No matter what setting I’m in, as soon as my companions learn I am in the business of talent acquisition one question is sure to arise: Who is the most sought after job candidate and how do I become that applicant? An intriguing question when you think about it; it implies there is one truly desirable candidate and further surmises we have the ability to direct our career path and skill set to become that highly cherished entity which all companies or agencies are seeking. While I’m sure for every rule of thumb there is an exception, I feel quite confident there are some hard and fast rules you can follow to ensure you become a true professional that will add value to organizations that employ you.
With so many positions, functions, skill sets, and industries represented in the labor market there is no one size fits all answer to the question ‘who is the most sought after employee.’ However, there are commonalities in all professional positions and key elements that all Selecting Officials look for when adding a valued team member to their staff. Of little surprise topping the litany of items included in a Selecting Official’s wish list are academic knowledge, strong work history, career progression in a related field, continued professional growth, effective communication skills, and true goal integration between the professional’s craft and the organization’s needs. Some of these items run no deeper than their face value; others when magnified represent the interwoven fabric that comprises each job-seeker.
With little exception, scientific and medical professionals have very lengthy academic achievements. It is critical to describe your degrees, residency, and fellowship programs sufficiently in your resume. Selecting Officials recognize strong academic programs, and embrace candidates that have completed work in settings relevant to the position being filled. A note of caution though, the Selecting Official is not the first person to read your resume, that will usually be a Senior Recruiter or an HR Specialist who may not be familiar with all the acronyms, industry leaders or professional settings within your field.
An example of this may be that you worked for an exceptionally bright Lab Director that is well known in your specialty, but would not be known outside the scientific community. You may want to briefly highlight the esteemed Director’s work and add a short list of his accolades as a form of reference. Best to play it safe and describe all pertinent items that you would shutter to think were overlooked by the untrained eye.
A strong relevant work history is a must for the ideal candidate. So what qualifies as picture perfect? An applicant whose research or work history shows sequential, progressive career movement is ideal. This career path often shows the hiring authority that the candidate has a solid base within their field which they used to build upon and grow. Promotions within their chosen field, particularly within the same company, afford the Selecting Official the peace of mind to know the candidate was well regarded within their company. Selection to highly coveted and relevant Postdoctoral positions fulfill the same role. A candidate with little upward mobility for many years, without an explanation (such as concurrently completing an advanced degree) is often a warning sign to many managers. The terms sequential and progressive cannot be underemphasized when presenting work history. Ideally, there would be equity and synergy in the academic achievements and work history of a candidate. True pay dirt would be a candidate that entered the professional realm at an appropriate entry level and progressed academically and experientially in parallel paths. This allows the candidate to fully grasp the work product they provide to the company and combine it with appropriately timed academic growth thus enabling them to view issues with a full scope of operational understanding. This is ideal, of course, and not always possible.
Another work history item for exploration is the relevancy of the work to the position being sought. The perfect candidate is much more likely to have worked in a narrow field in many different aspects, rather than many different fields in the same aspect. While all professionals seek to grow and diversify their skills, it is possible to become so diversified that you do not know enough about any one thing to be a desirable employee. Too much jumping around, particularly at a career level when you should be finding your niche, can appear to be a lack of passion for the field or a commitment issue – neither of which are sought after traits. Core knowledge and broad base experience are beneficial, but too many broad strokes on the canvas will raise questions as to the depth of knowledge in any one area. A Selecting Official’s primary concern is having someone knowledgeable and committed to working on their sensitive research and important programs. Evolving projects last for years, sometimes a lifetime, and while all employees working on the project may not stay the full duration, a high turnover rate is rarely beneficial.
Once a Selecting Official has identified a highly competitive candidate, it’s time to address the most crucial factor involved in any placement, determining the candidate to position fit. Every candidate should be able to present why they feel they’re the right person for the job. Truly interested professionals should highlight what they have to contribute to the organization and why this vacancy is a great match with their previous experience and knowledge base. Every professional has a slightly different career path and there is no one right answer to these questions, but the perfect candidate will shine through when an overlay of the Selecting Officials requests mirror the professional skills, accomplishments and goals of the incumbent.
Lisa Sproul Hoverman, PhD has a BS from Carlow University and a graduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh on the kinetics of Kinesin motor proteins. In her Postdoc at Penn State University, she examined the kinetics of DNA polymerases. She has since formed her own company in scientific and medical writing services. Dr. Hoverman’s largest long-term Client is the Microsoft Health Solutions Group where she serves as one of three Senior Grant and Proposal Specialists as part of the Business Desk in Sales.
Copyright Lisa Sproul Hoverman, PhD
Published with permission