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What's wrong with me?

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What's wrong with me?

Postby Eric » Wed Dec 01, 2004 5:07 pm

Greetings all:

Here's the situation: I have a PhD in physical chemistry (emphasis on biophysics) and I'm in my third year as a postdoc at a well respected national lab. I went to a top 40 graduate school and did extremely well; I won teaching awards as well as awards for my research. I don't have the greatest publication record but the publications I do have are in high impact factor journals and the work is complicated and involved. I won a competitive postdoctoral fellowship at the place I am now. The point I'm trying to make is that I'm not the greatest chemist in the world, but I'd like to believe that I'm definitely above average.

I was planning on trying to take a permanent staff position here when my postdoc was up. That fell through (funding) a few months ago and I was rapidly thrown into the job market. Since about July or so, I've sent out roughly 50 applications to numerous big companies as well as a few smaller ones. I've gotten ONE (1 out of 50!) phone call that resulted in an interview and ultimately they didn't give me the job. What am I doing wrong? Everywhere I've ever been I've been (grad school and here) known as the guy to go to when you need help with a tough problem. I have outstanding reference letters (I've never seen them, but the writers have gone out of their way to tell me how strong they are). I'm just trying to show that my perception of myself is not just in my head but do in part to comments and actions from others.

At the risk of sounding terribly arrogant; If I'm not getting the jobs, who is? Is the job market really that tough that the only employable people are the "absolute top notch cream of the crop"? Quite frankly, somebody THAT good wouldn't even be interested in the same jobs as me.

Every year C & E News publishes an emplyment survey/outlook. I can't recall the exact number, but the unemployment rate among chemists is certainly less than 5%. If I can't find a job that implies that my qualifications rank in the BOTTOM 5% of all chemists. I just don't believe that. Even if I do get a job, the fact that it has been so difficult puts me near the bottom 5%. Just so you know, I'm not shooting too high either. I'm applying for Senior Scientist positions with 0 years of experience. Most of the jobs I've applied to don't even say anything about postdoc experience.

I'm frustrated and my stress level is about as high as it has ever been. I would appreciate any comments/advice that anyone may have.

By the way, I've recently started pursuing academic postions so as not to rule anything out. I've sent out about 30 packages so far and have yet to hear anything. I'm not too worried YET, since most of the reviews for those positions weren't scheduled to start until mid November. If I don't start hearing from them soon, I don't know what I'll do.

Thank you,

Eric
Eric
 

What's wrong with me?

Postby A. Sam » Wed Dec 01, 2004 6:37 pm

First of all there's nothing wrong with you and you're not alone. Did you read the recent threads: "In need of confidence booster...", "Nothing to be thankful for...", "no network=notwork", "The first job" on this message board? I think you'll find you're having a fairly representative experience. This forum is almost as much of a support group as it is a career resource, which is fine with me by the way. If you want to work for a company then your practical experience and network are about a million times more important than your academic papers, awards, rankings etc. How many of your letters of recommendation are from people in a business setting? I'll bet none. You're posting reveals an academic mindset and with your specialty, I suspect it might be more appropriate for you to stay on the academic path. The beauty of that is you can post-doc for however long it takes you to find a job. Many people would find that less painful than what it takes to break into industry. But take heart, I guarantee you'll land a job eventually, everybody does somehow.

Sam
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What's wrong with me?

Postby Andy » Wed Dec 01, 2004 7:10 pm

Eric,

We all feel your pain. As to your question "if I'm not getting the jobs, who is?" the answer is: The people that are out there networking on a consistent basis over a period of months. I am just wrapping up a job search and started looking eight months before I left my previous employer. This months-long process consisted of cold calling people I half-knew multiple times per week.

One thing that worked for me (not in terms of a job but in terms of good contacts, which lead to jobs): I emailed a chemist that my old boss knew well. I had never met this chemist, but I emailed her, told her my situation, and asked her for help in finding a good small company. She replied with tons of information and contacts. That's the sort of thing I would recommend to you.

And like Sam says, keep the faith, something will turn up. Meanwhile, from time to time you will feel extremely frustrated and wonder if you made the right career choice. Don't worry, you did. It'll just take a while for it to sink in.

