Sunday, August 15, 2010

The hunt for jobs

I was recently asked to give my perspective on the hunt for jobs in my field. This came on the heels of a seminar which was a job interview that I saw. I have also been watching too much reality TV (cooking primarily), but this has given me a new perspective on the current challenges of job seeking, interviewing, and job getting.

Lets start with Food Network's requirements:
1. have star power yet be relatable and command respect,
2. food knowledge, tricks, tips, and authority,
3. getting your Point Of View to shine through even the dishes you dont like.

So, to put these in meteorology speak:
1. Publications
2. a complete tool box of skills
3. able to communicate to sell your science (1) and sell your work (2).

It sounds simple. But there is much more too it. People that hire are looking for more:
1. Fit: Not just will you fit in around here. Its more fit in with the people who do this work or fit in with the dynamics of the group (personality), and fit in with the direction of your work and its application.
2. Fit: Is this the place where you will be dedicated and passionate about your work? Can you make sustainable progress on projects?
3. Skill: Do you have the skills now to begin your work, and are you capable of adding new skills, or open new avenues of work?
4. Savvy: Can you sell your work, your science, your skills, and you? Can you make people feel good about hiring you? Not just make people feel good they picked the best of 5 candidates (all 5 could have sucked, you were just the least sucky), but rather got the best fit for the position?

This pretty much sums it up. These are hard things to ask a bunch of scientists who have been hell bent on computer programming their way through publications which interest them or have interested their mentors. These questions require something different: PERSPECTIVE.

Perspective takes time. It requires an analysis of the past 3 degrees, multiple papers, multiple projects, and most of all success and FAILURES. If you have not failed you might already have perspective that has allowed to avoid that part of the journey. Chances are if you are reading my perspective, you have failed at something. As I have.

The good thing about perspective is that everybody has it. Yours, theirs, someone else's. Very few people have the ability to communicate directly with you about their perspective. Frankly, few scientists have the ability to constructively give you their perspective of you without smashing your dreams and having you hate them. Therefore most people won't give you an accurate depiction of their perspective of you...until it is too late. they would much rather watch as you fall off the cliff and as you are dangling there holding on by a thread, you ask them, and they tell you. Your first reaction will be to let go.

And that is my perspective. Harsh. Brutal. Robust. And then you pick yourself up with your new perspective and march on having learned a new lesson. This is science ... just as cut-throat as business. Produce or you too can be replaced.

back to the hunt.

Now that you have your perspective, it is your JOB to sell every bit of yourself as you can.
Where does your passion lie?
What skills have you acquired?
What types of problems do you like to solve and what problems are you capable of solving?
What have you already accomplished and what do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?
Where do you want to work and what will get you there?

The point here is to have a Plan. It doesn't have to be glamorous or over-the-top. It has to be something you can be passionate about. Something you can talk about for hours. A serious interest. Something where: If someone approached me on the street to talk about "that cloud over there", I could get serious and start yapping endlessly about what I instantly observe. Yet I realize who I am speaking with and speak appropriately. That is the job interview elevator speech for recruiters. The yapping part, well, thats when you are talking to the pro's who want to hire you ... only by yapping I mean speaking clearly and intelligently without making assumptions. Speak what you know and the uncertainty with which you know it.

It is always the right time to plan ahead for the job you want. Practice makes perfect. This includes writing your CV, cover letter, research or teaching statements, or writing essays on how bad you want the dream job that just opened up. This also goes for interviewing skills. Apply for positions you might fit in but dont want. Use the opportunity to practice your interview skills. Taking to people you don't know, about things they like talking about, and spending whole days with strangers requires practice at the professional level. Someday the people you are talking with will be hiring for your dream job and you want to look polished ... a true veteran of the interview process so you can handle the subtleties of getting that dream job. You cant be the least sucky, you have to be the one they are desperate to hire or else they will have to start their search all over again.