Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Feast or Famine

It’s feast or famine here, people.  Monday was coffee with a REAL professional Scientist.  That was really good, he was encouraging about my prospects, about the market here in general, about my skills specifically.  And he told me, this is a good time to be job hunting, since this is the time of year budgets are set for the new year.  And that slowly sank in as, “Wait, I might not have a job until January?!” The whole reason this job hunting all day everything works is because I still believe that the next phone call is going to be an interview, or the next contact will help me get an offer.  Not that I have been very buoyant about this lately, but that left me completely deflated.  I grumbled a lot, and then started doing things I thought were ridiculous- responding to LinkedIn posts, calling recruiters who I’ve been trying to get in touch with for months, Googling networking events (weaseling my way into professional societies), I got a business license (more on THAT later)…. And just feeling sour about it.  “If I’m not gonna have a job until next year, why should I apply for jobs that I am a match for??  Why not jobs that are on my bus route or some other inane criteria?!”  I was not in a pleasant frame of mine.

And part of my desperation to DO something was because I’m traveling a fair bit in the next couple weeks.  I’ve got some family stuff this week, and next week I am going to an algae workshop.  That should make me feel like I’ve got lots going on, but instead I feel like I am spinning my wheels, not making as much progress as I ought to.  If I really wanted a job, I could have called every employer in King county by now.  Again, not helpful thinking.

I did manage to schedule a meeting for my consulting, which I thought I could mentally track as “not a total waste of time.”  No sooner did I arrive at my grandmother’s house than the phone started ringing.  “Quick meeting to schedule some volunteer work?” Sure, that will keep me busy for a week. Then the consulting meeting lasted ~2.5 hours, spanning everything from our big plans, to how business works.  Very productive.  My brain is full.  Then that recruiter finally called back, “Sure, I’ll send along my resume and CV.” And I finally checked my email, looks like I have a couple more applications to fill out.  Oh me. And that contract someone had open on LinkedIn that I said I would do (writing educational materials, what the heck?), yeah, she will pay me to do that.  In dollars?? Wow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Meeting for coffee

One of the advantages of relocating to the Greater Seattle area is that I know people in this area, which is very good for networking.  In fact, one of the people I know in this area is the director of the Alumni Association at Western Washington University, where I launched my career as a scientist.  He is a very nice guy, and I knew once I got back here I should certainly be reconnecting with him primarily because he is a really nice guy I'd like to see more often, but also because people like that tend to know lots of people.  So I asked him, "Do you know anyone who might know something about the Seattle Biotech job market?" And he of course found a really friendly, professional scientist and fellow WWU Alumni of his acquaintance to connect me to.

This guy and I are going to meet for coffee.  I am hoping this can be a little more than just an informational interview- I know he isn't going to give me a job, but let's get down to brass tacks- who are the people at your company who makes these choices and what are they looking for right now?  And how do I make myself look like that?  It will be nice to talk with someone local about the job scene down here.  Yes, it is tough right now (MAJOR layoffs at Dendreon and Amgen recently), but there is a constant turnover of small start-ups.  Some work and get bought up, some fail, but that part of the scene is always in flux.  Anyway, I've felt comfortable with the "Let's meet for coffee" meeting before because I knew there was no unspoken offer waiting to be made.  This time, I want to be sure that this meeting at least results in ... something?  I think the best thing would be more contacts, and that seems fairly reasonable to ask of a friendly stranger, right?

Monday, November 21, 2011

I wrote a contractor contract

I am hoping to find some contract work to fill my time while I am working on job applications/waiting for the economy to improve (ha!).  This still seems like a vague aspiration to me.  I still have to find someone who needs me to do work and convince them to pay me for it, which is the central struggle of the job hunter. But there is a lower standard, contractors are less expensive (yup, because they make less, either in hourly rate or because there are no benefits), and aren't so long term.  I am just trying to color my CV with more industry-experience before I eventually crack and get a post-doc, so my standards are lower too.

I've got this one lingering lead for an equity based contract, and the nature of the small start-up means that for all our big plans to get things going, a contract has never actually appeared.  I was complaining to my brother about how I WANT to start this work, but I feel like I should wait until there is a real contract, but bringing it up hasn't seemed to help.  He suggested I write my own contract- which to me gets at the heart of why I want to take this contract even though there is no economic benefit; I have never seen a contract before.  Like most things in business, I am a complete novice, and need some immersion school.  Well, he sent me a link to a site with contract templates ( I used Rocket Lawyer, you can use them for a week free and create as many legal documents as you might forsee very easily, but there are other services out there).  I created a quick contract to formalize the nature of the "we work together" relationship that was left open broadly to renew or terminate in a couple months.  It made me feel really empowered to send off the email. "I look forward to working with you once you have signed my contract."

However, this does bring up a lot of other issues I have about this intermediate type of work.  Should I form my own business (for legal/tax reasons)?  If I actually make any money, how will I figure out who to pay my taxes too?  I formerly thought I would never want to deal with those things, and thought I would pursue a job where taxes and business entities were more clear cut, but I think having some professional independence may give me some flexibility in the types of positions I can accept and work I'll be able to do.  But will it make me more appealing as a candidate? Investigation to continue.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Being unemployed changed my attitude about work

It's been nearly a year since I applied for my first job, and at that time I had this panic about NEEDing to be BUSY for the sake of maintaining an unbroken line of productivity.  I've considered lots of different ways to deal with that anxiety, from terrible jobs to crazy ways to find jobs. Some of it has worked, some of it has made me realize I can't remember why I would go to such great lengths to secure a position that I would loathe so deeply.