By the way this just reminds me that anyone thinking of going to graduate school should make darn sure they really want to commit to what a career in science entails.

Best of luck to you,

Andy
Andy
 

What's wrong with me?

Postby Val » Thu Dec 02, 2004 1:47 am


Eric,

I live outside of the US, and it is easier for me to see some of shortcomings of the US society. It is over-competitive. There is a less number of "good" PhD-requiring jobs than of applicants. The society invents an arbitrary mechanism to lable a part of population "bad" and then discriminates against them. Currently, it is the idea that the one with the largest number of high-impact journal publications wins. However, there is a more basic mechanism according which people get the jobs. There is an old adage: "It is not what you know, it is who you know". When employer looks for an employee, the employer wants to feel that the successful applicant will help solve the problem of the employer and not be a hindrance. In other words, the employer looks for the capability to be able to relate to the employee. The employer looks for the employee among the pool of people with whom he is "chummy". People the prospective employees from the same social work will be reliable, as the employer can influence the employee through the social network if he misbehaves. The professional skills and capability are important, but they are less important than the ability of the employer to rely on the employee. Besides, in today's world any average person can do the job.

According to my observations, all people go through the three stages of their lives. At the first stage, everything is fine in their lives, and they have a job. They never suffer. Then the real world demolishes their piecful existence, and the people realise that the outer world is not friendly and their very professional existence was fragile. They are at high level of stress. (And this is where you are probably now). At the third stage, people start fighting for survival (they need to put food on their table and pay the bills, after all), and discover the truth. They need to have the attitudes/capabilities/skills which will make them useful to employers in this world.

Among the useful adjustements which people work out is the realisation that nobody will help you in your career besides you, and people start to develop the networks. They start going to the conferences and make themselves visible; they find the opportunities to do the work at work in which they are truly interested -- in this way, they became known for their capabilities to the prospective employers.

In resume, I would say that there are some people that imply or say that something is wrong with you... don't take it too close to your heart. There is nothing wrong with you. In fact, there is nothing wrong with whatever you do. If you take those words too close, they will destroy your mind and spirit. The strong spirit will bring you through obstacles to the series of the important satisfying job positions. Just be persistent, and take care of high level of your spirit.

Regards,
Val
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What's wrong with me?

Postby Kim » Thu Dec 02, 2004 2:43 am

Hi Val:

I think your previous post is a half truth coming from someone who does not really understand America.

True, in the US, people who have network or connection get advantages over those who do not. However, it is universal. And, it is even more so in the old and traditional Europe and Asia. By comparison, the US is still, by far, the most "meritocratic" society in the world. In England and Japan, people talk about "class". In India, people care about "caste". In China, people emphasize "guanxi". Those relationships stretch over generations.

Look around the industry in the US. You will see many successful scientists with foreign origin. In most cases, those people came to the US without any connections and networks. You will not see too many foreign scientists working in Europe or Asia, for examples. Yes, network and connection help in the US. But you still have a much easier time to develop them than in any other places in the world.

Kim
 
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What's wrong with me?

Postby John_Mastro » Thu Dec 02, 2004 9:04 am

I think the other posters covered it but what may be wrong with your job search, is that you set 50 applications not sure what this means but if it means you just sent out 50 letters and resumes to HR people, or dept heads that is what is wrong. When I went to a job search training for experienced professionals they emphasized the need to focus on perhaps 5 companies or depts at a time, where you do a lot deep research and cold calling, find out who the hiring supervisors are and communicating directly with those people. Your letters and resumes have to be modified specifically for each target. You probably need to get on the phone big time a couple of hrs a day, visit sites if at all possible, solicit informational interviews. Otherwise your chances of getting a job are a crap shoot. The good news is it is the season now for academic jobs searches so if you go that route you need to work hard at it now. Academic depts are looking now for candidates for the summer or fall session.
Your job is now as a sales person one of the dirty little secrets for Phds is that skill is critical in maintaining a career, since as a previous poster said the American system is over competative .. sadly all too many Phds including myself did not appreciate this until it was too late. If I had known this and how weak I was in the salesmanship , charm, charisma department I would not have gone into science.
Anyway, it sounds like you need to develop better job leads by cold calling and networking prior to submitting an application, then follow up on leads where you have spent a reasonable amount of time identifying the real hiring managers and grooming your head, your letters, your phone scripts, and resume specifically for each target.
John_Mastro
 

What's wrong with me?

