Career Development Strategies E068 Bloopers! Career Advisors on Their Own Lessons from Job Interviews
September 6th 2021
Perhaps the best career advisors are those who made the most mistakes in their own careers and learned the most from these mistakes! In this episode, we talk with Vera Chan, PhD, Vicky Sherwood, PhD, and David Mendes, PhD, about the interview bloopers in our own careers — the mistakes we made and what we learned from them.
Dr Vera Chan decided to transition into a non-academic role, and she is still undergoing the process of job-seeking as a foreigner living in France. I am happy that she is open to sharing with us about this vulnerable moment, the less glamorous side of life after PhD that not many people are willing to talk about. Vera also hosts the PhD Coffee Time Youtube channel, where she shares her insights and advice covering all aspects of life as a graduate researcher.
Vera’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/verabschan/
PhD Coffee Time Youtube channel:
Dr Vicky Sherwood holds a PhD in Biosciences from the University of Nottingham, UK. Since January 2018, Vicky has published her own blog, BiomedBadass, revealing insights into the career transitions from research scientist to industry professional. The aim of the blog is to help researchers answer some of the challenging questions they face when considering industry career paths. Questions such as; “What skills do I have that are useful in the industry?”, “How does the work culture differ compared to academia?”, “Will I enjoy working in a company compared to academia?” and “What kind of opportunities are available to me?” to name a few. In this endeavor, she hopes this resource can provide much-needed support for career planning by STEM researchers.
Dr David Mendes completed his PhD in Cell Biology at the University of Coimbra (based on his research at McGill University). Since then, he has spent 9 years building his career path in the medical communication and language services industry. After his PhD, he worked for 4 years as a Medical Writer in a medical communication agency, creating content for pharmaceutical sales training materials covering a wide range of therapeutic areas. David has since started his own business offering translation, revision, and connected services in the biomedical domain. Now a father of two, he is interested in exploring the different ways people have juggled professional and personal life after completing their PhD. To a wide audience, he is known as Papa PhD, the host of the Papa PhD Podcast.
Kerri Twigg’s new book “The Career Stories Method: 11 Steps to Find Your Ideal Career—and Discover Your Awesome Self in the Process”: https://amzn.to/3h5tVVQ (affiliate link)
The material was recorded on September 4th 2021. All the statements represent the speakers’ private opinions and not those of their current or former employers.
Natalia 00:00 Hello, everyone. This is yet another episode of career talks. Today, we have a special episode. And the episode is all about bloopers. Since we asked career advisors and people who are actively involved in helping PhDs and other highly educated professionals in developing their careers, we also have their weak days and we also make mistakes. And today is comic relief. We will be talking about our own mistakes and everything that happened in our careers that we sometimes would like to forget about.
But today, especially for you, we will confess all our mistakes. Maybe I can first ask our distinguished guests to briefly introduce themselves as their impressive record as career advisors. Firstly, Vera, could you please introduce yourself?
Vera Chan 01:01 Hi, I’m Vera and I am a medical writer. I work in France right now. This is my first year after PhD, academic, and postdoc path. I have done six years of postdoc and then this year, I changed my career to becoming a medical writer. Last year was a huge year for me in terms of interviewing for jobs and I think I can share my interview bloopers with you.
Natalia 01:27 Maybe we should also mention that you’re a dedicated YouTuber.
Vera Chan 01:32 I also run a YouTube channel called PhD coffee time. Natalia will put a link below and for today, let’s talk about careers which I don’t think I talk about a lot on my channel. I’m excited to be here. And thanks for having me.
Natalia 01:45 I think you grew the whole generation of PhD students who are now thriving in their careers because of your channel. I think this is too little to say. Thank you so much, Vera. Thank you for accepting our invitation. And, Vicki, could you please introduce yourself?
Vicky Sherwood 02:00 I’m Vicki Sherwood and I am a medical writer at Novartis, one of the largest pharma companies in the world. I made a transition to the pharma industry. Just over four years ago, I was a career academic. I was in academia for 18 years before I decided to take the plunge and start a new career as a medical writer. And I write medical communications content for the pharma industry. And I’m also a host of a blog Biomed badass, where we focus on career transitions into the industry from academia. I’ve been writing that for the last three years or so.
Natalia 02:42 I will link it below. Please check it out.
David Mendes 02:47 Hi, I’m super happy to be here. I’m David Mendez. I have a PhD in cell biology. And since two years, I’ve been running, producing, and hosting a podcast called PaPa PhD podcast. And on that podcast, I’m kind of trying to prepare kind of deep and long-form informational interviews with different people who did PhDs in different domains and ended up having very different career journeys. That’s how I see it mostly. The idea is to inspire people who might be in their PhD and not yet have a network and do not yet know what they can or wants to do after their PhDs.
Natalia 03:39 Okay, great. Today, we have distinguished guests to teach about our own mistakes in our career paths, perhaps let’s start with a little anecdote that I could tell you. I had a period of time after my PhD, my contract expired when I was interested in all types of jobs in the industry and I was applying actively applying for jobs. At that point, I was dogmatically following the rules, applying for jobs that I used to find online, and I was just, you know, reading, watching some materials on YouTube trying to learn from the gurus and I was somehow too dogmatic about my job search.
