If you’re seeking a senior manager or executive-level position in the life sciences, you’re likely accustomed to the job search and interview processes. The fact that you’ve reached a senior-level position in your chosen field is proof that you’ve successfully mastered these areas in the past.
But don’t let complacency catch you off guard. Many senior-level and executive job seekers make hiccups that seem surprising given their track record of success. Despite their achievements, skills and experience, many fail to pitch themselves in the way someone with lesser experience might, assuming that their track record speaks volumes about their suitability for the role. But their track record has less voice then they anticipated.
You see, the hiring manager calls the shots in the interview and hiring process. Like you, they are busy individuals who manage a team/department/function. And they’re looking for their next new hire to help ease their burden. They’re also likely interviewing several other candidates, so while they might have given your CV a glance, don’t count on them remembering the detail. You’ve got to sell yourself in the interview.
So with that in mind, here are seven surprising mistakes most senior-level or executive job seekers make and how you can avoid repeating them.
1. They lack direction
Executives who fall foul of this job search mistake haven’t established an end goal or action plan. All they know is that they want to get higher on the career ladder in the life sciences. If asked what their game plan is, they’ll be shakey on the detail, but will “know a good thing” when they see it.
This reactive approach to executive job hunting can make it difficult to find a role that fits their experience, strengths, and preferences. For example:
- Without a career goal, they often fail to establish their non-negotiables during the interview. While some of these deal-breakers can be easy to detect, such as office location, company size, and affinity to the organisation, others may not manifest until the first week on the job.
- They forget to inform their references that they are interviewing. When these professionals receive a call from a prospective employer’s HR team, they are frequently put on the spot and fail to paint the job seeker in a positive light, giving rushed statements rather than a glowing testimonial.
The solution is a personal career audit.
By this stage in your life sciences career, you will have undergone (and even given) a sufficient number of performance reviews to appreciate their usefulness in identifying strengths, so before you start searching, perform a thorough self-review to identify your goals and the type of role or life science industry that fits them. Are you looking to lead an entire function? What salary range are you hoping for? What benefits and perks can’t you do without? And are you willing to work out-of-hours when the time comes?
Once you have a solid idea of the life sciences position you are seeking, identify your differentiators – your stand out traits. You can get a well-rounded overview of your strengths by:
- Asking friends or colleagues
- Reviewing past performance reviews
- Examining your professional accomplishments, such as awards and recognition
When you’re done, you’ll have a better understanding of your strengths and expectations and, by proxy, the career choices that fit both. And with that vital clarification, you can now proceed with your executive job search and inform your references that you are on the lookout for a new role and that they might be contacted by HR for background checks and referencing.
2. They don’t pay attention to job fit
Too many job seekers, executives included, apply to or are put forward for positions without having a good understanding of the organisation’s remit and what the role entails. For example:
- They submit their CV without an understanding of the organisation’s mission and values. As you progress in your career, you lose your ability to adapt to culture, so need to find a company where you’ll fit in.
- They position themselves as generalists instead of professionals with in-demand skill. While you might not want to pigeon hole yourself, if you don’t define your specialism, someone else will.
- They limit their job search to established life science organisations and ignore startups. Some of the most exciting positions in the industry are in emerging fields and companies.
It’s unlikely you will be the “right fit” for every organisation or role you come across in your executive job search, so resist the temptation to apply to everything and everything. Identify organisations who you can truly envision yourself working for and whose mission and culture appears to be a good match with your personal values. Here are some tips for finding the right fit:
- Don’t overlook startups, smaller organisations or organisations in related industries where your skills, experience, and achievements will be transferable and in demand.
- Position yourself as an expert. With executive-level roles, life sciences organisations seek candidates who have proven expertise in key areas, not a jack-of-all-trades.
- Ensure the job you’re applying for fits with your career goals. While we must sometimes take new roles out of necessity, if you can, seek positions that align with your career goals.
Taking the time to tailor your job search now can mean the difference between getting a job you excel at and one that will see you biding your time until you can find another opportunity.
3. They neglect their personal brand
The emergence of social media and thought leadership has turned a personal brand into an important asset for life sciences executives. Your brand is synonymous with your achievements and your ability to bring value to any organisation, prospective employers included. So it pays dividends to revisit your personal brand each year regardless of whether you are looking for a career change.
For something that’s fundamental for career success, personal brand is overlooked by a surprising number of executives. Their CVs, LinkedIn profiles and other personal marketing communications are not targeted to highlight their specialities or contain inconsistencies, for example, stating different accomplishments. Other common personal branding mishaps include:
- Not honing a personal bio or elevator pitch, both of which can convey one’s skills and value.
- Failing to demonstrate thought leadership by staying up to date with relevant industry trends.
- Failing to perform a personal background check and strengthening any weak areas.
