looking for a scientist position in a biotech, you are better off doing the searching for positions on company websites and using your network and relationships to try to have your CV put into the hands of the hiring manager. Use the website submission form also, but apply for the job with more than one avenue if you can.

If you can fax and email a resume, do both. If you can email the resume and also have a contact in the company forward it, do that. If this is a job you really want and are qualified for, then stay on top of the process and follow up with HR.

I was pretty aggressive when I landed my first biotech position and it paid off. My persistence made it clear that I really wanted their job. Not just any job, but this particular job.

The competition for jobs is fierce at the moment so focus your choices to positions that are a good fit for you and the company to which you are applying. This will help you to be genuine in the interview and do the proper research on each company before the interview. You'll want to review the website, the pipeline or projects, the current portfolio of products, and be able to discuss them intelligently.  The more you know about the company you apply for, the better the impression you will make and the better your chances of getting hired.

The fact is there are two things companies want most in an employee: a happy employee/loyalty (someone who wants to be there) and a good personality (someone who gets along with others). A happy employee will be productive and enthusiastic. A good personality will be a team player who will carry their weight and not drag everyone else down.

So don't apply for every job under the sun thinking that if you throw enough darts at the wall, one will stick. It doesn't work that way. Managers can see who the genuine applicants are, who read their ads, and the people who are spamming companies with their resume.  Focus, preparation, and enthusiasm is what you need to land an interview, and eventually a job.

Good luck and if there is anything I can do to help please let me know!


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Blog Comments

Guest Comment

Brilliant advice. Thanks Jade :)

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As always, informative and very helpful. Especially for us young'ns who are eyeing industry in a few years.

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Thank you for all the tips!  I am currently trapped in Academia with no real knowledge of how to find a job doing anything else.  I'm looking forward to digging into all of this very soon.

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You are all welcome!

If I can help you personally - if you see a job posting and want some advice on your cover letter, you can send it to me along with the job ad and I can tell you if I think you're hitting the right buttons.

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Cricket- why don't you message me and let me know what institution you are at? There might be resources available for you that I can help you find.

Also- I don't know if you are considering life science or pharma, but if you are considering life science, next time your favorite company sales person is around, see if you can grab them for a cup of coffee and get their feedback on what their company and culture is like.

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This was awesome advice.  My husband is 4months into his biotech job and he loves it.  He came from an academic enviornment which was not at all easy.    I was thinking at some point of writing a post to talk about his most recent experiences and how they compare to mine (still in academia).  One of his successful strategies was spending the time to learn about different companies, focus on just a few, and then as best as you can figure out if its a good match for you.  Fit from the employee perspective is just as important as it is from the employers'.  Some of this can be done by networking with those who know someone who knows someone in the company or just reading as much as you can about the company.  But he got his job primarily from networking. At the very least, i moved his resume to the attention of the right people!

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Yes CGP- that would be so great to have some perspective from someone who just recently made the transition to biotech from academics. Would be great to get some advice from him too.

I agree that it's best to focus on the companies you think are the best fit for you. I received so many resumes that were so far off in fit to our company. They go right to the deleted items folder.

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Hey Jade, as usual a great post. :)

Just wondering if you might be able to comment on the hiring process. 

Specifically in my case, I'm just wondering how salary negotations occurs in a company.  Who at the company has the power to say "you will be paid x" or "we agree to your proposal of making x".

Or do you (the person hiring) get a salary range that you're "allowed" to offer/accept?   I'm almost wondering if it's like buying a car where the dealer needs to talk to managment... :)

Nervously awaiting to have the negotiating talk... :)

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I started to write your answer but it is very long.

How about if I post it as a blog article. I can do it tonight.


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OK- I posted an article on this subject for you.


Guest Comment

awesome advice!!worth it...thanx a ton!! I had no idea how to start with coz I am a fresher in did help me understand to an extent..:)..god bless!!

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Thanks for the advice, very useful. I am wanting to know some information about biotech job market. I graduated with a PhD in chemistry and want to go to biotech/pharama industry. But my PhD research is very specific and I haven't done industrially applicable research or don't have a analytical instrumental knowledge. I know 2-3 molecular biology techniques and have several publications. I want to go to entry level research associate or scientist position to gain experience.

Do you have any suggestions?  Should I get HPLC training (at a workshop)? And do you think its important to get some hand on experience on some applicable molecular biology techniques at a community college?


Guest Comment

very helpful.............thanx :)



Guest Comment

Hi Jade,


I'm currently working as an R&D scientist at a small biotech company in San Diego. I've worked here for over a year now and after having my review (with great comments) I now need to negotiate my salary. I started here last year, only had about 6 months of a postdoc after my PhD when I was offered this job. I also have a ton of business classes as I am pursuing a business degree as well. During my time here I have not only worked as a scientist but also taken responsobilities within marketing.

I feel that I should ask for a higher raise than the usual 3% as I have worked very hard this last year and released very successful products. Would you be able to give any advice? I haven't been able to nail done an average salary for R&D scientist as it seems to vary a lot!


Thank you!


Guest Comment

Great post!! vey informative and thanks for sharing such good tips.

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Hi Jade,

your post is very informative and direct. i need to your help to know how to impressively fill resume gaps. 

Lowongan Kerja

Guest Comment

Thanks for the great post! It provides many useful references and very informative.



Guest Comment

Wow, these are some great resume tips. It's nice to have everything in one placce like this.


Guest Comment

Great article. I am actively looking for entry-level research positions in pharma/biotech industry and some of the tips seem to be really useful!

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