And I remember the day when I experienced the interview bloopers at IBM. I passed the first round of interviews and they offered me an entry-level position. And there was this, you know, obligatory, the second interview, to discuss the salary and I decided to impress the recruiter, and I learned everything I possibly could about IBM but I think I overdid it. I learned absolutely the history of a company back to the beginning of the 20th century. And I had quite a number of achievements. They had like four Nobel Prize winners in the process. And they had all kinds of developments over the decades.
I memorized the book about IBM, pretty much. When we were out doing the interview, I was just trying to impress the recruiter and I was talking and talking, talking about what I liked about this company and I was going through all the resources in my brain. And instead of getting happy, the recruiter was looking more and more grins on his face. And in the end, he just seemed extremely embarrassed. He seemed to be. He was like, Oh, my God, I know nothing about this place. And in the end, he offered me a position, but I felt that I overdid at that point. And too much is not a good idea.
You have to know the limits or whatever you do at the job interviews even if it means preparing for an interview. Too much is too much. I remember I spent a whole week memorizing every single detail about IBM and I still remember the impression I made. That was my major blooper with applying for jobs. I would like to hear your stories, guys. Is there anything in your professional history that comes from the the interview bloopers, that you remember as a major blooper?
Vera Chan 06:32 I go first. After I heard Vicki’s talk, I think I will be ashamed to share mine. Let me go.
Vicky Sherwood 06:42 I promise you won’t.
Vera Chan 06:45 Mine is pretty simple. But I was back after my first onsite interview because I had one call that I was almost getting this job. And that was during my unemployment after my postdoc contract ended. And it was the pandemic, the first time I get out of my home since the pandemic and traveled on the train to go to a small city in France to get an interview. After the on-site interview, everything seems to went quite well. I went home and I realise I forgot to ask for the email address of the people who interviewed me. At that point, when I was ready to write a thank you letter as I will always do after an interview.
I always try to write a thank you note to just make sure I reiterate I am neutral. If you are interested, I’m interested to join your company, please hire me, I’m desperate to start. I didn’t write that. But that’s usually my gesture. Then I realized I only have the email of the HR representative who didn’t bother to forward my email. And I tried to write to her and say, could you please write this to send my thank you to this person who just interviewed me. That was July. Everyone was on holiday in France.
There was no news after that. I still don’t know if that was because I didn’t write a good enough thank you note that these people didn’t go back and give me the news about like, oh, maybe they’ve changed their mind or budget has changed. But it was quite a blooper that I make all the efforts to go to a site where my future colleagues would work and I met everyone. And I thought I will get the job already.
I didn’t bother or didn’t know to ask the question of how can I reach out to you after the interview by email, writing down the interviewers email, because often you are contacted by an HR representative who may or may not care about forwarding your thank you notes. I think that was a very big mistake on my end because it’s more effective than you can in 24 hours. It’s like a date after you meet someone 24 hours, you want to make sure you send a note saying I appreciate and spending time with you and let’s keep in touch.
Natalia 09:14 We should do it again. It means that they will never see you naked. That’s what it needs to be.
Vera Chan 09:23 Cut this out. Anyway, but that was my blooper.
Natalia 09:32 I understand. I mean, here in Europe, we don’t have that tradition of writing thank you notes. Also, imagine that if you didn’t reach the target, think it would not be an elimination qualification. Perhaps, you were just not good.
Vera Chan 09:52 That’s fine. I think it’s because I come from the US. Yes, and I think this is a normal gesture. And I think I will feel better if I at least give another note just to reiterate. I have been listening and I have understood what is from that meeting?
Vicky Sherwood 10:14 I do have a blooper. But can I just add to that, I think it’s important to send a thank-you note. I have always done it not as an academic but in my post-academic career, I have always done it. And even when they told me you’re rejected or we’re not interested, whatever, I have written a note saying thank you very much for the opportunity. I hope you found the right candidate or I’m glad for you that you’ve found the right candidate. And I think that always sends a message of maybe in Europe where we’re not used to doing it.
But I think that always sends a message of, you know, you stand out, right, because if you’re prepared to do that if you’re prepared to say, I appreciate your time and I think you’ve done well, in finding the right candidate, it sets you apart. It shows that you’re very classy and you take rejection kind of on the chin. And that’s part of like showing, you know, you can fit into a team and you can work in that sort of competitive environment. I think that’s worth doing. Even if there’s not a culture of doing that in the country you come from, I would try and find that email address, like Vera was saying, and try and put that thank you.
And maybe in the US, people do that a lot. But I think in the UK, in Europe, we should be doing that more as well. My blooper, okay, let’s think about this. I have a terrible but it was back in my academic days. And I don’t know what I could have done about it. I’d like your opinion on it. But basically, I turned up to this postdoc position. It was a position that I really wanted. It was at the University of Oxford. And it was a really interesting project. I won’t go into the details of it because it was part-funded by an industry. It had some kind of patent protection potentially on it.
But it was basically this exciting new innovative technology that they were trying to develop with multiple companies involved in multiple industries. This thing had wide-reaching potential. I was like, wow, this is so exciting. I really want to work on this. And I got to the interview and I sat outside. And they were in an interview room where you could kind of hear what was going on. They were interviewing multiple people on the same day. And the other candidate who was in the room in front of me, I could hear the conversation.
