Feb 28, 2021 | E042 How to Become a Private Recruiter as a PhD?

Dr. Manolo Castellano is a career consultant and talent recruiter. After obtaining his PhD in neurobiology at the Universidad de Sevilla (Spain) in 2006, he moved to the USA, where he focused his research on auditory synaptic physiology at the Rockefeller University and Stanford University. Back in Europe, he worked at the Universidad Miguel Hernández in Elche, applying electrophysiological techniques to the study of pancreatic cell physiology and diabetes.

Outside the lab, he has always been active in outreach activities, science communication and science activism associations, such as Ciencia con Futuro, Científicos Retornados a España-CRE or the Federación de Jóvenes Investigadores-Precarios, where he participated in the coordination of the Research Career Report.

In 2017 he transitioned to science consulting, founding Carreras Científicas Alternativas, a platform devoted to guide scientists and researchers to find new professional paths. Manolo conducts training seminars and workshops related to professional careers, participates frequently in employability forums and runs a podcast about scientific careers, where he interviews researchers who happily made their professional career transition beyond Academia.

Manolo currently combines his career-guiding activities with recruitment consulting for R&D companies at Talento Cientifico.

Manolo’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/manuelcastellanomunoz/

Manolo’s Twitter profile: https://twitter.com/ManCas_

Carreras Científicas Alternativas’ website: https://carrerascientificasalternativas.com/ 🔥

The episode was recorded on February 25th, 2021. This material represents the speaker’s personal views and not the views of their current or former employer(s).

Natalia 00:10 This is yet another episode of the career talks by welcome solutions. And in these meetings, we talk with professionals who have interesting career paths and are quite willing to share their life hacks with us. And today I have the great pleasure to introduce Dr. Manolo Castellano, Manolo is a career consultant and talent recruiter, after obtaining his PhD in neurobiology at the Universidad de Sevilla in Spain in 2006. 

He moved to the USA where he focused on his research on auditory synaptic physiology at Rockefeller University and Stanford University. Back in Europe, he worked at the Miguel Hernandez University in Elche, applying electrophysiological techniques to the study of pancreatic cell physiology and diabetes. In 2017, he transitioned to science consulting founding Carreras, scientific us alternative has a platform devoted to guiding scientists and researchers to find new professional paths. 

Manalo conducts training seminars and workshops related to professional careers, participates frequently in employability forums, and runs a podcast about scientific careers, where he introduced researchers who happily made the professional career transition beyond academia. Manola currently combines his career guiding activities with recruitment consulting for R&D companies, or Toronto scientifical. Welcome. Manolo, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m glad to see you. Finally in person. So I’m looking forward to hearing your story told from your own perspective.

Dr. Manolo 01:49 Thank you, Natalia. It’s a great pleasure to be here today with you and your audience.

Natalia 01:54 What do you think were the milestones in your career so far, the most memorable turns and events that influence use the most so far, and which parts of your career were the most memorable and influential for you so far?

Dr. Manolo 02:14 That’s a long story, Natalia, I will start with the beginning of my career. And that’s the typical story of a researcher. I studied in Seville in Spain. I did my master’s in biology. And more specialized in molecular genetics. And then I decided to start a PhD there in Seville, as well. It was more focused on research about synaptic vesicle proteins, a lot of biochemistry and molecular biology, and cell biology. And at the end of the PhD, I was certain that I was going to become a PA, right, as you can hear, over and over. And I just try to organize my life to get that objective. I started a postdoc in New York, at Rockefeller University. 

I moved to a different area because I was passionate about acoustics, music, and all that stuff. And I was looking for research related to hearing or listening, and then molecular biology. That’s weird. There were so many labs, but I was lucky that I found one in Jim Hudspeth’s lab at Rockefeller. And it was they were studying something completely different and new for me, which was nano biophysics of the hair cells in the inner ear, and some electrophysiology, I was there for 3 years. 

