Sara Borniquel started her career as a scientist in Spain, before moving to Sweden in 2008. At Karolinska Institute she combined a postdoc position – leading a pre-clinical study about immune-inflammatory diseases – with two internships at KI Innovations AB and Stockholm-Uppsala Life Science. Since 2014, Sara has held several positions in industry including project management, marketing, and business development. Today she works as freelance consultant for Life Science companies, as recruiter (Rekryteringsspecialisten AB) and marketing & sales consultant (innoFund Innovation Funding Advisors) among others.
Sara holds a BSc in Biology and a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and has completed her education with various courses in Business and Marketing.
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Tina: I’m really glad to announce that we have a new guest invited for an interview and that’s Sara Borniquel. She’s from Spain and she came to Sweden and did a postdoc at Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm. She started to realize somewhere around doing her PhD, postdoc or was it during her internship? I’m not going to tell you that because Sara is going to.
But, my first question to you Sara, I’m really curious, how did you end up as a recruiter and when did you start to think about working as a recruiter? Because what I know from my own experience, do you really have an idea of what the recruiter life is about? Please, tell me a little bit about this.
Sara: Actually I didn’t really have a clear idea of what it was to be a recruiter. But the whole idea started when I was a PhD student, I thought that a recruiter, or headhunter, had a wonderful job. You call a person that isn’t actually looking for a job and tell them, “Hey, I looked at your profile on LinkedIn and I think I have a job for you.” You feel a little bit like Santa. That was how the idea started. It was during my maternity leave that I could take a pause and really think about what I wanted to do, and I thought, why not try it?
Tina: What idea did you have about being a recruiter when you started to think about it? What was it that appealed to you? Why were you attracted to that kind of job?
Sara: What I really liked was that you have contact with people, both customers and candidates. It was also my experience as a candidate that there were things that I liked about recruiters and there were things I didn’t like. In the same way as when I was a PhD student and decided what I liked about my supervisor and what kind of supervisor I wanted to be when I had the opportunity, I had an idea about what kind of recruiter I wanted to be.
Tina: What kind of recruiter would you like to be, and I’m realizing now that you probably were not very happy with the recruiters you had been in contact with?
Sara: I really wanted the recruiter to understand my profile. I thought, a person that doesn’t understand my profile, my skills, what I can offer, how will they sell my profile to a company? That’s what I try to give to the candidates. Ssafety.
Tina: You want the candidate to feel safe, that you as recruiter or headhunter understands their profile and background.
Sara: Yes, exactly. What I want is for them to feel that I understand what they can do, what their skills are and what they want to do. Then I can give this information to the company. We also work very closely with the candidates, even when they don’t continue the recruitment process. I call them and explain to them why and why not (they were turned down). I always get very nice feedback from the candidates: “Sarah, it feels like you’re working for me!” That’s exactly what I wanted to feel as a candidate when I was applying for jobs. That the recruiter is not only focused on the customer because they are paying, but also on the candidate. They are also a very important part of the recruitment process.
Tina: Sara, you’re a PhD. Would you say that we need more recruiters in Sweden that are PhDs?
Sara: Well, that would increase the competition… But I think it’s important to have a PhD (as a recruiter), because the whole PhD process gives you a kind of experience that people that don’t have a PhD don’t understand. It’s not only the title, that you’re an expert in molecular biology. It’s all the things you have been through. If you have a PhD in analytical chemistry, I know that you probably know how an HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography) machine works. Maybe this is extremely important to a certain company. Then I as a recruiter can tell you that when you have an interview with the company, please tell them that you know the machine inside out. A person without a PhD wouldn’t understand this. They only see that you have the analytic chemistry title.
Tina: Since you have done a PhD, you understand the candidates and you can sell them better to the company. I think you’re very right there.
I know you a little bit, Sara, because we met at KI. I remember this thing with a “business mindset.” When I’m out career coaching, many people say, “I don’t have it and I don’t like to sell.” But working as a headhunter and recruiter, you need to be able to sell. Any comments on that with the experience you have now?
Sara: Now I think the sales part of the recruitment process is really fun! The first time you and I talked and you told me that maybe I should look for jobs as a salesperson, I had a complete idea of what a salesperson does. It was the same when a student came to me and said, “I want to do a PhD because I think a PhD is like ‘this and that.’” Sometimes you have to try to really understand what it’s like to work as a salesperson, in that case. Now that I have tried, I think it’s fun, this challenge to try and convince customers to do a recruitment (process) with us.
Tina: If you would give the sales process another name, what would it be?
Sara: I will say that it’s establishing long-term relationships with companies. That’s actually what I do. Yes, I’m selling a recruitment (process) to the company, but it’s more (a matter of) establishing a long-term relationship, both with the clients and the candidates.
Tina: What would you say are the two-three most important skills that you learned during your PhD and postdoc time that you make use of now as a recruiter and headhunter?
Sara: I once asked a person what you need to be a headhunter. He told me that you need to have a genuine interest in people. That’s something that I have always had, so it’s a part of my personality. Then it’s also networking. I don’t know if I learned this during my PhD, probably also attending conferences and going to seminars or networking events at KI. I just developed those skills or this part of my personality. I also think it’s working with a project, which is something you learn as a PhD student.
Tina: I also know that you are running your own company. You have done something absolutely challenging. We’re talking about the “comfort zone.” When I’m coaching PhDs, (they say), “I want a permanent job, I want a safe job.” Now, sitting here with you, knowing that you not only became a recruiter, moving into business, you also started your own freelancing company. How do you feel about that, thinking about your own comfort zone?
