What does it take to be a bona fide behavioral scientist? Imposter syndrome is one of the most common syndromes for young professionals. In fact, many people come to me to find out how to get a job in behavioral science, many of them who are already full qualified. To make things simple, I have tried to recall all the advice I have been given to anyone looking to join the exciting world of human behavior in industry, government, or academia.
What does it take to be a bona fide behavioral scientist? Imposter syndrome isone of the most common syndromes for young professionals. In fact, many peoplecome to me to find out how to get a job in behavioral science, many of them whoare already full qualified. To make things simple, I have tried to recall allthe advice I have been given to anyone looking to join the exciting world ofhuman behavior in industry, government, or academia.
Get the degrees (in due time)
To start, in many fields, you need degrees. However, inbehavioral science, you need the right degrees or the proper training, notnecessarily masters or doctorate degrees. Many companies value work experiencein behavioral marketing, project management, team management, andorganizational skills without having any higher education beyond a collegedegree. That being said, to advance in the field, you will need to get higherdegrees that match your interests in behavioral science. Scratch that. You willWANT to get higher degrees that match your interests because you can do moreprojects the way you like them, in your area, in your own way, and be incontrol of the outcome. Okay, now that that is out of the way... What manydoctorate-holding individuals won’t admit – ever – is that: A masters degree isoften the highest degree necessary for a large majority of (behavioral science)jobs. It’s hard to admit to yourself that the extra 6 years of your adult lifeyou gave to a university isn’t worth as much as you thought. In fact, there areCEOs who have masters degrees; and if you check the list for the number ofpresidents with doctorates, you will have to go all the way to European leadersto add them on more than one hand.
Network (but not too much)
People network to find out about job opportunities, but thenetwork itself does not a qualified employee make (Yoda? Is that you?). Infact, many people go to too many conferences, in a narrow field, and hope toget into a narrow range of companies. This spells disaster for their careertrajectory because they focus too much on the “popular” companies, withoutthinking through the components of a job that will be good to them with wherethey are now based on their skills, education, passions, and long-term goals. Behiringtook a look under the hood at behavioral science firms. The top companies inthe field of behavioral science firms can get up to 300+ job applications. Andyet there are many companies who pay for “featured posts” on LinkedIn andleading platforms. Why would they pay if they received 300 applications? It’sbecause they didn’t! A small group of companies get too many applications,taking away attention from the majority of suitable companies. Don’t follow thecrowd. Know the crowd, then strategize. You will have the ability to negotiateyour terms, save time, and spend more energy on things you care about.
Technical skills matter more than your friends (sort of)
Of all the people I speak to, the fact remains: You needdata and technical skills. Many universities fail miserably at teaching these,even at prestigious universities. In fact, code camps and boot camps havesprung up to fill the gap in this technical know-how. The most importantdetermining factor after all boxes have been checked is whether or not someoneis competent in manipulating, wrangling, managing, collecting, augmenting,structuring, and analyzing.... DATA. If you lack any skills in this area, youshould learn them, and it’s not hard. You never tell anyone you are bad atdata. If you are bad at data, you are not a scientist. At the same time, don’tlie. Take the time to learn the technical skills, instead of attending popularconferences or taking cool classes that actually offer you nothing more than afun experience and new friends. True friends will be by your side when you haveblood shot eyes staring at a computer screen. I promise you.
Show (don’t tell) your skills
There is a culture that has come up about telling aboutexperiences rather than showing a portfolio of papers, projects, and outcomes.This is not good. If you have the ability to show rather than tell, do it.There are ways to de-identify data and convince previous employers to let youshare important reports or data (with their approval) in order to show how faryou have come and what you can do.
How can you show your skills?
- post data and research on yourpersonal website
- make a list of all the things youhave done and
- writeabout your experiences and the main takeaways with visualized presentations
- give live presentations on whatyou do with Mickey Mouse examples – simple tests that show how you compare,analyze, and think about behavioral data
Take on (more) demanding projects
While it is important to work in a team, you will also needto take on projects for yourself. You will need to think through the steps,take responsibility, and challenge yourself. You will need to move from onlinestudies to real data with real people in the “field” or with people incompanies and businesses. You will not move forward without some element ofrisk that the project will not work out, so diversify your projects for somethat are low-risk and high-risk to help achieve stretch goals. You want to dosomething difficult, to show how you can analyze tough problems (Think:smoking, addiction, exercise habits, diabetes) – but know that these issues aretimeless and so will come slowly. Do not lose hope if your data stinks, if youdid the wrong analysis, or you found no results. Diversify to overcome theinecapable outcome of null results, logistical constraints, and botchedtimelines.
If you don’t have access to resources or teams, you can dodata-driven projects on your own with datasets available online. There are nowthousands of datasets available in addition to government and non profitorganizations who post surveys and collect data on issues that matter.
Informational interview (til you run out of breath)
Okay, now that you have your portfolio under control, think about where totarget your efforts. You should conduct an information interview. For templatesfor informational interviews, head over to Behiring and have a look. There aremany ways to connect, but informational interviews are a professional standard.You can literally talk to ANYONE you want at ANY TIME. Keep going until thatitch in the back of your neck has been satiated or til you have confidenceabout your next career move. It is important to be direct, not indirect. Reachout to someone who has a job that you also want one day to tell them, “WOW youare awesome. How do I get that job one day?” It’s really that simple. Peoplelove helping people.
Send follow up emails
Finally, send follow up emails. You will want to thank anyone you have met for their time, but also any employer you have applied to workfor, as well as past relationships. People often forget how deep their networksare, and in doing so, they make a serious error. All you have to do is useGoogle mail to collect all your professional contacts and say thanks to reconnect,and let people know what you are currently after. Again, people love helpingpeople.
Work on your (behavioral) resume
What is a behavioral resume? Click here to go to theBehiring site and learn more about the behavioral job market and how to improveyour job applications.
Behavioralscience is the study of how people make decisions across a range of domains andcultures. While it is not a new field, the presence of behavioural science in mainstreamcorporate America has been growing steadily over the last 20 years. In thisarticle we explore the history of the field, provide expert commentary on wherethe field is heading and why behavioural scientists, and those breaking intothe field, should remain optimistic. We take a deep dive into what a behvaioralscience career is and how to begin thinking through your next steps inbehavioral science.