Monthly Archives: April 2016

SMALL companies, BIG opportunities

What’s it like to work in a small company? The majority of companies fall into the category of ‘small and medium sized enterprises’ (SMEs), so ignore them at your peril ! My previous blog gave three tips on how to find them, this time I’m highlighting the career of a Product and R&D Manager working in a small company based in Sweden. Copied from my careers book – which showcases 19 other career stories – you’ll see that flexible working practices, a creative attitude and a ‘flat’ management style make them an attractive option for many researchers: 

juggling girlWhen you work for a small company it is important to be flexible and to be able to take on a number of diverse roles to keep the company developing so it retains an advantage in the market. A small company faces greater risks than a larger one so a versatile attitude is essential. I was taken on in order to utilise my expert knowledge in plant science which I gained during the course of my research. Although I have many roles to play within the company it is communicating with researchers as well as coming up with new ideas and being able to see them through to a final product which I enjoy most.

When my postdoctoral position was coming to an end I applied for a research grant which was rejected and I knew this was a turning point in my career; I made a conscious decision to leave research and move into industry. It seemed an easy decision at the time – I had started to become slightly frustrated with research and was thinking of a career where I could still use my plant science training but where I would see more immediate and tangible results with obvious utility and application. I wrote around 10 – 12 companies to find out what they were doing as part of my job search. As it happened my current company was considering employing an expert to help develop the company so my email arrived with perfect timing and I was offered a job which has since become my own, i.e. I have been able to steer the job and take ownership of it. 

Many people consider small companies to be a bit risky and target large ones instead. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with working in a large company, it doesn’t suit everyone and may feel restrictive to some. For me, I like autonomy and being able to see my ideas right through to the end product. I also like the close-knit team in which I work and the sense that we are ‘all in it together’. My advice to those thinking about small companies would be to search out those with around 5 – 30 employees, preferably with a forward-thinking boss. If you do approach companies in the way I did, my advice is to come at it from the side rather than head-on; that is, enquire about the work of the company which gives you more scope for an opening rather than asking for a job directly which could be turned down flat with no room to negotiate further.

Also, don’t be afraid to show who you really are when you approach companies or when you attend interview. If you aren’t your genuine self and pretend, for example, to be knowledgeable or capable of everything you may come across as being false. The important thing is to have the right can-do attitude which will instil confidence into a company director who will be relying on your input far more than a company of thousands.

Generally speaking, small companies cannot afford to employ people who can’t be adaptable and turn their hand to a range of tasks. That’s not to say you would be expected to be able to do anything and everything; I would not be able to programme a computer but I can offer extra input in marketing and advertising, others may be able to assist with the technical or financial side, for example. Dedication and commitment is crucial!

Related content:

Less is more

Working in industry – Scientific Services

Less is more ….

… where companies are concerned. With the break-up of many large pharma industries into smaller contract research organisations (CROs) and an increasing number of specialist tech companies springing up, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) represent a major source of jobs in the science sector. So, if you’re considering moving out of academia and into industry, you will be severely limiting your job search if you ignore these guys.

But how do you track down these less well-known companies to find out what they do or to make an enquiry or application? Here are three ways:

  1. If you search “Biotechnology”, as I did, on LinkedIn, you’ll see that there are a lot more small companies ‘out there’ than large ones. LinkedIn is a great place to do your research: You can investigate industries which are relevant to your field of interest and discover the type of work they do, services they provide or products they make. You can track down some of the people who work for these companies and, from there, find out their backgrounds and even make a polite approach. If you are keen to target a particular location, you can refine your LinkedIn search, and even add in your own institution to try to pull out any research alumni, who are now working in companies of interest to you. They might be more likely to help you if they see a connection between you.
  2. Another way to find small companies in the science sector is to identify science/research parks, where lots of small companies are located. A global directory of science and technology parks is listed on the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation (note, you can see the parks listed without having to join) and you can see another worldwide list on Wikipedia. Don’t only rely on these two lists as I noticed that some parks are missing from them. A search on Google may help to fill any gaps if you can’t see anything in your preferred location. 
  3. Finally, try signing up with a recruitment agency which specialises in the biosciences. Many companies make use of these agencies nowadays to help them with their recruitment, especially at the initial stages, so you may be missing out if you don’t engage with them. If you build a good rapport with them they can be very helpful in finding suitable vacancies for you. Tina Persson, a former recruiter herself, has some useful advice on this subject, featured recently on the Naturejobs blog.

That’s all for now folks! I’ll follow my own advice and sign off with a shorter blog this month. I’ll leave you with links to some previous blogs I have written on this subject and you can also take a look at my resources page.

Small companies, big opportunities

Do I stay or do I go?

I’m a scientist [don’t] get me out of here!