And they’d asked for a presentation. We bought a presentation from our recent research work and she was presenting. And when she finished, I could hear them say to her, Wow, you are the perfect candidate, you have all the skills, we want to have everything we need. We would offer you the job right now. And I sat there thinking, and there was a guy next to me who was interviewed as well, he could hear it. And we were both looking at each other like, are we going to do right?
And I went into that presentation after she came out and I saw the candidate come out. I thought you’ve got the job. But I knew they were still interviewing the two of us. I had to go ahead and do this presentation. I loaded up the presentation. And the expression on their faces couldn’t be more explanatory of the fact that they were disinterested. They had already chosen their candidates. And it was just like, quickly get your presentation done and move on. And I remember responding to that.
And there was a panel of them, about five of them. I responded to that energy. I was just like, I did this and this and this and this and this, and then a year I’ve done it. I didn’t even fight at that point. I just told myself it was over. But that was a really silly thing to do because they were saying that to everybody. I have no idea. I have no evidence for that. But I just completely fluffed the presentation because of what I’d heard outside the room before.
And I think that is the wrong mindset that I should have gone in thinking more positively and just giving it a go. I had nothing to lose at that point. But I completely gave up. That is my biggest blooper. I threw that position away. And it was an awesome position. I have to say, I’ve been following the research since I’ve never seen anything come out on that. But maybe it’s all top secret. I don’t know. But you know, it was a really exciting project. I was so gutted and disappointed.
I remember going home at the time to like my boyfriend who is now my husband and saying it was just the worst interview I’ve ever done. It was absolutely horrendous. But what I should have done, you know, and I regretted it afterward, I should have gone in fighting more and being really positive about what I was doing. I had nothing to lose.
Vera Chan 14:47 I let her chime in before Natalia but I just say one thing like you’re right that maybe they say this to everybody. Like when I say thank you in my workplace. Sometimes I say hey, you are the best, and then I realised that my other colleagues took my word seriously. And they were like, oh, I was the first who am I? I’m not the best. And then there’s this joke about competing who is the best at work? Who was the best today? I tried to qualify for that. But you know, I think that what you said is so right that this is usually ourselves. Our internal mindset is our biggest enemy.
Because when you walk into that room thinking that you won’t get chosen because they already made up their mind, then you’re counting your performance right on the spot. But one thing I’ve learned from being a postdoc back in the US, I was lucky to be at the department at the point that they were hiring three faculty members. I was seeing 15 People fly in on-site and had a job interview and they were all phenomenal speakers. And it’s funny to see the whole process because you never know if the perfect candidate may not accept that. It’s true.
I think a lot of time after that experience, I have learned to be not to be arrogant at a job interview. I stopped being nervous about like, whether I’m judging whether I can be better than the other candidate or not. Because sometimes life happens, you know, if that person is better and they are actually available but more desirable, they will be chosen. But in some cases, that person who is the perfect candidate has a better job offer. Maybe they prefer to be at Harvard than at Oxford.
You never know, what is on the other person’s mind. Instead of having this guessing game and to think about, you know, well, I get the chance because of this circumstance, I think just focusing on beating yourself as the line enemy, I want to be better than yesterday, I want this talk to be the best one that I can I could have given and not take a chance of, you know, feeling discouraged by this. But I think it’s hard. It’s like competing in Olympic Games, right? Like 80% of that is your psychology, a 20% is your physical abilities. And a lot of times people who have a stronger mind, in the end, get the medal not because they trained but because they didn’t lose their mind.
Vicky Sherwood 17:32 I think you’re so right, Vera. I mean, you know, I was dismissing myself against the competition. Are you always in the competition, like whatever job you go for? And all you can do is your best, right? That was a great learning curve because I vowed to myself ever after that day, I was never going to do that again. I have tried to live up to that. And I think I’ve managed because I’ve been up against people with fantastic credentials.
I’ve been to the best universities and they’re going for the best funding. And I’ve always tried to do my best so it was a great learning opportunity but I still read the day that I didn’t get that project because it was great.
Natalia 18:17 I think I already feel that it’s a blooper but it’s a blooper for them, not for you. Because at the end of the day, they allowed the situation when you were discouraged for the interview, and they chose the candidate that came and it was just unprofessional that they let it happen. And it was not like a full-fledged interview in a sense. I think it’s not your blooper. I have to say I know how it feels when you know that you’re not the preferred candidate. I had that situation too. At some point, I was in the top two for a position that was for many reasons good for me and I was determined to get it.
But when I came to this last round of the interview, when I knew that I only have like one person left next to me, I knew after two minutes that I was not the preferred candidate because there was some wall between me and the committee and I could feel that they just prefer the other candidates for whatsoever reasons and that was like a sad feeling because the whole process requires some energy from me and I had to give a lecture in front of students and there was such a barrier that at some point I also gave up, I was like, okay, they clearly don’t want me here because they don’t even ask interesting questions.
We are both resigned. It was obvious to me what the verdict will be but I don’t see how I could improve because when I came, it was already like that feeling and I don’t think I fitted there and I think that was just not my tribe, it was not the type of people that I could easily communicate with. And that was just a strategic mistake to think that if the project is interesting, it’s enough and if I have credentials, it’s enough to get the job. Because at the end of the day, they have their own flock and they do examine if you feed them. Now, I just don’t apply for this type of job anymore.
