How I landed an internship at Illumina

To summarize it in a single sentence, and as any career-advice panel will tell you, it’s all about networking.

Step 1. Make your Linkedin profile as nice as you can

On your Linkedin profile, include a lot a search terms that recruiters might be searching for. E.g. “Interests include… Specialties:…” And here, list everything you can think of! On my profile, I listed everything from course titles to programming languages and bioinformatics tools. Also, note that whereas endorsements do not count at all, recommendations count a LOT. (This was a tip from a recruiter.) Ask colleagues or professors to write recommendations for you on Linkedin. I had to bug multiple people multiple times until I got one. Getting recommendations will be hard because not many people are active on Linkedin, but I imagine a professor might eventually write one for you. It’s easier than writing a recommendation letter, after all.

Step 2. Network at conferences

Whenever I go to conferences, I make a note of every booth that has to do with my area of expertise (read: a place that might possibly hire me eventually). Then, I go around the booths, converse with the representatives to learn about the companies (read: try to make a memorable impression), and collect business cards. When I get home after the conference, I find everyone I can on Linkedin and connect with them. The result is that I’m connected to a lot of people in the bioinformatics industry. Eventually, when recruiters do searches, I’m in many peoples’ second- and third-degree networks, so I pop up in their search results and they email me.

Step 3. Ask to get introduced

I found out that a lab-mate knew someone who worked in the Illumina booth. We got introduced, and bingo, I had the connection to the company I wanted to work at. (If you don’t know anyone, ask people if they know anyone. Ask everyone you know!)

Step 4. Keep those connections alive

Don’t just make/accept a connection. Include a personal note (“It was great meeting you at ASHG”), or ask a question and start a conversation. (“I noticed you worked at ABC. How did it compare to being in academia?”) Use every opportunity to remind your connections about who you are. Send out emails to them when you publish something, or send season’s greetings emails around the holidays. It might sound spammy, but you want them to think of you, next time their buddy asks for a recommendation to fill that certain bioinformatics position!

Step 5. Go for informational interviews

Go on lunches with people in industry, or take them out for coffee. When I went to San Diego for a conference, I made sure to set up informational interviews during my lunch hour. Online networking is great, but personal connections are a hundred times better. Prepare questions ahead of time, and remember, it is a no-no to ask about a position during an informational interview, unless they bring it up first. Don’t worry, if you made a good impression, the leads will come!

Do you have any additional tips for landing a bioinformatics job or internship? Share your thoughts in the comments!

About alizrrao

I attended UCLA and majored in Computational and Systems Biology with a specialization in Bioinformatics. I chose the field because it was the perfect way to merge my love for biology, and my other passion: programming. Currently, I am a Bioinformatics Ph.D. candidate at UCLA in Stan Nelson's lab. Our lab sequences the exomes of individuals with rare genetic diseases or complex disorders, in hopes that we can identify the genetic mutations responsible for causing disease. In my research, I collaborate with clinicians and try to identify variants that may contribute to complex diseases such as bipolar disorder and autism. In addition, I look for patterns in the variation found in normal, healthy individuals. Knowing what normal variation looks like will help us determine which variants to filter out when looking for disease-causing variants. Outside the lab, I spend much of my time doing DIY projects around the house or going outdoors, jogging, hiking, or backacking. I dabble in various genres of dance, and love to travel all over the world. I hope that by contributing to Talking Genomes, I can be of help to those trying to enter the field of bioinformatics. It’s such a new and rapidly growing field, that I meet many who have heard of it want to learn more, but have no idea where to start. Here, I hope I can offer some insight to those readers, as well as share interesting experiences from the life of a Bioinformatics Ph.D. student.

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