Issue Date: August 16, 2010
Connecting In New England
New England has long been a promising place for new graduates in the chemical sciences to find employment. In Massachusetts, especially in the Boston area, world-class academic institutions are surrounded by a mixture of large and small pharma and biotech companies competing for talent. Other New England states boast growing opportunities for chemical professionals in niche areas such as environmental chemistry and marine biotechnology.
But because of the recent downsizing of the pharma and biotech industries and the reluctance of niche companies to expand in a bad economy, new grads from Connecticut to Maine are having a tough time finding work. New England’s unemployment rate has nearly doubled from 4.5% in December 2007 to 8.6% this past June, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“This is as tight a market as I’ve seen for fresh chemistry graduates coming into the industry,” says Josh Albert, managing director of recruiting firm Klein Hersh International. A few years ago in the Boston area, “individuals would have 10 or 12 on-site interviews and come out with six or seven offers.” That’s not happening anymore, he says.
New grads are now being forced to rethink their approach to job searching. Increasingly, those who are getting jobs are finding them through personal connections. In this tough economy, networking is not an option but a necessity. Identifying opportunities for networking, and continuing to develop the skill, can mean the difference between getting a job and getting left behind.
“Networking is so important,” says Albert. “That’s how a lot of people get their jobs.” He advises job seekers to start networking by “going to conferences and leveraging your relationships. Be willing to bend over backward to open up any door you can.”
And networking shouldn’t end after someone finds a job, says Megan Driscoll, founder and president of PharmaLogics Recruiting, in Braintree, Mass. “It should be a lifelong career objective, because you never know when you’re going to need it next.”
For new grads in the New England area, one of the best and most convenient opportunities to network is right around the corner, during the fall American Chemical Society national meeting in Boston, which will take place on Aug. 22–26. From the career fair to the poster sessions to the numerous social events, the meeting can yield new leads for job seekers who come prepared to make connections.
As anxiety sets in, new grads are warming up to the idea of networking. After graduating from Wheaton College, in Norton, Mass., this past May with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Jacob Korzun had hoped to find a position in industry and work for a year before applying to graduate school.
With a strong résumé, Korzun thought he would find something relatively quickly. He had done research throughout his four years at Wheaton, he took challenging courses, he worked as a teaching aide, he engaged in leadership activities, and he completed an honors thesis. “I thought I was a pretty strong applicant,” he says. “But I haven’t even gotten so much as a call back yet.”
The 22-year-old recently moved back home with his parents in Vermont to save money, but as a result, he feels disconnected from the scientific community. “There’s not a lot of biomedical or chemical industry in Vermont, so I feel almost like I’m out in the fringes.” He says he wishes he had done more networking while he was still in school.
Korzun had been applying for jobs mostly online, but he’s now taking a more active approach to his job search. “I’ll probably still apply for some jobs online, but definitely not as many,” he says. “I’ll try to use my time a little more productively by actually talking to people.”
Korzun says he’s already learned through friends and family of several leads, which he’ll pursue. “I would like to get a job on the basis of my own merits,” he says. “But I just have to suck it up and accept that I might be getting a job because I know someone rather than because I’m the perfect candidate. But at this point, I’m happy as long as I can get a job.”
Searching for a job by responding to ads just doesn’t work in this tough economy. “You can’t just submit your résumé online and sit back and wait for somebody to call you,” says Driscoll. “You’ve got to use your network. You’ve got to make yourself stand out. If you’re just relying on hitting the send button and hoping someone’s going to pick up the phone and call you, you’re going to be waiting for a really long time.”
Networking requires a lot of patience, but it eventually pays off. Elif Alyamac says she searched for a job for the entire year leading up to the completion of her Ph.D. in polymer engineering from the University of Akron, in Ohio, in fall 2009. Her job search was even more challenging because as an international student, she was on a temporary work visa, and few companies these days are willing to commit to the extra effort involved in hiring a foreign national.
Alyamac began networking right off the bat, attending several conferences and following up with the people she met. In August 2009, after nearly a year of job searching, she still did not have any strong leads. Having nearly given up, she remembered a professor from the University of New Hampshire whom she had met during a conference several years earlier. She decided to e-mail him to ask whether he had any positions available in his research group. He replied, saying that he didn’t but would forward her résumé to his colleagues.
