Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Don't bring your CV

When you go on an informational interview, everyone tells you not to bring a CV.  "You are just getting information, you aren't asking for a job."  I do a lot of informational interviews, and at least 1 in 10 will the person be confused that I didn't bring my CV.  I think I look like a much better candidate in person than on paper, so I prefer this.  When I say I have strong communication skills while I am talking comfortably about my background, it feels much more compelling than the line on my CV that says the same.  I'll get back to this, but it also gives me something to follow-up with.

Recently I had an informational interview with a local small pharma company.  Fortunately, the acquaintance of an acquaintance there is the CSO.  I wasn't sure how much he would know about the actual position in question, but he had a Ph.D.  I wanted to know the basics, how big is the company, who is the hiring manager for this opening, is 2-4 years experience essential?  Sometimes I come away with a better global perspective (ie- we can't take you for this job, but check back in a month because things are bananas here), but I don't usually ask that.

Anyway, I sit down with this guy, and he gives me this quizzical look at asks for my CV.  Instead I give him the twitter version.  Holding his skeptical look, he asks for my life story starting with where I am from.  I'm from Juneau, Alaska, which pretty much everyone thinks is cool.  I told him about my undergrad research, and what I did in grad school.  Or I tried to- he kept cutting me off with really odd, direct questions and that confused look.  "Are you good at the bench?  What are you good at?"  "Are you smart?  How do you know?"  "What have you been doing since you graduated?" Contract editing. "Do you have classical training in writing?" Um...

It was hard to read.  I couldn't tell if he was trying to make me uncomfortable so I would leave (I'm immune to awkward), or if he was pleased with my answers.  He called in the Director of Pre-Clincal research and one of his PIs.  He tried to look aghast that I didn't bring my CV, "But I'm not asking you for a job." "But you are looking for a job, aren't you?"  The questions kept coming, ("What's your goal in life?" "Are you opposed to animal work? Ever work with Radiation") and I figured the game was already lost and simply mine to win.  A year ago I would have been really intimidated, and what a difference a year makes.  Finally, the CSO says, "I wouldn't hire you.  You don't have any experience..." The Pre-Clinical Director says, "She has a experience- she has a Ph.D.  She's been in the lab before."  "You know that's different.  Send them your CV.  If they like you and want to bring you on as a contractor, that's great."

Cross your fingers that this works.  I sent them my CV.  I know my CV says I've worked on some random projects using a host of techniques, I published in mediocre journals and I've been up to all kind of other extra curriculars.  Hopefully they'll remember that super weird meeting this morning and be curious enough to talk to me again. 

But getting back to the point I started with, What would have happened if I'd had my CV?  They might have left me with the same cliff hanger, and then I'd have to write back later and say, "So, um... do you like me?"  I will probably still get to send that email, but that seems like a terrible place to start correspondence.  Instead, my first email to these people was reiterating the conversation we had shared and giving them a tangible reminder of who I am.

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