Vera Chan 20:23 I think it’s a tough situation. It’s hard not to get frustrated at this point when you know you’re not the preferred candidate. There are things you could take away. If you encourage yourself like if you have a stronger heart to say, like, this is okay, I’m not the most preferred candidate, you can always take away the people you have met on LinkedIn, connect with them and stay in touch. If there are future opportunities, you may turn out to be the next most preferred candidate and you will never know.
So I think instead of overly emphasizing why we failed today, I think the narrative should change to going. Today, I met two incredible people who have been willing to spend one hour with me at an interview, I would guess the hourly rate is 40 to 60 euros per hour, and I’m pocketing $100. I think that’s the mentality that if you’re in real life, you might have been obligated to buy them lunch or dinner. I don’t know. I’m strange.
Vicky Sherwood 21:33 But this gets to my point of that follow-up email as well, right? That’s important as well because of the exact same reasons. They might take this preferred candidate on and it might not work out for them and for that, and for the candidate, right, and that candidate might walk, and you’ve sent that email, and you’ve followed up and you’ve been very graceful about the rejection and everything.
You might have been the second-best. That’s an open door then to invite you and ask, are you still interested? It’s always worth doing that follow-up. And like you said, by having that mindset, you’ve connected with decision-makers that keep you going in your network.
Vera Chan 22:13 Because they’re not only deciding on one position, sometimes they have to spend money on the last day of the fiscal year. Then they’re like, oh, this girl who sent me an email, let’s interview her again. You never know that the most preferred candidate may charge a lot of money. I ended up thinking to hire, I joke about this but you never know why people will hire you. My postdoc friend, later on, explained to me how she decided to hire me in such a quick time in one week. Everyone would think I have the perfect CV, and perfect interview performance so that I get the job.
But I think I prepared well for the CV. I have uploaded my CV to the video. I think that her fun thing was going to the deadline expiry date and she must spend it on someone international. And that was such a restriction that I didn’t know about. And I came across as a very strong candidate. She was like, happily deciding on this spot. But the point is, you never know why someone got hired and why someone doesn’t get hired. And it may not represent how well of a person you are. It’s just destiny like sometimes you’re destined to be in a certain place or you’re destined to not be in certain tribes like Natalia said. I would believe it’s all happened for our growth and the betterment.
Natalia 23:53 I can tell and I think like I am a landlady. And I also have to make decisions like whom I want to live with under one roof. And sometimes, I cannot even tell it’s like a gut feeling that someone will be good to live with and or not. And I cannot tell people why they didn’t get the room. It’s impossible because it’s just like a holistic feeling that you have a good feeling about this or not. You just have to make a binary decision. I think it’s the same with hiring people. I had that blooper as well. I felt overconfident that I thought I was the preferred candidate and maybe it was not true.
Some time ago, I was invited by a friend to apply for an interview for a place where I thought I would fit perfectly and we also used to work together on some projects before so I thought if she invited me that meant she saw me in that position and she was the decisional person. I came to the interview. I was feeling like on a picnic, you know, and the questions were really easy. And I was just feeling I was having fun there.
Everything was going smoothly. I will get this job and I didn’t. Then I felt maybe I just felt overconfident because you know, the recruiter, and you’re invited doesn’t mean that you are the preferred candidate. They had to have some quota of people to hire to interview. I also had that mistake under my belt.
Vera Chan 25:33 They have a budget cut later on and decided they don’t need a place like that. I think you shouldn’t judge yourself too harshly on that. But I think it’s healthy not to have the mindset that I will be the best candidate and show up like that because it will not come across like that.
Vicky Sherwood 25:52 You’ve never watched The Apprentice because they’re all the best candidates.
Natalia 25:58 I know, I watched the apprentice.
Vicky Sherwood 26:02 They are all the best.
Natalia 26:06 My favorite song is Money, money, money. It’s just American culture.
Vicky Sherwood 26:17 I was gonna say that chemistry that you were talking about and how they pick fitting on, not just your technical skill, but how you actually fit into their culture, and group and environment is a huge part of the decision-making process. And I can say that from somebody who’s been the interviewer and the interviewee. I’ve made decisions on who to hire based purely on technical ability before and made a huge mistake in hiring that person, rather than thinking about the fit within the team and the culture.
I try to keep that in mind when I go into interviews knowing that a huge part of it is how I fit into this team. And I don’t know the dynamics of that team yet. Always tell yourself that if they choose you, you might be technically brilliant, you might be absolutely able, but they’re making a decision on something that’s very nuanced and you might not have the full information about. Try not to take it personally. Because a lot of it is about that click and connection and how they feel that you’re gonna fit in the team.
Natalia 27:27 Coding manager is like a sentinel of a tribe. And they have to, first of all, think about their own employees. Before you get a contract, you’re not theirs, right? You’re not their tribe yet. You’re the outsider. Before they really shake hands on the contract, they treat you as a person from the outside. I agree. Now, I know where I fit and what I don’t. I don’t make these mistakes anymore. I would like to ask you a little bit more about the strategy in choosing positions or approaching the right people, and if you had any bloopers related to that.
