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Putting Together Your Job Package

Submitted by peryan79 September 4, 2012

If you have been following out Calendar for Career Success, you know that August is the time to put together your job packages.  Whether it be for an academic positions, a postdoc or a transition to a new career field, you need to have a competitive application.  We have provided some information below we feel will be helpful in this endeavor.

  • What is a Job Package? -  A job package almost always includes a CV OR resume and a cover letter.  It is important to know whether you will want to include a CV versus a resume.  However, regardless of which one the job calls for you will want to make sure you tailor it to the specific job you for which you are applying.  The same is true of the cover letter.  In many cases, academic job packages will also include specific materials such as a Research Statement or Statement of Teaching Philosophy
  • Jobs come up quickly, having a stock job package that you can change based on the job ad may be a good idea.  Many jobs are posted for a short time---having your materials easy to adjust for job openings helps to ensure that you can get your package in for consideration.  That said make sure you are very careful about how you use your own stock template, one OITE staffer once sent a job package saying, “I think I would be a terrific addition to organization A”, when the letter was actually going to organization B.  She forgot to change the organization when re-using her stock letter, and obviously was not called in for an interview.
  • This is your first impression!  First impressions are hard to change, and most hiring managers and HR make a first impression very quickly.  The job package you submit needs to be free of errors, especially spelling, grammatical, and formatting errors.  We review many applications with silly things such as font changes in the document.  It also needs to contain ALL the information and components asks for in the job posting.  In your cover letter, talk about how you fit the job you are applying to.  Do not recite your resume or highlight experiences that will not matter to that particular position.   And follow directions! If they ask for a one document, make sure you combine all of you materials together.
  • Perfection is your enemy.  This may sound a bit contradictory to the previous point, but a lot of people get so bogged down trying to make their job package “perfect” that they never end up applying for the job.  Double check that you have all of the information that is asked for in the job posting.  Make sure you have someone (or multiple people) you trust look over your materials. Then, submit your application with confidence.

The OITE has a number of resources available to help you with preparing your job packet including having Career Counselors available to NIH Fellows (make an appointment here:,  Job Search Strategies Seminar (which will also go to most NIH campuses in 2012),  upcoming workshop series on jobs in Industry, online resources and blog posts on CVs and Cover Letters OITE Videocasts has a lot of career development videos including videos on resumes and CVs, the industry job application process, the academic job search, and many other topics as well.

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 21 - Health Science Policy Analyst

Submitted by peryan79 September 10, 2012

This is the twenty first in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Dr Brenda Diane Kostelecky

Job title and company: Health Science Policy Analyst, NCI

Location: Bethesda, MD

How long you’ve been in your current job: 10 months

Postdoc subject, advisor and IC: NICHD, Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, morphology changes in mitochondria and their effects on proliferation, authophagy

What are you doing now?

I am a health science policy analyst at the NCI in the Office of Science Planning and Assessment. I did a 3-month detail there at the end of my postdoc and stayed on as a contractor.

How did you decide that you didn’t want to continue doing bench science?

I didn’t want to leave science but I couldn’t see myself at the bench for the long-term. I started to look for other options by joining the NIH Fellows Committee (FelCom) Career Development Sub-Committee.

What is your day-to-day work like?

One of the big changes in mentality for me is that you go to a lot of meetings in the type of job I’m in now. So it’s a challenge at first to get your schedule sorted out.

My work varies a lot. In addition to meetings, there’s a lot of coordinating projects between people. I do a fair amount of work at my computer. The projects change pretty much constantly. I have some that will last maybe one or two months and then we’ll move on to something else. Then there are some projects that only last a couple of days.

How did you get to your current position?

I was in my postdoc at NICHD. I had applied for the AAAS fellowship and didn’t get in that year. I was looking for some policy relevant experience so I could either get the fellowship or make the transition without it.

NICHD, in particular, has a really helpful Program Management Officer named Brenda Hanning who is responsible for helping postdocs. (She’s NICHD-specific but there’re resources like that available for everybody at NIH and OITE is a good one.) She and I sat and brainstormed some different people whom I could contact about doing a policy detail. She basically got me in contact with a couple of people whom I then networked through to find the person that I ended up doing the detail with.

I had just wrapped up a big project when I approached my mentor about doing the detail. We talked for a bit and she asked if this was the direction I definitely wanted to follow and I said it was. She said she’d support me for the 3 months if I then gave up my post-doc position.

What do you think helped you get the fellowship the second time?

Actually, being rejected by AAAS the first time helped. It was hard but it gave me the push I needed to get more experience. I did a detail part-time at OITE, as a program analyst, helping them set up a career seminar on global health. I also got involved with FELCOM’s career development seminars, which was a commitment of just a few hours a week.

I also did a short internship at FASEB writing fact sheets intended for members of congress, their staff, and advocacy organizations on how NIH money is used in individual states: the amount of grant money awarded, the major institutes supported, the types of jobs supported, etc.

Then when the AAAS application came around again I didn’t feel like I had all of my eggs in that one basket. I was in a stronger position not just to get the AAAS fellowship but to move on without it. I think it’s important to remember that it’s not the only way to get into policy.

