Learnings from my first career fair

It’s finally over – I am not longer a student. On the way to get ready for my new life chapter, I went to a career fair.

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   At the age of 16, I enrolled in a History program. At 19, almost done with my studies, a panic attack stroked me: getting a degree meant adulthood to me, and I was not ready yet. Picture a girl that didn’t know how to cook and had no idea that one should pay taxes. So, I delayed my graduation and started a second degree – this time in science. Studying Biology extended my ‘teen life’ for five more years until the next panic attack hit. I still had another escape route: joining a graduate program!

   At 24, I finished my two degrees and moved abroad to get some international and professional experience under the ‘volunteering’ label. A formal job was too scary at that time. It took me a while to accept that those volunteering roles were merely non-paid jobs.

   I eventually moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in a masters in Marine Science at KAUST, researching the stunning Red Sea corals. I promised myself to become a professional student and get consecutive Ph.Ds., one for each degree. That didn’t happen –one PhD is enough, and adulthood came along during the past years.

   Last month, I became a Doctor in Biosciences and the word ‘job’ doesn’t scare me anymore. So, I went to England and attended my first career fair at the Nature Careers Live in London.

One could ask: why travel that far? I had to get a visa and pay for expensive tickets.

   My PhD trained me as a cutting-edge DNA specialist, and the Nature Careers Live was a significant opportunity not to miss. The Careers Live usually hosts exhibitors such as Roche, EMBL or the Wellcome Sanger Institute. I needed to go there to meet the gigs. 

Look, I even printed business cards!

 One could argue: why not go to the job websites and save money?

   Although exhibitors post job offers on their websites, attending a career fair provides an insider experience. The interaction with recruiters and people working in these companies gives useful information not available on the website.

The view of prospective colleagues

   An EMBL scientist told me that the company has a rule for renewing staff in any position every 9-years; thus, they are continuously offering jobs. This scientist advised me to ask team leaders for additional job information, as one may think the job is not suitable when the post doesn’t detail specific skills.

   Similarly, the career fair had exhibitors unknown to me. Talking with staff from those companies allowed me to expand potential job opportunities. Examples are Helmholtz HIRI and dozens of small institutions from Germany, all collected in the website www.academics.com. HIRI is a new institute focusing on RNA-based research doubling its size within a few years. Also, many universities and hospitals need staff scientists and support specialists in my area. I would have ignored these options by only looking at general job websites.

The recruiter’s view

   The most important insights were tips from recruiters. One of them advised getting in touch with the future boss. An email before and after the application will increase interview chances by making me a known candidate.

   Recruiters highlighted the importance of a cover letter supporting my application. A cover letter is a way to sell oneself and express an interest in the company. For instance, if a company is looking for someone with experience that one doesn’t have (e.g. protein sequencing), one could explain in the letter that experience in a related subject (e.g. DNA sequencing) will facilitate learning the new skills. Learning by actually doing the task is what most of us do all the time!

   The most remarkable advice came from a lady that encouraged me to apply for jobs even if my profile doesn’t fulfil all the requirements. She explained that women usually seek the perfect fit and apply when they are over-prepared for the role. It touched me: I have been discouraged when lacking one or two required skills.

Perfectionists 🙄

Adulthood is here!

   Meeting the Career Live exhibitors and attending the talks equipped me with useful knowledge for future interviews. Networking at this event gave me confidence about my professional life transition. Before, I was feeling the impostor syndrome while job hunting. Now, I see myself as a valuable element for a future employer rather than someone pleading for a job. After travelling to another continent and attending my first career fair, I discover that companies are looking for someone with my education and experience. It helped me acknowledge my readiness and I am looking forward to this next chapter.

A. Ortega

Biologist, KAUST

Comments

Go to the profile of Ruth Milne
over 1 year ago

I really enjoyed reading this - I'm so pleased to hear the event was a useful experience for you. You must let us know what you decide to do next. And congrats on getting your PhD!