Josh Henkin—Founder and Career Counselor at STEM Career Services

stemcareerservices1. Please describe your current position.

I am the founder of STEM Career Services. STEM Career Services is a career counseling company that specializes in working with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates and postdocs who are looking to start a career outside of the academic or laboratory environment. STEM Career Services specializes in career counseling, career workshops, and job placement services for STEM graduates.

2. How far in advance of your planned starting date did you begin looking for jobs?

My goal for postgraduate work was to apply for a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship. I started to plan for this approximately four months before I graduated with my PhD and scheduled my final experiments, writing, and thesis defense around the application deadline to meet the requirements.

3. How did you learn about your current position?

My current position is the founder/owner of a business. I created this company after several years working as a Program Manager for a government consulting company. As a Program Manager, one of my job responsibilities was to interview and hire STEM graduates. I found that the majority of candidates had poorly constructed resumes, did not perform well at interviews, and were completely unaware of the career paths that are available to STEM graduates outside of academia. In an attempt to solve a problem and provide a needed service, STEM Career Services was founded and we’ve been helping STEM graduates find rewarding careers since the day we started.

4. Were any resources (inside or outside your university) particularly helpful in your job search?

I found the resources at my university insufficient and lacking when it came to helping me prepare for, and find, a career in the private sector as a STEM PhD graduate. I had no desire to seek employment in an academic or laboratory profession and the resources I needed to learn how my academic skills could be translated to a private sector career did not exist. In addition, there were no skilled advisors or career counselors that could inform me of the numerous career paths available to STEM graduates outside of the academic environment. I believe that students and postdocs suffer from this same problem today, which is why I founded STEM Career Services. It is imperative to provide STEM graduates and postdocs with information about…
− the different careers tracks they can pursue
− how to craft a resume that will showcase the skills they acquired in graduate school and their postdoctoral training (if applicable) into language that will make them competitive and desirable to a hiring manager
− how to prepare and impress at an interview
− how to fairly discuss salary and benefits information, and
− how to choose a company that maintains a desirable corporate culture
None of these services were available to me when I began looking to start my career after graduate school and it is critical that students have access to this type of assistance to successfully transition to the workforce.

5. What was your work or educational background before you were hired?

My education background:
− BS in Business Administration
− MS in Nutritional Sciences
− PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology
Before I founded STEM Career Services, my notable employment positions were:
− Owned a bar (The Last Chance Saloon) while I earned my MS and PhD
− Postdoctoral Fellowship at The University of Vermont
− AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow supporting the Army Research Office and the Undersecretary of Defense for Labs and Basic Sciences
− Principle Field Scientist at Medtronic
− Program Manager at The Tauri Group

6. Which aspects of your background (doctoral training, postdoctoral training,
internships, etc.) were required for your position?

The skills that were necessary to start my own company, STEM Career Services, and serve as a highly qualified career coach are a true culmination of all of my education and professional experiences. Owning a bar provided me with the entrepreneurial experience and confidence needed to operate my own business. Graduating from a PhD program and working as a postdoctoral fellow helps me understand the lifestyle, training, and experiences of my clients, who are frequently students and postdocs. Working in a variety of private sector and federal government positions has increased my knowledge of the types of careers that STEM graduates can obtain, which helps me as I advise my clients. And lastly, working as a Program Manager for The Tauri Group has given me years of experience interviewing and hiring candidates. This has provided me with the knowledge of what a hiring manager is looking for in a candidate and enables me to provide key information to my clients as they draft resumes, prepare for interviews, and negotiate salary/benefits. All of my professional experiences make me uniquely qualified as a career counselor since I understand the challenges of students and postdocs and I also understand the needs of a company that is trying to hire these candidates.

7. Did you pursue any other position or career path prior to being hired in your current position? If so, what factors led to your ultimate job choice?

As described in Question 5, I held several other professional positions before I started STEM Career Services. What motivated me to start this company is my realization that students and postdoctoral fellows are not getting the career advice they need to successfully find, apply for, and obtain careers outside of the academic environment. I started this company to provide these services to STEM graduates.

