Viewpoint: What I Learned Looking for a Job
By Jenny Magnes
A job search is a tedious and time-consuming process for the future employee as well as the employer. The process is essentially a learning experience. One collects information about companies, universities, laboratories, etc. There are many internet sites that allow one to do job searches and post a resume, but nobody I know has ever received a reply to any posting or resume via the web. Most correspondence, job offers and interviews that I received were after personal encounters, or through someone I knew personally. Is this because one can only find a job through "friends"? I don't think so. If I were an employer, I would want to hire someone who was competent, approachable, hard-working, and pleasantly collegial. Only one of these characteristics can be extracted from a resume. The best way to assess if somebody is a match for a position is to get to know him or her personally, but that takes time.
Future graduates should make professional connections as early as possible through career fairs, conferences and internships. The Optical Society of America has already started a mentorship program that may not only help with making connections, but also with giving feedback to the students on what their capabilities are and where improvement is needed.
Evaluating a student's capabilities is critical. A professional may know what jobs a graduate is qualified for, avoiding the waste of time applying for employment with a mismatch in qualifications. Employment centers in universities are many times not good evaluators.
I would also like to mention that while most physicists are certainly in command regarding their subject, scientists are not necessarily well-trained at presenting their knowledge or communicating in general. Especially during their coursework, students tend to work in small vacuums, a very slow and expensive way to make progress. Also, the pride of giving up some ideas may get in the way of progress. In my opinion, undergraduate and graduate physics education need some revisions geared towards producing better communicators and team players. Team spirit would certainly make us much more marketable.
Finally, it is imperative not to rule out potential employment as absurd when not too much information is known about the employer or the job. For example, many studious physicists may shy away from positions in the military based on reputation or movie stereotypes. My advice is to go to the source and find out what an employer is all about.
I hope that this assessment of my recent experiences is of some help. Perhaps it will initiate more interactions between employers and future employees. Employers also benefit from partnerships with universities, since it would provide better matches for hiring instead of firing.
Jenny Magnes is a graduate student at Temple University.
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