STEM professionals spend years developing a highly proficient and specific technical skill set; however often lack the expertise to showcase their talents and draw attention to themselves. As such, upon completing an advanced technical degree, many struggle to sell themselves as well-rounded and attractive job candidates. Likewise, many start-ups with state-of-the-art technologies fall short of representing themselves as innovative and viable companies to investors.
Recently, the CUNY ASRC NanoFab, in collaboration with Futureworks NYC and NYC SciComm, hosted a workshop featuring Dandan Zhu, founding CEO of Dandan Global. As a seasoned headhunter, Dandan has worked with life science venture capital firms, Fortune 500 companies, and startups to connect talented candidates with innovative companies. The workshop focused on methodologies of self-promotion, identifying common short comings and highlighting areas of importance in building a personal portfolio. Below are a few key points drawn from the workshop.
Promoting Yourself. Use all possible outlets to highlight your accomplishments and don’t be humble about it. When describing your previous or current position, describe your achievements in those roles instead of listing your duties or responsibilities. This includes your personal social media platforms, resume, and in any correspondence. Social media, especially LinkedIn, is a great place to make yourself accessible to prospective employers, investors, or even headhunters that want to tell you about relevant opportunities. Tune into Dandan’s Daily DANDAN podcast for a detailed discussion on selling yourself (Episode 15).
Networking. Put yourself forward and network with as many people and in as many platforms as possible. A common mistake when expanding your network, is asking for a job out of the gate. This can be a costly mistake. Immediately, this applies unneeded pressure on your new connection and creates an awkward situation. The likelihood of them having an open position at that particular time is typically low. Instead, open a dialogue to discuss mutual technical interests and leave a positive impression so that if an opportunity does arise, they are in a position to refer you or even recommend you for a position.
The Pitch. Memorize your introduction statement word for word. This will free up mental space so you can pay attention to the other person’s body language, rather than trying to come up with what you want to say. An introduction statement should be short, eloquent, and well crafted. Practice speaking it out loud in the mirror to a point where notes are no longer needed. Dandan suggests a maximum 1-minute pitch, depending on your audience. Here is a helpful article on how you can structure your intro statement.
Impressions. Be likable. If called in for an interview or meeting, chances are you are technically qualified and/or your product is of real interest to the investor. There is no need to spend significant time reciting the details of your resume or the product profile, instead, highlight your soft skills. Make it clear you are a team player who would be a positive addition to the current work environment, or that you have the leadership skills to manage a team or a company.
Some tips on how to increase your likability:
- Ask open questions: don’t make assumptions and ask closed questions that can be replied in a yes or no format. The more a person replies “no” back to you, the less they will end up liking you. Asking open questions will engage the audience to open up to you.
- Down-speak: end all your phrases in a lower tone, even when asking a question. This will make you seem more assertive and mature, especially if you are a young female professional. See this Daily DANDAN episode specifically on this topic (Episode 61).
- Sell yourself confidently: highlight your strengths and passions, and don’t be humble about your accomplishments.
Volume. Lastly, it’s still a numbers game. The more people you connect with, the more you will increase your chances of being wanted. When you are an attractive candidate or a company, you have more leverage to negotiate your terms. Dandan recommends creating a spreadsheet of all the people you want to reach out to, and don’t be shy to cold call/email them.
The earlier we realize that technical skills are not enough to stand out from the competition, the sooner we can act to self-promote our technical and soft skills. While this can seem like a lot work (because it is), being proactive early on in our job/investment search will lift the burden of stressing out at the last minute and create more opportunities in the end.
A version of this article can also be found at NYC Science Communication.
Authors: Jiye Son, Chemistry PhD Student at the City University of New York
Editor: Dr. Jacob Trevino, NanoFabrication Facility Director, CUNY ASRC