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Careers in Biotechnology

A Note to Teachers
This module is an introduction to some of the possible careers in biotechnology
as well as some tips on how to write a resume and how to perform in an interview
for a job. There are three main sections to this module:
I. JOBS IN BIOTECHNOLOGY
An overview and a Job Fair Activity
Web sites to visit for more job listings.
Suggestions for videos and films
II. THE RESUME AND COVER LETTER
Writing a resume
A resume template
The cover letter
A sample cover letter
III. THE JOB INTERVIEW
Six steps for a successful job interview
Sample interview questions (and useful answers)
Interview class activity
The first section, Jobs in Biotechnology, may either start a module on careers or
may be added to the ends of several other modules depending on the teacher’s
preference. The other two sections are designed to be done together, probably
near the end of the course.

Getting a job in this new, growing field of biotechnology is an important end result
of the schooling for most of our students. Some students will start straight out of
high school, while others will get one, two or four years of undergraduate work in
college. A few will go on to do graduate work ending with a Master’s or PhD
degree. There are entry points for each of these levels of education.

While the jobs each of these types of students will perform will differ in
accordance to the education, every employee must be able to write a resume
and perform well in an interview. Otherwise they would not have been hired. We
can begin to teach these skills now so that when our students go job hunting they
are more likely to be successful.
SECTION I: JOBS IN BIOTECHNOLOGY

An overview and Job Fair Activity.

Some Useful Websites for Careers in Biotechnology.

Suggestions for videos and films.

Field Trips to Biotechnology Sites.


OVERVIEW OF CAREERS IN BIOTECHNOLOGY

There are nearly as many careers in biotechnology as there are people working
in them. This is a large and expanding field that draws from a variety of sources
such as field work, lab work, quality assurance, electronics and marketing.

The first thing a biotechnology student needs to do is to think about what he or


she would like to do upon finishing school. One way to start is to have a mock
job fair in the classroom. This is described below.

Job Fair Activity:

1. Post some of the following Job Postings around the classroom. Students can
go around and choose a possible job.
2. The student takes that job down from the postings and writes the following:
summary of the job description
the company and its location
what skills are needed
what education is required
what the student likes about this job
what the student does not like about this job
3. Students can then repost the jobs and the summaries for the others to read
or can hand in the summaries for credit.
SOME USEFUL WEBSITES FOR CAREERS IN BIOTECHNOLOGY

General Career Information and National Searches


These sites give good general information on how to look for a job as well as
interview tips and techniques. They list many jobs with good search engines.

www.careercity.com

www.nextsteps.org

http://collegegrad.jobcontrolcenter.com

General Biotechnology
Bio-Link is the national biotechnology training center. There are some jobs listed
as well as descriptions of career scenarios, including two in Central Texas.

www.bio-link.org

Some area biotechnology companies


These are some of the large companies in this area that hire high school and
community college graduates.

www.abbott.com

www.stratagene.com

www.ambion.com

www.cedra.com

Job Services
These groups are employment agencies that can help with the job search in
Central Texas.

www.kforce.com

www.kellyscientific.com
SUGGESTIONS FOR FILMS AND VIDEOS

One useful way to show biotechnology careers is to show films of people on the
job. These films may be viewed at the start of the career module or may be
interspersed throughout the course. Most of these films are under 20 minutes
and all are available at ACC Biotechnology.

Agricultural Biotechnology

DNA and forensics


“Making the Connection”
ACC biotechnology video that briefly shows jobs in Parks and Wildlife, in a
research lab at MD Anderson Cancer Center and in forensics with the Tx
Department of Health. (20 minutes)

Washing Glassware

Plant Tissue Culture


Cord Plant Culture video
FIELD TRIPS AND GUEST SPEAKERS

Field Trips
Field trips are an excellent way to show how biotechnology plays out in this area.
The following are sites that will accommodate classes of students. There is
some field trip money available for high school classes through our grant; contact
Peggy Maher about this.

1. M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center, Smithville

Guest Speakers
The following people have agreed to come to a high school classroom and talk
about their career in biotechnology. Contact Peggy Maher to arrange for one of
these people to come to your classroom.

1. Rodney Rohde
Rodney teaches at ACC and at SWTSU. He has worked for several years at the
Texas Department of Public Safety on vaccinating coyotes in the wild for rabies.
They fly over a very large area dropping bait with the vaccine inside. A good talk
to demonstrate some outdoor biotechnology activities.
Section II: Resumes and Cover Letters

Writing a resume

A sample good resume

The cover letter


WRITING A RESUME FOR RECENT GRADUATES

Some tips for a good resume:


You have just graduated (or are about to graduate) and are looking for a job in
biotechnology. This is pretty scary stuff; you are going up against people who
have more maturity and more experience. However, you have enthusiasm and
freshly-developed lab skills on your side. So follow these steps and you will be
well on your way to a job in biotechnology.