And after that, I realized that I loved what I was doing and what I was studying. And but it was not robust enough, especially in terms of techniques and papers as well. I moved to the other side of the state to California, to start a second postdoc with Tony Ritchie, who was a researcher at Stanford University. 

And they were more focused on the synaptic part of the hearing, how these cells in the inner ear can transfer that information to the brain through the auditory nerve. They’re basically electrophysiology. And I mastered some confocal microscopy techniques and electrophysiological techniques. And then after that, I was ready to start my own lab. And I was there for almost 7 years with my wife, and we thought that it was time to go back to our country because we were clear that we wanted to live in Spain. and probably, I don’t know, if it happens to many people, but I had that feeling of I wanted to transfer all the knowledge that I got during these years abroad to the society that paid for all my education. 

And I wanted to do that. The problem was that the situation was not great in Spain and it’s not great. But I wasn’t lucky to find a job. It’s just that I mean, I started applying for jobs. Sometime before I left the states, I was not lucky. That’s it. I looked for jobs all over the country, with no luck whatsoever. And in the end, I found myself back in Spain, happy with my family, happy with my colleagues and the people that I loved. But with no jobs, I was unemployed for around one year in the country, looking for positions. 

But it wasn’t, especially because I was studying something that was not very popular in the labs in the country. And that’s something that you have to think ahead about. It’s fine, to pursue or to look for what you want in terms of research objectives. But you have to take in mind that there are not so many labs doing that everywhere. and in the end, I found that. I organized all my life to become a PA. And that didn’t happen. In the end, it was difficult to do something slightly different Because that was my only plan in life. 

All over the years. In the end, I found something for a short time in Mercia, the city where I was living. And after that I got another postdoc in the Universidad Miguel Hernández alicante. And it was fine. I finally got something that was interesting for me because they needed an electrophysiologist. But the area was completely different. They were studying diabetes, but I joined the lab. And I was there for 3 years. And it was fine. I was lucky that I found something like that because the lab was very good. 

The boss was great, the colleagues are fantastic. But something happened to me that I think happens a lot. I would wake up in the morning, every day saying hello. Again, you have to go to work. And that’s something that happens from time to time. But if it happens every day, that’s a problem. That’s an alarm there in your brain saying, Hey, you should do something, And because I don’t know, some people can do that. But I cannot conceive my life as a researcher without quite a lot of passion. 

Because being a researcher is not easy. On a daily basis, you have to be fighting all the time. You need to have that drive. And I was losing that. I started doing what people do after many years in academia, asking people, what can I do? That can be different from what I’ve been doing for 15 years. Is there something for me as a researcher or as a PhD? What’s the message that you’re receiving from the university when you ask this, that probably changes a lot depending on where you are leaving or your country or your city, or the university or group. 

But the message was very extremely negative, like pathetic. The message of my colleagues was Manalo, you’re screwed. There’s nothing here, go to the Netherlands. Here is what it is. It was frustrating at the time. Because after so much effort you found yourself as something irrelevant to your society. And that’s tough, I started to ask him, but no good replies were coming. I had an idea. And there was a radio on the campus because it’s a very small campus. 

And I went there and asked, Can I start or launch a new program in the rig? It’s really for the students and they said, Yes I launched a radio program doing probably exactly what you’re doing today, Natalia, asking people that left academia, what they are doing, and how you do that. It was really a big change in my life. I had been doing things on my own during that time and before, but at that time, I was certain that I needed that information and after interviews, calls, or programs, I realized that the bottleneck was myself. 

I was the bottleneck. I did not have the information. It’s not just that I didn’t have the information but there was not so much information. But I was talking about 2016, and 2017. We didn’t have so much info there. I decided to launch a website, and some social networks, which are called now Carreras Científicas Alternativas with the idea of finding if there was a community out there in Spain, or in South America, were thinking about this. At the time, I felt like I was very strange and weird. But I was not mad. Something was happening and there was a community. And I found that people connected with me started following the programs on the social networks. And that was the seed of what I became. I’m talking too much, Natalia, I don’t know you asked me about the blocks of my career, and I think I’m still in the first block.

