Career transition is a process and not a switch. The process takes an average of two years, mathematically and anecdotally. Why so long? That is because ya need time to research your new dream job, figure out what you are lacking, develop the necessary new skill sets, and start hunting until you get it. Quite intimidating, eh? Well, of course it is intimidating if you’re looking at it at the starting point and you do not having a plan.
Why 30 Minutes?
Simply because the 30-minute-a-day approach works. Job hunting can be as demanding as a full-time job. It is easy to end up spending countless hours, aimlessly. It is quite like a black hole of time. The question is — would the time spent pay off?
A few years ago, when it was time for me to look — and get — a real job, I was slaving away at the lab, toiling with gels (for electrophoresis) and feeding fruit flies. I was at a bit of a loss, honestly. All my waking hours were devoted to my research project then, productively or not. I wanted to scream: “I don’t have time for this!” As an example, I would end up spending many hours perfecting a resume and then be hit by panic and histeria when I suddenly realized that I had not given thought to my research project in those few hours. However, it also became clear that if I didn’t make time, I might be trapped in the postdoc loop, forever. I struggled with the conflict between my commitment to my research project and finding a real job. I found that the many hours spent on job searching never seemed enough, not to mention the long waiting period after sending an email or a job application. It was out of control. I needed a management plan!
Since this was more a marathon than a sprint, I decided that I’d take the slow and steady approach. I started to set aside regular chunks of time, where I would promise myself to stop when the said time chunk is over. After some trial and error, 30-minute chunks seemed to work very well so I decided to get out of bed earlier, start my day 30 minutes earlier everyday, and spend those 30 minutes casting nets, screening job listings, perusing LinkedIn profiles and polishing my resume. 30 minutes every day. I started to see results shortly after. Besides, with a plan and clearly defined time for job hunting, I also experienced less anxiety and more productivity.
Items to work on during these daily 30-minute sessions:
The most important, but unfortunately not sufficient, item is your resume. Always keep it up to date and ready to employ at any given time. If you think that you already have a perfect resume, pause and ask yourself if there is any room for improvement. The answer is most likely a YES!
Resumes are not static documents. On the contrary, they need to be updated regularly or every time you make an accomplishment, big or small. For example, you submitted a manuscript for peer review publication, you attempted a successful new assay, or you gave a talk at a conference, update your resume! Add these accomplishments to your resume if they would strengthen your case as a job candidate. Use impactful keywords that properly describe your skill sets.
More importantly, resumes are a way to propose to your future employers that you have what it takes to solve their problems. Know that when companies hire, it isn’t because they like having employees, nor are they merely cultivating talents. They are cultivating talents to DO something for the company or solve a problem in the company. If they are hiring “because the team is growing,” then they are attempting to recruit extra labor (or talent may sound more attractive) to overcome the problem of lacking labor. In your resume, identify the problems that the companies face, and provide remedies or describe how you specifically would tackle those problems, in a better, cheaper and more effective way. This would be music to your hiring committee’s ears.
I have to emphasize: Resumes need to be free of any spelling mistakes or glaring grammatical errors. It has to be as flawless as it can be.
2) COVER LETTER
Make them customized and flawless. Craft your cover letter to sing to the tunes of the hiring manager. Do a little research on the companies in the industry or find out more about the people who have been hired into the positions you are pursuing. And remember what I said about solving problems for your future employers? The same applies here. Tell the hiring manager why he or she should take a chance on you. (See resume section above.)
3) SCREENING JOB LISTINGS
With the advent of Indeed, LinkedIn and the like, it is very easy to get access to job listings today. No more newspaper clippings or flipping through magazines to find a few job ads. Subscribing to job listings and notifications with targeted keywords is so easy that now the problem is getting through them all. This could potentially be another item in job hunting that is a huge time suck. Setting aside consistent 30-minute windows can help you chip away the listserv icebergs.
It is an absolute myth that networking equals sipping cocktails in a room full of strangers. If that is what you thought networking was, get it out of your head.
Use these 30-minute windows to browse LinkedIn profiles and look for individuals whom you want and need to know. When you see someone having your dream job, or somebody you would want to learn from, reach out to them. Send them emails or messages. Set up coffee dates. Ask for informational interviews. Now, we are networking.
5) ACQUIRING NEW SKILLS
What got you here won’t get you there (the title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book, published in 2007). From your investigation or informational interviews, you may discover certifications that you ought to have in order to get to your dream job. Or, you have decided to put your analytical skills and research training into data science, which means you need to enroll in a data science boot camp. Or that you need to put together a portfolio of writing samples to apply for your dream science writing job. In fact, there are always new skills to learn that will benefit you now and in the future. Spend 30 minutes a day to learn and improve yourself.
As a scientist, you should already be excellent in research. I need not belabor the point and just encourage you to spend time studying the industry and your future employers. The more you know, the stronger you are as a job candidate.
In fact, the 30-minute daily approach can be applied beyond job search. When you get your dream job, make sure to continuously strive for betterment and reflect on your journey. Always question if you are heading in the right direction. Spend 30 minutes daily to achieve better and greater things, constantly.
All the best!