I think it also helped that I got a reference from the supervisor that I did the policy detail under. That helped display that I had both scientific skills and “soft skills”– if you want to call them that (for example, communications skills and other skills that are different from those you need in a lab).

How can an active researcher develop his/her “soft skills”?

One of the things is did was I wrote a blog. I tried to write different things for the career development committee, for Lori Conlan on the career symposium, stuff like that to show that I could translate something that’s very technical and scientific into something that someone with a basic knowledge of science can understand. Verbal communication at that level is important, too.

Brenda can be contacted through the OITE alumni database.

You Got an Interview, Not a Job Offer: How to Impress Your Way into a Position

Submitted by peryan79 September 17, 2012

Its interview season!  This time of year we seem to see an increase in the number of institutions hiring people.  Before they hire someone, they are going to interview at least a few people for each position.  This is why we set September on our Calendar for Career Success to be the month that you practice your interviewing skills.  Here are a few key Do’s and Don’ts you should be focusing on when practicing or preparing for an interview. Do…

  • Know and understand what you are applying to do.  This does not mean just knowing what the job is called.  You need to know the specific duties associated with the position.  If you are uncertain going in to the interview, do not ask, “So what will I be doing?”  Instead, rephrase your question to show some understanding while asking for more clarification.  For example, “It is my understanding that I will be doing A, B and C.  Are there any other duties or responsibilities?”
  • Research the company/organization for which you will be interviewing prior to the interview.  Start with their web page to get a basic idea of who they are and what they do.  However, you need to read more than just their web page.  Use search engines and read reviews.  Use your network and ask people familiar with the organization to gain a more in-depth understanding.
  • Try to find out who is presently in the position.  This may help you gauge the experiences needed.  If the position is new to the company, research a similar position at another company. This may give you ideas on activities and programs that could be implemented in the position you are applying for.
  • Be careful of your body language, facial expression and your verbal tone of voice.  If you appear to be put off by a question, or uncertain of your answer it is going to be a negative against you when the interviewers are reviewing their candidates.
  • Answer questions in Situation/Task Action Result (STAR) format.  “When I was working for X, I needed to do Y.  I started by implementing Z, and working on A.  After a few months it was running smoothly and my supervisor was thrilled.”


  • Communicate that you are just trying to get away from lab/bench. It is just too negative and makes it appear that you don’t really want this specific job, but you will take any job not doing what you are currently doing.
  • Focus entirely on your graduate school or postdoctoral experience.  Try to draw from all of your experiences both inside the lab and out.  Mention your volunteer work, time spent working on committees, workshops or classes you took outside of your field.
  • Give vague answers to specific questions.  If asked for a time when you showed quality X or skill Y, do not say you finished your dissertation or completed a project as a postdoc.
  • Try to change the position before you get it.  It is good to ask about career growth and projected career trajectory.  However, you should be trying to add duties or move into another position before you even are offered the one you are interviewing for.

One small thing that goes a long way that many interviewees fail to do is to follow up with a thank you note.  Try to track down the e-mail addresses of each person who interviewed you.  Thank them for their time and express how nice it was to meet them.  Wrap up your note with an invitation to contact you with any other questions they may have and tell them you look forward to the opportunity to speak with them again. For more detailed information on interviewing inside and outside of academia, view the following videos:

  • Academics:
  • Interviewing outside the ivory tower:

Also, view these slides for general interviewing information:


Serving on a Committee: Make the Most of the Opportunity

Submitted by peryan79 September 24, 2012

The OITE starts preparing for the large events (like the NIH Career Symposium) about 9-12 months in advance.  When we can, we like to form committees of NIH fellows eager to help plan, organize and execute these events.   It helps us to get fresh ideas from the fellows’ perspective, and it gives fellows the chance to build valuable skills to highlight on their resumes.  Here are three ways to take full advantage of committee membership.

  • Leadership – Being on a committee gives you a chance to be a leader.  However, you have to take the initiative make that happen.  Vocalize your ideas by making suggestions for speakers, session topics, themes, etc.  Volunteer for tasks (especially if an organizer is needed), host speakers or moderate a session.
  • Administration –There is quite a bit of administrative work that goes into large events at the NIH.  Determining the number of rooms you need and how many chairs you need in each room; Deciding what sessions or speakers to put in what rooms; setting schedules and agendas for the whole event and the people participating in the event are only just a few examples.  Actively engage with the OITE advisor to make sure you can understand this process.
  • Networking –Networking is about laying the foundation for a relationship with someone.  Participate fully in all committee work and find common ground with your fellow teammates.  Make sure to greet and host speakers.  After the event find ways to cultivate networking connections with your fellow committee members, other event attendees, and speakers.

We have had a lot of people who serve on a committee later ask the OITE advisors for a letter of recommendation. We love to write strong letters for our committee members, so make sure that we see all the work that you are doing and how you pulled your weight in the team. These are only a few of the skills you can establish while working on a committee. 

There are others like writing, editing, advertising, analyzing and evaluating the event, and many more.  However, you won’t get the ones you want by just signing up to be on the planning committee.  Work with your OITE advisor to talk about your career goals and to identify which jobs on the committee will set you up for success.

We want you to have a great experience on a committee.  Do the best job you can, but make sure not to over-commit yourself.  Together we make the events that make training at the NIH special.