Natalia 12:35 I have to say that you have the whole life to live. I believe it’s still the beginning and that’s how I like to think about myself too. I feel for you. Because I also didn’t have a plan B. I used to leave this Arnold Schwarzenegger strategy and I don’t know if you’ve ever read this book, the total recall his autobiography, but that’s his motto, his life’s motto is no plan B. So if you do something, do it 100%. 

There is no plan for failure, you’re only going for the win, not for the tie. I was the same and I didn’t really have any plan B and then I got lost after like, I felt lost after my contract expired. I didn’t think ever about any alternatives then I had this assumption that I will be fine no matter what, because I was always told, a good education is all you need, and then you’re valuable and you can just worry later, you can always postpone that part. Just develop your career. 

And if you need a job, you will just find it. That’s what I was being told by everybody else. Like my parents, my friends, my bosses, everybody around me and, and then I figured that No, it’s not the case. Because there is also a big difference between a job and a good job. Just to find any job that is not necessarily your dream career. It’s not a big deal but to find one where you think that you develop yourself best and you develop yourself to your full potential and hits all the marks on your list of what you expect from a dream job and that’s a very hard one. I am on the same page. I had the same feeling at the end of my PhD. 

Great to hear about your initiative. I can see that you think alike, that’s really nice to know. Since I’m not that familiar with the job market for PhDs in Spain, could you tell us a little bit more about that? what are the most common directions where PhD graduates in Spain usually choose? We were already briefly talking about this before. What do you think are the main differences between the job market for PhDs in different countries, since I’m most familiar with the Dutch market, but I’m also communicating with PhDs elsewhere and there is a strong community of American PhDs and Canadian PhD and then British as well. I think I’m quite familiar with those markets, but not necessarily with the Spanish, and I’m curious what you would have to say on this? 

Dr. Manolo 15:48 I think that it varies, it’s quite different. It would be nice to meet together one day one each country to talk about this because the reality is different, but you never know the nuances and the small details. I wouldn’t say that there is a PhD market in Spain, there isn’t such a thing and when I say Spain, I would say the south of Europe, and South America, as well. PhDs are meant to do research, it depends. 

I mean, some people start a PhD just to improve their professional skills or to get some more impact in their professional activity but I would say most people that start a PhD is because they want to become a researcher. The market would be aligned to the research market and R&D market and the R&D market in Spain is not terrific. I mean, there are things but if you compare the kind of the number of companies, the industry, and the jobs here, and in other countries of North European countries, it’s dramatically different and that’s one thing. 

The other thing is what we think of the job market when we are in academia and that’s also a big problem, because right now, at least in Spain, there is a huge distance between what happens in academia and what happens in the private sector. People who live in academia know about research in academia, but they don’t have information about what’s going on outside on the other side in many companies, they see some people in academia, or some researchers, or professors in universities, as people that are not really connected to reality and that’s cliche but that’s a real cliche. 

I mean, that happens and because of that, it’s not obvious to find a person to work in a company looking forward to getting a PhD as an employee. There are certain typologies of jobs that are perfect for a PhD and sometimes a PhD is required but that’s rare. I mean, that’s not so common, I would say, my advice for people working or studying in the south of Europe would say, don’t pay that much attention to your PhD, pay attention to skills that you got during your PhD, but just having a piece of paper saying that a year you’re a PhD. People don’t know what a PhD is or means. 

Especially when you are gonna say PhD here in Spain, you don’t find people outside academia. Mostly don’t understand what’s that PhD thing after your name? That’s weird. If you say that you are a doctor then you work in a hospital. There’s nothing in between. There’s a lot of disconnection between the value that a person with a PhD can bring to the company and the desire of a company of bringing a PhD. I know that it’s a very negative perspective, but I want to be realistic, to be honest.