I can say that one big mistake I made at the end of my PhD is I was networking in the wrong way. There are different types of networking. And you can build your network in-depth or luck with and these are the two different ways. When you build a business, it’s good to have a lot of casual contacts, because that helps you to search for people with the right people for the right project. If you are in a need to search for something like hiring an employee or finding a collaborator, then having this distributed network that is quite shallow but very broad is actually beneficial.
But when you’re looking for jobs, it’s better to have like that in the network, at least a few people who are close enough to get out of their comfort zone for you. Because if you want someone else to recommend you for jobs, they are risking their own name for you. They have to get out of their comfort zone to help you. That was my mistake. I had a lot of casual contacts, people whom I met in conferences in grad school, and all kinds of travels because I was traveling a lot in my 20s.
I felt comfortable about my network because I was like, Okay, I know, pretty much 1000s of people. I will be fine, right? Whenever I want to find a job, I will just ask my contacts but then found myself unsupported because none of these contacts really wanted to take a step out of their comfort zone for me and ask about their network. I felt cheated. I’m so alone in my job search. Like, everyone’s telling me that you’re great. You have great credentials but I don’t have any doors opening for me. I felt that was just a strategic mistake I made.
Wherever you go, you have to kind of know the rules in that environment and know what type of networking works best for your career opportunities. I also have former colleagues who literally had just one supervisor to collaborate with and they had good contacts. They didn’t have many collaborators. They didn’t have many friends around. But they had one good contact with just one person and that person found them the next job and then the next job. In academia, I think the depth of the network works much better. But how about you guys? Did you have any situations when you felt like, oh, I made a strategic mistake here?
Vicky Sherwood 30:46 I have a big strong feeling about this. Because you know, I have a career that was embedded in academia that I have a post-academic career and I made a huge mistake inside academia. And I completely agree with what you say, Natalia, that depth of network is incredibly important, particularly inside academia but also outside as well. This is how I take it because I used to think that networking was all about talking to the right people who could get you the right job, who would know where the openings were in the best faculties, you know, with the access to the best funding bodies and all this kind of thing.
I think what you’ve got to do is build up your network step-wise to that. You will reach those people eventually. But you’ve got to be very strategic about it. And I think you’ve got to approach the right people at the right time when you network. And this goes for an academic career and a post-academic career, in my opinion. I think you’ve got to reach the right people at the right time. I think you can go to people who were decision-makers far too early without knowing basically what a role is about and without sounding like you’re a credible candidate for whatever job it is.
And I think a lot of people enter networking or think about networking that they’ve got to talk to that decision-maker is going to get them a job. But actually, what you’ve got to do is build up to that. You’ve got to do the informational interviews, talk to the people doing the jobs, get the background information, get the research, and then talk to the decision-makers with that credible conversation that you can have. Otherwise, you go to those decision-makers and you blow that opportunity. Talk to them.
And to sound like somebody who could do that job or offer them something because you’re too busy and still trying to learn about that industry or still trying to understand where you fit in and what you can offer. I think you’ve got to be very strategic about your networking. And I think you’ve got to build it up slowly. It does take a little bit of time. It’s well worth investing in whatever position you are in building that up. But it doesn’t take a lot of time day on day. You can do a lot in five minutes. You can link in with a lot of people.
You can comment on a lot of posts, you can share posts, you can like posts, you know, you can build that up, you know, five minutes every day, adds up a lot. But I don’t think you’ve got to be very careful about reaching out to those top-tier decision-makers who are the most, arguably the busiest people in the industry. If you reach out to them too early, you can waste your opportunity. I think you’ve got to really build up to that. That would be my advice. And it’s something I learned the hard way. And now I tried to tell people not to make the same mistake.
Vera Chan 33:34 Vicky has just talked about the blooper in terms of reaching too soon to the decision-maker without the preparation. And I totally resonate with her because you kind of like simple things like what is the address of the company site? You know, that’s something you want to know before you talk to someone at a manager level and say, I can come and work every day. And I asked him, Hey, what is my travel hour?
I think those are the things you don’t want to go on an informational interview with a hiring manager and ask by the way, what’s the address, you know, and you want to start with someone who is more at the basic level that can be a day to day colleagues and they will be friendly to give you all this answer and insight. The second blooper, I think is the basic question of whether or not this is your tribe. And I think that’s back to Natalia’s course and your book and you’ve talked a lot about how we need to identify what type of surface we want to be surfing the world and I am now my religion.
I think I resonate with it so much. I think every day I really fulfill as a writer because I think I am the type of person that get energy when I help people and I feel very happy that other people’s problem is solved. I don’t get the same satisfaction when I think about myself being a professor where I need to be the leader and I think it’s only the driving seat of the project. I think that question has to be asked. And I think at the time, I didn’t know enough that I wouldn’t be good in that sense. I wouldn’t also be a good r&d scientist because r&d scientists will also require people who can lead an independent research project.
And from my experience, I network with these people on the phone and they come across as people who will just be spending a long time in the lab and they’re not my tribe. I think narrowing down knowing what is your career and what are the type of people you want to invest time and talk to. The first time I chatted with Vicki, I met Vicki the first time because of an informational interview. And I made it clear to her that my career goal is wanting to be a medical writer. And that’s the only reason she responded to me at that time that she said because I’m only interested in helping people who know what they want.
