Land that First Job—Now!

By Alaina G. Levine
Published 09/30/2020
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job interviewIt’s the Year of the Horse. Time to saddle up to prepare for your first job. And because the tactics for job seeking are universal, the following tips will help you whether you are looking for your first or thirty-first job.

Step 1: Find out what you want to do

Use the first few weeks in introspection to identify skills you have and enjoy using, your long-term career goals, and the activities that bring you pleasure. You don’t have to label it as “condensed-matter physicist” or “astronaut” yet. Rather, start by noting to yourself such things as “I like to do outreach, I like to build things, I like to code,” and so on. Conduct a skill inventory like the one I discussed in a previous column.

Marketers use an analysis tool called a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis that I have also found pertinent to career planning and job hunting. In SWOT, you identify and list your intrinsic strengths and weaknesses, and then posit extrinsic opportunities and threats to those opportunities. You’ll be adding more information to the SWOT analysis as you conduct research and perform high-impact networking in steps 2 and 3.

As you explore what it is you want to do, be honest with yourself about what you both love and hate doing. Think about geographic regions in which you might want (or have) to work. Lastly, list organizations that you already know are aligned with your goals.

Step 2: Find out where you can do it

Find the universities, companies, and professional associations for which you could conceivably work. Once you’ve found them, look for articles about them by setting up alerts in Google News. Follow my advice and use LinkedIn and other social media sites to follow their activities. Start identifying people you might approach, either for an informational interview or for other exchanges, as I discussed in my column titled.

Use job boards. Although networking undoubtedly gives you the most return on your investment in job searching and career planning, you should always exploit as many resources as possible. As I discuss below, you can use job boards to upload your resumé and apply for positions directly, but the boards are also a terrific resource for gaining strategic knowledge about opportunities, the state of the job market, and even your value on that market. Job ads also provide insight into what you can do with your skills and interests. Be sure to to search for jobs using the key skills feature on LinkedIn. You might be surprised to find that Company X is hiring someone with your complete skill set.

Step 3: Organize your marketing materials

Update and edit your resumé to reflect the types of positions you desire and your skills that you are most interesting in using. Organize your public profile too: Tidy up and complete your LinkedIn profile, clean up your blog, and remove inappropriate pictures or posts from any public site that you have control over. If you were selling a house, you wouldn’t announce it for sale until you had it professionally cleaned and gardened to enhance your curb appeal.

Likewise, don’t announce your availability for a job until you have all of your marketing materials ready to go. This is especially important in cyberspace, where once you send an email inquiry, apply for a job, or request an informational interview for networking purposes, the hiring manager or decision maker will Google you and conduct a LinkedIn search to learn more about you. It’s essential that you make your public persona neat and tidy, in order to reflect your brand (promise of value) and your skills for a potential customer—that is, the decision-maker who will be hiring you.

Invest in job-seeking accouterments. Your clothing and accessory choices for job interviews, networking receptions, and other job-solidifying activities depend on the type of job you desire and the nature of the sector where you would like to be employed. For example, it’s probably unwise to wear a three-piece suit to an engineering job in certain government labs or startups. On the other hand, if you were applying for a sales position in a company, I would highly recommend a suit.

In any case, a professional encounter requires you to wear garments that indicate your professionalism. The starving graduate student should remember that many stores offer high-quality, great looking professional pieces at lower-than-retail prices. In the US, try Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, and Ross. Alternatively, I have found beautiful working wear at thrift stores for less than 8 bucks!

Step 4: Start high-impact networking

Recall that networking is neither a one-time action nor a demand for accommodation, but rather a crafting of long-term partnerships that provide value to both parties over the lifetime of the relationship. One kind of value that you can provide a company is your ability to solve their problems. So as you begin your high-impact networking, keep in mind that you want to position yourself as a problem-solver who can add value to other person and their team. That approach will give you access to hidden opportunities and early notice of upcoming positions.

With high-impact networking, your goal is to have genuinely meaningful conversations with others about mutual interests and mutual aid. While looking for your first job, you’ll want to have as many of these exchanges as possible so that you can gain insight into different positions, organizations, entry points, career routes, geographic regions, and other vital information.

Start with your mentors. Inform them of your career and vocational plans, and ask them for referrals of possible contacts. Let your mentors help you look for opportunities, and specifically ask for introductions to their former students, postdocs, and protégés.

Read print and online articles, review professional society communiqués, watch videos of talks for conferences that you were unable to attend. Contact the writer, speaker, or subject of the talk, and ask for an informal conversation. Take advantage of your alumni associations and access their directories for people with whom to start discussions. Many alumni associations have geographically-based chapters, so you can contact the chapter leader for an area in which you would like to work and arrange a Skype appointment to learn more about the industrial and professional landscape there.

Step 5: Apply for jobs

Responding to a job advertisement is only one of three application routes:

  1. Apply for advertised jobs and upload your resume to sites, such as IEEE Computer Society Jobs, that are specifically searched by hiring managers in your field. Companies and universities post jobs here because recruiters and hiring managers recognize that such sites serve as talent aggregators and they regularly use it to search for candidates.
  2. Discuss your problem-solving abilities with new social and professional contacts in light of openings that currently exist or will exist in the future in their organizations. As you network and learn more about your contacts’ needs, you can suggest ways in which you might be able to assist. The help could be in the form of a job, an internship, or a consulting contract. Note that the approach requires an entrepreneurial mindset, because where others see problems, you actively seek solutions you can provide for those problems. In some cases, you may end up suggesting your own job.
  3. Once you communicate your brand to the other party and suggest ways in which you can solve their problems—and make their professional lives easier—you will soon become aware of hidden opportunities. These may consist of actual open positions, or the opportunity to speak with an authority figure within the organization who has the power to hire you later on. Take advantage of these opportunities that aren’t on the open market. And when someone asks you to consider applying for a position, take them for their word. They want you to apply!

Don’t give up! Landing any job is a challenge, especially in this current economic climate. But remember that as a physical scientist, you have all the tools to face such problems with finesse. Having a plan in place is the best first step and one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Here’s to a fantastic career-advancing year!

You can also learn more about open positions from sites like Jooble.

Alaina G. Levine
About Alaina G. Levine
Alaina G. Levine is an award-winning entrepreneur, STEM career consultant, science journalist, professional speaker, and corporate comedian. Her first book, Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015), beat out Einstein for the honor of being named one of the Top 5 Books of 2015 by Physics Today Magazine. As President of Quantum Success Solutions, she is a prolific speaker and writer on career development and professional advancement for engineers and scientists. She has delivered over 700 speeches for clients in the US, Europe, Mexico, Canada, and Africa, and has written over 350 articles in international publications such as Nature, Nature Astronomy, NatureJobs, Science, Scientific American, National Geographic News Watch, and IEEE Spectrum. Levine is also currently authoring two online courses for Oxford University Press on career development and entrepreneurship/commercialization and is a consultant, speaker, and writer for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. Learn more about Levine.