Natalia 20:10 That’s true. Most recruiters don’t know what PhDs, or even if they know, then they only know like, from Wikipedia, I know, they don’t know from like real life. They don’t have a grasp on what it entails. Indeed, almost no recruiters have PhD. I barely have like, no any kind of like PhD graduates who work in recruitment. I know, like literally one person who holds a PhD and who works for a recruitment company here in the Netherlands. It’s a very underrepresented group among recruiters, that’s also why I believe, that there’s always this interaction in a society where mentality changes slowly. 

Now there’s a big inflow of PhDs into the market because there was a rapid growth in the PhD positions in the scope of the last 10 years and the number of PhD graduates in the Netherlands, for instance, grew by over 40%, within the last 10 years. It’s rapid growth. That also prompts many PhDs to look for jobs elsewhere because there’s just not enough space in academia but the job market is not adopting a squeaky-like mentality that doesn’t adapt that quickly. Recruiters don’t learn about this new group, that new tribe that comes in that has a bit different culture and there is a clash of cultures and it actually takes much longer to adopt between the two and to find good language and good communication and can actually merge together. That’s also true in sociology that these changes can happen very slowly. What do you think? Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do in your project? 

Dr. Manolo 22:23 I have to talk about the second part of the story because, after a few years of working as a career consultant, something started happening to me. I got a huge network of very valued people and professionals more related to PhD. I mean to scientists, in general mainly PhDs. In the Stems, probably some colleagues would ask me, Manolo Do you know a person there? And they would ask about a very strange profile is something that knows about neuroscience. 

But things that are not common and I didn’t know the person. I realized that there was a potential there after so much time, if you like to talk to people and to communicate, that’s a strong value, just having a big network and knowing how to be a networker. That’s a value by itself. To do this, I mean, to be a kind of recruiter to connect these two worlds that are disconnected. The few companies that want a researcher or scientists and the scientists that don’t want to do research, especially in academia, want to do something at the time, had no idea about how to do that. I mean, Can I do that? I was restarting the whole process but then in those moments, I realize how important it is to have a PhD because it’s not trivial. 

I mean, the learning curve of a PhD is like this. I mean, if you want to do something, you do it. You have the tools to solve something and to find an objective and get it. I just started to learn how to become a recruiter right from the scratch. I didn’t do what I should have done and like the prototypical paths to becoming a recruiter easily. I was happy with my life and with my experience as a career consultant. 

I wanted to do something on my own. I had discovered this entrepreneurial spirit that I had no idea that I had. I decided to create a little thing difficult, which would become a selection boutique for this kind of scientific-technical profile. I started with that by little learning by myself and talking to a lot of people. In the beginning, I had my doubts, especially because of the lack of positions in the market here in Spain but with attainment realized that it’s possible and that there is a market. 

The point is how you enter that market. There are things that I did before I realized that it works completely differently. You find the clients in a completely different way and you have to learn slowly how to do that. Right now, I’m not working alone, but I can split my day between activities related to consultancy, and activities related to recruitment. I don’t know if I can tell you whatever you want. There are many questions to be asked here.

Natalia 26:54 I have to say that, indeed, from what I know, to become a recruiter, you don’t need any formal training, which is one of the types of professions similarly to career codes, similarly to many others, like, for instance, to work in intellectual property like important law. You don’t need to have any formal training. There are lots of white-collar professions like this, which is for the good and the bad. 

On the one hand, the barriers to entry are low, if you have clients interested, then you can start right away but on the other hand, there are also lots of random people in the space, that’s also the case, because, like private recruitment is quite profitable. The barriers to entry are low that always attracts a lot of people willing to work in the space. I see here in the Netherlands happening that there is a quite a lot of random people in recruitment also. I mean for a PhD, if you start from scratch, you have these mental schemes. You know how to decompose a problem into smaller pieces, and then approach it piece by piece. How to figure out what you need to start recruiting? I like to learn a little bit more about this process. What steps did you take to start? 