Step 1: Start off on a positive note.


Before beginning to write your resume, take some time to list all the good
attributes about yourself. Are you conscientious? A good team-player?
Maintain a good lab notebook? Know many different techniques? Enjoy reading
scientific literature? Write them down. Ask other people such as your teachers
to add to the list of your positive attributes. This list is the foundation of a good
resume.

Step 2: List your experiences


Go through all the labs you have had in school (and on any related jobs)
and list the equipment and techniques with which you are familiar. This will
include general equipment such as balances and pH meters to the more
specialized such as thermocyclers and gel electrophoresis apparatus. Most
people are able to list 10-15 pieces of equipment. Now do the same for
techniques. This will likely range from mole calculations and dilutions to protein
separation by column chromatography. You should also list your computer skills
such as PowerPoint and Excel. When listing your experiences, make sure you
tell the truth. If you ran a DNA agarose gel electrophoresis, then put it down. If
you only read about how to run DNA gels, it doesn’t count. It is very important
that you only put into your resume the truth.
Write down all your science courses and especially your biotechnology
courses that you have taken thus far. If you have an overall grade point average
(GPA) of 3.0 or better, put that down. If you have a science GPA of 3.0 or better,
put that down.
Last, write down all the activities you have done in school. These will
include both the school-related activities and community service activities. Also
list any honors you have received in school.

Step 3: Identify a particular job


The best resumes are those in which the applicant has a particular job in
mind. Think about what you would like to do and then see if there is a job that
will match it. This may be difficult when you are first starting out, but if you can
decide on whether you would rather work with large animals outside or with DNA
at the lab bench, you can narrow your focus and make it easier to find a job that
is a good match for you. You will use this information in the Objective section of
the resume.
A good objective is the single most important feature of the resume
according to the experts. The key to a good objective is to focus on
Job Type (i.e. small animal handler, DNA technician)
Industry (i.e. large biotechnology company, start-up company or
academic research institution)
Geographical area (i.e. Central Texas)
A single line here is much better than a long-winded explanation. A good
Objective might read something like “A laboratory technician in a small or start-
up company in the Austin area.” The two words you should NEVER use in your
resume are “entry level.” This is viewed as very negative by most companies.

Step 4: Line up your recommendations


Ask two or three people if they would be willing to write a letter of
recommendation for you. These should be people in authority, not your friends.
A teacher or an employer are good sources of letters of recommendation. You
may also use your supervisor for any volunteer work you do. This would include
a minister, priest or rabbi.

Step 4: Fill out the template resume


Use the template on the next page to put down all the information you
have gathered. Give dates for graduation (it’s fair to say “expected May 2002”),
for work experience and for activities. If you are still doing an activity, then write
the start date and “present”. For example, “Vice President, Biotechnology Club,
2001-present.”
Generate this on the computer, using Times Roman or other Serif font at
12 point font.

Step 5: Completing your resume


When you have written out your resume, proof read it. Then read it aloud
to yourself. You can often catch mistakes when you read it aloud. Then give it to
a friend or a teacher to proof read. Then proof read it again. There must be
absolutely no mistakes—none. A single misspelled word is enough to lose you
that job.
Print your resume on heavy bond. Some experts recommend printing in a
pastel color to have it stand out from the others. Mail it along with your cover
letter (see next section) in a large flat envelope so that the resume is not folded.
And remember that your resume is never finished. Every time you learn a
new technique, or have a new activity or job, it should be added to your resume.
RESUME TEMPLATE

Name
Address
Telephone number(s)

OBJECTIVE: job desired, type of company, location

SUMMARY top skill


second top skill

EDUCATION: most recent degree, school, date


major field of study
GPA (if used)

older degree, school, date


major field of study
GPA (if used)

EXPERIENCE: most recent job, company, dates


supervisor
brief description of job

EQUIPMENT/TECHNIQUES:
list of equipment and techniques
list of computer familiarity

ACTIVITIES: most recent position, club/activity, dates


older position, club/activity, dates
older position, club/activity, dates

REFERENCES: Available upon request


OR
name
position
address
daytime phone number

[No longer than 1 - 1½ pages]


