How To Get A Job In Behavioral and Data Science: 8 Words of Wisdom

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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.

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1 - Get the degrees (in due time)

To start, in many fields, you need degrees. However, in behavioral science, you need the right degrees or the proper training, not necessarily masters or doctorate degrees. Many companies value work experience in behavioral marketing, project management, team management, and organizational skills without having any higher education beyond a college degree. That being said, to advance in the field, you will need to get higher degrees that match your interests in behavioral science. Scratch that. You will WANT to get higher degrees that match your interests because you can do more projects the way you like them, in your area, in your own way, and be in control of the outcome.

Okay, now that that is out of the way... What many doctorate-holding individuals won’t admit – ever – is that: A masters degree is often 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 life you gave to a university isn’t worth as much as you thought. In fact, there are CEOs who have masters degrees; and if you check the list for the number of presidents with doctorates, you will have to go all the way to European leaders to add them on more than one hand.

2 - Network (but not too much)

People network to find out about job opportunities, but the network itself does not a qualified employee make (Yoda? Is that you?). In fact, many people go to too many conferences, in a narrow field, and hope to get into a narrow range of companies. This spells disaster for their career trajectory because they focus too much on the “popular” companies, without thinking through the components of a job that will be good to them with where they are now based on their skills, education, passions, and long-term goals. Behiring took a look under the hood at behavioral science firms. The top companies in the field of behavioral science firms can get up to 300+ job applications. And yet there are many companies who pay for “featured posts” on LinkedIn and leading platforms. Why would they pay if they received 300 applications? It’s because they didn’t! A small group of companies get too many applications, taking away attention from the majority of suitable companies. Don’t follow the crowd. Know the crowd, then strategize. You will have the ability to negotiate your terms, save time, and spend more energy on things you care about.

3 - Technical skills matter more than your friends (sort of)

Of all the people I speak to, the fact remains: You need data and technical skills. Many universities fail miserably at teaching these, even at prestigious universities. In fact, code camps and boot camps have sprung up to fill the gap in this technical know-how. The most important determining factor after all boxes have been checked is whether or not someone is competent in manipulating, wrangling, managing, collecting, augmenting, structuring, and analyzing.... DATA. If you lack any skills in this area, you should learn them, and it’s not hard. You never tell anyone you are bad at data. If you are bad at data, you are not a scientist. At the same time, don’t lie. Take the time to learn the technical skills, instead of attending popular conferences or taking cool classes that actually offer you nothing more than a fun experience and new friends. True friends will be by your side when you have blood shot eyes staring at a computer screen. I promise you.

4 - Show (don’t tell) your skills

There is a culture that has come up about telling about experiences 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 you share important reports or data (with their approval) in order to show how far you have come and what you can do.

How can you show your skills?

  • post data and research on your personal website

  • make a list of all the things you have done

  • write about your experiences and the main takeaways with visualized presentations

  • give live presentations on what you do with Mickey Mouse examples – simple tests designed for complete novices that show how you compare, analyze, and think about behavioral data

5 - Take on (more) demanding projects

While it is important to work in a team, you will also need to take on projects for yourself. You will need to think through the steps, take responsibility, and challenge yourself. You will need to move from online studies to real data with real people in the “field” or with people in companies and businesses. You will not move forward without some element of risk that the project will not work out, so diversify your projects for some that are low-risk and high-risk to help achieve stretch goals. You want to do something difficult, to show how you can analyze tough problems (Think: smoking, addiction, exercise habits, diabetes) – but know that these issues are timeless and so will come slowly. Do not lose hope if your data stinks, if you did the wrong analysis, or you found no results. Diversify to overcome the inecapable outcome of null results, logistical constraints, and botched timelines.

If you don’t have access to resources or teams, you can do data-driven projects on your own with datasets available online. There are now thousands of datasets available in addition to government and non profit organizations who post surveys and collect data on issues that matter.

6 - Informational interview (til you run out of breath)

Okay, now that you have your portfolio under control, think about where to target your efforts. You should conduct an information interview. For templates for informational interviews, head over to Behiring and have a look. There are many ways to connect, but informational interviews are a professional standard. You can literally talk to ANYONE you want at ANY TIME. Keep going until that itch in the back of your neck has been satiated or til you have confidence about your next career move. It is important to be direct, not indirect. Reach out to someone who has a job that you also want one day to tell them, “WOW you are awesome. How do I get that job one day?” It’s really that simple. People love helping people.

7 - Send follow up emails

Finally, send follow up emails. You will want to thank any one you have met for their time, but also any employer you have applied to work for, as well as past relationships. People often forget how deep their networks are, and in doing so, they make a serious error. All you have to do is use Google mail to collect all your professional contacts and say thanks to reconnect, and let people know what you are currently after. Again, people love helping people.

8 - Work on your (behavioral) resume

What is a behavioral resume? Head over to the Behiring site and learn more about the behavioral job market and how to improve your job applications.

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