Practical Advice for the Unemployed in Medtech

Brian Buntz

September 25, 2012

6 Min Read
Practical Advice for the Unemployed in Medtech

The U.S. medical device sector has fallen on tough times. The industry has slashed 2000 jobs in the past two months. In 2011, Medtronic itself announced plans to eventually cut up to 2000 positions, while Boston Scientific, Stryker, Abbott Laboratories, and Johnson & Johnson have also announced job cuts. More layoffs are likely to follow as device companies prepare for healthcare reform and adjust to the shifting needs of the global market.

To get some advice for those looking for work, or for those who simply worried about their long-term job prospects, we reached out to three individuals: medical device sales rep and Medsider founder Scott Nelson; Bill Betten, medical technology director at UBM TechInsights; and executive coach Olivia Fox Cabane, the author of "The Charisma Myth."

Image credits to Flickr users semuthutan and Images_of_Money. 

"First of all, don't panic," advises Bill Betten. "Instead, avail yourself of all the support you can get from your network." Getting a new job often takes considerable diligence and time, so be persistent.

Those looking to stay in the device space will need to consider adapting to the changing landscape. On a practical level, it is a good idea to study the field to find out where the real needs are, recommends Nelson. "When companies are looking to commercialize medical devices in the United States, the two biggest hurdles are often regulatory approval and reimbursement."

"Certainly regulatory affairs is one of the hotter fields right now in the medical space," agrees Betten, adding that there is also a lot of interest in medtech in intellectual property. "For a product manager, moving out of sales and going into regulatory affairs might be a possibility. For a quality assurance engineer on the medical side moving into regulatory could be a great choice." For those with a background in design engineering or process engineering, transitioning into regulatory affairs would be more difficult. The bottom line is: try to find something that is both in demand that is also a good fit for your psychology and your long-term employment prospects, Betten says. "I am a firm believing in finding the things that ignite your passion."

On a related point, Betten says that "most people you meet in the medical device industry are there because they feel that they are helping people and they feel motivated by that. But trying to translate that skill set of getting products built and through the FDA does not necessarily translate well into other arenas," he adds. Some individuals may have no other choice but to branch out and consider work in industries other than medtech. People looking to do that should "look for ways to emphasize your skill sets that are relevant to the field you are going into," Betten says. The consumer and the medtech worlds are very different so it is important "to emphasize to potential employers the pieces of your background that show that you can be adaptable. Ideally, you should adapt ahead of time, if possible."

In terms of polishing off your résumé, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. "For one thing, making a statement without quantifying it is basically wasted space," Nelson says. "This will be a little different for an engineer. But instead of a sales rep writing, for instance, that 'I sell a mechanical thrombectomy device," try to use data to back up your work in that area. "It's better if you said: 'I sold 103% of my quota for thrombectomy devices for 2011,'" The other thing to keep in mind is that everything on your résumé should have a story behind it. "You shouldn't put something on there that you can't dive deeper into. And going into the interview, you should have those stories prepared," he says.

One question that is often asked in a job interview is along the lines of: "Could you walk me through your résumé?" "When some people hear that, they fall into a trap and chronologically explain what they have already written down," Nelson says. "You have to use that question as a way to further promote yourself," he says. "If I am an engineer and I led a certain project, I want to pinpoint and tell a story how good it was and how the project made the company x amount of money or how the company was able to take a product idea to launch in x amount of months and set a company record."

Becoming social media savvy, or savvier, can also prove helpful, Nelson says. "Although most companies in the device space still recruit using résumés, it is a good idea to have a professional presence on the major social media platforms--especially LinkedIn," Nelson says. "If you get laid off, is LinkedIn going to help you get a job? Probably not although it certainly doesn't hurt. But at some point in the interview process, your name is going to be Googled and if you have a nice LinkedIn profile page, that certainly helps your cause."

The Power of Charisma

In terms of the dynamics of a job interview, a candidate must quickly broadcast to the interviewer that he or she could be a powerful ally, says executive coach Olivia Fox Cabane. That is, they must demonstrate warmth as well as power. When meeting someone for the first time, a person generally makes a snap judgement about that individual in about two seconds to assess their intelligence, trustworthiness, and social success, she says.

To make such an impression takes charisma, she says. Recommending that job interviewers become good at broadcasting confident body language. "Assuming a strong, confident physical posture will make you feel more confident and more powerful. People who assume expansive poses experience a measurable physiological shift. In one experiment, assertiveness- and energy-promoting hormones rose by 19%, while anxiety hormones fell by 25%."

Although it sounds obvious, it is vital to breathe slowly and deeply to remain calm throughout the interview. "One of the first things I question my clients when we work on projecting charismatic body language is: 'What's your breathing like right now?' Anytime your breathing is shallow, you activate the stress response," she says. "It's hard to feel calm, relaxed, and confident when you're not getting enough oxygen and your body thinks it's in fight- or-flight mode. Make sure you can breathe, so avoid constrictive clothing. Taking even just one deep, slow, full breath can instantly lower your stress level, increase your feeling of confidence well-being, and even boost your immune system."

In general, one of the biggest hurdles to charisma is lack of confidence. Cabane points to a condition known as the "impostor syndrome," which convinces competent people to believe they will be exposed as a fraud. The condition affects more than 70% of the population to some degree or another, according to research done at Georgia State University. Understanding how common this feeling is can help destigmatize the it, she says.

It's worth undertaking a study of charisma, which is a topic that has been studied by everyone from sociologists and psychologists to neuroscientists. Cabane points to laboratory experiments that confirmed that people's level of charisma could be altered by asking them to assume specific behaviors.  

Brian Buntz is the editor-at-large at UBM Canon's medical group. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz.

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