Sunday, April 1, 2012

Do I have experience yet?

Oh, experience.  Job ads always seem to think you should have it- and it's never clear where you are going to get it.  The few times I have gotten feedback about why I am not the candidate have included notes of "you don't have experience."  Arg.  I sometimes list my entire time in grad school as experience- because, uh, it was all work.  Doesn't seem to make much difference. 

I have been feeling pretty unappealing as a candidate after numbly reading through so many ads.  But I met with a more senior scientist recently who is also in between jobs, and he complained that there are tons of jobs out there for recent grads and early career people.  What? I have a friend who is senior enough to have hired many folks in his day, and he always encouragingly says that 5 years can become zero years for the right candidate.  How do I get to be the right candidate?

Just to be clear- the following pertains to industry careers in non-research positions.  Part of the distinction that ISN'T clear from job ads is not that they want that 'job experience' you got in HS or summers in college.  They aren't concerned you can show up for work 5 days a week.  I think.  They also don't really want to know that you can use pipettes or run a gel- although if you can't do those things, you aren't looking for a job as a scientist.  It's got more to do with training you out of that Research mentality.  For a publicly held company, or a company beholden to investors, not all ideas are worth pursuing because they are interesting.  If you remove the incentives of publication, and replace those with profit, you end up with a different reasons to do the things you do at work.  There isn't time to dither about making the decision to move ahead with a project, or strive to incorporate new and unproven tech just because it seems awesome, and you might make a major investment of money to shorten a schedule.  The little work I have done with the start-up has showed me that.  A company who wants to hire someone who not only has good ideas, but can follow all the way through with them.  To a successful product, or project or outcome of some sort- I know I need to find a way to prove that.

I went to another networking event a couple nights ago, and one of the people I ran into is a manager at a major engineering recruiting firm (Experis).  I recognized that I had introduced myself wrong when he started to suggest that I should find a company who would be willing to let me volunteer for a couple months, then go back out on the job market a lot more desirable.  At the time I thought, "Are you kidding me?  Haven't I volunteered enough- when does this count for something??"  But, I realized I hadn't mentioned it.  I told him I graduated in June and was looking for a job.  So, a few things things:
1) volunteer work can be a legitimate form of work experience. 
2) I need to find a succinct way to explain where I am in my career to people when I meet them. 
3) Does my volunteer experience add up to sufficient 'experience' to sell it as such?  Am I still a green newbie, or can I start to own the fact that I have accomplishments that occurred after my graduation, and were independent of my former adviser.  Sure, I don't have my publication record in order yet (4th submission- keep your fingers crossed!), and I didn't do anything so famous or important in grad school to get a job on the merit of that alone.  But since grad school, I've applied my experience there to becoming the Scientist in Residence at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, where I put together some successful demos, I've opened my own small business to cover my consulting and editing work, and I'm on the board of two important local professional societies.   I should be on the cusp of having a job, right?  Progressing to the next step is what I need to work on next- how do I sell that??

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