As we approach the end of our training program, we face reality: entering the work force in the world of laboratory medicine. But wait a minute, there was no class, didactic, course or guideline on how to do this during our training. In the meantime, we are trying to wrap up research projects, finish manuscripts, study for boards, take call, and continue learning the duties of a laboratory director to the best of our ability. There’s definitely no secret recipe but focus and hard work will pay off.
1. The Search
Searching for a job can seem like an insurmountable task. Where to start? Our professional organization websites (AACC, ACLPS, CAP, CLMA, Pathology Outlines) are a good place to see what’s out there, who has openings and what positions are available. Other avenues include social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and professional recruiters. However, the single most valuable avenue (IMHO) is networking. I recently heard the expression “shake the network first” and smiled. Yes, talk to your program directors as they often hear or know of open positions first; talk to your colleagues, your collaborators, and most definitely attend local and regional networking events. Networking at conferences is also a great place to start; it’s never too early to start thinking of how to begin shaping your career.
2. Cast a wide net
When applying for jobs, don’t limit yourself. There are certain constraints to account for (think geography and family) but consider the different types of opportunities out there. We often try to think academia, but don’t forget about private practice, biotech/in vitro diagnostics/pharma, government agencies, and consulting. Explore the different opportunities, you would be surprised!
Hopefully you have been working hard on your CV and it is ready for the application process. A well-structured, professional CV reflects how serious you are about your search and your level of attention to detail. A well written, concise letter of interest can make a difference as well. Take time to develop the appropriate format CV and craft the right letter. Read, re-read and proofread. Have several colleagues and/or mentors proofread both the letter and the CV. Choose references wisely. Program directors can talk about your abilities and your training, and someone who you have worked with can discuss your work ethics and your personality. Personalize the letter to the organization you are applying to. Read their requirements and timelines....everyone is slightly different and everyone has slightly different timelines.
3. And off to the interview – A two-way street
Potential employers are impressed with your qualifications and they now want to see if you are the “right” person for the job, or what we know as the “right fit”. Don’t forget this is a two-way street. You also want to know if this job is the “right fit” for you. They will be interviewing you but you will also be interviewing them.
Knowing every aspect of your CV is crucial, you would be surprised at how different people look at CVs. Researching the position you are interviewing for is key. Learn about the position and the role; dig into the institution or company’s website, their mission/vision/values, and the general organizational structure; and familiarize yourself with the people you will be speaking with during the interview. Have your “elevator speech” ready and remember social etiquette rules. Be on-time, be honest, be yourself, be confident and be prepared. The interview will usually consist of two types of questions: specific questions about your training, expertise, abilities and qualifications, and the grueling behavioral questions. There are a plethora of resources available online where you can find the most common behavioral questions. Of course the first question usually asked is “Tell me about yourself” and a good final question is “Why should we hire you?”
Another tip for success is to prepare questions. You want to learn as much as you can about this potential job opportunity and leave a door open for asking additional questions after you finish. You need to know what the expectations are and what areas need immediate attention. Make sure you are aware of the next steps and have a strategy to follow-up.
Write a thank-you note to one or more of the people you interviewed with, ensuring it is sent within the next 24 hours. The memory span of busy people is very short.
4. Fingers crossed – You have an offer!
Now you have one or more offers and it’s time to make a decision. If you are considering multiple offers, let the potential employers know about the situation, without sharing much detail. I’m a big fan of transparency. Consider prudent wait times and think hard about your options. Don’t be afraid to ask questions on details about an offer. It’s always a great idea to have everything in written format.
And don’t be afraid to negotiate in areas where you think you need additional information or resources. Never make assumptions about what’s included in the offer. A comparison spreadsheet can help to visualize the different offers, and a list of pros and cons will assist in making an objective assessment.
5. Time to shine – Starting the new job
Alright, now you have the job and are ready for show-time. A good place to start is meeting/knowing the people you will interact with. Learn about their educational and personal background and their roles within the laboratory. Attend all the meetings and get to know the stakeholders. Review expectations with your reporting authority and set goals. Establish meaningful relationships with colleagues and physicians and observe, observe, observe. Finally, follow your instincts and reach out to colleagues and friends. There will be time for intervention after you have learned the environment and the culture. And communicate, communicate, communicate! I can’t emphasize this enough!
Good luck in your job search! I thoroughly enjoyed the process and learned from every experience I had, from phone interviews to personal interviews, to networking. And you will know when you find “the job”. It will challenge you beyond what you thought you could achieve, it will keep you busy, and it will be fun!