Dec 31 2009
Q: How can I get a job in a biotech, pharmaceutical or medical device company library? I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and a MLIS degree. I worked for a publishing/software company (that has a scientific focus) for thirteen years and primarily worked with attorneys and law librarians. Many of the attorneys I worked with were also scientists and engineers before they went to law school and are now representing clients seeking patents, so I have experience working with individuals who do scientific research. I also have experience finding business information and searching in patents. I’m having difficulty getting anywhere because I haven’t worked at a biotech / pharmaceutical company before, but I have the skills and knowledge to find information that scientists and corporate executives use.
TA: Sounds a little like the chicken and the egg…which came first? In your case, you want to work in a special library but need experience to get there; but you can’t get the job without the experience. Quite the conundrum, it would seem. But don’t lose all hope just yet. There are several pieces in your question that just may be your building blocks to success.
First, you have a lot of highly specialized library experience, albeit in a somewhat different environment. While you say that you worked primarily with attorneys and law librarians, you also mention that many of these lawyers were also scientists, now working with clients (presumably other scientists) seeking patents. When you’re creating your cover letter and resume, you’ll need to describe this experience in a way that is directly relevant to the position you’re applying for. For more information, see our other articles on resumes, cover letters and transferable skills, especially our July 2007 article, How Can I Switch From Public to Corporate Librarianship?
Second, you may want to schedule a few informational interviews with librarians currently in your field of interest or with HR professionals in the field. When you’re talking with the librarians, ask them what experience they had that helped them get the job. Also ask them what experience they wish they had had when they started and how they gained it on the job. And be sure to ask them if they know of any open positions or if they could refer other colleagues to speak with. When you talk with the HR person, ask about the working environment, general expectations for newly hired librarians in this field, and what they’re looking for in future employees.
Finally, don’t forget just plain and simple networking. It sounds like you already have friends in the industry, so that’s one way to get familiar with the responsibilities of this type of position, as well as with the resources most commonly used in these libraries. Additionally, it’s a great way to meet other people doing similar work. In this age of social networking, you might also be able to find someone to follow on Twitter who tweets about the daily life and challenges in a special library. And be sure to use your professional network through professional associations. Here’s one to consider: SLA has an online career center for members, with articles, online resources, and career coaching.
SM: When you’re ready to begin the job search, consider contacting job agencies, recruiting companies or temp agencies in your area (or desired area of employment). Many biotech/scientific companies prefer to hire librarians and library staff using the assistance of agencies. And yes, many of these jobs will be temporary or contract positions, but they can turn into permanent or long-term positions. At the very least, a temporary position will provide you with valuable experience that will help to secure your next position. I know a few people who found librarian jobs in pharmaceutical companies this way. Also, when you’re looking for jobs in the biotech field, use more general job sites such as CareerBuilder.com, Juju, Monster.com, and SimplyHired.com, and limit your search by category or industry (e.g., biotech or pharmaceutical). When searching through the job ads, be aware that librarians working in biotech fields may not have titles with “librarian” in them, so look for alternative jobs titles such as: information scientist, information specialist, library manager/supervisor/administrator. Finally, to go along with the “all important networking” that Tiffany mentioned above, you should create a professional profile on LinkedIn (if you haven’t done so already), join biotech and library groups, and start making connections.
Some useful sites: