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Finding it hard to get noticed - 8 months unemployed

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Finding it hard to get noticed - 8 months unemployed

Postby SCT » Fri Sep 01, 2017 10:35 am

A big hello to all forum members.

Apologies for starting off on a rather sombre topic. But at the age of 49, I find myself - for the first time ever - out of work for a relatively prolonged period. I left my previous post (voluntarily - in order to relocate back to the UK) at the end of December 2016. And started to look for new career opportunities in February 2017. Since then, I have sent off approx 500 job applications (either direct, through a recruitment agency, or speculatively). Thus far, I have received just two on-site interviews. And no offers. I do get phone calls from recruiters occasionally, they ask the usual questions (previous experience, availability, salary expectations etc). They match me to a role that I like, even help me modify my CV to suit the role, the application gets sent. Then - nothing. I don't appear to get shortlisted anymore.

After some soul searching, I am starting to suspect I may have become less employable for the following reasons (to a greater or lesser degree).

1. Age: at 49, I may be getting overlooked in favour of younger, fresher talent - even though I am not applying for entry-level positions.

2. Too multi-disciplinary: There was a time when being cross-functional was a positive attribute - but now I feel specialisation in a narrow field (eg expert in flow cytometry, or HPLC) is key.

3. Too travelled: There was also a time when working abroad was seen in a positive light. It demonstrated flexibility, adaptability etc. But now I'm always asked "why did you go abroad ?" followed by "why did you come back ?"

It is puzzling - and a tad bit worrying as a large career gap is now appearing in my CV. And savings are rapidly evaporating. What am I missing ?
SCT
 
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Re: Finding it hard to get noticed - 8 months unemployed

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Sep 01, 2017 1:19 pm

Hello SCT

First off, age 49 is not "too old" in the job market. It might be too old for an entry level PhD position, or a post for a BS or MS level scientist, but it certainly is still prime time for career moves.

The numbers you talk about are not good. But the biggest concern I have is that you have this REALLY BIG BIG number of "500 Applications." That's the trouble, in my opinion. The only way you can reach 500 applications is to be applying on websites or mass-mailing CV's off to companies. Which is probably the single worst way to find a job. Companies don't even look in their databases of people who "applied." The hiring manager doesn't trust that information. He or she will network with their contacts, friends, former postdoc colleagues, favorite professors, and so on . . . they are looking for you via a process that you may be missing out on entirely if all you are doing is "applying."

You need to be FOUND. The only way to be found is to be networking, just as the hiring manager is networking. You need to work your way up that particular food chain, by starting with people you know and ending up with people you're introducing yourself to who you have had no previous connection with. Read the columns which are all over the website here (ScienceCareers.org) by many authors which focus on how networking works and why it is so important.

You'll want to have a general strategy of meeting as many people as you can and asking them about how they landed their jobs, or what kind of work they do, or what their company is like to work for, etc. Along the way, you'll meet people who will want to help you along, and you'll get deeper into the conversation with them via informational interviewing. Hopefully, you won't ask "Are there any openings?" in the first minutes of those contacts, as that will send you to Human Resources, where you don't want to end up as one piece of paper in a stack of 500 CV's.

Seriously, get away from the "applying" mindset and more into the mode of meeting and talking to people, and you'll do much better.

With regards to the international elements, I have never seen anyone who considers that as a negative. Most companies that I work for like to see international experience and exposure to multiple cultures and disciplines. That makes you a better scientist and helps you in interpersonal relationships with companies, where often the team consists of people from various cultures.

Regards,

Dave Jensen, Moderator
"One of the most powerful networking practices is to provide immediate value to a new connection. This means the moment you identify a way to help someone, take action." - Lewis Howes
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Re: Finding it hard to get noticed - 8 months unemployed

Postby Nate W. » Sat Sep 02, 2017 12:34 am

I agree with Dave. You need to talk to people within your target companies instead of emailing resumes. This takes time and 8 months is not long. I know well qualified attorneys in Dallas unemployed for 3.5 years after the Great Recession of 2008. There is a rule of thumb that says for every 10K you made previously (or seeking in compensation) it will take 1 month looking 40 hours a week. This means if you made 100k, it will take 10 months to find a job making 100K. There are some entrepreneurial things that you can do in the meantime; start a consulting company, teaching, join the Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club, study for the patent bar, write a patent, or volunteer your expertise to the right company or firm in the industry. If you start a consulting firm (LLC), you can use this to fill in the gap in your employment while you look; if asked what you were doing, I was trying to start a company. For example, I and two medical resident bought a license on a compound from an University and are trying to sell it to a supplement company after manufacturing it and selling it on Amazon to prove the business concept.

Two databases that I highly recommended (talk to the local B-school library) are PrivCo and Merchant Intellect. These databases will give the direct email and phone numbers of most employees in some companies. For example, 23 and Me gives the entire C-suite and most VPs and Directors contact information. This is a gold mine for networking. You can search by revenues, EBITA, net profits, geographic areas, public/private, and very specific technical niches within the biotech sector or pharmaceuticals. Then you can narrow down information using SEC Edgar database for public companies or banking investing websites for clients. USPTO patent database is a great resource also. Call the investors and public relation folks listed on the company website. Talk with these guys; they are great for networking. Once I got the cell number of the VP of Research from a nice company relations spokeperson, after talking shop about the company. There are nice people out there who will help with information and contacts.

Also, think about how you can apply and use your expertise in different ways and in different types of companies. Then if you get a good idea, pitch to it to a company executive. Think outside the box. For example, how can a medical device company use a cell biologist or an investment bank might use a biologist with certain drug development expertise. Ask for an independent contractor position to prove the concept and you can do this for multiple type of employers if you are cleaver (sometimes the work will overlap!). Especially, if are not in a hub. If you are interesting in banking and being a technical advisor, shoot me a private email. I'll give you an idea to try; I am interested if it will work in other cities and different employers in those cities.

This is really a gig economy right now in the US; no 1950-60s pension and gold watch after 40 years of service; loyalty doesn't exist only show me the money or the bottom line.

Hope this helps. Tell us what you are looking for and whether you are in a hub city. If it is not a hub city, tell us if you in a college town or a large city, like DC. Don't be specific. This way we might be able to help you further.

Hope this helps. Check out those databases. We are here to help and we have your back.

PS: Remember guys there are many fellow scientists in Houston that probably loss more than a job last week.
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Re: Finding it hard to get noticed - 8 months unemployed

Postby SCT » Sun Sep 03, 2017 4:41 am

@Dave Jensen

Thank you for your considered reply.

You make some good points. Regarding job applications, I went for the scattershot approach - which I appreciate is unfocussed. looking at my "jobs applied" folder in my e-mail inbox, the actual number is 477. I registered with various online job boards - and requested e-mail alerts for any jobs containing key words (scientist, biotech, project manager etc). At first, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of new jobs that appear on these jobs boards almost every day. So, I started applying as I saw fit. This has meant that my CV has now saturated many of organisations I applied to. Not good. I also registered with recruitment agencies that specialise in Science/tech jobs. That's been a mixed bag so far. I am wary of losing the interest of recruiters as they realise I am not getting interviews. They'll just move on to the next person.

Agreed - I haven't really done much networking. I contacted former friends and colleagues (some of who have gone to occupy senior positions) to let them know I'm in the jobs market. I have an up-to-date linkedin profile - but I haven't explored how I could be more pro-active with networking - as you say, to be found.

That's something I need to work on now.
SCT
 
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Re: Finding it hard to get noticed - 8 months unemployed

Postby SCT » Sun Sep 03, 2017 5:22 am

@Nate W

Thank you for your reply and for taking the time to provide all the additional information.

I should have mentioned - I' British - based in Cambridge, UK. Cambridge is Europe's largest Biotech cluster - there are several science parks dotted around the University town and each park is home to start-ups, SME's as well as some blue chip organisations. In short, if you are an R&D Scientist in Europe, this is the place to look for career opportunities. I worked here for 13 years before my spell abroad. Having returned, my wife (a PhD molecular biologist) quickly found a position with a local biotech company. Ironically, she got the job through a former colleague (contact) of mine who is now in a senior position. Alas, he doesn't have anything for me at present. But it does highlight Dave Jensen's point about the importance of networking. I have been so focussed on sending off job applications on job boards, that I have become an arm-chair job hunter - when perhaps a more direct, pro-active approach is what's needed. Not sure how to go about it exactly, but you and Dave have already provided some pointers.

I do like your suggestion of looking at alternative strategies - that of offering core skills to organisations/services that aren't R&D companies. This is something I have never really considered before, but it certainly opens up a whole new avenue.

I did consider teaching - as this is a career that I would be very happy to move into. There is a government scheme here that fast-tracks qualified scientists into science teaching (via a short training course).

Thanks again for all the tips and suggestions - I appreciate I need to get out of the house and spend more time interacting with the scientific community through former colleagues/acquaintances.
SCT
 
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Re: Finding it hard to get noticed - 8 months unemployed

Postby D.X. » Mon Sep 04, 2017 7:48 am

Hi SCT,

Basically i think you're being hit by ageism as well secondary to what Dave noted about your Approach, fix that first. Sadly not much to do on ageism specifically, we can't get younger.

