I recently completed a hiring round for a bioinformatician – something I haven’t done in a while. I am quite happy with how it went, and the candidate I hired has turned out to be an excellent choice. During the process, however, I was perplexed to observe that a lot of, IMHO, elementary mistakes are still being made by candidates at the application and interview stages. Quite a few of these were being made by the more experienced candidates. I share below some insights and advice that I hope will be of use to bioinformatics job seekers for industrial roles.
I appreciate that there might be an underlying conflict of interests with me writing as an employer to advise jobseekers. So please take below with a pinch, a handful or a truckload of salt as you wish. However, this post is motivated by a genuine aim to help jobseekers.
1. It is still true that good bioinformaticians are highly sought after, but ..
The key word is ‘good’ and the challenge for employers is to identify such candidates from an increasingly large pool, and for jobseekers to prove that they are. Long gone are the days where simply having a bifo degree or experience guarantees you a job (if ever such days existed). Most employers would be happy not to just wait for the right candidate, but there are now increasing numbers of alternatives they can exercise. Which leads me to my next point:
2. You have more competition than you may think.
It’s not just other people that apply within the timeframe. There are many recruitment agencies who lobby for their candidates, even when an employer hasn’t advertised an open position. Paying the commissions for hiring such candidates would still be preferable to hiring a ‘free’ candidate who has interviewed sub-optimally. There are also increasing numbers of bioinformatics service providers and freelancers with great credibility – these options can be used to tide over an employer as they wait for the right candidate, or even remove the need for a new hire. Also, there are candidates who are vouched for by the employers’ networks. Such positive recommendations are worth their weight in gold (many employers may only hire in this way), and such candidates (like internal candidates) have a significant advantage over ‘cold’ applicants.
3. There are a plethora of resources regarding job applications and interviews. Use them.
Whether it is a career counsellor or workshops at university, or a simple Google search that reveals huge numbers of articles and blogs on CVs, applying for jobs and interviewing – use them! Consider it inexcusable to make basic errors when there is so much guidance freely and easily available. Most of these mention the same general dos and don’ts so I won’t write much about what they say specifically. I only make an exception for the next point:
4. For the love of god, include a covering letter with your application
I can’t believe I’m having to write this, but you really need to customise your application for the role you are applying for. Especially if you don’t want to trim around your CV much, your covering letter is your opportunity to explain your interest in the position, and draw attention to the parts of your CV that highlight the value you could bring to the role. There are many connotations to a CV-only application, and all are negative!
5. Attitude often trumps experience
A good match of skills and experience can get you to the interview stage, by which then you are on more-or-less a level playing field. As you would expect, a hiring manager will then be considering a complex mixture of technical competence, interpersonal and communication skills and attitude to assess whether a candidate is not just a good fit for the role, but for the wider team and company. A key point is to assess whether the candidate is genuinely interested in this role, and the candidate’s attitude (starting from how much effort they have put into their application – see above point) can say a lot about this. A less experienced candidate who comes across as genuinely enthusiastic about the role, and exhibits curiosity, honesty and humility will be preferred to a more experienced candidate with question marks over attitude. No employer wants to delay/risk a hiring round by offering a position to someone who would reject it, or worse, accept only to try and leave ASAP. Some of the more experienced candidates I have observed have exhibited sub-optimal attitude during interviews ranging from boredom to arrogance. These are red flags to a hiring manager.
6. Don’t price yourself out of a potential job
.. especially if you really want it. A few candidates had unreasonably high salary expectations – and there could be many reasons why, e.g. academics who have misjudged the magnitude of pay gap between academic and industrial salaries. Candidates who do this can come across as chancers, misinformed, or just plain deluded. Salaries aren’t as opaque as they used to be – with websites like Glassdoor you can get a ballpark figure of market rates (even at a location level) for similar roles. Bear in mind that a salary offered is based on the responsibilities of the role, what value a candidate brings to the company, what the market rates are for similar roles, and the candidate’s relevant skills and experience.
This post isn’t meant to daunt jobseekers, but rather to motivate them to make the right level of effort. This could mean, for example, cutting down and prioritising the number of positions applied to, to ensure each gets the effort it deserves. Hope this helps.