For most of the last decade in my position as an Adjunct Professor teaching courses on medical device development, I have met roughly a hundred people per year seeking their first jobs in the field. Luckily, the majority of them eventually find employment and a happy ending, but the struggle to get there is real and one of the areas where I try to offer help (and at times, consolation). From my vantage point, the single greatest issue is that most of these students possess the same personal profile and stats, or nearly so. In this context, I am defining their personal profile as everything they use to present themselves on the job market: resume, outreach, and education.
The student’s profile boils down to this:
1) A degree in engineering or science (BS or MS)
2) One or more year’s experience working in retail or food service
3) Possible summer internship in a medical device or pharma-related position (for the lucky ones)
4) A list of two or three mostly irrelevant class projects from the last two years
5) A LinkedIn profile with at most 50 connections, most of which are other students
A Hiring Manager accepting applications for an entry level position really has no way to tell these candidates apart, other than by how they present themselves over the phone (which is extremely important, but still limited). Resumes and social media profiles like this are stacked from floor to ceiling in every database, slowly being sucked into the black hole of HR.
Sound like someone you know? Here are three things I coach my students to do to make them stand out in a crowd:
1) Project Management Certification – The Project Management Institute (PMI) is a major accepted body for certification of knowledge in the Project Management profession for all fields. It offers a number of specific certs, many of which require prior experience. However, one of these is the Certified Associate Project Manager (CAPM) which requires only course work. You can take an online course in Project Management for medical devices and a second refresher directly through the PMI website and be ready to sit for the exam. Whether or not you plan to do actual project management in your first job, having the CAPM cert shows you can function as a member of a project team, which is valuable for any position, and it stands out on your resume because not too many people have this.
2) Basic Medical Device Development Knowledge – Academics and commercial device development are completely different animals. The former is taught at university. The latter is almost never taught. Having a basic idea of Design Controls and the FDA/ISO regulations for devices can go a long way in an interview. If anything, that knowledge lets you ask the right questions to show you know what you are talking about. Basic medical device development concepts are not taught in most classes, yet they are the one thing that matter most from day to day on the job. Take as many online medical device training/medical device courses as possible and list them on your resume in a “Professional Development” or “Relevant Coursework” section.
3) Network Management and Expansion – At the end of the day, most people get jobs through others that they know. The trick is how to know more people to increase your chances. Looking back on my own career, most of my jobs came about through a personal contact or mutual friend. Part of this is due to walking the talk when it comes to networking: since my grad student days, I kept track of everyone I met under the motto “He who dies with the most business cards wins.” Regardless of what is on your resume or what certifications you hold, getting out there and meeting people will override all of that. Go to your local trade shows. Give out cards. Take cards. Send resumes to people to keep on file. Once you’ve met them a third time at yet another show, they will begin to recognize you and something can bloom from there. Do this on social media as well: reach out for connections, ask questions, send people complements on their publications. (See what I did there?)
Putting these three things into practice will give you the same profile you started with, except this time with an uncommon but useful certification, a list of eye-catching coursework, and a lot of friends. Good luck!