You call out relevant Points and you've done your Soul searching to raise those Points. I too have done them but i'm about 9 years your Junior and your Points are well consided challenges where i see future risks to my career - currently employed in pharma but acutely Aware that my clock is ticking. There is just too much Change in this industry where the risk is more in favor of being out of a Job as one gets older, even if one things one has acheive a certain Level. Political tides Change.

So that being said, have you tried thinking about starting up your own Business? This is what my wife and I have done, its was more for learning and getting the process down (both legal/Registration wise but also Business wise, i.e. Business templates, operational costs, and forecasts). So far, there has been sales! - nothing that will allow us to retire with ferrais in the Garage soon but or even pay grocery bill but its a start. Ist nothing to do with science, its retail Distribution but if we fail, nothing to lose but very small Investment (which we wrote off anyways) and a huge gain on learning (learning social media, digital Marketing, etc.) plus Networking. So its something AND its nothing. But a tiny step towards our Goal of being free from corporate by Age 50 (its a promise to ourselves).

Is there something you find interesting within your career or even outside? Doesn't take much $ to start something up - it does take time!

Also - how is your writing and scientific/techincial writing skills? In Cambridge UK there are a few 3rd Party medical communication firms and satellite Offices of contract Research organizations - have you considered contract/free-lance writing roles (I hear in the UK there is a tax Advantage to those roles vs. permanant FTEs). And i know there alot of those roles on the agency side.

Can you look for Scientific Officer roles as part of NHS? My friend has one of them. Pay is not great but its a permanant/life role.

Good luck on the Networking!

DX
D.X.
 
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Re: Finding it hard to get noticed - 8 months unemployed

Postby SCT » Wed Sep 06, 2017 8:28 am

D.X. wrote:Hi SCT,

Basically i think you're being hit by ageism as well secondary to what Dave noted about your Approach, fix that first. Sadly not much to do on ageism specifically, we can't get younger.

You call out relevant Points and you've done your Soul searching to raise those Points. I too have done them but i'm about 9 years your Junior and your Points are well consided challenges where i see future risks to my career - currently employed in pharma but acutely Aware that my clock is ticking. There is just too much Change in this industry where the risk is more in favor of being out of a Job as one gets older, even if one things one has acheive a certain Level. Political tides Change.

So that being said, have you tried thinking about starting up your own Business? This is what my wife and I have done, its was more for learning and getting the process down (both legal/Registration wise but also Business wise, i.e. Business templates, operational costs, and forecasts). So far, there has been sales! - nothing that will allow us to retire with ferrais in the Garage soon but or even pay grocery bill but its a start. Ist nothing to do with science, its retail Distribution but if we fail, nothing to lose but very small Investment (which we wrote off anyways) and a huge gain on learning (learning social media, digital Marketing, etc.) plus Networking. So its something AND its nothing. But a tiny step towards our Goal of being free from corporate by Age 50 (its a promise to ourselves).

Is there something you find interesting within your career or even outside? Doesn't take much $ to start something up - it does take time!

Also - how is your writing and scientific/techincial writing skills? In Cambridge UK there are a few 3rd Party medical communication firms and satellite Offices of contract Research organizations - have you considered contract/free-lance writing roles (I hear in the UK there is a tax Advantage to those roles vs. permanant FTEs). And i know there alot of those roles on the agency side.

Can you look for Scientific Officer roles as part of NHS? My friend has one of them. Pay is not great but its a permanant/life role.

Good luck on the Networking!

DX


@DX

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and personal experiences. Alas, the age thing may well have caught up. I too was warned that remaining in academia for too long (on short term post doctoral contracts) could be detrimental in the long term. And while I did get papers published (and appear as co-inventor on 4 patents) - it wasn't followed up by getting a lectureship (or tenure as is called in the USA). Neither did I ever think abut starting my own business. The main reason for this is that I have really had a discrete idea or a specific calling life to dedicate time/effort towards. many of my former colleagues applied for their own grants or attracted seed funding to start their own companies - but I think I have always lacked that 'killer' entrepreneureal conviction to stand by my inventions/ideas and take them out of the lab. Outside of R&D - the only career that I think I could readily step onto is teaching. There are programs here in the UK to fast-track qualified scientists into subjects where there is a shortage of teachers (Chemistry, Physics, Maths).
You mention medical/technical writing - and that too is something I would like to be able to get into - so I need to explore this avenue further.

I looked on NHS website for science officer/study leader type roles in my area and sure enough, there are quite a few roles. So thanks for pointing me in that direction too.

I think my mindset of "I'm a research scientists - so I will only look for R&D jobs that appear online" has probably hindered me from entertaining allied careers and opportunities where some of the skills could have been transferrable. So a lot of doors that may have been open 10-15 years a go, have closed now. So please don't get into the same situation!

Thanks again for chiming on - certainly helps to talk and listen. Appreciate it.
SCT
 
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