We all know that the nature of the job market is competitive. When applying for jobs, you are expected to craft an application that amplifies your suitability for the role over other candidates, and upon an assessment of what each candidate offers, the most suitable one is chosen. As in any competition, there are rules for how the ‘winner’ gets first place, but what if the game was rigged? What if the job specification was tailored to favour a particular candidate?
I once spoke to an individual who decided to apply for a postdoctoral position within the research group he had recently completed his PhD project with. His supervisor, who was also the group leader, believed that he was skilled for the role and desired for him to be hired for the position. However, the supervisor was still obligated to follow the university policy of advertising the position widely. As such, the supervisor proceeded to tailor the job specification to the exact qualifications, skills and research experiences of this PhD graduate, which in turn made it difficult for external candidates to meet the specifications precisely.
I was surprised when I heard this, especially when the individual speculated on how commonly this occurs within research groups. As someone who has applied for various research positions (and received many rejections), my observation of how job offers are made begs the question: is the recruitment process for research positions, and perhaps scientific roles in general, truly fair? How can external candidates then improve their chances of being hired?
An equal opportunity or false hope?
Institutions and organisations can have policies that warrant the wide advertisement of their vacant positions. This is to prevent nepotism, consider candidates from diverse backgrounds and ensure that an ‘equal opportunity’ is provided for all applicants. However, I wonder if advertising a position to external candidates is necessary when the hiring team already has a candidate they want for the role. Would it not create room for bias towards the preferred candidate (as in the scenario above), thereby achieving the opposite of an equal opportunity for all applicants? Aren’t external applicants just being fed false hope?
On one hand, an internal recruitment strategy may be more appropriate when a preferred internal candidate is clearly the front-runner for the position and an external recruitment process could be reserved for when fresh talent is truly being sought after. On the other hand, this approach may not be necessary because there are also various instances where external applicants are actually hired over the internal ‘front-runners’.
Most research groups desire to be innovative and do so by hiring new people that can deliver fresh ideas and perspectives. This offers a major advantage towards outside candidates because they may bring new skill sets to the research group. While the recruitment process may not always be fair, external candidates still stand a chance of being hired over internal candidates. They simply have to play to their advantage of being a fresh voice.
However, this raises other questions: is it fair that bringing in a ‘fresh’ and ‘new’ perspective is what it takes for an external candidate to be noticed and considered? Moreover, can we blame organisations and research groups for prioritising their productivity, by selecting experienced candidates that will not require extensive training and will add value to the role?
Many candidates are recent graduates seeking to gain experience to then develop these perspectives, which raises the age-old conundrum: to get the job, you need experience but to get experience, you need the job. I believe that an adequate solution to this problem would be for organisations and research groups to offer more entry-level positions and internship opportunities, to even the playing field for external candidates, as well as graduates who may be skilled but are inexperienced.
So what next?
While the recruitment process for scientific positions can be argued to be unfair, external candidates can do the following to improve their chances of being hired:
1. Deeply research your area of interest so you have a detailed knowledge of the field, such as any recent advancements, the techniques that are widely used etc.
2. Seek advice from those within the field you are interested in. Most researchers and organisation leaders are happy to talk about their research and what they do. You can then progress to ask for advice on how you can position yourself effectively and stand out as an applicant within your field of interest.
3. Sharpen and widen your skill set to stand out among the sea of applicants. This can be through various online resources available, shadowing opportunities or volunteering within research groups for some time. Ensure that you also present your skills well, and with confidence. You want the hiring managers to believe that you will be valuable to their team.
4. Networking (A.K.A The Back Entry Door) - There are many positions not advertised on public channels, but can be disclosed, and obtained, through interactions with individuals within that field. Attending conferences, networking events or joining groups such as the Black Women in Science (BWiS) Network are ways to do this.
It's your turn!
Do you think that the recruitment process for scientific positions is fair?
Feel free to share your thoughts or experiences in the comment section below, as well as any tips you may have on standing out as an external applicant. We would love to hear from you.
Until next time!
By Success Fabusoro, Blog Writer