Postby Kim » Thu Dec 02, 2004 9:17 am

Maybe I did not make myself clear in my first post. Let me do it again.

The over-competitiveness is an *advantage* for the US, not a problem. It keeps the US at the top. It is also the reason why American scientists dominate the Nobel Prize winner list for the last 20 years or so.

The secret for success everywhere: network + competence = success.

An incompetent person with extensive network and connection would not succeed. That person is limited by his own ability. Network and connection are not everything, though they are important. On the other hand, a competent person without much network or connection would have difficulties to reach his full potential. That person is limited by "the lack of opportunities". That person would depend on "random lucks". One needs both to succeed.

People are having hard time to find the first job. To be fair, it is tough to make the first break in every field, not just in science. And I believe that most of us are certainly capable of doing the job, if we are given a chance. How do people get the chance? Networking is one effective way to get that chance. A PhD degree in science is never a guarantee for a life time employment.

In the US, unlike other places in the world, networking is much easier to develop. This egalitarian nation is built by the people who hate the social and class barriers of the Old World. And the Americans, unlike most Europeans and Asians, are usually outgoing and open and very trusting. Sometimes, unfotunately, even naive.
Kim
 
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What's wrong with me?

Postby Eric » Thu Dec 02, 2004 10:46 am

I just wanted to drop a quick note and thank everybody for their comments thusfar. I'm anxious to hear others perspectives.

I do want to comment quickly about what John said. John, to some extent I think that you are absolutely right. For what it is worth, I tried doing this and met a great deal of opposition (especially with the large companies). They make it nearly impossible to find any contact information that could actually lead to somewhere useful. One of the things that I did was to search the literature for publications from certain companies. I would then contact the authors directly and inquire about a job. About half didn't even respond and the other half said they couldn't help me or that I'm welcome to submit my CV to the HR dept.

Just another comment: Why are they posting jobs if they already know who they want to fill them? Before you say it, I'm aware that companies are required by law to advertise most positions. However, if there is a person they have in mind, they usually tailor the ad to suit only that person. All of the jobs I applied for were not that specific. For example, they would be looking for an "optical spectroscopist" not an expert in a specific type of spectroscopy.

Eric
Eric
 

What's wrong with me?

Postby Eric » Thu Dec 02, 2004 10:54 am

One more thing I'd like to mention. I've always been told that the "good" jobs are not advertised and that going through a headhunter is the best way to go (if you don't otherwise have an "in" in a company). When I was finishing up grad school, I was actually contacted by a couple of headhunters (totally unsolicited). Now, however, I have a PhD, I've done a good postdoc, and overall I'm well qualified. So, I started contacting headhunters. Not a single one of them was of any help whatsoever. Most responded only with a form email or letter that says something to the effect, "thank you for your submission, we will enter your resume in our database, etc.". My understanding is that headhunters don't get paid unless they find jobs for people. How is it that I seem to have contacted the ones that apparently aren't in need of a paycheck (sarcasm intended)? I would have thought at the very least, someone would have called me back (or sceduled a phone interview) to ask me what I'm looking for, more about my background, etc. But I got nothing.

Eric
Eric
 

What's wrong with me?

Postby Andy » Thu Dec 02, 2004 11:59 am

Eric,

I think you are missing the point of how headhunters work. They typically are not focused on positions that are entry level positions in industry. Instead, they focus on getting people with industrial experience into more senior positions. One reason for this is that there are typically a ton of PhD's waiting to fill the entry level positions. It's not hard to fill those positions, which is part of the reason your job search has been slower than you anticipated. In addition, headhunters often are paid a percentage of the salary for the position they help to fill. Consequently, they spend most of their energy on more senior positions which will end up being more lucrative for their firm. Dave Jensen will correct me if I'm wrong here.

When contacting companies in an attempt to get contact information for hiring managers, don't just call up the company itself unless you already have a contact there. You need to use your personal network to dig out information about who works where and how to get in touch with them. And when you do get someone, don't be looking for a job, be looking for advice.

Best regards,

Andy
Andy
 

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