Dr. Manolo 28:40 The basis of becoming a recruiter is that you have to try it, and find if you enjoy it because I wouldn’t say that is an easy career. I mean, what an easy career, same as research, but when in reality, I find a lot of differences. For example, an American approach to recruiting and what happens here in Spain, in terms of how the recruitment process is, how the market is? If you enter the market, where there are very few positions, and a lot of people waiting for that position, that’s not the greatest scenario for a researcher or a headhunter. 

It will be more related to the small company of hiring you can do that but I don’t think that at least in Spain, many people approach the career as a recruiter, from an economical point of view because it’s not that obvious that you’re going to get a lot of money doing that in Spain. On the other hand, something that I love about recruitment or headhunting is the freedom, as you said, there are not so many careers that you can enter without a diploma but that’s changing that. I mean, whenever many people are doing that, society decides that there will be a new diploma that you are required to forget, it’s like coaching, and you can become a coach. 

Now, it’s not that obvious, probably people will ask you for a coaching certificate, and, as far as I know, that doesn’t happen with recruitment, it may happen in the future and I know that there are people that want to create, like a system to teach how to recruit, because right now, it’s quite a mess, how you evolve as a recruiter. I mean, I should go back to my own skills. When it comes to the side, I want to become a recruiter and I don’t think that having a PhD was important for me to decide that, I would say that, I usually work with my clients as a counselor about my own skills, your self-knowledge, your soft skills, your technical skills, your values, your interests in life. 

You need to know that to decide what to do in life or your career and some people want to have a job, and then enjoy life. Besides right in part on, but other people really can only be happy in life with the career that are interesting, and you feel full with this professional career, I am one of those people. I cannot easily separate my job and my personal life. I’m like this. How to become a recruiter? In my case, it happened because it fit perfectly well with my skills, I would say but I didn’t know that because I never thought about that possibility but when I was close to that situation, I started myself doing that just for fun. 

I said to myself, Manalo, you love to do that, I mean, I’d love to find something that is extremely difficult to find and help another person and connect to people for their own benefit. That’s like, you can find that feeling even in sales, but it’s a mixture between sales, networking, and researching. There are researchers in sorcerers in the recruitment arena. In my case, I would say I love to connect with people, I love to talk to people and to know what they need. I have this feeling of I need to help people and I think that I have the skills necessary to do that. When you go back to your own life, you have to find what made you different or what made you happy are especially proud of some situations and some activities. 

In my case, I remember that for example things as simple as calling people by phone. I did that a lot before my PhD, in my degree because I remember that I created a together with another colleague, a little group of bioethics when I was studying biology. I was for two years calling by phone to many people just organizing events, convince people about participating and I remember the beginning when you start calling, it’s hard. You don’t like it. I mean, so many people like telephone calls but I want to get used to that and I mastered the art of calling by phone and suddenly, like 25 years later, I found that you need to do that all the time if you want to be a recruiter. It’s just purely a coincidence of interest in doing that and whether you have the skills, technical and soft skills to do that. I don’t know if I’m answering the question, to be honest.

Natalia 35:41 I’m curious. How do you deal with this ethical dilemma that arrives, when you have two sides of the equation, you have two parties, you have the employers, and you have the job hunters and on like, to some extent, it’s a conflict of interest, because the employer wants to have a good value in an employee as possible at an as low price as possible. And Job Hunter wants the opposite. They want good benefits and they want to get as much as possible. It’s like a school of diplomacy, isn’t it? Because you have to make sure that both sides are happy. And what is harder for you, is to take the perspective of the job hunter or the other employer.

Dr. Manolo 36:29 In my case, I don’t think I have that dilemma because of how I solve it. It depends on the kind of industry that you’re working in, or in the kind of company or company that you work with. In principle, this is quite a crystal clear for salaries related to jobs that are not that difficult to find, when when you know that you have a lot of candidates for an easy fit. That’s not related to percentages or anything. The salary is clear. 

