Using recruitment agencies Part 2: the practicalities

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Continuing my chat with Chris Young from SRG and Graeme Pallas from CK Science, I got some practical advice from them on CVs, the job market, and how to endear yourself to a recruitment consultant.

What should your CV look like? They had a long list of tips (and Manchester Postgraduate Careers blog has some further useful tips from SRG on CVs here).

  • They generally decide with a 5-10 second glance at the first page whether they want to read on, by looking at qualifications, where you’ve worked, and whether there’s any key words that they’re looking for. Your first page needs to contain the most pertinent information, which needs to be easy to find.
  • The first page should have information about your qualifications and work history. We talked about having a techniques section – Chris felt that it would be a helpful summary underneath your contact details, but both of them agreed that wanted detail about experience/techniques under your education or work history, so that they can tell what level you’re operating at.
  • Keep it to two pages – no-one is going to read anything longer.
  • You can put in a tailored CV for each job that you apply for. There should be nothing on the CV that doesn’t say something about your suitability for the role.
  • Don’t bother with IT skills unless you know how to use any specialist software – it’s taken as read that people know how to use Microsoft Office.
  • Don’t expand on anything irrelevant to the job (e.g. your summer job in McDonalds doesn’t require a detailed explanation), and bullet-point anything over 5 lines long.
  • You should include any relevant or recent publications, but only list 4-5 (remember those 2 pages). Apparently, employers can be suspicious of postdocs who don’t have any.
  • Have something extra. Voluntary work helps to show a bit of personality, and shows that you are proactive and have something different to offer.
  • If companies are looking for go-getters who don’t wait for a professor to give them direction, make sure your CV focuses what you’ve achieved in post; and try to keep the language short and snappy, using active words (‘developed’, ‘organised’, ‘led’ etc).

How to get the most out of a recruitment agency? Here are their do’s and don’ts.

  • Be enthusiastic. Remember: personality is king.
  • Be specific about what you want. With 30,000 people on the books, it’s hard for them to find work for someone who doesn’t care what they do.
  • Answer calls within 24 hours. This was a big bugbear. Sometimes vacancies are only open for 48 hours before closing. Get back to them even if your answer is no (remember about keeping them sweet).
  • Get in touch by phone rather than email – email is easy to ignore; the phone is not.
  • Stay in touch every 2 weeks, even if that’s just to update them on how you’re doing, or to tell them that you have a job (they might sometimes offer you a better one).
  • Don’t ring every day, or within minutes of applying for a vacancy.
  • Always ask for feedback. They know the employers, they know the job market. Ask their advice before you apply, and ask for feedback after interview. Don’t ring the company and ask for feedback – the reason that they hired an agency is so they don’t have to deal with potential recruits.
  • You don’t have to dress in a suit to see the consultant, but it never hurts to be a bit smart.

What’s the job market like? As far as the north east goes, there’s plenty out there for chemists, but jobs for bioscientists only really come up sporadically (that said, Fujifilm – protein purification, microbiology and R&D – and Leica – immunochemistry and histopathology – are currently expanding in the region). Cambridgeshire has more going on in the way of bioscience R&D. More specifically there are opportunities in:

  • Biochemistry:  Protein Purification or characterisation.
  • Microbiology/Molecular Microbiology:  Specifically projects working with an organism called Pichia (as well as protein expression and fermentation).
  • Organic Synthetic Chemists:  A number of pharmaceutical companies in the North East look for PhD level Organic Synthetic Chemists, especially if they have any experience of working with Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API).
  • Chemists:  Any Post Docs with experience of Heterogeneous or Homogeneous catalysis (especially if they have both).
  • Cell/tissue culture.
  • Food scientists and technologists who can work with synthetic flavourings
  • Some biotechnology, but you might be better approaching biotech companies direct.

Don’t forget other agencies. You can register with as many as is helpful, and there seem to be four key ones in the north east: CK Science; SRG; CY Partners and Kelly Scientific.


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