The life sciences business can be a tough one to break into. Because of the highly specialized knowledge required, it’s one of those Catch-22 scenarios where employers are only looking for workers who already have experience in the business. Recent years have been hard even on those who already had a foot in the door, with pharmaceutical company downsizing leaving thousands of experienced professionals looking for work.
But according to Vicki Gaddy, vice president of the BioNJ trade group for the life sciences, the tables in the job market are starting to turn in favor of employees. “We’re seeing a shift,” she said. “We’re hearing from more candidates who are getting multiple offers, and the tide is definitely changing. Companies are competing more for talent.”
Gaddy is organizing a major event to bring companies and talent together. The upcoming BioNJ Career/Connection fair is a potential bonanza of opportunities for job seekers with life science experience or who recently graduated with relevant degrees. The fair will be held on Thursday, April 14, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Rutgers Student Center at 126 College Avenue in New Brunswick. Candidates should register in advance at www.bionj.org. For more information, call 609-890-3185 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gaddy said there will be a broad spectrum of companies at the event, with positions in research science, regulatory affairs, and even administration, human resources, sales, and marketing. She said anyone who wants to attend the fair should register at the website beforehand and upload their resume into BioNJ’s special database that will be available only to employers.
There are a number of things that applicants can do to get the most out of the fair, or other similar events:
Do your homework. If you have your eye on a particular company, research that company in its entirety, not just the open positions. Many companies don’t post all their openings online, and they may also be anticipating something to become available in the near future.
“Think more broadly about their business and how you could be of value to that company,” Gaddy said. Also look for people who already work for the company with whom you may be connected.
Read press releases and news articles to get a sense of what is currently going on at the company. Being knowledgeable helps create a good first impression.
Just like an interview: “Treat a job fair like it’s an interview,” Gaddy said. “Dress for an interview and come prepared with resumes and business cards.” (In addition to giving companies your resume, career fairs are a great way to connect with other professionals who are there looking for work. Be prepared to give out some cards to your fellow job seekers.)
Gaddy said it’s also good to have some talking points planned in advance. You’ll only have a few minutes to look a representative in the eye, shake their hand firmly, and tell them what you’re looking to do based on your knowledge of the company. Having a few relevant questions at the ready also isn’t a bad idea.
Prioritize: Gaddy said it’s a good idea to make a short list of the companies you are most interested in, and get to them first no matter the layout of the job fair. After that, explore the others and see if there are any that might be a good fit but you hadn’t considered.
Follow up: If a conversation goes well, you will want to follow up to try to land an interview. Gaddy recommends doing everything you can to take the initiative for making contact without being rude. If the representative says “don’t call us, we’ll call you,” ask if you can contact them after two weeks has gone by.
Gaddy grew up in Putnam County, New York, where her father owned a heating and air conditioning company. After majoring in human resource management at American InterContinental University, Gaddy got a job at a company that manufactured dental prosthetics. That was her opening into the life science field, and she has worked there ever since, aside from a stint with software development companies.
Gaddy speaks from many years of experience in the field. As an HR professional, she has worked in a broad range of companies, from big pharmaceuticals to early-stage startups and independent clinical research organizations, including Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, MannKind Biopharmaceuticals, International Pharmaceutical Research, a small CRO, and Virgin Mobile USA.
In 2009 she formed NewSuit LLC, a consulting firm to coach and advise employers seeking to connect with available talent. She soon joined BioNJ and led its talent services programs, which include helping companies source employees, helping laid-off professionals with job searches, and launching the BioNJ Academy training classes.
Gaddy said events like the career fair can be a good use of everyone’s time, especially if they follow her advice. “I would encourage people to invest time in a program like this,” she said. “I think they’re going to find it enormously helpful.”