Sara: I don’t know where my comfort zone is anymore! But I think it’s really fun to have my own company. It’s what we talked about before, a matter of lifestyle. You can have a permanent employment in a company, like Karo Bio, and then life happens. I don’t think that this safety that we sometimes look for is… It’s a bit unreal. Having my own company allows me to do what I like when I like it. Today I want to work, so I work. Today I want to have a nice chat with Tina, so I can have a nice chat with Tina. And yes, everything works. I think people should try and step out of their comfort zone. Just try to do the thing that you like, because if you do something that you feel really passionate about, you will succeed.
Tina: I’m quite sure you will succeed, Sara! I have absolutely no doubt about that.
This is an interview for PhD Career Stories. There will be a lot of PhDs, postdocs and researchers listening to this. If you were to give the listeners some tips from the transformation you did, looking back at when you were a PhD (student) and postdoc, a researcher at Karolinska Institutet, what kind of tip would you like to give? Let’s say they want to change their life, they’re looking for something different than academia.
Sara: Just do it! The best tip I can give is to network. Talk to people. Something I found, as a foreigner, is that Swedes are very willing to meet people. Especially small companies. Everybody has time for lunch. Look for interesting profiles on LinkedIn, people that have jobs that you like or that you would like to talk to. Call them. Contact them and try to book a lunch. Almost everybody is willing to meet new people. So, networking. And have fun!
Tina: Many PhDs and researchers are a bit afraid to contact recruiters. That’s maybe the most common question I get as a coach: “How can I contact a recruiter so they take me seriously or remember me?” What’s your tip?
Sara: One thing I want to clarify is that there’s a difference between recruiters and job coaches. If you contact me and tell me that you finished your PhD or postdoc and you don’t know what to do, then, unfortunately, I can’t do anything. I can’t take my crystal ball and foresee what you will do. But if you call me and tell me that you have this PhD or that postdoc, that you’re interested in these things. You’re good at networking and hate traveling. Some tips about what’s in your head. Then I can absolutely give you tips about what kind of jobs you can apply for. We recruiters are always willing to get new talents, because sometimes it’s not that easy to find people. So, I’m very happy when people contact me. Just, please, specify a little bit about what you would like to do - or not (like to do).
Tina: What you don’t like is also a tip to a recruiter. It’s a bit like helping the recruiter to understand what you want. And if you don’t know that, at least give an idea of what the area (of interest) is. Whether you you’d like to stay in sales/marketing or you’d like a laboratory manager job. Whether you’d like to do something more creative or administrative. Those are important tips that you’d like to have from the candidates so that you can help them.
Sara: Yes, absolutely. It’s so easy.
Tina: That’s actually what we call a career development plan. When did you realize you needed a plan to look for your future job?
Sara: That was already in the middle of my postdoc. I started thinking that it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, and I didn’t know what to do. I also started doing internships through Career Service (at Karolinska Institutet). I attended every single event at Career Service. I think I was their favorite member! But it was really good. It’s like I said, networking, talking to people. You can find get inspiration of what you like and don’t like. It can also help you plan your career.
Tina: I have a few questions left, not many. I have gotten absolutely wonderful answers from you. It’s great to meet you again, Sara. So, where do you think you are in five years?
Sara: I hate that question! I usually also ask it, and it’s like… now I feel like my candidates. You know, Tina, I don’t know and I really don’t care. I think it’s what we talked about, the comfort zone. There are so many opportunities out there. I’m a hundred percent focused on what I do today but I still keep my ears and eyes open to see what other opportunities there are out there. I also keep networking. You never know, a new opportunity might come tomorrow. Working as a consultant, I have this freedom to do whatever I want. Maybe tomorrow I will be contacted by a company and can start cooperating with them. We’ll see.
Tina: That’s the freedom you have as a consultant, because working as a recruiter and headhunter is to be a consultant. You can actually sell yourself to a company and run other businesses on the side. I also heard that you like to take Fridays off and do other things. Please let people know that’s actually possible! Is it true?
Sara: I don’t take the whole Friday off. But I have this freedom to decide when to work and how much. It’s a lifestyle. I like the fact that working as a consultant, having different clients, then you can have different kinds of jobs. So, for example, I do mainly recruitment for one company. I do a bit of marketing and sales for a small company. It opens up even more opportunities for the future. In five years maybe I will be working in marketing, I don’t know. That’s the beauty of working as a consultant.
Tina: That’s something we can mention here, that human resources and marketing go together. Recruitment is part of human resources. I really think you’re on the right track, Sara.
I’m also glad to hear that you don’t know where you will be in five years. I don’t know either! But I think we both know where we are going. We know we are on the move. We are not afraid to be unemployed. We are not afraid to step out of our comfort zone. We are both prepared to take some risks. What do you think, is that what makes us open-minded to find new possibilities?
Sara: I completely agree. I must say that I was unemployed for a few months after my postdoc. It was a great experience. I took that time to understand the life science sector in Stockholm. It has helped me to get some of the customers I have today as a recruiter. It’s not that scary to be unemployed or to work as a consultant. Just try. Why not?
Tina: If we round up, letting you finish this fantastic interview in your way. Some last words for you and something you’d like to tell the people listening. You’re a headhunter, recruiter, business woman. You have been a PhD student. You are a PhD. You have done a postdoc. You have been working at Karo Bio, a company in Stockholm, for a while. I think that’s a fantastic career, Sara. I know people will be inspired by you and maybe do the same thing you have done. If you give them one or two tips, what would those be?
Sara: Find what you really like and go for it! Don’t forget to have fun during the process. That’s my tip.
Tina: Thank you, I think that’s a marvellous tip.
Thank you very much for listening. This is PhD Career Stories and I’m Tina Persson, founder of the podcast.
I’m so glad to have met you again, Sara. We will here more from you. Thank you very much!