One connection led to another, and Alyamac is now working for a small start-up company associated with the University of New Hampshire. The company is sponsoring her for an H1-B work visa, putting her on track to apply for a green card.
Alyamac advises students to take every opportunity they can to attend conferences, even if they have to pay for it out of their own pocket. “Finding a job is all about networking. If you know a lot of people, you’ll find a job faster,” she says. “If you don’t socialize with people, it’s going to be impossible for you to find a job.”
The benefits of networking can extend beyond a job search. Recent grad Walter E. Kowtoniuk says the networking he did while working toward his Ph.D. in chemistry at Harvard University helped him define his career goals. “I was seeking out people to talk to while trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” he says. “I ultimately decided that I really wanted to push my career toward the business strategy side of research and development,” he says. He looked for consulting positions and eventually landed a job as a health care strategy consultant for Clarion Healthcare Consulting, in Boston.
“Networking can be very awkward,” Kowtoniuk says. “But I have found that if you take the job issue off the table, a lot of people are very willing to talk to you about their experiences and what they’ve learned on their career path.”
Finding opportunities to network is critical. At the ACS national meeting in Boston, new grads can take advantage of the resources offered at the career fair, including professional development workshops, résumé and cover letter reviews, and opportunities to participate in mock interviews. ACS career consultants will also be on-site to offer individualized help.
But just attending the career fair is not enough, says William Suits, an ACS career consultant and a director of AIDSfreeAFRICA. “You’ve got to get out and spend time in those social events and poster sessions and on the exhibit floor,” he advises. “On the exhibit floor or in a social event, you’re watching name badges, so if you find a company that’s of interest to you, explore the possibilities. Find things in common.”
Do your homework before the meeting, Suits advises. “Pick out 20 posters you’re really interested in, learn about the individuals and the research they’re presenting, and reference some other work they’ve done in addition to the work they’re presenting.”
After making a connection with someone, follow up by sending a copy of your résumé. “Asking for help on your résumé is very productive,” Suits says. “No matter what they say, make the recommended changes and send them back a copy of your résumé along with your thanks. What you want is somebody being aware of your talents in a way that if they do hear about a job, they can let you know.”
Klein Hersh’s Albert encourages job seekers to ask, How can I help others in their work? rather than, How can I get myself a job?
Suits agrees: “The secret to networking is taking an interest in the other person and discovering their needs rather than spending so much time blowing your own horn.” But don’t be afraid to let people know what your skills are. “When a person discovers that a talent is available that they can utilize, suddenly they start creating jobs,” Suits says. “This happens a lot.”
It pays to think outside the box, says Daniel J. Eustace, an ACS career consultant and adjunct professor for the University of Connecticut. He recounts his own experience searching for a job while he was completing his Ph.D. degree at Brandeis University. At the time, no companies were recruiting at Brandeis, so Eustace made a bold decision to try his luck at nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I went to MIT, knocked on the door of the dean’s office and asked, ‘Can I interview here at MIT after all the MIT students have been taken care of, if there are still any open slots at the end of the day?’ ” The dean of the graduate school replied, “I don’t see any reason why not.”
Eustace says he had four job offers by the time he graduated. “I didn’t allow what seemed to be barriers to be barriers,” he says. “You have to make your breaks. You can’t just sit back and wait.”
With online networking tools such as LinkedIn and the improved ACS Network, it’s easy to stay connected with a growing list of contacts. “We are equipped with a fantastic tool—the Internet—to stay connected and keep those connections alive over the course of your entire career in a way we’ve never ever had before,” says Driscoll.
Learning how to network is a good investment, and it’s never too early to start. “Opportunities happen when you make them happen,” Driscoll says. “I believe firmly that every wonderful thing that’s ever happened in my career is because I had a hand in it happening to me. No one opened the door for me to just walk right through. I participated in opening those doors.”
- Chemical & Engineering News
- ISSN 0009-2347
- Copyright © American Chemical Society