I always found it extremely useful to read and monitor job posts, even well before I had any reason to send out my resume. Reading about various jobs give you an understanding of 1) what jobs are out there that you might be interested in, and more importantly 2) what gaps you have in your background that would help you get those jobs. At least some time should be spent on planning your career during school. By the time I was done with grad school I had 2-3 pages of skills and experiences that I wanted to obtain from jobs over the next 5-10 years that would help get me from Scientist to CEO (not there yet, nor do I have all the skills). I generated that list based on postings of various positions at different levels that I found on Biospace.
Taking the time to understand the gaps in your background gives you plenty of time to proactively address them. Once you are looking for a job it is too late to try to gain new skills to pad your resume with. However, if you come across 2 or 3 jobs that look interesting for when you are finished with school, and you don’t have all the requirements for those jobs, then there is still plenty of time to work those aspects into your thesis research or take a class or two to beef up your resume in those areas. Lets say you do tissue engineering research, and your thesis is on 3D smooth muscle tissue development in a bioreactor you have developed. You might be planning on examining oxygen tension, culture time, and various cell sources on 3D muscle mechanical properties. But then you notice a job posted at Tengion that wants someone that understands how different soluble or insoluble signals affect 3D muscle properties – and that job wants someone with a strong statistical analysis background and is able to perform DOE experiments. Plus, the position sounds pretty interesting overall to you. If you are 2 years from graduation, there is plenty of time to work in experiments to study the effects of growth factor or extracellular matrix signaling within your system, as well as learning how to design and analyze the experiment in JMP (stats software). If you are already putting all of your effort into writing your thesis and looking for jobs, it is unrealistic to try to run such a labor intensive experiment (trust me, I have tried). By putting some forethought into the background and skill sets that industry is looking for, and then tailoring your thesis experiments to encompass them, you will be making yourself a more attractive job candidate, while performing publishable experiments that contribute to your thesis…. a win-win.
This is just one example, but you get my point. By taking the time to evaluate job skill trends by regularly monitoring job posts in your technical area, you can tailor your background and resume well in advance of graduation. It is also not a bad idea to plan the next 2-3 jobs ahead for you ambitious people. By understanding the types of skills that were required of Senior Scientists and R&D Managers, I was able to gain the right experiences in my earlier positions of Post-Doc and Scientist by being proactive and doing job functions that weren’t required for someone at lower levels. This type of career strategy has helped myself, and many others in industry, in getting that promotion or next position – while at the same time making yourself more valuable to your organization. So by monitoring jobs that you will apply for next year, and even in 3-5 years, you will be laying the groundwork for being ready to seize opportunities when they appear.
If you find any job post language that you can’t figure out how to address, or where to get the background, just let me know and I will try to give you some action items that allow you to get that line on your resume.