About two years ago, I was a Ph.D. student finishing up my thesis and the related articles when reality became clear that after the 31st of December 2016, my chair at university would be taken by the next generation of researchers and I would have to find a company with a chair available for me. With many colleagues graduating in the years before and the stories about their (rough) job hunt, it was a very daunting perspective to set foot in the job market. I had never before applied for a job other than my Ph.D. position, which is absolutely not comparable, I had no experience “in the real world” and above all, I had a Ph.D. in Biology. In my head, all of these facts made sure that I would never ever get a job and I would have to go and learn something useful like being a shoemaker (I know this sounds funny, but it was an actual option in the back of my mind!). However, little did I know that things would change quickly in a very unexpected way!
How it all started
One day in the middle of summer, I went with my brothers to an agricultural fair in the south of Belgium. Growing up on a farm had his impact on us and as a holiday trip, we go there each year to look at tractors, try local beers and have a nice day. When we entered the fair, I saw all of the tents of the different companies that keep open some kind of bar for their clients to come and have a drink and a talk about their business. I jokingly told my brothers that I would better look for a job instead of the prettiest cow. They laughed, but quickly started convincing me that it was actually not such a stupid idea. As said, I started my job hunt at the spot! I randomly walked, utterly unprepared, into the first tent I saw and looked around for someone belonging to the firm. A second later, I was talking to someone of the management of Pomagro. My opening sentence literally was: “Hi I’m Nele and I was wondering if you have a job for me?”. Not the question the man had expected, but he started quickly with some follow up questions. Obviously he wanted to know what I studied and if I had any relation to agriculture. I explained my studies, my current situation and the fact that I grew up being a farmer’s daughter, and miracle oh miracle, he said my profile was actually interesting! I got his card and was asked to mail him my CV. Being overly enthusiastic about the fact that maybe I didn’t have to become a shoemaker, I mailed him my CV the same evening. The next day, a Tuesday, I got a response that he forwarded my information to a colleague of his at a sister company inside the group AVEVE. That afternoon, I got a phone call from the head of the technical team of Hermoo, which was also the first time I had ever heard of this company. He told me that he had read my CV and was interested in having a talk about it, since they might have a position available that suited me.
Two days later, I was already on my way to Sint-Truiden to get to know more about this mystery job they wouldn’t explain over the phone. I had a very nice talk with the head of the technical team and the commercial director and they finally explained to me which position they thought suitable for me. I would be some kind of middle person between the multinationals (Bayer, BASF, Syngenta,…), our commercial team on the road, our management, and our customers (fruit growers and farmers). When they were explaining to me that I would be able to apply all of my theoretical knowledge of plant physiology and method of action of pesticides, while having the chance to put on my rubber boots and go to farmers from time to time, as well as to put on my high heels and visit some international conferences to look for new opportunities, I quickly fell in love with the job. As the interview ended, I was promised to hear back from the company at the end of the next week whether or not it was positive.
Again, I was in for a surprise, since the next morning, we were Friday by then, my phone rang to invite me for a second interview, this time with the CEO and HR director! On Monday, I returned to Hermoo to have a second talk with these gentlemen, and although the talk was more intense than the hardest exam I ever took, I left the building two hours later, feeling confident I did everything I could. Seems that sometimes a gut feeling is right, because at the end of that week, I got to return to Hermoo to discuss a contract, and two months later, I started as technical field advisor. The strangest thing is still that although I have the theoretical background of plant physiology, I had never in my life set foot in an orchard. And now, about two years later, I’m one of the persons advising farmers on how to grow their beautiful crops.
The thing I want to emphasize is, don’t hold back on applying for a job if you think your profile doesn’t 100%, or even 80%, fit the job description. I realized that with a strong (theoretical) base in life sciences, you can start anywhere. Because with the right attitude and some serious motivation, you can learn all of the practical things you need to know. I knew nothing when I started, I still have to learn new things each day, but I’m slowly turning in a specialist who actually enjoys getting up in the morning to start the job I love.
Last modified: May 28, 2018