THE COVER LETTER

Each resume should be accompanied by a cover letter. This is a short


letter introducing yourself to the company and saying why you should work for
that company. The key to a good cover letter is preparation. First you should
think again about what makes you stand out from others at your level of
education and with your background. For most starting biotechnologists, this will
usually mean experience with equipment and techniques that are not usually
available to students. You can also stress that you have had many hours in the
laboratory learning the competencies for being a good biotechnician.
The second part of the cover letter should be about how you can benefit
the company. You need to do some research to find out about your prospective
company. Learn what this company does, its customer base and its plans for the
future. If you have a friend who works at that company, speak to him or her and
find out what that company is like. Ask your friend if you can use his or her name
in your cover letter. This part of the cover letter should be tailored to the
particular company where you want to work. A blanket cover letter is worse than
no cover letter at all.
The following is a sample cover letter. It is written as a business letter and
contains an introductory first paragraph, a second paragraph in which you briefly
state your skills and how these will help the company. The final paragraph
should give contact information and a backup action you will take if you do not
get a response.
A SAMPLE COVER LETTER

Your Address

Date

Contact Name
Company
Address

Contact name:

I was referred to you by Current Employee who works in your department. She
informed me that Company is seeking to hire quality individuals for Job Posting.

I am expecting to receive my Degree from School/College in Date. I have had a


total of ## credit hours of laboratory courses, including ## hours in biotechnology.
I am currently completing my internship at Another Company under the
supervision of Dr. X. This strong educational background and work experience
has prepared me for making an immediate contribution to Company. I am
familiar with the techniques of Q, R and S and am well qualified to succeed at the
position of Job Posting.

I am available on weekdays at ## times. Please call me at phone number to


arrange a convenient time when we may meet to further discuss my background
in relation to your needs. If I have not heard from you by 3-4 weeks later, I will
contact your office to inquire as to a potential meeting date and time. I look
forward to meeting you then.

Sincerely,
Your Name
SIX STEPS TOWARDS A SUCCESSFUL JOB INTERVIEW
IN BIOTECHNOLOGY

Step 1. Before the Interview


Preparation is key to a good interview.

A. Find out about the job.


Learn about the company
What do they do?
Who are their customers?
Are they start-up or well-established?
How big is it? Are they expanding?
Qualifications for the job
What would you be doing?
Who would be your supervisor?
What are the education requirements?

B. Confirm time and location of interview.

C. Gather supporting documents


Copies of resume and letters of recommendation
Pen and paper
Lab notebook or other relevant material

D. Choose your interview clothes


Neat, clean and pressed clothes
Men: pants (no jeans), shirt with collar, polished shoes
Women: pants or dress, low heels, easy on makeup and nail polish
Hair should be neatly cut and combed.
Remove all facial and ear piercings (Women allowed 1 earring/ear)

Step 2: Arriving at the Interview


Starting off on the right foot.

A. Arrive a few minutes early.


If unsure of the route or travel time, travel it before the interview.

B. Introduce yourself to the receptionist


Ask for interviewer by name.
Follow receptionist’s instructions about what to do.
(Receptionist often asked opinion of candidate)

C. If waiting, read pamphlets about the company.


D. No smoking or gum chewing or last-minute manicures.
Step 3: Starting the Interview/ Setting the Scene
First 5 minutes are crucial to setting a good first impression.

A. Greet the interviewer.


Greet by name maintaining eye contact
Shake hands firmly and warmly
Smile to put you both at ease.
Don’t sit until asked to sit.

B. Introduce yourself and chat a little.


This is usually the small-talk portion.
Can talk about your first impressions of the company
or mutual acquaintances or even weather.

C. Speak in a firm, clear, confident voice.


Sit, don’t slouch, in the chair.

Step 4: The Interview/Exchanging Information


This is the majority of the interview when you will be asked questions. Be
prepared to talk about yourself.

A. Talking about yourself.


Present your resume.
Be prepared to talk about your
education, training and skills
desirable personality traits
work experience

B. Let the employer have control.


Answer questions sincerely and completely, but don’t ramble.
Avoid “yes” and “no” answers.
Be prepared to ask questions during break in conversation.

D. Do’s and Don’ts of interviewing.


Do show interest in the job and the company.
Do state why you would be good in this job.
Do put yourself in the best light, but don’t try to b.s. the
interviewer.
Don’t criticize others, including your former employer.
Don’t argue. State your opinions if asked to do so, but don’t press.
Don’t bring up personal or financial problems.
Don’t chew gum or smoke.
Step 5: Closing the Interview
Whether it went well or not, leave the interview on a positive note.

A. Future contact
Write down time and place of second interviews if arranged.
Ask when you may call to learn of decision if not discussed already.

B. Leaving
Thank the interviewer for his/her time.
Shake hands when you leave.
Thank the receptionist on your way out.

Step 6: After the interview


Following-up on the interview is important, too.

A. If you are calling the company


Wait for about 2 weeks unless different arrangements agreed on.
Speak with the person who interviewed you.
Introduce yourself and remind interviewer of why you are calling.