They’re looking for so you find the candidate, and that’s more direct when you go to a little more complicated job requirements, and then there’re not so many candidates, then it depends on the recruiter, but you do get a percentage of the total salary, like annual salary of the person. It depends on how much the final salary you earn, more or less and that’s also quite typical taking into account that there are still many recruiters that only get the money due to their job after the end of the process when the employer and an employee signed the contract. 

It’s still quite probable that you work for nothing, that’s something changing in the industry but there are still people working like that. In my case, I talked about all this at the very beginning with the company before we make the contract. We decided to go ahead. I have had several conversations with people in the industry. I talk to people that to have a feeling, you always know a range of salary. That’s okay. But then it’s your job as a researcher to find what should be the proper salary. 

In my case, I have this conversation with the company, with the employer before, to understand the expected lives and to understand if they know what they want, what they look for because I’m not going to find something that is not possible to find. In that case, I wouldn’t say it’s a problem in terms of your relationship with the company. If you do so at the beginning, you need to know what’s the salary that they are prepared to offer and if you find a candidate that is likely to ask for a higher salary, you need to know whether you can proceed and talk to that person or not. You have to talk about this with the company before going ahead with the job. 

On the other side, what happens usually is that when you talk to a candidate, they complain about the lack of salary information. But it depends because as a recruiter, I want to know, what your salary range expectation is to be sure whether it makes sense to talk to you or not. If you do so, sometimes, if any of us raise this question at the beginning with a candidate, it’s weird because the candidates say, why are you asking me a range of salary, even though we have not talked about anything. 

In that case, you leave the end of the process, the story about the salary but that’s the advantage of having an external recruiter who is not part of the company. I can have this kind of conversation to be sure that I’m not going to waste anybody’s time. I don’t care about how much the company is going to offer to the candidate. I’m more concerned about the ad that I know and that I have discussed the range with the company and I can sometimes use that information to be sure whether the candidate is a good candidate or not.

Natalia 42:08 Okay, but could you maybe tell us a little bit about advice that you might give to PhD graduates who are now looking for jobs in the industry, something that you learned in your practice that you think are effective strategies for job interviews and for writing motivational letters as well?

Dr. Manolo 42:32 It’s stuff in a few minutes. The main advice would be, to know yourself very well. Because if you know yourself a lot, and the interviewer asked for help trying to find who you are exactly, but deeply in terms of skills, interests, and values, it’s likely that a conversation in an interview is going to be smooth. Because what a recruiter wants is to understand exactly how you are to find if you become the combination of how you are and your skills. You need to know that information and be ready to convey all that information to communicate all that. 

But before communicating how you are, you need to know who you are. And that’s not obvious. Some people just don’t know exactly how to communicate. There are many things that you have to take into account but I will say that would be the main one. And another is being sure about the position, I mean, having information about the position and understanding whether you are the person or not. One of the big things about having a PhD is that you’re PhD centered, and you tend to think that your PhD is something very important for everything. 

On many occasions, it’s irrelevant to the recruiter. You need to understand whether a PhD for that position is important or not. And if it’s not, then it’s not a question of talking a lot about your PhD but about the skills that you obtain during your PhD and outside your PhD. What we’re talking about PhDs in general, is you should deviate the attention from your PhD and center the attention or focus the attention on yourself on your skills, some would be technical skills, some others will have a technical skill, some you will have soft skills, transferable skills, that’s more important. Talk about a PhD, especially when you come across a recruiter that has been working in human resources for forever and don’t have a lot of information about what a PhD is or what a PhD means.

Natalia 45:36 If I could add to this, I think it’s also important to also tell the difference between the skills you have but you’re not necessarily willing to use the skills that you have and you are willing to explore further because, like in the PhD, we also learn as many skills as tools to reach our goals. For instance, I had to learn how to program in Python, and many people have to learn how to code because this is just a tool. We need to solve our problem, approach research questions, and analyze the data, whereas the real goal is to approach some research question and get the results, and write the reports out of it. That’s the research project is the goal. And programming is only the means to reach that goal. And then if you think about the skill, it’s highly in demand in the job market. 

