“Search for a New Job” Season, Continued

In my last blog post, I started answering some of the questions you are likely asking yourself as you embark on your search for a new position: when should I start looking? Where do I find relevant position postings? What are employers looking for? This process can feel daunting, especially if this is your first “real” position after completing your training. What you should know, though, is that you have everything it takes to get that ideal position. With my answers to the questions below, and some personal reflection on what is important and makes sense to you, you will gain clarity on the nuances of different types of positions and learn some approaches to take in presenting yourself to prospective employers.

What type of role should I consider?

For individuals coming out of a clinical laboratory fellowship program, laboratory director positions are viewed as the most appealing positions to target. Large academic medical centers or reference laboratories typically have more than one director level position, and vacancies are generally for assistant/associate director roles. One benefit of these positions is that they allow for growth into your role with a senior person or persons to help with that transition. They also provide an ability to “divide the labor” so that “on-service” time is shared, or the scope of clinical service responsibilities is reduced. This allows for “off-service” time to be spent on other professionally important activities (teaching, research, professional service, etc.). In addition, when there are larger numbers of director-level faculty, career transitions for these individuals often allow you to move around or up within the laboratory leadership to enhance your professional growth.

Smaller labs can be ideal setting for a new director, as the scope of the clinical and administrative responsibilities are generally less than that in large academic centers. This can allow you to practice and hone your skills in a potentially more manageable environment. The challenges in these types of institutions typically revolve around reduced resources, so it may be more difficult to implement the diversity of technologies in which you may be interested. You will also likely be the only doctoral-level director—so no sharing of clinical or administrative duties—which you may see as a benefit or limitation.

My first position out of fellowship was as the virology section manager at the State public health laboratory in Michigan. The State laboratory functioned as a large reference laboratory, with doctoral-level scientists managing the other sections of the laboratory, and all of us reporting up to a laboratory director. This allowed for some sharing of clinical and administrative responsibilities, but also provided us with autonomy in running our sections. Public health laboratories typically utilize the same technologies and perform much of the same types of testing as hospital-based laboratories, but the mission of the public health laboratory is to support the public health initiatives and programs within their jurisdiction. These initiatives and programs are often determined by their jurisdictional government or through specific grants. As a result, the direction that the laboratory will take and the activities in which you engage as a director will be affected by governmental or grant-related funding decisions.

Industry positions for clinically trained doctoral level scientists have become increasingly more available in the last 5-10 yrs. Diagnostic manufacturers, in particular, have seen the value of increasing the number of internal positions dedicated to laboratorians, pharmacists, and physicians. Companies are leveraging these individuals to enhance their clinical and end-user perspectives in their product development as well as improve engagement with customers. These scientific/medical affairs roles can participate in clinical and technical conversations with customers on appropriate use of the company’s products, potential studies in which to undertake, as well as utilize your network to identify key opinion leaders in the field that can serve in an advisory capacity for the company. It is important to note that diagnostic manufacturers are no different than any large organization, with the same types of challenges (operational, communication, leadership) as any other complex institution. From a compensation standpoint, salaries for industry positions are typically comparable to salaries in academic/hospital/reference lab settings. However, total compensation can include bonuses tied to company performance, which is not generally seen in an academic, hospital, or public health setting.

How should I approach applying?

Whether to take the shotgun (apply for everything you see) or selective (targeted to the most desirable) approach can be an individual decision. However, you might want to think of it a little like being on a dating app—you can swipe right on all the profiles in the hopes of getting a match, but how many of them would you really want to engage with? The most fruitful approach is to really think about the factors of a position that are most important for you, e.g., location, breadth of responsibilities, teaching and research opportunities, and/or career advancement opportunities…you may have other factors to include in your list. If it’s your first position, you may have geographic restrictions, but likely you are just looking for a good fit. Smaller institutions with smaller labs are great opportunities for first time directors, either straight out of fellowship or those that have been assistant directors but are now looking for more individual responsibility. Larger labs with additional directors can provide you with a chance to learn from other senior people, but the technical areas over which you have responsibilities may be limited. Public health and reference labs provide exposure to a wider range of testing than is typically available in academic or hospital settings, but being physically separated and philosophically distinct in mission from a university or hospital may limit the teaching or research opportunities. Industry positions provide opportunities to engage in patient care in unique ways, and the organization will value the clinical perspective you provide. However, the business goals of the organization will drive decision making and that may conflict at times with the paths you feel are appropriate to pursue clinically or scientifically.

How do I set myself apart?

Many people coming out of fellowship training, or even those early in their careers with a few years of experience, may feel like they will have difficulty distinguishing themselves from other equally qualified candidates. Your first opportunity to highlight your uniqueness will be in writing your cover letter that will accompany the application packet you submit for the position. This cover letter is not a review of your entire CV—it should be brief (1 page is ideal) and provides you with an opportunity to summarize your credentials, highlight your skills and experience, and emphasize attributes about the position and organization that are attracting you to apply. Here are some approaches to take in constructing this letter, but remember to keep the details at a high level:

  • Emphasize your credentials in addition to your doctoral degree, in particular completion of an accredited fellowship program and board-certification, or certification eligibility (with timeline for certification). Training from accredited fellowship programs is a standard that is understood in our field and should be highlighted. I don’t feel like the cover letter needs to include detailed info on your graduate work and postdoctoral research unless they have specific relevance for the position to which you are applying.  Additional certifications (ASCP, AP/CP) or degrees (MBA, MD) would also be valuable to share as this provides potentially unique insight into you as a candidate.
  • Even in your training, you likely had opportunities to take on leadership roles within your laboratory or institution—this is the perfect place to highlight them. Share your experience in running sections of the lab, participating in management activities (personnel, budget, etc.), or serving on or leading committees (whether administrative or clinical).  These activities demonstrate your ability to translate the training in a practical way and will provide opportunities for you to further discuss your experiences (and the lessons learned) during follow-up conversations.
  • Describe your clinical service activities and responsibilities—these will begin to show your experience as a clinical consultant and representative of the laboratory to the greater clinical organization.
  • Summarize any clinical projects, research studies (especially if published), and teaching experiences you have had. These are important to include for positions in any organization but are particularly important to emphasize for academic roles.
  • Research the organization and any members of the department that you can identify. Using specific information that you have obtained, share what attracts you about the institution, department, and setting…this shows a depth of interest in the position that is more than just responding to a posting.  Explaining to the organization why you are applying for this position helps to give them insight into who you are as a candidate and a person.

I hope that these perspectives help provide some guidance as well as things to think about in your job search, but don’t hesitate to contact me to chat or ask additional questions that you may have about navigating this process.

Recent Posts