B. If you don’t get the job


It’s all right to ask why not in a tactful and sincere manner.
Don’t burn any bridges; they may be hiring again soon.
Thank the employer at the end.

E. If you get the job


Get vital information about when to start, salary, hours and benefits.
Discuss dress codes.
Discuss any supplies that are required such as a lab coat.
Thank the employer at the end.

[These interview tips adapted from www.nextsteps.org]


SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS (AND USEFUL ANSWERS)

1. Why do you want to work here?


Know about the company, what it does, who it’s customers are and how
you can contribute to the company. Stress any experience or skills that
are related to this company and to your job.

2. What did you like/dislike about your last job?


The interviewer is looking for incompatibilities. Be honest, but don’t
put down your previous job. Try to work in something about the new
job in your answer.

3. What would you like to be doing five years from now?


Talk about how you want to be a professional and team player. If you are
interested in DNA and the job is in protein chemistry you may want to
stress how your experience can bring breadth to the field and how you are
interested in branching out.

4. What are your biggest accomplishments?


Keep your answers job related. Now is not the time to be coy; be proud
of what you have accomplished. Even if you haven’t had a biotechnology
job you can talk about your courses and labs. For example, “I am
currently getting an A in Intro to Biotechnology.” or “My gel electrophoresis
had the clearest separation of the class.”

5. Can you work under pressure?


Expand on your answer to this using examples from class or employment.
But be honest about whether you find it stimulating or whether you really
hate to work under pressure.

6. Why should I hire you?


Reply with something like “I have the qualifications you need such as
Experience in working with RNA and I like working in a lab. I take
direction and have the desire to make a thorough success.”

7. How do you take direction?


The interviewer wants to know whether you are a team-player and can
follow directions. Reply about how you like to learn; whether you prefer to
see someone run through the experiment or do you prefer to study the
SOP first or something else. This question may also be tied to how well
you take criticism.
8. Tell me about yourself.
Talk about your professional work in the classroom or on the job. This is
the time to highlight what you are most proud of in yourself. You may also
tell a little story about this. You must prepare for this question beforehand;
it’s nearly always asked and is an important part of the interview.

9. What is the most difficult situation you have faced?


This question looks for information about how you define difficult and also
about how you handle the situation. As above, prepare beforehand how
you will answer this question, remembering that you want to come across
as level, cooperative and creative in solving problems.

10. Do you prefer to work with others or alone?


Think about the job you are applying for. If you will be part of a lab team,
you will want to stress how you have worked with your lab partners and
previous team experience including sports. If you will be working alone,
stress how you are a self-starter and talk about independent lab work and
projects you have done. Again, think about how you would answer this
question before the interview.

[These questions are adapted from those found at www.careercity.com]


INTERVIEW ACTIVITY

Introduction:
Practice interviews are a very good way to develop good interviewing
skills and improve the chances of getting hired. And one of the best ways to
practice is in the classroom. The following is a group activity designed to help
people become aware of good interview practices by preparing and performing
both good and bad mock interviews.

Materials:
Job postings (in section I)
A coin
Copy of “Sample Interview Questions” handout
Copy of “Six Steps to a Successful Job Interview” handout.

Procedure:
1. Divide the class into groups of 3-4 students.
2. Turn the job postings face down and have each group choose a posting.
They will be interviewing for this job. Some of these jobs are for high
school graduates, some are for those with Associate degrees and some
are for those with a Bachelor’s degree. They are in different areas of
biotechnology and demand different kinds of skills.
3. Each group then flips the coin. If the coin lands head up, the interview will be
a good interview. If the coin lands tails up, the interview will be a bad
interview. In a good interview, the applicant will do all the suggestions on
the handout. In a bad interview, the applicant will not do any of the
suggestions on the handout.
4. The teacher will randomly assign each group a part of the interview to
perform: the first few minutes, the middle or the ending of the interview.
There should be at least one group doing each part of the interview.
5. Each group is now ready with a job posting, a “good” or “bad” interview, and a
section of the interview. They will discuss among themselves for 15-20
minutes their performance. The performance will be for about 5 minutes.
Each group will decide on
a. Which member of the group will be the applicant.
b. What are the tips of their section of the interview
c. At least 5 things to do or say that are “bad” or “good” in that section
6. The teacher is the interviewer. The member of the first group hands the
teacher the job posting and says which section of the interview they are
doing. The teacher/interviewer then begins that section of the interview
with the student. The rest of the class records at least 3 of the 5 “good” or
“bad” interview points during the 5-minute performance.
7. At the end of the interviews, the group members compare notes about each
interview. Each group compiles a list of as many of the points from each
interview as they can. The group with the most points from good and bad
interviews wins.