But when I asked PhD graduates who can program, they want to program in daily life. If they would like this to be their main activity, at least 50% of them say no and it’s the same with every other skill, for instance, with statistics and mathematics, like many of us have courses in higher mathematics, during the undergrad studies, and also in grad school, but we are not necessarily willing to use this skill in our daily jobs. 

There is a big difference between the skills that you have and those that are in demand. But you don’t necessarily perceive them as your core competencies. You feel strongly about and you’re willing to use them in your daily practice. I think it’s an important distinction. We often end up with jobs that might be well paid but are not necessarily making us happy because we have to put into use the skills that we don’t necessarily feel are associated with the activities that we enjoy? That’s the point.

Dr. Manolo 48:00 There’s a typical sentence that I hear over and over from people coming from academia. It’s when you ask them, what do you want to do? Many of them will answer, I wouldn’t mind, whatever. And that’s a big problem in terms of how you approach a new career. I mean, I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy to get a great job. Many people have a lot of skills and experience. I wouldn’t say that answering I wouldn’t mind doing something is a good approach. I think that you have the responsibility to understand and to find what you want, and the more specific, the better. 

Because when you go to the interview, the interviewer just wants to know whether you are the person that fits the requirements of the position. You just tell them if you’re the person or not and even during the interview, something that we tend to lose or forget is that we have to talk in the language of the interviewer. And many recruiters are not scientists. They know a lot about human resources and competencies and all that but you need to understand what you really have to say so that the person understands what the person wants to know. 

And in that case, for example, when they ask you something, you can talk about your skills, or your experience, but something that is not trivial to explain, but it’s important to explain because a company wants a person that has dealt with the problem already. Because problems come daily. You need to solve a problem. Did you have that problem before? If you did it and you solve it, that’s fine. You’re in. 

If not, I’m hesitating because I don’t know how you’re going to solve this problem. You can say that you can do coding in Python. From a recruiter perspective, it’s more interesting to understand in which context you used that code, or why or what for. If you explain the whole story that we had this situation in the past, this was the problem and we needed to coat something to solve this problem. I had to learn this and after that, we solve this problem. Take a home massage if, in the future, this problem happens. I know how to solve it. It’s way more important than just saying that.

Natalia 51:18 There is this technique called Star. That’s kind of the approach to answering this type of question. This stands for Situation task, approach, and results. There’s a whole pipeline that you can learn before the interviews so that if you’re asked about practical examples of how you implemented your skills, you can use this narrative.

Dr. Manolo 51:52 There’s a fifth step, I would say, which would be what did you learn during the process?

Natalia 51:59 That’s very very important. All right. It’s hard for me to discuss with you because I agree with everything you’re saying.

Dr. Manolo 52:16 Let’s disagree. Let’s talk about football.

Natalia 52:21 I hate football. About the self-discovery part, I fully agree. That’s also why I wrote a book that is to a large extent focused on self-discovery. And also, in the courses I organized for PhDs, the self-discovery part is 50% of the course. The course is 50% of a self-discovery exercise. And another 50% is information about the job market because to get a good match between you and your future job, you have to combine the two. Then you have a good result, eventually. 

I also fully agree with you on that part. I’m just curious. I’m just thinking, what else can I ask you so that we finally disagree on something and I can’t come up with any examples for now. Because I think we come from a very similar place. We had a similar problem in the past. We didn’t have a plan B. And then eventually, we ended up with the same mindset and going also in the same direction, career-wise as a result. 

I think we have such similar thinking that it’s really hard to disagree. It’s interesting because I spent the last 10 years in the Netherlands, whereas you were like elsewhere. You came back to Spain. We were like living apart from each other. And we were quite distant, like geographically but we had the same problems. And we came to the same conclusions which is again a sign that we live in a global village. And next, few people mentally got much closer these days than they used to be in the past. This’s interesting.

