Grow Your Future

On April 29, NCBiotech Jobs Network hosted a panel of experts who answered the question how do you “Grow Your Future” in North Carolina agriculture. Gwyn Riddick, Vice President for Agricultural Biotechnology, welcomed attendees and noted that connecting people to jobs and companies to skilled workers is one of the most important things NCBiotech does. North Carolina is home to 80 – 85 agbiotech companies and five of the ag Big 6, making our state an agbiotech center in the US.

Dr. Paul Ulanch, Executive Director of the Biotech Crop Commercialization Center, then opened the panel discussion. The panelists represented crop science and animal health, from both large and small companies. Dr. Patrick Doyle (Syngenta Biotechnology Inc.), Joy Parr Drach (Advanced Animal Diagnostics), Dr. Giles Shih (BioResource International Inc.), and Eric Spell ( answered questions from Paul, and from the audience of over 100 job seekers, recruiters, and hiring managers. Some themes were evident from their answers.

Make sure the basics are strong and practice your pitch

Before you start your search, make sure you have the basics in place. Have a good resume that includes an active verb on every transferable skill. Make sure your references are up to date and expecting a call from HR. In an interview, be prepared for the question: “Tell me about yourself” with a brief pitch that tells the interviewer why you applied, why you are qualified, and what you know about the business.

Transferable skills are critical

Hiring managers are looking for employees who are intelligent, willing to take initiative, able to learn new things, driven to understand how things work, and have intellectual curiosity. Show that you are a creative self-starter who can manage complexity and business relationships. In networking conversations and interviews, be a storyteller; use examples to show that you have the intangible skills that can’t be taught. Although your skills will get you in the door, employers are hiring traits more than skills.

Handle gaps in employment

In a tough economy some job seekers have gaps in their employment that reduce their perceived value to prospective employers. Eric Spell suggests taking a short term contract or internship to explore a new opportunity if you’re faced with a gap on your resume. Alternatively, take a course or volunteer. Most importantly, you should approach networking events as someone who wants to understand the sector, not as a prospective employee. Spend time touring businesses but do your homework on the company first! The best way to stand out is to ask engaging questions.

An MBA might help, but then again it might not

Our panelists had mixed comments about the benefit of an MBA if you want to move into business. Giles Shih discovered that his PhD did not prepare him to run a company, and felt the need to return to school for an MBA. Joy Parr Drach encouraged attendees to do an MBA while they work, because the program helps develop the listening and reporting skills that help you understand customer needs. Patrick Doyle’s path did not include an MBA because a trusted mentor thought a PhD would be a better fit for his interests and there would be lots of competition at starting positions for MBAs. One alternative to embarking on an MBA? Take a mini-MBA or target individual courses.

The take home lesson? The three things companies look for are work ethic, communication skills, and how you will add value, regardless of your specific skill set.


Deborah M. Thompson, Ph.D.
Mon, 04/29/2013 - 00:00
Job search strategies;Networking