Want Attention? Here’s Advice from an Expert Headhunter

By Jiye Son

Many professionals in the STEM field are great with technical skills, but often we lack the soft skills to communicate and express our talents to draw attention to ourselves. We work endlessly in labs to produce more results, and yet when it comes to flaunting those hard-earned accomplishments, we can sometimes feel bashful and uncomfortable.

As such, when it comes time to look for a job after successfully completing a Ph.D., we struggle to sell ourselves as well-rounded and attractive employee candidates. Likewise, many startups with innovative technologies still struggle to represent themselves as groundbreaking and profitable companies to attract future investors. So how can we build our communication and soft skills to get noticed and liked by employers, and persuade companies to invest in us?

In collaboration with NYC SciComm, CUNY ASRC NanoFab, and NYC Futureworks, we had the pleasure of hosting a workshop featuring Dandan Zhu, the founding CEO of Dandan Global. As a seasoned headhunter, Dandan worked with life sciences venture capital firms, Fortune 500, and startups to connect talented employers with future employees. In this workshop, Dandan taught us her methodology on how to self-promote using personable sales skills and shared her perspective as a headhunter on the job search process. 

Dandan’s energy and charisma are positively contagious, and definitely inspired me to bring out my confidence to promote myself as an intelligent and charismatic scientist!

 Here are some tips that I personally enjoyed:

1.Use all possible outlets to highlight your accomplishments and don’t be humble about them. When describing your previous or current position, say what your achievements are in those roles instead of listing your duties or responsibilities. This applies to your social media, resume, and intro email. Social media, especially LinkedIn, is a great place to make yourself accessible to prospective employers, investors, or even headhunters that want to tell you about open positions. Tune into Dandan’s Daily DANDAN podcast on more about selling yourself here

2. Put yourself forward and network with everyone. Don’t limit yourself to people you have been introduced to or with whom you have common affiliations. Reach out and introduce yourself to strangers in your field. However, when expanding your network in person or online, don’t ask the person for a job or to invest in you. Not only will you make them feel awkward and pressured, they most likely can’t offer you anything. Instead, just open up a dialogue to discuss mutual technical interests and leave a positive impression so that if an opportunity does arise they could refer you or even recommend you for a position.

3. Memorize your introduction statement word by word. This will free up your brain space so you can pay attention to the other person’s body language rather than trying to come up with what you want to say. Dandan suggests an average of 1-minute introduction or less depending on your audience.

An introductory statement should be short, eloquent, and prepared. At your interview craft the following statement in advance, and practice speaking it out loud in the mirror to a point where you won’t need your notes! Here is a helpful article on how you can structure your intro statement, which may go something like this: “My name is ROCKSTAR. I am currently TITLE at FIRM. In my current (or last) role I’m working on... As someone who’s passionate about (relevance), I’m interested in learning more about (relevant role context). Thank you for having me here.”

4. Be likable. If you have been called in for an interview/meeting, chances are you’re technically qualified and/or your product is of real interest to the investors. So don’t spend your time reciting your resume or the product profile. Instead, show that you’re a great team player who can get along in the new work environment, or that you have the leadership skills to manage a team or a company. No one wants to work together with a jerk or invest in a company led by poor management. Some tips on how to increase your likeability:

  • Ask open questions: Don’t make assumptions or ask closed questions that can be replied in a yes or no format. The more a person replies “no” back to you, the less they will end up liking you. Asking open questions will engage the other person to open up to you.
  • Down-speak: End all your phrases in a lower tone, even when asking a question. This will make you seem more assertive and mature, especially if you’re a young female professional. Here’s another Daily DANDAN episode specifically on this topic.
  • Sell yourself confidently: Highlight your strengths and passions, and don’t be humble about your accomplishments.

5. Lastly, it’s still a numbers game. The more people you connect with, the more you will increase your chances of being wanted. When you are an attractive candidate or a company, you have more leverage to negotiate your terms. Dandan recommends skipping out on Netflix and instead, create a spreadsheet of all the people you want to reach out to, and don’t be shy to cold call or email them.

The earlier we realize that technical skills are not enough to stand out from the competition, the sooner we can act to self-promote our technical and soft skills. While this can seem like a lot of work (because it is), being proactive early on in our job and investment search will lift the burden of stressing out last minute and create more opportunities.

You can watch the recording of the workshop by connecting on Facebook and The Daily DANDAN Podcast, and connect with Dandan on LinkedIn.

About the author: Jiye Son is a PhD student studying nanotechnology and materials science at the City University of New York.

Editor: Tristan Fehr