3 Keys to Developing a Career in STEM
SRG’s global employment report shows that a third of UK STEM professionals aim to move roles over the next year to progress their careers.
While finding a new job can seem like a simple way to develop your career, knowing how to establish yourself as skilled and employable enough to warrant an advanced role can be challenging.
In December 2022, we surveyed 217 members in our candidate community of STEM professionals to learn which career development techniques drove the most powerful results for them.
45% of respondents cited developing new skills at work as the most powerful technique, 20% said returning to education, 19% said working with a recruitment agency, and 14% said finding internal opportunities helped progress their career the most.
Loz Mitchell, Team Leader at SRG, delves behind the three most popular key career development strategies, including developing new skills returning to education, and working with a recruitment agency. Keep reading for practical advice to help you successfully progress your career in STEM.
Read on to explore:
- 3 key STEM career development strategies
- Common blockers to developing a career in STEM
- How to start your career development journey
3 key career development strategies
Strategy 1 – Developing new skills at work
While professional development in the workplace can often occur as part of professional courses, or sponsored qualifications, developing new skills can also be a holistic process. Take the time to network and build relations cross-functionally. If there’s a specific area that interests you within your business, enquire whether there are any opportunities to shadow work.
Another key way to develop new skills at work is to speak to managers and directly request more responsibility in projects, or the opportunity to be seconded onto a more ambitious project to support resources. In doing this, you’ll have the chance to start picking up new skills and developing outside of your role – placing you in good stead for developing your career.
Strategy 2 – Returning to education
Once you’ve established a career plan, you may notice that post-graduate qualifications pose a barrier to progression. This can frequently occur in scientific management positions where Masters or PhD level qualifications are a threshold to consideration.
Returning to education either to attain post-graduate qualifications, or to further specialise in a specific area through college or part time university courses, can enable you to progress your career.
Strategy 3 – Working with a recruitment agency
Recruitment agencies like SRG can help bridge your way to a new position by working with you to understand your ambitions and unlock opportunities with employers.
While recruitment agencies do frequently work with experienced candidates for executive and senior positions, some like SRG also help motivated junior candidates progress into skilled positions with onboarding and training support.
Common blockers to developing a career in STEM
While the strategies above reveal the most powerful actions our respondents have taken, making a career change is not always without its hurdles.
Many employers prioritise more experienced candidates, making it challenging for those newer to the industry to actively progress in their careers. Before you interview or work with a recruiter, take the time to analyse your key skills and identify how they align with the role. Advocating for your skills is a key solution to overcoming this barrier and is something that can be achieved with the right recruitment support and interview preparation.
Retraining, whether that be through a post-graduate qualification or a specialist course, can be time-consuming and challenging to navigate, particularly when a professional leaves work and returns to education on a full-time basis.
Once you’ve taken two or three years out of work, you’re two years behind current industry standards, making it challenging to re-integrate back into the workforce.
Overcoming this comes back to successful advocation and strategic immersion. By this, I mean having the drive to highlight why and how the skills and techniques you’ve learnt in your studies relate to the role, as well as even while studying, having the motivation to stay immersed in the latest updates in the wider industry. You can achieve the latter by connecting with industry leaders on LinkedIn, staying up to date on new regulations, or even attending conferences.
Another key hurdle scientific candidates looking to progress in their careers face when it comes to working with recruitment agencies, is knowing how to use LinkedIn.
I recommend seeing LinkedIn as your own personal advertisement. Ensure that your CV aligns with your LinkedIn and that key skills are explicitly mentioned. Recruiters search for candidates by title, skill, industry and company and select the most well aligned professionals based on this information. If your work involves a high level of experience with an element such as sophisticated equipment, highlight that experience in an accurate way that is representative of your level. For example, if you’re working as a validation specialist in pharma and work with autoclaves, mentioning this equipment and how long you’ve worked with it can help a recruiter identify your fit with a future role.
For more tips on how to stand out to recruiters, check out our candidate guidance resources here.
How to start your career development journey
At SRG, our talent consultants actively support scientific professionals working across the full breadth of the STEM industries with meaningful and aligned career opportunities that empower and advance their potential.
We can help you make the next step in your career. Click here to get started.
About the author: Loz specialises in providing innovative solutions around talent to companies across the life sciences sector, with a strong focus on manufacturing and engineering withing pharmaceuticals. Having established a strong network across the UK across SMEs, start ups, and big pharma, he has provided a wide range of bespoke talent solutions to organisations from ad-hoc niche engineering searches to manufacturing RPO solutions. Loz’s team specialise in placing a wide range of STEM roles spanning across bench to boardroom; typical roles include: Engineering & Maintenance, Project Managers, Validation, Process Engineering, Manufacturing, Operations, Facilities, Quality, MS&T and Automation. Click here to connect with Loz on Linkedin
Latest News, Events & Insights
Why is Diverse Leadership in STEM Important?
Jacob Midwinter, Director of Sales and Search by SRG, discusses the key success factors behind driving diversity in leadership, as well as the challenges and opportunities leaders in STEM can expect to encounter along the way, with senior leaders Julia Buckler - QIAGEN, Dr. Amy Smith - CPI, Rich McLean - GPAS, Dr. Garry Pairaudeau - Exscientia, and Professor Charlotte Deane - Exscientia.