4 Tips for Getting an Industry Postdoc

Oct. 17, 2018

As most students do, I started looking for a job as my dissertation defense got closer. I wanted to explore opportunities outside the traditional academic postdoc, so I looked to industry. Unfortunately, I knew nothing about industry positions and even less about how to obtain one. I submitted dozens of applications to industry positions, but was turned back every time for lacking the “2 years industry experience” requisite that most jobs wanted. Then, I applied and got an industry postdoc at Merck.

Here are some tips I learned while applying and interviewing for industry postdoc positions.

Develop Your Network

I learned about the postdoc position at Merck from a faculty member on my dissertation committee. The faculty member knew my research interests and skill set and forwarded me the job posting for the Merck Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program.

The takeaway here is to build up and lean on your network. However, you should build your network WAY before you need to lean on your network. People help people they’ve connected with, not people who are frantic and desperate with a one-track mission to connect. Make sure the people in your network know your skill sets and career interests and that you are looking for a job. Think about your network as broadly as possible—professors, peers, conference contacts and collaborators.

Look at Job Boards and Journals for Postings

If you’re looking for more general advice on where you can find industry postdoc opportunities, check the company’s employment pages. Industry positions can also be found in scientific journals or on standard job posting sites like Indeed. Don’t forget to check out job postings distributed by professional scientific organizations like ASM’s Career Connections!

Tailor Your Application Materials to the Job Posting

I tailored my application, CV and cover letter specifically to the job posting by matching my skills and the role’s needs. This is an important step in any job application process, as many companies use algorithms to eliminate candidates whose resumes or cover letters do not contain enough key phrases from the job description. Be sure that keywords from the job posting are included and repeated throughout your CV and cover letter.

You will also need to consider some of the language used in your cover letter or CV when describing your research experience and work history. Think hard about how your research experience and skill set might translate to industry. If your current scientific skill set is not an exact match for the job description, think about how you can highlight your ability to learn new techniques or how your current skill set might be utilized for the project. For postdoctoral positions, you may not have to make dramatic changes, as these are often research-based positions and the language in your academic CV will likely translate well. Nonresearch-based positions may require you to include more industry-specific language to translate your scientific skill set.

Prepare for the Interview

I had a 1-hour phone interview and a 7-hour in-person interview. I was given an agenda for my interview in advance. I knew who I would be meeting with and used LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Research Gate and PubMed to research their scientific background and career path. For my interview, I was asked to present my dissertation research project as the invited talk. This was because the science topic and technical approaches of my dissertation was in direct alignment with the potential role in the company. I focused more on demonstrating my technical proficiency.

To prepare for the interview:
  • Research the people that will be interviewing you so you can anticipate the kinds of questions you will get and what to emphasize about your own career.
  • For your presentation
    • Carefully consider your audience by avoiding field-specific jargon.
    • Include enough background information that someone from a different field could still follow your presentation.
    • Strike a balance between providing enough technical detail to demonstrate your proficiency and the big-picture perspective. 
    • Add the significance of your own work within the field.
    • Emphasize how your research area, techniques and skills might be utilized in an industrial setting. 
    • Make sure you can answer any technical questions regarding your research topic and/or techniques.
Good luck with interviewing!

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J. Allen Goggins
J. Allen Goggins
J. Alan Goggins is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Biologics and Vaccine Bioanalytics Group at Merck, Kenilworth. Outside the lab, Alan serves as the President of the Merck Postdoc Association and as ASM’s Young Science Ambassador for New Jersey. Alan obtained his PhD in Biomedical Sciences (’16) from the Microbiology and Immunology Department at the Tulane University School of Medicine. As a graduate researcher, Alan studied infectious disease immunology and vaccine design, with a particular emphasis on the CD4+ T cell response. Alan obtained his Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health from Western Carolina University (’10), where he conducted undergraduate research in vector ecology and vector biology. 

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