Posted by: Audrey Erbes | November 1, 2009

Thoughts on Transitioning Within or Into Life Science Industry plus This Week’s Jobs Listing

I find that I’m responding with some of the same basic underlying recommendations to those either interested in transitioning functionally within the industry or moving from outside to inside our industry. I thought perhaps this thinking might be useful to those of you in transition or considering it.

Connection Between Past and Future Career Path and Gaps

I first look for the “connection” between a former career path and anticipated one and then suggest building on it and filling in gaps that need to be overcome for a successful  transition. In considering the content for this blog, I thought about those I’ve coached who came with the energy and desire, intelligence and capability necessary to make a successful transition but needed some additional industry experience, skill training and/or improved presentation of their experience and functional skills. I refer to overcoming these deficiencies as filling “gaps” in one’s background.

If you have had biology, molecular biology, genomics, biomedical engineering or other similar industry related coursework in the last 5 years, you won’t need to take courses in the newer technology. But if your science is older than that you most likely will need to take some courses. You will need to understand the technology and products at some level for positions in all areas of a company. In addition, drug development and/or medical device development courses are needed for those with no knowledge of these processes which serve as the backbone of any life science business. All work revolves around the progress and meeting milestones of the product/technology through development and successful launch. Other gaps will likely occur in understanding the regulatory, legal, reimbursement and payment environment that is so different than in other industries. Specialization in these areas in turn offers potential new career opportunities in our industry not available in others.

In order to overcome these gaps, I often recommend considering the broad variety of courses in the various industry sectors offered at the UCSC Extension in Santa Clara to provide excellent opportunities to rapidly obtain the knowledge and skills as well as “work products” for one’s personal portfolio to show a hiring manager in support of your readiness to hit the ground running (I teach part time at UCSC Ext. so I know their curriculum the best but the UCB Extension where I previously taught and some other specialized programs designed to advance specific skills in the workplace can also fulfill that function. But always be sure to check out credentials of instructors and get some references from former students to ensure you will be getting the applied skill training that you need and want. Working professionals with a preexisting undergrad education don’t necessarily need an advanced degree or even a certificate, but may only need a selection of courses to overcome lack of direct experience in a field. Unless the job requires an MBA, pharmacy, MD, or Ph.D. degree, one can usually obtain sufficient knowledge to do the work of position of interest. Today it isn’t so much about a specific degree you already have, but what you can do with the knowledge you have and your attitude and discipline about continuing to grow your skills and knowledge with some minor adjustments to overcome gaps.

Presentation of Qualifications

One needs to make the connection as to how one’s training and experience will fulfill a need for hiring manager.  What is your “differentiation” that makes you the better candidate for an opening? The resumes from those in high tech often don’t resonate with hiring managers in biotech/bioscience. Be sure you don’t use industry specific jargon from your previous industry which will leave bioscience staff confused. I must admit I was unfamiliar with the semiconductor industry—my first question was what is a semiconductor with reference to scientific or engineering knowledge relevant to our industry. Even the “Dot Comers” with life science undergraduate preparation worried hiring managers because they used terms like “riding the wave” and “paradigm shifting” business models which suggested they wouldn’t be capable of staying the course with companies with long product life cycles of 5-10 years or more. Don’t get me wrong, the life science industry is all about innovation and life-long learning to keep up to date. But it is an industry where there is a high investment in staff learning to work in a highly regulated industry and, therefore, there is rightful concern that potential staff might not make the commitment of their time and talents to the company’s products to justify the investment in them. Hiring managers openly expressed fears that those from outside the industry with more frenetic cycles might get bored after 6 months and be looking for the next opportunity—impatient to ride the next wave.

Also many who did well very quickly right out of school in the dot.com and software industries found it hard to accept that they might need to take a step background in title and/or pay grade to enter a new career path in bioscience. Not everyone has the temperament to work in our industry and one needs to recognize that up front. Marketers in other industries are shocked to learn that a drug company representative can only talk about product claims and benefits supported by scientific and clinical research reviewed and approved by the FDA in labeling that drives the content of promotion. It takes more careful consideration of promotional product positioning, strategy, messaging and tactics to ensure that they conform with industry regulations.  Creativity without this understanding is not useful.
Need to Network

As a first step, I usually suggest the individual start attending local life science industry meetings and network, network to find the sector and function that matches their interests and potential passion but then learn to network on a regular basis to stay “networked”.  It’s critical to talk to folks working in the trenches—the worker bees– to get the inside view of a function and company. These networks of contacts will prove to be important to get your resume in front of a hiring manager but also invaluable after the transition as well.

The Bio2Device Group which meets each week on Tuesday at low or no cost is a great place to go where one can not only hear outstanding expert speakers from diverse sectors and work interests but network with attendees extensively. The membership of over 1,000 includes a broad distribution of professionals with functions in all the sectors of the industry. There are many other excellent professional organizations focused on a specific career listed on my website under resources of which most meet each month with programs of interest and reasonable costs. See my Audrey’s Picks of Life Science Meetings posted on my blog as complimentary service for my students and others–as fulfillment of my personal commitment to help build and maintain a vibrant workforce in the Bay Area. Also check the Bio2DeviceGroup.com list of Bay Area events, BayBio.com’s community calendar, etc. You are fortunate to live in a cluster of activity that will support your career efforts and success.
In summary, I recommend anyone interested in working in life science, network, and attend industry lectures or take some pertinent courses to fill in gaps in background, and develop resumes that position your background to provide solutions to a company’s critical needs.

I’ve provided list of jobs and tips from past three weeks ending in Nov. 1, 2009 in downloadable Word file here Jobs That Crossed My Desk Through Nov. 1,2009

Audrey

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