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An entrepreneur's take on job skills

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Mary Pat Moyer, CEO of INCELL, tells educators what she looks for in prospective employees. ​​

​In her work developing new vaccines and cancer therapies, Mary Pat Moyer finds that the people she employs are as important as the science that her biotech company uses.

Moyer maintains that the notion that commercialization of new technologies and scientific discoveries "is all about the science" is a myth.

"It is really about the team, the delivery. And really looking at what's my goal. No matter how cool the science is, you still have to look at the market. Is someone going to buy that. It's important to think about that in the whole realm of what you are doing, what you're planning and what you're conveying to young people," says Moyer, chief executive officer and chief science officer of INCELL Corp. in San Antonio, Texas.

At the recent Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Principal Investigators Conference in Washington, D.C., Moyer outlined the skills that she would like community colleges to teach, ranging from good laboratory and manufacturing practices, to honesty and timeliness.

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When hiring, Moyer says she looks for people whose skills cross multiple disciplines. She likes to hire people who have mastered aseptic lab techniques, understand cell and tissue therapies, take accurate lab notes, follow directions without reinterpreting them, collect and analyze data using computers and respond appropriately when they need to troubleshoot problems.

In addition to those high-level skills, Moyer says employees must understand the importance of attention to details when they are completing basic tasks, such as setting scales correctly, making solutions, cleaning glassware and caring for lab animals.    

Selecting new employees

Like many community college students, Moyer was the first person in her family to go to college, and her career path was put on hold for a few years to deal with her then-young family's needs. She also proudly points out that she has done every job that she asks her employees to do—including cleaning animal cages—and expects similar versatility and willingness from employees to do mundane tasks. 

Moyer infused humor when discussing her no-nonsense approach to hiring. The first question she asks applicants is if they can multi-task.

“If you can't, you're not hired. It is a simple as that," she says.

While explaining that she values good communications skills and notices whether people she is interviewing look her in the eye, Moyer says, "If they grunt, they don't get the job."

Candidates who text during interviews also fail her phone etiquettes standards.

"Can people follow instructions and not make their own instructions?" is another Moyer's key hiring considerations.

Because she began supporting herself at 14, Moyer likes to see complete work histories and urged educators to have students list every job on their resumes. It impresses her when people have worked their entire lives. She is dismissive of candidates who have not worked.

"If their parents have supported them their whole life, and they've never had a job, I will never hire them—ever," she says.

Invest in soft skills

Moyer’s company, like most high-tech firms, teaches new employees the specific regulatory requirements and protocols that are part of their duties. INCELL typically trains new employees for four to six months before allowing them to work on their own.

To help companies maximize their training investment and help more people succeed in the workplace, Moyer suggests community colleges develop the following characteristics in their students as they teach academic and technical skills:

  • a strong work ethic
  • prior work experiences
  • problem-solving skills

She looks for evidence that prospective employees are: 

  • team players
  • honest and trustworthy
  • loyal and respectful
  • curious
  • able to move "at a reasonable rate of speed"
  • coachable and trainable
  • capable of backing up a co-worker when necessary

Moyer also had a few tips for students who are looking for a job or are recent hires:

  • Get your own business cards and pass them out at meetings to distinguish yourself from other students.
  • Follow all the steps in standard operating procedures.
  • Smile and have a sense of humor.
  • Say hello and goodbye to coworkers.
  • Meet deadlines.
  • Understand that customers pay the bills.
  • Respect the different backgrounds of colleagues and the hierarchy of the organization.
  • Be a lifelong learner. 
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