- Spelling, grammatical and formatting mistakes across their personal communications.
If you haven’t worked on your personal brand, do so before sending out those CVs. Working with a CV writer and/or personal branding expert can help position you for the job you want.
And to improve your personal brand and demonstrate thought leadership, consider participating in a LinkedIn community group or industry forum. These groups provide great networking opportunities and are regularly scouted by executive search firms, talent acquisition professionals and hiring managers on the lookout for top talent.
4. They neglect their network
Another common job search mistake is neglecting one’s professional network, only remembering to reach out to your friends and acquaintances when looking for opportunities. Given that so many executive positions are filled by referral, it makes sense to stay in contact with your network, even if it’s only to check in every few months by email or text.
If you’re worried about your current employer getting wise to your job search activity, avoid reaching out to your extended network. Instead, reach out to friends and family first before vetting your network carefully for those individuals you trust to keep your job search confidential. You also want to be careful what content you post on social media to avoid giving the game away.
If you aren’t in regular contact with your own network, resume connections gradually. Reach out, congratulate individuals on recent accomplishments, and let them know what you have been up to in your career. It goes without saying that you should also leave your existing position under good terms, add trusted colleagues to your network, and proceed to reconnect regularly with everyone.
5. They don’t perform a background check
Hiring managers and recruiters use social media to vet candidates, a fact that’s often overlooked by executive job seekers who assume that background checking is limited to references.
According to a 2017 study carried out by CareerBuilder, 70% of employers screen candidates using social media. The Society for Human Resource Management puts the figure even higher at 85%. What they see on a candidate’s social media profile can influence whether or not that person gets a job offer, so ensure your online presence paints you in the right light.
Other personal challenges and missteps that a potential employer may find online or in the public record include:
- Bad credit and large debt. Some positions require a credit check, especially if it involves access to company funds or financial records.
- Major or minor legal misconduct such as arrest for suspicion of embezzlement or getting an ASBO for a youthful indiscretion.
- Failed drug tests. If you failed a drug test in the past and it resulted in a criminal conviction, that information can become a matter of public record.
- False professional credentials or college degrees. Research has confirmed that over half of all job applicants falsify their CVs, especially where education is concerned.
Before you start your job search, change the settings on your personal social networks (e.g. Facebook) to restrict them to friends only. Then spend some time polishing your LinkedIn profile by:
- Adding a professional photo and banner image
- Writing a headline that describes your expertise
- Making the summary section a compelling overview of your professional accomplishments
- Sharing or commenting on industry articles that align with your career goals
If there is unflattering information about you online, such as a past bankruptcy or an arrest for drinking and driving, it can be in your best interest to disclose these events to a hiring manager. They will likely uncover these details during a background check, and voluntary disclosure will give an impression of honesty as well giving you the opportunity to tell your side of the story.
6. They apply only to job openings
As stated in the section on networking, most executive-level jobs in the life sciences industry are filled by referral. It makes sense: if you were hiring for a senior position, your first choice would be someone referred by a colleague or co-worker you trust. As a result, employee referral programmes (ERP) are touted as the fastest, most cost-efficient way to hire leadership-level candidates.
As a result, executive job seekers who rely exclusively on job boards risk having their CVs disappear into the dreaded Applicant Tracking System (ATS) black hole, where applications are collected but seldom read. This job search mistake is compounded when candidates waste time waiting for responses. If you’ve not heard back within 10 working days, consider yourself unsuccessful. However, you could use this opportunity to reach out to the hiring manager or recruiter directly, introducing yourself and sett out the type of role you’re looking for. More on that in point #7.
When you’re looking for a new career in the life sciences, it’s imperative that you be proactive.
- Research companies to find one that inspires you and reach out to their hiring team: you could be sending your CV at a time when someone with your experience and skill set is needed.
- Better still, identify potential hiring managers at the company and connect with them on LinkedIn. That way you are dealing directly with the decision maker in the hiring process.
- Contact an executive search firm. Unlike contingency firms, their focus is on specific industries and professions, and they actively assist their clients in finding the right candidate.
7. They don’t seek help
Too many executive job seekers soldier on alone, accustomed to guiding their own career or simply unaware of what resources are available to help them with their job search.
When you’re an accomplished life sciences executive seeking to advance your career, an executive search firm can help you find a role that compliments your skills, experience and values.
Approach a reputable firm in your area (hint: ask your network for recommendations), introduce yourself as an experienced life sciences executive looking for new opportunities, and offer to use your qualifications and abilities to help their clients close open positions. If you’re a perfect fit for a role they’re filling, it could be the beginning of a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship. Even if a role isn’t immediately available, working with an executive search firm specialising in the life sciences maximises your chances of finding a job that takes your career to the next level.
For more job search advice tailored to senior managers and executives…
* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.