8. Has your career trajectory followed the path you had expected when you started graduate school?

Definitely not! I had no desire to ever attend graduate school. Prior to starting graduate school, I was playing rugby at the national and international levels and I owned a bar. I felt I could do more with my life than own a bar and play rugby, so I studied for my MS degree with the goal of learning how to improve my training as an athlete. I continued with my PhD and had no idea what I would do upon completion. I have been quite fortunate to create some interesting professional opportunities through networking, hard work and creative thinking. None of this was planned, but it certainly has been an exciting and rewarding career path.

9. Is there anything about your current job that you had not expected before you were hired?

Starting my own company was full of challenges. I wrote a business plan, which has evolved numerous times since the original version. I have changed the services I offer as well as the delivery model of services to better align with my clients’ needs. I plan to continue to evolve and adapt the company to meet the changing demands of my clientele. If I had to choose one element that I did not expect, it would be the importance of social media in marketing and growing a business.

10. Are there any particular skills or experiences you wish you had before you started?

I am surprised at how much social media plays a role in business development and client acquisition. I was not aware of the impact that social media has to share information and gain trust of my target demographic. Marketing is a challenge for any company and this is an area in which I wish I had greater knowledge and skill prior to starting my company.

11. How do you spend an average workday?

An average workday is split between my roles at STEM Career Services and my work at the Tauri Group. With STEM Career Services, my time is divided between working four major functions 1) working directly with clients to assist them with various skills needed during the job hunting/hiring cycle; 2) client acquisition and business development to help grow the pipeline of clients for my business; 3) preparing for, and delivering, presentations and workshops at universities and institutions; 4) business functions – e.g., financial management, staffing, daily operations.

In my role as a Program Manager at the Tauri Group, I manage people, manage contracts and provide consulting services directly to clients in the area of FDA-regulated product development.

12. What do you like the most about your work?

Seeing my clients be selected for interviews and receive multiple job offers in response to our work together is by far the most rewarding aspect of my work. This comes from helping my clients understand the tremendous skills that they currently possess, but lack the ability to see. I have counseled enough clients to see a common trend in my work with STEM graduates where through simple exercises I can help them see their skills and experiences in a whole new perspective. With their new understanding and acknowledgment of their skills, clients can showcase those skills on a resume in a manner that makes them competitive for jobs and highly desirable by employers.

13. What do you find the most challenging about your work?

It’s difficult to play all of the roles that are required in a small business. I am the CEO, the HR department, the accountant, the marketing department, etc., and one of the career counselors. It requires a significant investment of time and a highly diverse set of skills to accomplish all of this.

14. What skills do you think are absolutely essential for your position?

The skills that I believe are required for someone to be successful in nearly all nonacademic positions are:
− Program/Project Management
− Leadership
− Critical Thinking
− Strategic Thinking
− Customer Service
− Communication
− Problem Solving
I also believe that most graduate students and postdocs have these skills. The trouble is they are not fully aware of it and/or they do not do a good job communicating these skills on a resume to prospective employers. Once they understand how to do this, their ability to get a job is greatly improved.

15. Do you think it helps to have a certain personality to do the work you do?

Definitely. You need to have a risk tolerance that allows for some uncertainty and lack of stability in being an entrepreneur. Starting your own company also requires a diverse set of business skills to complement the core skill(s) on which the value proposition of your business is founded. In my business, I am a highly skilled career counselor (core skill of the business); however, I also need to have the ability to operate my business, which is a completely different talent. Lastly, it’s critical to have the self-awareness to know which business areas are my weakest and to hire external experts to perform those tasks.

16. At any point, do you repent not having pursued a career in the academic field?

Never. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the nonacademic positions I have held since I left my postdoctoral fellowship. I have grown professionally at all of my jobs and continue to gain relevant skills and experiences that will be helpful in any position I perform now, or in the future.

17. What advice would you give to someone looking for a position like yours?

The advice I often give to people starting their careers is to take risks. I would never have expected to be in the career I have presently, and I would not be here if I hadn’t taken a few risks. That said, I strongly encourage anyone who wants to start his or her own company to do it in a thoughtful and strategic manner. Create a business plan, prepare best case and worst case financial projections, and then show it to other people who are not as invested in your idea as you are to obtain honest and critical feedback on your plan and execution. On average 9 out of 10 businesses fail, so make sure you are in the 10% that are successful!

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