By Angela Rose for BioSpace.com
“What would you say is your greatest weakness?” It’s an interview question every life science professional dreads. Do you answer honestly? Or do you create a “weakness” that your potential employer might actually view as a positive trait (“I always put my job before everything else” or “My family says I work too hard,” for example)? While opinions on the correct way to approach this question vary, one fact does not: employers are scouring your resume for shortcomings. Finding reasons not to hire candidates is part of their job, but you don’t have to make it easy on them. Consider these common job applicant weaknesses and how to address them.
1. You have too little relevant experience.
While most experts agree that applying for biopharma jobs for which you’re woefully unqualified is a waste of time, you shouldn’t hesitate to submit a resume if you lack only one or two of the requirements. Some organizations are willing to train professionals on hard skills if they possess outstanding soft skills (or vice versa). For example, a company hiring for a clinical research associate position may not immediately disqualify a candidate who lacks knowledge of FDA regulatory requirements if she has excellent communication, interpersonal and teamwork skills. Of course, she needs to highlight those strengths effectively within her introductory email, cover letter and resume.
2. Your experience is in another field.
These days it’s common to change jobs—and even industries—several times over the course of your career. However, if you started out in a field other than biotech or pharma, potential employers may view your background as a weakness. Fortunately, you have several opportunities during your job search to prove them wrong. In every communication—from your introductory email to your post-interview thank you—you can reiterate the ways in which your non-industry background translates to the biotech job at hand. For example, if you’re applying for a scientific communications manager position and you previously worked in communications within the healthcare industry, you could detail how your experience establishing relationships with industry thought leaders, managing multiple projects, and creating communications plans meet the current job requirements.
3. You were unemployed for a while.
Whether you were laid off, quit without another job lined up, or took a time out to deal with personal matters, it’s difficult to disguise periods of unemployment on your resume. Some biotech hiring managers see this time off as a weakness—unless you can show them that you used the time wisely. For example, maybe you’re an out of work principal research scientist. A potential employer is less likely to see this as a shortcoming if you’ve spent that time taking classes in SimCyp or Gastroplus PBPK modeling in addition to searching for the right job. It’s often best to address the work history gap head on and then mention these pursuits in your cover letter.
4. You changed jobs quickly.
Have you been in your current job for two years or less? Does your resume show a pattern of short-term employment? The hiring manager is likely to see this as an indication that you are easily bored, don’t know what you want in your career, or are not willing to put in the time necessary to get there. Whether you’re applying for a staff scientist, automation systems administrator or process development engineer position, you’re going to need to neutralize those fears in your cover letter if you want to land an interview. Reformatting your resume may also be helpful. Some experts recommend devoting the top third of your resume to your skills and qualifications and saving your work history for the bottom.