The PhD Rises: Be the Applicant your Future Employer needs!

This piece was written after attending an iJOBS workshop entitled: How to Get and Keep a Job presented by Nancy Mark from Johnson & Johnson on June 29th, 2017 in Piscataway, NJ.

As graduate students and post docs, we work in a semi-professional environment, wearing the uniforms of bright t-shirts, coffee stained jeans, and disintegrating shoes. Transitioning from this scholarly environment to one that requires tailored clothes and dry cleaning can be daunting, requiring more than just a simple trip to Nordstrom’s. A professional is an individual whose conduct, aims, or qualities are hallmarks of a knowledgeable and experienced worker. But what are the conduct, aims, and qualities of a professional? That’s the question Nancy Mark, The Director of Health Care Compliance Monitoring & Regulatory Compliance for Medical Devices at Johnson and Johnson, came to Rutgers Piscataway to answer. Nancy shared her extensive professional experience from her over 20 years at Johnson and Johnson. Below is a summary of her advice for job seekers. Her views are her own and do not reflect those of Johnson and Johnson:


  • Bring up your innovation, efficiency, and resilience by stating specific examples of your professional contributions.
  • Make your application stand out by including volunteer experiences! Nancy stresses that these are important in differentiating your resume from the rest of the stack.
  • Discuss what value you can bring to the company rather than asking what the company can do for your career. Remember, the company wants to hire people that will contribute and offer value.
  • Include the URL of your LinkedIn account, which can contain a more in-depth list of accomplishments that could not be included on your resume.
  • Demonstrate your communication and teamwork experience; the stereotype of PhDs is that they are anti-social geeks. You must break this by stereotype!

Social Media:

  • Always be aware of what you post online. Nancy says to imagine that your Facebook and Twitter audience is your future boss.
  • Prevent embarrassment by deleting and screening what other people share on your wall.
  • Use LinkedIn to increase your network by connecting to friends of friends! This is easier with an introduction by your mutual connection.
  • Your LinkedIn page should be visually appealing and well organized.

Personal Development:

  • As with technology, the pace of change within a company is high. Always try to accrue new skills and be aware of what will be valuable experience in the future.
  • Nancy stressed this point: the rate of change is rapid, don’t become a dinosaur within your company.
  • Identify valuable new skills by scanning the hiring page of your company. Be aware of what skills are required for the new positions and acquire them.
  • When asking for a raise, timing is everything.
  • Look for volunteer opportunities outside of work that will strengthen your application, or provide you with leadership experience.


Modern Career Advice:

  • If you make a mistake, don’t wait to understand why you made a mistake. Just focus on doing better next time.
  • Taking an internship is great exposure and will help you get a job at that company later.
  • Lateral job moves within a company can be great! Scan the jobs page of your company and look for positions you have the skill set for. Nancy has moved within J&J for over 20 years now.
  • Success begets success: succeed at small opportunities first and move your way toward larger opportunities.
  • For those fresh PhDs: take the first job you get because you need to get your foot in the door first, applying to other jobs becomes much easier afterward.
  • A career is a series of short-term moves. You will continually interview during those moves.


  • Be sure to wear appropriate business clothing!
  • Email, text, phone call, in person meetings? How often? Every supervisor is different and it’s your responsibility to answer these questions and form an effective relationship with them.
  • Rules for emailing: clear and complete, get the point across in the subject, if there is too much writing, an in-person conversation maybe better.
  • Don’t surprise your boss. Seriously, don’t do it. If you have unwelcome news to report do it ASAP!
  • When dealing with office politics, sometimes it’s best to leave earlier rather than later. Try to recognize when a situation is arising and address it early
  • People want to share their advice! Ask for it!
  • Associate with people who are great so that you can learn from their example.
  • Use different mentors for different professional areas, or skills.
  • Share your private opinions with a few coworkers that you can trust.


Nancy said that for her, making an effort to identify in-demand skills was the difference between being employed and getting laid off. The first step into the professional pool can be difficult, but once you take it, swimming in this environment will become easier. Much of this advice can be applied to the mentor relationship with your thesis advisor and can be practiced in a lab environment, as well. Check out our Event Report: How to Find and Apply for an Internship for how to land the internship of your dreams.

Now go purge your Facebook!

You can find notes on the event here:

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