Dr. Manolo 54:25 We’re talking about PhDs and scientists but I think that the problem is all over the world and probably in the times of our parents, the situation was so different. I mean, there’re the difficulties that they used to cope with. We still need some time to fit the story of the job market in our lives. Probably it’s impossible to have the same thinking when you’re close to a war. When you’re so far from a war, right, and right now, hopefully, it’s happening. And we can think of our happiness in life in terms of a professional career. That was not that important, like four years ago or 50 years ago, that was probably even irrelevant at some point. I think that we still need some time. Because things are happening that we don’t enjoy and are related to PhDs. 

I stopped doing personal consultancy and I just have like a group of people, kind of a training program. That’s for professional transformation. I mean, I’m not even especially interested in jobs in the job market but rather in the process of mental transformation to be happy somewhere else doing something different. Of course, I can combine my knowledge and insights on the job market related to standards. But the first part of that is what you said, it’s given you the opportunity or if you want to have the opportunity to change your life, and to be happier. Try to find that thing that makes you happy. I’m not talking about a job. I’m talking about everything. And the job is only one part of that puzzle, right? But you need to understand what kind of puzzle you want to create or make up in your life?

Natalia 57:01 Exactly.

Dr. Manolo 57:03 Becoming mystical?

Natalia 57:07 It’s a very hard topic. It’s not rocket science. You can’t give an algorithm or an equation for a good career switch. And so what works best for me is using heuristics and using some key performance indicators that inform you whether or not you’re going in the right direction because it’s always a process. It’s never just taking one isolated decision and then you’re done. It’s not, especially today, when the job market is changing so quickly, it becomes a process, it’s no longer just this soul one decision of okay, this is who I want to be when I grew up, and then sticking to it. I do much better myself ever since I just chose my own KPIs that are not necessarily oriented on the social status or even material status but more. 

A sense of safety is a part of it. So to some extent, there is some material component. It must be but I also use KPIs such as how interesting my conversations with other people are because that’s what makes my life good. That’s what I enjoy. In my career path, I experienced, like, a higher frequency of really interesting, inspiring conversations with interesting people that I find, I can learn from them. I’m happier. Okay, I’m going in the right direction. If this frequency drops, then I’m like, Okay, I think I took a wrong turn. I have to get back on the right track. And I just started using these heuristics. 

And just like observing myself, if I’m going the right way instead of thinking of career goals. There are some isolated points somewhere on the map, like a position of a professor or a company with 10 million turnovers. I stopped thinking about titles and numbers. I started looking at these key performance indicators daily. And instead of without even knowing what the endpoint is, I’m much happier this way. I’m evaluating where I’m going day by day instead of thinking of these big visions.

Dr. Manolo 59:52 You took the time to discover yourself so you’re creating a life according to you not according to a plan that is half yours and half your mother or half your PhD advisor and that’s necessary. And probably when you know yourself very well and you know what you want all the possibilities that you could do, then the uncertainty in life is slower. 

And that’s a big fear from people in academia, for example, because, what do you have been doing for many years? You are scared about what to do next that’s something different. Probably because you constructed the whole story with a different base. The base was your diploma, your interest, or your career ambition. But you didn’t construct your professional career with the base of a combination of skills and interests, which is exactly what you were saying.

Natalia 1:01:14 Okay, great.

Dr. Manolo 1:01:16 You cannot disagree.

Natalia 1:01:17 No, can’t disagree. I failed. Okay, I think we have a lot of good material so far. On this note, I like to thank you so much, Manolo, for joining us today and for sharing your insights. And thank you to all of you who would like to ask our today’s guests more questions, please feel free to reach out to him through LinkedIn. We also encourage you to post your comments and questions below this episode. And if you would like to get more of this type of content, please subscribe to this channel. That’s highly appreciated. And take care guys. Good luck with everything and see you next time.

Dr. Manolo 1:02:21 Thank you, Natalia.

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