#48: Lina Tengdelius’ tips and tricks on how to find a job after a PhD


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Lina-TengdeliusWe are very happy to welcome Lina Tengdelius back to the show, this time to provide us with a tips & tricks-themed podcast on how to find a job after a PhD. In this episode, we learn more on how to structure our CV:s in the best way, what to write in a motivation letter and how to perform successfully in job interviews.

Dr Lina Tengdelius holds a MSc in Chemistry and a PhD in Materials Science with specialisation in Thin Film Physics from Linköping University, Sweden. She recently transitioned from academia to a role as a Consultant Manager at Dfind Science & Engineering. She works with recruiting people with a science background and reads a large number of CVs from PhDs every day.

Want to know more about Lina? Listen to her inspiring story on how she landed her current position and what her experiences on ‘the other side’ has taught her about the recruitment process: Episode #40: Lina Tengdelius’ story.

If you can’t motivate why you want the job more specifically than writing that it sounded interesting, maybe you don’t really want the job?.

– Dr Lina Tengdelius, Consultant Manager at Dfind Science & Engineering, Sweden

Transcript

Hello and welcome to the episode number 48 of PhD Career Stories. My name is Natalia Stolyarchuk and in this episode Lina Tengdelius comes back to give her tips and tricks on how to find a job after a PhD.

Lina has a Master of Science in Chemistry and a PhD in Material Physics. At the moment she works as a Consultant Manager for the recruitment company Dfind Science & Engineering in Stockholm. As a professional recruiter she will share with us her experience and give advices on how to structure your CV in the best way, what to write in a motivation letter and how to perform successfully in job interviews.

If you are interested to know more about Lina and the the story of her personal career development, please go back and listen to the episode number 40.

Now, a word to Lina!

Hi listeners! My name is Lina Tengdelius. I have a M.Sc. in Chemistry and a PhD in Material Physics. Now I work as a Consultant Manager at Dfind Science & Engineering. A big part of my job is to recruit candidates with a science background to work as consultants at our clients in the Life Science industry in the Stockholm area.

In this episode of PhD career stories, I would like to share some pointers on how to write a CV and cover letter for industry, as well as performing well in an interview and how to think about your references. I will also tell you a few things about how the recruitment business works.

I would like to start by emphasizing that what I say in this podcast episode is of course only my own opinions and other recruiters might very well feel differently about certain things.

As a recruiter I read a lot of CVs and surprisingly very few are well-structured. So how should you structure a CV? The most important thing for me is to think about the readability. I want a CV to be clearly divided with headlines such as education, work life experience, language skills, IT skills etc. You can also include a short paragraph in the beginning about yourself and your goals. I prefer the education and work life experience parts of a CV to be in reverse chronological order, i.e. put the latest job or education first.

For every education and job you have had, it should be clearly stated the title of your position or education and the employer or school. It should also be clear during which time period the education or job was conducted. For me an example could be:

Apr 2017 – present Consultant manager, Dfind Science & Engineering

or under education:

Aug 2009 – June 2011 Master of Science in Chemistry, Linköping University

The most important things should be in bold or some font that make them stand out on a page. Under each education/job you can have a short text or a few bullet points describing what was entailed. This helps me as a recruiter to understand how your previous experiences can help you succeed in the job you applied for. You don’t need to have this explanation for every job/education, just choose the most important ones.

As a PhD graduate I would recommend that you include your time as a PhD student both under work life experience and under education. Under work life experience call the position Research Scientist or something similar. You need to emphasize that being a PhD candidate is a job just as much as it is an education. Because what is a job? Doing something that creates value for someone and getting paid for it, right?

As a PhD student I got paid to deliver research results that was just as valuable for my supervisor, group and university as any other researcher’s results higher up in the academic hierarchy, so I definitely count it as a job.

Another important thing in your CV is to clearly state language skills. Which is your mother tongue? Do you speak and write English fluently? How is your Swedish? Never include words that sound negative. If you studied French in school like I did but haven’t used it much since then don’t describe your knowledge as poor, instead write basic. Or if it is irrelevant for the job just leave it out.

That brings us to what is relevant in a CV and what is not. If you have had many jobs just include the ones that you think you would have the most use of in the position you applied for. For industry jobs do NOT include your publication list. If you are applying for a job as a researcher, write that you can supply the list on demand or refer to your LinkedIn page and have all your publications there. This also applies for conference talks, academic awards etc.

Then there are other things that can be important to include for some jobs. Maybe having a driver’s license is required or at least an advantage. For some jobs in Life Science it can be a good idea to list the lab techniques you have experience from. If you apply for a job in another city than where you currently live it can be good to write if you are willing to move, if you plan to commute or whatever your plan is if you get the job. This can be stated either in your CV or cover letter.

