AltPhD Interview Series with Brian O’Boyle
The AltPhD Interview Series features conversations with scientists who have successfully transitioned into a non-academic, a.k.a. an “alternative,” career. This series aims to highlight the skills and career moves that helped these scientists achieve their current positions. In the fourth interview of this series, I have “mixed it up” and had the opportunity to speak with Brian O’Boyle, who, although he is not a PhD himself, works in HR and has hired numerous PhD’s throughout his career. Mr. O’Boyle’s experience in HR is quite extensive. Currently, he is the Vice President of human resources at ILC Dover, and, in the past, he held positions which included: Head of People and Organization in the Americas for Novozymes, Human Resources business partner in talent development and acquisition at UCB Pharma, Vice President of human resources at Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Vice President of human resources at Kennametal, and Executive Director of human resources at Merial. Throughout his career, Mr. O’Boyle has interacted with PhD’s and is very familiar with what makes a successful applicant. In this interview, Mr. O’Boyle shared some of his personal insights into acquiring jobs within the pharmaceutical industry.
JB: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today about your experiences and insights into the pharmaceutical industry. To jump right in, the first question that the NetworkIN committee has for you is, how important is networking for individuals seeking a job? That is, how many people will get the job by “the people you know” so to speak versus a blind application?
BO: Well to start this topic, I just want to say this is the best job market I have ever seen, so it is a good time to be going into science. Working a network is extremely important in finding a job and one that is the right fit for you personally. It will help you understand the role and, potentially, the people you will work with on a day to day basis. The individuals you will be interacting with through networks generally will be able to give you a better understanding of a job than a hiring manager will. They are the individuals actually performing these tasks. That being said, I actually hire more people from so-called blind applications now than I did 20 years ago. Referrals within a company are just not as common. They will sometimes help you get past the computer screens but will not help you get the job unless you are qualified for the position. In my opinion, networking is crucial for identifying positions you may be interested in, learning about that role, and having your network identify potential openings. Being well informed about a position will inevitably come through in an interview, showing that you have done your homework. The biggest thing about the network is its ability to alert you to openings you otherwise might not know about and to connect you to people who can provide insights into certain positions.
JB: Okay, so the best way to use your network is to identify career paths and potential openings that you might not be aware of. Let’s say that you identify a position you wish to apply for but don’t know much about the role. What is the best way to go about getting information on the position?
BO: In an interview, you want to look like you have done your homework and knowing someone within the company can improve your odds of getting the job. In this situation, it is best to identify someone within the company that holds the same functional role. In HR, I probably get 50 emails a day from random people applying for jobs, and I will never be able to get back to them in the capacity they desire. This is due to the volume of my emails and because individuals with the functional role can give them much greater insight into the role. Additionally, in some situations, this can aid in getting past computer screens.
JB: Okay, great. When applying for a research position within pharma, how should previous research experience appear on a resume or CV?
BO: When applying for job, you do not want to go into the specifics of your research projects. I want to see a broad overview of the skills you have learned and utilized during your time in school. The opportunity to go very in-depth about the project specifics will come about when you have your technical interview with those individuals that understand the science. I do not want to see very specific details about some obscure signaling pathway but rather that you learned to analyze pathways using technique A and B, specifically those that might be highlighted in the job description. Additionally, you want to show your abilities to manage projects and to work well in groups because that is essential for industry.
JB: As a follow up, do you prefer to see a resume or a CV for applicants?
BO: Personally, I want to see a resume – unless it is a strictly research position. That being said, you really should be uploading both when you apply for jobs because they highlight different things. For a resume, you want to have broad information about technical skills, leadership roles, management, those sorts of things. I recommend that at the end of a resume you say, refer to CV for publications and the more scientific related aspects that you see in a CV. This way, all the information is there for those who are less scientific in the hiring process and for those who are scientific and wish to see the details of your work. Lastly, make everything every clear, easy to read, and easy to find. When making these documents, tailor them for each job and use exact words from the job posting.
JB: That is something that I’ve never thought about doing before so that is very good advice. As Post-Docs and graduate students, we don’t have a lot of exposure to the wide array of jobs that might be available to us in industry. Could you give us some examples of jobs/careers that we might not be aware of that you have hired for in the past?
BO: There are many jobs that are not straight research that I have hired PhD’s to fill. There are positions within PKDM, regulatory affairs and policy, medical liaisons, medical writing and communication directors; and, another large area is clinical trial scientist positions phases 1-4.
JB: How valuable is industry experience when applying for an industry position?
BO: I personally prefer to hire someone with some industry experience. Typically, they are much better at “hitting the ground running” so to speak and can adjust to the job much faster. I actually like to higher interns when they have done a good job. A lot of our interns will come back when they finish school. When applicants have industry experience, they seem to be far more pragmatic about their approach to their new job.
JB: How do you feel about an academic versus an industry post doc?
BO: There is a big difference in an academic versus an industry post doc. In academia, it is very much a “publish or die” atmosphere, while industry is more focused on a product and release date. An academic post doc does not hold a lot of value for me in getting an industry position. An industrial post doc has potential value if it is within the field that you want to work in. For jobs outside of research, a post doc will not necessarily help you get the job.
JB: Any additional advice that you could give to post docs and graduate students?
BO: As a PhD, it has been a very long road to get to where you are at. You will have been very focused on your academic career. It is important to remember that you are interviewing with a person. They want to know that you are reliable. You want to live the culture of the company, show that you are a good fit, and convey that you will help to make it a good work environment. So, you need to let all these aspects of yourself shine through in the interview. The science and technical skills are very important, but it is also important that you be able to communicate and work well in a cohesive team.
JB: Well I want to thank you for your time! I really think some of this information will be helpful for our groups.