Monday, January 27, 2014

State of Scientific Hiring, 2014

The question I've been asked the most lately isn't "How's your family?" or "Did you have a nice Christmas?" Nor was it " How was your weekend?" or even the mundane "How's things?"

Nope. "How's the job search going?"

Well, truth be told, it's been a very busy few months. I've logged 1100 round-trip miles (1770 km) by car and train from Dec-Jan. I've spent a mint out-of-pocket (vide infra) and been privy to more "follow-up calls" than I can count.

Here are a few truths I've uncovered about the science job hunt along the way:

1. It's Going to Take Awhile: If you're a grad student thinking about looking for jobs in June, start now. I've noticed a significant lengthening between application submission and invitation to an on-site interview: in many cases, it's two or three months before they decide to stage your visit. If money's tight, you might have to line up a temporary gig (postdoc, consulting, Kelly Services) to fill in the gap time.

Update: Chemjobber recommends this NYT Economix blog entry, showing the ever-increasing interview cycle.

2. Jumping Through Hoops: Know the hiring stages? Application, phone interview, on-site, decision, right? Wrong. For this cycle, my interview process has gone through more hands than ever before. Take this example from one recent campaign:
  • Application [start clock]
  • Initial email survey to gauge interest [+two weeks]
  • Follow-up screening email, set phone interview [+one week]
  • Phone interview #1 (HR) [+one week]
  • Phone interview #2 (hiring manager) [+one week]
  • Emails to arrange on-site [+one week]
  • Full Day On-Site [+three weeks]
  • Telephone debrief #1 [+one week]
  • Followup emails [+two weeks]
  • Telephone debrief #2 [+one week]
  • Decision [+two weeks]
(If you're keeping score, that's 15 weeks from start to finish - nearly 4 months!)

3. Tweak that CV: With so many applicants for so few chemistry positions, companies screen your CV even more intensively. They're not just looking for keywords now; some recruiters have told me that certain phrases could hurt your chances. For instance, if your current job title (Senior? Lead? Fellow? Head?) doesn't translate over to the next organization, it may be best to transmute it to "Researcher" or "Chemist." This time around, I've found myself making almost as many curricula as cover letters - different professional "versions" of the same candidate!

4. Bankrolling: Have some cash squirreled away to meet expenses. Depending on the company's policy, you may receive a check up front, or it may take 4-6 weeks to return your investment. My average expenses in 2013 (mileage, meals, parking, flights, taxi, hotel, etc.) ran $168 per interview. Importantly, confirm with the recruiter that they will cover you; some companies (shockingly) do not cover interview expenses. 

5. Adventures in Dialogue: Nothing's sacred anymore, folks. Here's some bon mots I've been asked and told during this interview cycle:
  • "You aren't going to tell me your current salary?"
  • "How do you account for having so many jobs in such a short time?" (grad school, pdoc, job 1, job 2)
  • "We were waiting to hear from the other candidate before we told you no."
  • "We're worried that, if we offer you this position, you might leave for something better."
Best of Luck for Job-Searching in 2014,
See Arr Oh


  1. I'm genuinely interested in how you repsonded to points 1, 2 and 4 in your adventures in dialogue. I mean, I know how I'd LIKE to answer these but it wouldn't be very politic...

    1. Hap (see below) got me started on answer 4. Number 2 is easy - It's the economy, stupid. Everyone has a new job every 3-5 years. New normal.
      For Number 1, I tell all recruiters and company reps that we can discuss salary requirements after they've decided to hire me. I grok that they want to figure out a range to tune their offer, but you could also be low-balling your future valuation if you reveal a number, and it's WAY BELOW what they would have offered you. Caveat applicator.

  2. Congratulations! I can relate to much of this. I am unhappily employed and looking for a new job. I hate just about everything about job hunting. It's nice to hear of someone making it to the other side of purgatory.

  3. See Arr Oh: Congratulations on landing that long sought employment and it is my sincere hope that we all will hang on to it! I consider myself very lucky in that, I am still employed and who knows for how long? These are treacherous times and to find out many of your colleagues are still in job market (like me these fellows are 50+ and are looking for second stint) that makes me feel very guilty and pent-up frustration is only adding more to the discomfort! And, when I look at those enthusiastic and freshly minted graduates (organic and medicinal chemists!) anticipating for some flourishing career not knowing what is in store and that dampens me even more. Anyway, I am going with philosophy to enjoy what you have it, while you have it! Here is wishing nothing but good luck.

  4. I think I'd have a hard time not responding to 5.4, "So you're telling me I should start looking for something better, right?" If they look at the bottom of the barrel, I'm sure they'll find people who won't leave them immediately, but I'm guessing they want to find people who are the cream of the crop but are also willing to be treated (and probably paid) poorly. I'm not sure where they should be looking for that.

    1. Hap: As usual, you've hit the nail squarely on the head. I took great pause at hearing that, because it sounded to me like a challenge. "We dare you to stay here and work at our position without sneaking off for higher wage!"

  5. Congratulations! Very glad to hear you've got a job again. Your ordeal sounds a lot like mine was. I'm in my 3rd year of a new job after a 2-year search (I was fortunate to have a 7-month contract during that time which helped me avoid going bankrupt). Not sure how long this one will last as the part of the company I work in is being "spun off". Don't particularly want to go through all that again, but we'll just have to wait and see...

  6. Nice post! In finding a job you must be patient and positive thinking because nowadays people fell down on their selves if the employer that they applied a job for didn't contact them back. If you have a friend looking for a job try here: trades and services jobs in Australia . Thanks and good luck to you.