Now to the cover letter. The most important thing I want to see in the cover letter is a motivation for why you want this job. I also want to know why you think you would make a good fit for the position. Make sure that you rewrite this part for every job you apply for and customize it to the ad.

For a recruiter it takes just seconds to see if you send the same letter to all employers and that will be a big disadvantage. We want you to want to work for us! If you can’t motivate why you want the job more specifically than writing that it sounded interesting maybe you don’t really want the job?

Which brings me to another important point: Do not apply for jobs that you don’t want! Knowing what you want isn’t easy. Believe me, I know. But applying for jobs that you don’t really want will never end well. Either the recruiter realizes that you don’t really want the job and you don’t get it, which will eat away at your confidence. Or you manage to fool the recruiter, get the job but will never be able to really succeed at it since you’re not really motivated. So skip applying for jobs you don’t want and instead focus your efforts in researching companies, positions etc to figure out what you do want. By this I do not mean that you should only apply for your dream job but only apply for jobs that you think you could enjoy for at least a year and that brings you closer to your dream job or closer to figuring out what that job is.

The CV and cover letter are only a way to get an interview. It’s at the interview you have the opportunity to land the job. A common first question is some variation of “Please tell me a bit about yourself” so you must be able to talk about yourself and summarize your experiences in about 5-10 min. Do not go into too much detail about every research project you have ever been involved with and keep it short. Practice this at home! The interviewer can always ask follow-up questions.

Also listen to the questions and try to answer using examples or try to explain how you do something. For example if I get asked what my greatest strength is I could just say that I’m organized but a better answer would be that I’m good at structuring my work by using Google keep to keep track of all the things that I need to do and which are most prioritized. This enables me to keep deadlines and minimizes stress. Do you see the difference? The second answer gives the recruiter much more information.

The interview should also be for you to get more information about the job and the employer. Prepare a few questions. This makes you look interested and also enable you to decide if you want to work for this employer. It is not just the employer that chooses you, you need to choose the employer as well.

Now on to references. Usually a prospective employer talks to 1-4 people that have worked with the candidate that they are considering hiring. This is usually an important step, so make sure that you choose the right people to give a reference about you. At least one should be someone that have been in a position of being your manager.

You would be surprised to know how many negative things are being said about a candidate by the people giving them a reference. Do not be scared of asking someone what they will say about you if being asked for a reference. Do they think that you would be suitable for the position for which you applied? What do they think are your strengths? What do they think are the areas you need to work at? Would they hire you if getting a chance?

Also, if the job is in industry and the person you asked to be a reference is in academia, for example your PhD supervisor, be sure to tell that person which aspects that you would like them to highlight. I for example asked my supervisor to focus on my ability to cooperate well with others and keep deadlines rather than my in-depth knowledge of materials science.

I would like to end this podcast episode with a few pointers specifically about applying for jobs at consultant companies. First of all, we almost always recruit ongoing, that is we do not wait until the ad has expired and then look at all the applications at once. Therefore, apply as soon as you can. If you apply after 3 weeks you might not get the job although you may be better qualified because we might have found someone that applied the first week that was good enough.

Because of this it is common that recruitment companies puts an ad out for just a couple of weeks and then the same ad might appear again. I usually renew my ads about once a week until I have signed someone. This however can make it difficult for you as a candidate to know if you are early or not. Maybe an ad is published on Monday and you apply on Tuesday thinking you were extremely quick but I might have had the same ad out for 3 weeks previously and already interviewed a number of candidates.

Another thing that you can see is that several consulting companies are looking for candidates for the same position. This is most common for large client companies that use several consultant companies and then hires through the company that could find the best candidate the quickest. Some of these companies have rules that states that a candidate cannot be presented through several consulting companies so even if you can apply for the same position through several consultant companies you must then choose which will present your profile to the client. Always ask about this if you have applied through several companies and make sure you get the best deal possible.

Another common thing at consultant companies is that we share candidates among consultant managers, which means that if I get your CV and I like it but I don’t think that you are suitable for the position you applied for, or I have already found someone else, I can still call you for an interview or recommend a colleague to look at your CV. This means that it is great if you keep an updated CV in our database and keep in touch. Don’t forget to build your professional network as it can be of great help both now and in the future. Feel free to add me on LinkedIn if you like.

Thank you for listening and good luck with your continued career!

You’ve just listened to an episode 48 of PhD Career Stories. Subscribe to our show on iTunes or Spotify or on any other podcasting app. You can also find us online on phdcareerstories.com and on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin.

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