And I think that’s a very important mistake that I had in the beginning that I didn’t know what I want. And I reached out to MSL. I reached out to the product manager, I reached out to people who have all kinds of other jobs. I don’t see myself being in those career tracks. It’s important to widely talk to different people as well. But to avoid that, I recommend listening to Papa’s PhD podcast, before actually giving the phone call and saying, Hey, can I talk to the phone for two hours and find out that I’m not a good fit for being an r&d scientist.
David Mendes 36:45 I didn’t prepare for my career transition during my PhD. There were difficulties. The end was as difficult as it is for a lot of people. And basically, in the end, it was through networking that I got my few jobs even from like friends of my partner. My first job was as a long-distance Education tutor. And it was because my partner’s friend’s husband’s mom was working in this school board that needed people kind of with my profile to give these courses. I did that for a few months.
And eventually, I found a job and the next jump was through looking at what people who had been at the same Institute that I had been, were doing, especially if they didn’t stay in academia. It’s a different type of networking. It was kind of looking at my organic network from the PhD and understanding where people were going. And I was kind of lucky that I didn’t have to do a bunch of different interviews but I have a recent job interview. It’s not a blooper. This is kind of a lesson learned type of thing.
It wasn’t so much networking but it was related to applying for a position that the idea is sometimes when you read a job description, sometimes there’s a feeling of a red flag type that comes to your mind and you decide to ignore it. And this is what happened recently, in my case, it was positioned in a group here at the university in Montreal that works with students in a way that I find interesting with graduate students.
But the job description was so vast in its span that I said, Okay, I might fit in this so I ended up applying and getting the first interview. And then at the end of the first interview, just before the first interview, I learned that there’s a test after the interview like a four-hour test.
I was going in my head thinking that I could bring my communication, my networking experience to this position which had to do with communications within this organization. But in the end, once I heard about this test, there was a red flag, the very vague or very vast job description was also kind of a red flag because I wasn’t sure how I fit in all of the pieces but I imagine they wanted to cast a wide net. And that’s why they did that. But in the end, it turns out that they were looking for someone with more of a technician profile which wasn’t a good fit for me.
I wouldn’t have felt in my place in that position. But this is fairly recent. And I’m not actively looking for jobs when you have this kind of almost dream organization that posts a job that kind of looks like you could be in there, then you apply. Anyway, it just happened and the blooper side of it was this decision of the kind of ignoring these red flags and maybe not ask questions that I might have asked before embarking on the whole adventure.
Natalia 40:47 Do you know what text effect means? When you feel that the text relates to you personally, it’s the same effect that makes horoscopes successful. This is something that we also feel when we read job descriptions, Oh, I’m perfect here. I’m perfect there. But 95% of readers feel the same. Perhaps this is the case. I feel so maybe now let’s talk a little bit about job applications. Indeed, I can. I can briefly mention that.
I think my biggest mistake was always to pack too much text into my applications, especially the motivational letters. And usually, they say it’s supposed to be a one-pager. I was like, Okay, it’s one-pager, but they don’t say what type of font. If I don’t make point 12, then I make point 6.
Vicky Sherwood 41:45 Get the magnifying glass.
Natalia 41:49 I think they had twisted stomachs probably trying to read my motivational letters. But that was always my mistake. And ever since I started writing shorter letters, they are much more successful. That’s just one thing I can mention overall.
Vera Chan 42:11 I think my biggest blooper was I didn’t tailor enough to one target. At that time, I think my success rate was really low at the beginning of my application especially when I tried to transition out of academia, I have this imagined view of how applying to a job is like and you just send magically many CV and then they write a cover letter and sign it like you go on to this company website and put in all this information and you will magically get an offer.
But I’ve made the mistake of applying to broad. And like I said, I applied to everything like the QA department, r&d department, Product Manager at MSL, and medical writer. And then I don’t even have a strong sense of what this application is looking for. And I also have a one-page resume. It needs to be tailored to the job description. And it’s a very important thing that you take the time to answer each of these lines and take it seriously. It takes a few months to get to that maturity level to like, Okay, I need to sit down, look at this one piece of the job description, and really answer that call.
And I need to thank the recruiter who gave me this information. Because he really wants his commission. And he said he sees something in me and they want me to use this as well. At the time, actually, he told me that I can introduce you to my client but I need you to change your resume. And I said, What’s wrong with my resume? He said you need to make sure that you read it carefully. Have you read the job description? And I’ve never been like spoken to like this almost like it’s his criticizing a lot of how I make my resume.
Now, I thank him because this is the biggest lesson I’ve learned. And now I would take this as my religion. And anytime you want to apply to a new role, you make sure you read five to 10 lines of bullet points and make sure you address that in your resume. And if my YouTube channel is not relevant, I don’t even put it there. At that time, he suggested me to take away my YouTube channel.
And I need to think of it as a suggestion and as need to keep an open mind to just, you know, nobody actually cared about it in the context of a job application. That was the blooper. I didn’t tell her enough and didn’t pay enough special detail attention to each job.