It's hard to believe, but I've been looking for work full time for 2 1/2 months now. My attitude about it has changed a lot.  I don't feel panicked about finding a job, in part because I don't feel like I am wasting my time.  I have occasional contract work, I'm blogging, I've been volunteering and learning a lot. And all that made me realize (and this surprised me a lot), that I LIKE having work to do.  I read the Swiss Family Robinson recently, and one of the keys to their (fictional) happiness was that they were able to remain industrious, they didn't suffer from boredom and lack of purpose.  Volunteering provided me that; I can't tell you how often my supervisor would tell me, "You are a volunteer, you don't have to work so hard" "You can go home if you like." I know, but it's very liberating to be able to work exactly as much as I like- which ended up being closer to 20 hours a week, instead of the 8 I was scheduled for. 

I like to work for the sake of working, and I like to feel like I am making headway, progress or contributing to a greater good.  I knew that about myself before. But, I am in a better position, without a job, to get that satisfaction from other parts of my life.  Now I am much more willing to accept the money-in-exchange-for-effort type of jobs (ie, contract editing), simply because that doesn't detract anything from my personal life, and in fact, gives me a chance to find more fulfilling ways to seek out those things.

Now I have mixed feelings.  I think I am by nature someone who would like an all consuming and gratifying job that I could be passionate about.  (This was kind of a disappointment to realize). But I also might be able to accept a job that just provides money if it leaves me the time and energy to find something else to be passionate about.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

DARPA Post-doc?

I got offered a position as a post-doc working with one of my scientific mentors.  It's kinda a weird situation (aside from the fact that it is now across the country from where I live), because it is a DARPA funded project.  I don't know much about DARPA projects, except what he told me and this mostly lead to more questions.

For example, this grant is part of a big push right now at DARPA, but priorities change pretty quickly there.  This is why DARPA only provides funding for 6 months at a time.  In principle, the project is kinda earmarked to go for a couple years, but every 6 months that gets reassessed. Move across the country (again) for a job that might only be a couple months?  The reason he suggested this to me, aside from knowing it wasn't my long term plan to be tied to Pittsburgh, was the funding agency is very involved in the research.  The PIs are meant to meet/conference call with the Head of DARPA every month during funding- which might be a cool way to make some connections, right?  And, while this part freaked him out, I thought it was awesome: if there is a national emergency that requires cell biologist expertise, DARPA can insist you stop your research and instead perform work to address the new national priority.  I figure this isn't something they do often, and by the time there is a pandemic, I would feel much better doing work to find a cure then continuing on the basic science track.

So... I probably won't take this job back in my old department due to the aforementioned two-body problem. But... it does raise an interesting question, how much does DARPA pay it's post-docs?  DoD has deeper pockets than NIH or NSF without a doubt, but is the pay scale quite different? So far, I haven't been able to find any info on that, so let me know if this is something you've heard of.  If I get a straight answer from the guy who offered me the job, I promise I'll share.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Job ads make me cringe

I live in Kirkland, WA now.  This is a big change, and frankly a big distraction from the job hunt.  But I am here now, and settled enough to turn my focus back to finding some long term solution to my job situation.  Today, I applied for a part time job as a teller at Wells Fargo.  I can't really explain why, but it made me really happy to apply for a job where I met all the qualifications, would be a change of scene enough that I wouldn't be bored by the second day.  Having something to do part-time would make me feel much more confident about how long it is taking me to find something full-time.  But I think what really made me happy was the job ad wasn't too optimistic about who might qualify for this position.  Can you interact with people, keep track of cash and stand on your feet for most of the day? Then you can do this job.  Oh phew.

Then I went on to looking at more bio-relevant jobs.  Do you have a PhD, years of postdoc but still have retained your enthusiasm for tedious, high risk, low reward work?  Then throw your hat in the ring!  Are you an innovator, whose ideas are about to change the world and make our companies millions?  We'd like to talk to you.  I am recalling a cartoon that I can't find now that had two panels, the first, titled The Job, was an image of heaven.  The second, titled, The Candidate, showed a super hero flying through the air.  Below it read simply, Everyone Lies.  I know I need to get over this intimidation factor about positions.  They are always written to describe the Ideal Candidate, not necessary a candidate that would be acceptable for hiring. 

Regardless, I am back in the job market, ready to show my face and start making connections locally.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Back to being aggressive

Hunting down jobs is never ending.  I make myself be creative and aggressive about it, but I feel like I've been stuck in a rut lately.  Peruse some job boards, see what comes across twitter, ping the usual network contacts... my move has been distracting, but let's face it- I still need a job.  I have amassed the contact info for some HR types that I know I should reach out to, but I'm fumbling over what to say.  Someone told me you hire people sometimes.  Why not me? That seems lame, but I've been procrastinating on this for too long.  To get myself in the mood for some cold calling, I am trying to find some good Seattle contacts to at least have some meetings/phonecalls/interviews lined up for when I move there (in a week and a half!).

The LinkedIn job boards were giving me nothing, but I did notice that one agency, and one woman in particular was posting most of the jobs I was bothering to look at.  So, why not? I asked to connect, and she asked for my resume.  Cool, that's good confidence building.

But what do I say to these other people?  I got your contact info from someone I barely know and I'd really love it if you could give me a job, or at least tell me about jobs I should bother applying to. A friend suggested I say I am relocating, and want to get a sense of the job market and offer to have a meeting.  Face to face is SO much better than emails and phone calls, so hopefully this will work for a few people. But, if someone agrees to meet with me, what do we talk about?  Ugh.  I'll save that panic for when I have that problem.