Friday, December 11, 2009
Editor's Note: Apologies for the late post. We suffered a DSL outage this morning due to a fire in a manhole somewhere in our neighborhood last night. I'm having to post this over email and will be unable to check my main email account or moderate comments until the telecom company repairs the fiber optics. Thank you for your patience.
Ever since college, I have either worked for the government or in academia. In fact, until I left Houston, I was an academic scientist. But several years ago, I determined that, although I find science interesting, I don't want to remain in academia. There were many things that went into this decision, but I will not belabor them here. The point is that I made the decision long ago, but for a variety of reasons, could not act on it until my move to Boston.
Since I do not discuss my job (at all) or my personal life (beyond a certain point) here, I will also not lay out my exact career objectives. Suffice it to say that the career change I want will most likely involve several steps. Also, there are several alternate paths I could take to meet those objectives. This is because my area of expertise and experience differ too much from what I ultimately would like to do for me to be able to expect to make the entire transition all at once. In any event, thanks to some patient networking and a technological advance I had not heard about, I am happy to say that I can finally take Step One.
The really strange thing is that I am also getting to try one of the paths that I thought was all but closed off to me. And the great thing is that the position is temporary. It might sound counterintuitive, but this works to my advantage in numerous ways. Among them: (1) There is always the potential that the job could become permanent or lead me to another permanent job with the same company based on personal familiarity and the high quality of my work. (2) And yet, because it's temporary, my employer cannot reasonably expect me not to keep looking for work in the other path I was concentrating on (and which I suspect I might prefer). (3) I will be able to list some new skills and industrial experience on my resume. (4) I am now aware of a new type of job for people like me, and know that some Boston-area firms need it done. (5) And, yes, I will be getting paid -- paid, in fact, better than I ever have for anything in my entire life. It isn't riches, but it isn't chickenfeed, either.
I am a bioscientist, which to anyone familiar with Boston, might make getting a biotech job in the area sound like a no-brainer despite the state of the economy. Well, yes and no. My area of expertise and laboratory experience occupy an unusual niche, which recent moves by a couple of major pharmaceutical firms had caused to all but evaporate from the local job market: Those jobs mostly went out of state shortly before I arrived here, making me something of a square peg for a round hole as far as industrial jobs went. As a result, I was almost certain that my next job would lie on one of the other paths I saw myself taking.
In fact, it had gotten to the point that whenever I would meet an industrial recruiter, I'd describe my expertise and end with the following quip, "If that made any sense to you, you know what I do, and if it didn't, you see what my problem is!" I have since met a recruiter who will be able to help me, but my landing this job happened first and is a great example of the maxim, "Fortune favors the prepared mind," in action.
Some time ago -- perhaps as much as a year ago -- a blogging friend (Resident Egoist) who was aware that I was job hunting emailed me to the effect that I really ought to take a look at Nick Corcodilos's Ask the Headhunter web site. I did, and I devoured the Headhunter's contrarian, yet very well thought-out advice. It did not all apply to me, but his words about networking really opened my eyes and caused me to approach my problem in a much more deliberate and patient way.
My focus became getting to know other people like me in occupations I might be interested and qualified in, rather than bottom-feeding from the slim pickings on the Internet job boards. (That said, one such board nevertheless may have already led me to my next position. It will probably take about as much time as my temporary job will last for that process to unfold, however. Moral: Know which weapons are better, but be ready to use any of them. And no, I haven't stopped looking.)
One of my local contacts -- I'll call him Jim -- I met at a networking event back in February or March. A fellow PhD, he and I commiserated a little bit about how our degrees often priced us out of the market and discussed my (then) upcoming move. We exchanged cards and broke off to circulate, and I didn't actually meet him again until very recently.
By the time I actually moved here, I had acquired a very nice group of contacts, and at the urging of my father-in-law, who was a great sounding board the whole time, I emailed my contacts and basically said, "Hey! I'm finally here and I'm looking for [fill in whatever whoever might be able to help me find]. Here's my resume. Let me know if you hear about anything." Nobody replied for weeks, but eventually Jim did, with a job his recruiter had brought to his attention. The recruiter didn't quite know how to fill his client's opening: What they needed was outside Jim's skill set, but, fortunately, mostly well within mine.
Jim referred me to his recruiter and I got an interview through him. The interview seemed to go pretty well. I even knew several people that my prospective boss had also worked with in the past. I was pretty excited as I left. But then that company went in-house. That was tough: All this time, and my job interview count was still lower than the number of tropical storms I'd had to run from while I was finishing up my work in Houston! And this interview came up snake eyes!
Luckily for me, the in-house guy didn't work out for them and so they asked about me, their top outside candidate. I start Monday and I may have to put in some long hours at first -- and I probably will have a few blogging hiccups until I settle in to a routine. But that's a relatively minor problem for my writing career that I'm more than happy to put up with for a while.
To end on a positive note, I wish to thank Resident Egoist and my father-in-law for helping me learn how to job hunt, which is something academia does not prepare one to do very well, and especially my wife for her love, patience, and support during what has been in some respects a very difficult and frustrating time for me.
And my contacts, especially Jim, even though most don't know about my blogging. I never forget a good turn.
12-12-09: Removed superfluous HTML tags.