Natalia 44:54 I might actually add from my side that we can briefly talk about solving negotiations as well because I think, one mistake I was making in the job application process in general, and especially in solid negotiations is that I often couldn’t see the difference between the beginning the early stages of the process, and the late stages. Because if you apply for like corporations or some other large organizations, they have their procedures and they have multiple stages of the recruitment process, and the early stage is just the elimination stage.
The recruiter’s role is to eliminate everyone who doesn’t fit the profile. You have to make sure that you’re as close to what they’re looking for as possible. And when you’re asked about salary expectations, you have to give a broad range so that you make sure that you overlap with what they have in mind, which they don’t say, but when it comes to the late stages and when you meet with the hiring manager, who actually knows the team, and who’s looking for the team member, and they might be your boss at some point as well, then you have to make sure that you can show how much extra value you can provide to the team.
You have to kind of play completely new persons compared to how you’re behaving and introducing yourself before in the early stages. Now, you have to show that you’re so much more than what they actually asked for. And when you are asked about salary expectations, now you can say the truth. You can say how much you really expect because you already know that they have a strong interest in you. You can now actually start negotiating. But once you’re early in the process, this is not a good idea. It’s better to just spread the range so that you make sure that you kind of fall into the range that they prepared for.
I didn’t see the difference. And I think I lost quite a few options because of that. Because I was saying the truth, I was saying how much I would really wish to earn instead of giving a broad range and just, you know, slip through until the day comes when I can actually say what things are. That was my big mistake. Did you guys also have some events that you could consider mistakes in your salary negotiations?
David Mendes 47:24 I can say that in my first salary negotiation for the PhD, I jumped into it blindly. I probably looked at Glassdoor. I don’t even remember if Glassdoor was available at the time. One thing I should have done was talk with people around me who were either higher or have gone through the process more and ask them okay, how do I deal with this story when they asked me for the number because I had no clue. I remember not being very satisfied with the outcome and the conversation itself.
I do think it’s something you should prepare and talk with people who have worked, you know, who are actively interviewing and have done it a few times. As Vicki was talking about the importance of slowly growing a network. If you’re able to grow a network in the domain that you want to work in, try to talk about it with these people, maybe they’re not in the exact organization you’re applying for. But you know, there’s kind of a ballpark in the same industry that you can learn by talking with people for sure.
And I think the thing is don’t go blind. Don’t go unprepared for that conversation. Because especially for me, it was kind of an awkward, no unusual conversation coming from the PhD from so many years of not thinking of money or salary in those terms. It was a totally different space. It was awkward for me and I felt uneasy.
And then I think it kind of gave a vibe to the conversation. I did get the job but I wasn’t satisfied with that first negotiation that I had. Do prepare. Talking with people is one of the best ways. You can also see numbers by going to Glassdoor and things like that. But if you talk with people, I think you can get an extra inkling on how to approach it.
Natalia 49:35 What are your salary expectations is one of the standard questions you will always get in the interview and that was also my mistake that at some point, I was not very well prepared for these standard questions like how do you see yourself in five years from now? Or things like that and salary expectations are one of those standard questions. Every single time I was going to interview and just like, you know, no one expected Spanish Inquisition, right? I was like, Damn, I should have prepared for this one.
Vicky Sherwood 50:14 I have a great tip for salary and salary negotiations. And I’ve learned this sequentially over the years and it is always trying to negotiate them once the offers are on the table because I think a lot of companies try and have this upfront, and almost like, they might use it like a decision-making tool, which you know, is frightening. When you’re a candidate going through the interview process and you don’t want to have to give a figure, so try not to disclose it.
Try not to disclose it by saying it upfront. Unless I see the offer, I cannot give you a figure, right, unless I know everything that’s on the table. Everything that you’re offering the full package, I cannot give a figure. And I use that all the time now. Because they try quite early on in the process. And once you’ve said a figure as well, you’re stuck with that figure, right? You know, you might go away later and do your search and find out your five grand or maybe even more out of scope of where you should be, and then it’s too late because you’ve said the figure.
I think always try and push it back to the last moment possible. And use that little unless you give me the offer with the full package and all the trimmings and everything going off, I can’t disclose.
David Mendes 51:31 You can pair it with Natalia’s first suggestion, which was to give a very wide range if they really asked you to give like come from something that’s really inclusive. But I love it. And it’s a strong statement. Also, as a candidate, I can’t go into this conversation without having this data.
Vicky Sherwood 51:57 It gets you out of jail quickly because they’re not gonna come to an offer early on.
Natalia 52:02 And I can say, as a mathematician that from a Game Theory perspective, the side that gives numbers first usually loses the negotiations. But also, mathematically, you should try to pull the numbers from the other side first. And as you’re saying, if this is not possible, then try to postpone the conversation for as much as you can, so that they can see your value first. When they get kind of attached to you once you talk and only then give the number.
I fully agree with that. We have to slowly come to the end because we already have a lot of material. Are there any other situations that you would like to mention, or perhaps some piece of advice, general piece of advice that you would like to give to our viewers?
David Mendes 52:57 I think there’s something I’d like to add, and Vera was talking about knowing the resume and tailoring it. And one thing that I’ve done, it’s funny because I didn’t get this position recently that I was talking about but I did enjoy for the first time the process of preparing because after these years of Papa PhD of being on LinkedIn, quite actively of talking with people who are kind of almost specialists in helping people getting interviews, at least.
I got inspired by Kerri Twig. She just published a pretty cool book which allows you to kind of follow her system because she calls it career stories. When I looked at my resume, the one I was using before that whenever I did apply for positions and looked at tailoring it in that way of kind of telling a story that was tailored to the organization that I was going to. I think it’s a huge blooper that, you know, I can consider it a blooper.
You know, throughout time, in the past using a resume was just a kind of a shortened CV in a way that there were a lot of items and bullet points but there was no story. I didn’t get the position. And I think it was a good thing because I wouldn’t be a good fit. But I enjoyed the process. And I can recommend thinking and tailoring your resume and even your cover letter if it needs. Thinking of what you did in the past for organizations, the objective you the objectives you reached, how you contributed, and not so much about the items of what you did gave me a chance to do this introspection through my whole professional past that I hadn’t done ever.
Because the idea is to really think of the whole story and then think of moments, think of wins, think of losses and kind of build the story and then think of how you can bring that how you can leverage that in a way that’s going to speak to the person who’s going to read your resume. Don’t just shorten your academic CV to make a resume. It’s not going to work well for you.
Vicky Sherwood 55:18 I love Kerri Twig as well. I follow her because you know that I think this whole idea of telling a story is how people remember things, right? It’s in our psychology. It’s embedded. It’s how you get remembered, right? If you tell a great story, people remember you. I’m going to get a new book. I didn’t realize that she published a book.
David Mendes 55:39 I follow her on LinkedIn. It’s fairly recent. It’s from this year, she was on the podcast, but at the time, she was still working on it. In the meantime, she did publish.
Vicky Sherwood 55:49 I’m going to get that new resume for me for 2022.
David Mendes 55:54 You’ll enjoy the experience of going back and getting all the posts. It’s a lot of fun. At least for me, it was a lot of fun.
Natalia 56:03 Do you also have some final words to share?
Vicky Sherwood 56:05 Can we go back to the networking point because I think it’s something you raised, David, talking about when you reached out to people and you reached out to your alumni. And I think that is an incredibly important thing, particularly for transitioning academics because we talk a lot about going and getting those information interviews and talking to people who are doing the jobs.
And sometimes, when you’re reaching out to people cold, it’s very difficult to get them to respond to you. And we all hear these things where people say, I’m just not getting anyone willing to give me that information and interview. I think if you leverage your alumni and you can use that tool on LinkedIn. You can find people through your alumni, your college, and your school that you went to, through LinkedIn. If you find them and talk to them directly, you’ve got an automatic indoor. You say that we went to the same college and we studied the same thing.
Through that alumni link, if you see they work for Amazon, Google, or whatever, hopefully, I think your chances of talking to them are much higher. And I think we underestimate that, especially as transitioning academics. You know, we’ve all studied at lots of different places. We’ve been in lots of different departments. We should be leveraging that. And I think that’s an incredibly important thing that it’s not getting across the academic community. How you can leverage that alumni link? You can use LinkedIn to help you do that.
David Mendes 57:28 It’s great. It’s a built-in organic tribe that you have already.
Vicky Sherwood 57:32 You already share something, right.
David Mendes 57:34 If they’re much later in their career, they’ll be like, almost touch that, Oh, someone from my alma mater is coming and asking me, you know, it’s a great resource and it’s often you might forget that it exists.
Vicky Sherwood 57:51 I think it’s underutilized. That would be my takeaway.
Natalia 57:56 Okay. Thank you so much, guys, for sharing. And I think we have to come up to the end of this episode, unfortunately.
Vera Chan 58:03 Thank you for having me. Nice to chat with David and Vera today and everyone please subscribe to her YouTube channel.
Vicky Sherwood 58:12 Thank you so much, Natalia, for inviting me. I enjoyed this exciting conversation. Please have a look at my blog if you’re interested in transitioning to the industry, the BioMed badass blog. I’ve got lots of information there covering all aspects of that career transition. Do take a look. And follow Natalia’s channel this is a great channel for lots and lots of information.
David Mendes 58:36 Thank you for inviting me to this blooper discussion. I think it’s a great, fun way to talk about very important things. And I’m admitting all of the work you’re putting forward with your even with your Odyssey test, that you’ve put out the book that came out also not so long ago. I’m super honored to be here.
And also, if you want to listen to bilingual French and English interviews of people who have done different things after their PhD, and talk about their, you know, life balances, you know, their industry, mental health sometimes, but also about what they do. You can follow Papa’s PhD podcast and social media and it’s on all podcast platforms. I’ll be glad to have you as my listener, but also listen and get in and follow Natalia because she’s always putting out great stuff.
Natalia 59:44 Thank you so much, David. Okay, thank you, everyone, who reached the end of this episode on the interview bloopers. Thank you so much for watching. If you have any questions or comments, please comment below. We’ll answer all your questions. I hope to see you next time. Take care and have a great day.
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Please cite as:
Bielczyk, N. (2022, July 27th). Career Development Strategies E068 Bloopers! Career Advisors on Their Own Lessons from Job Interviews? Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/career-development-strategies-e068-the-interview-bloopers-career-advisors-on-their-own-lessons-from-job-interviews/
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