Sunday, November 06, 2011

My Big Boy

It is hard to believe that my sweet little boy is 5 years old!  He turned 5 about a month ago, and we had a birthday dinner for him.  The presents included Boba Fett action figures of various sizes, and a fancy steering wheel setup for the Playstation 3 that included a gear shift and pedals.  But the biggest hit by far was an antique fan.  Jeff picked it up off of Ebay, from an estate sale.  It is 60 years old, but works beautifully still.

He still loves fans, and has amassed quite a collection.  One of his birthday presents, a joint gift from my boss and my admin and their families, was a fan shaped like a dog.  The actual fan part was located in the tummy of the dog.  He loved this fan, and played with it for hours -- just turning it on, and then back off, on, and off, on, and off...

He's taken a fan to school for show-and-tell at nearly every available opportunity.  And, speaking of school, he is doing really well at school.  The main issue is that he is 5 days too young to be an official kindergartner, but at his school they are letting him participate in the kindergarten classes and we are paying the kindergarten rate.  His teacher said his math skills are off the charts (gee, where did he get that, I wonder?) and his reading is at the 1st grade level.  She said he should really be promoted to first grade next year, because he will be bored out of his wits and cause trouble if he has to repeat kindergarten.  We have to start working now with figuring out how to get him tested and into first grade.

He has an amazing mastery of the English language.  He often surprises me with the things he knows!  I really love talking to him.

Friday, November 04, 2011

How to Get Yourself an Interview

Some people despair that in science, it is an old-boys' club, and nobody outside can get in.  While that is undoubtedly true in some areas, from my experience, computational science is a pretty open field.  Sure, it doesn't hurt that I went to an extremely prestigious school and had a very famous and well-respected adviser, but I have gotten multiple interviews and several job offers without his direct help.  I can give you some advice that has served me well:

  • Job-hunting is a lot like dating.  In addition to your qualifications, there has to be a certain chemistry there, otherwise it will not work out.  There have been jobs for which I was underqualified, but got offers nonetheless, because that chemistry was there.  Conversely, I have been well qualified for some jobs that I did not get.
  • Your application is an advertisement for the product known as you.  So make sure that it appeals to the people doing the hiring!  
    • Write a stellar cover letter, outlining the ways in which your qualifications and experience satisfy the job requirements, and the great things that you can bring to the position.  Be sure to include some indication of your personal enthusiasm for the position -- this goes a long way towards building the chemistry (or rapport) with the hiring manager.  They want you to like them and what they have to offer, not just be a robot who does the work.  Writing essays comes naturally to me, so I find it really easy to knock out a good cover letter quickly, but if you do not possess this gift, write a draft and get somebody who's a better writer than you to give you feedback.
    • Tailor your CV to the position.  If you are applying for a technical job, outline your technical skills.  If you are applying to work with me at a large HPC center, tell me how much experience you have with MPI, OpenMP, and other relevant libraries, tools, and programming languages, and tone down the irrelevant skills like your Microsoft Access training.  If you are applying for a managerial position, then outline your managerial skills.  Even if you don't directly supervise anyone, there are still relevant leadership skills and experiences that you may have.
    • Don't be scared to brag.  Sometimes people don't know how awesome you are, so you need to tell them.  If you are applying for a position in a different country, for example, they may not realize that your Ph.D. institution is ranked in the top 5 in the U.S., so this is something you need to tell them.  And things that you think everybody should know if they are applying for this job (e.g., MPI for one of the positions I've been hiring for) -- you would be amazed how many people don't actually have those skills.  So be sure to let us know you do have those skills!
  • Not getting a particular job is not the end of the world.  There are many paths to happiness in life, many ways a career can go, and being flexible improves your ability for happiness.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Applying Late for Jobs and My View from Both Perspectives

I was inspired to write this post after reading a question to Dr. Isis about applying for a job "too late" due to having had a baby, which interfered with the applicant's ability to apply in a timely manner.

I commented:
As a person who has been on both the job-searching and the hiring sides, deadlines are there for convenience but they are rarely hard deadlines. I once submitted an application 20 days after the deadline and still got an interview. As another datapoint, someone emailed me when I was wrapping up my decisions about who to interview for a job, and I told him to hurry up and apply. That candidate ended up being the best one, and just started the job yesterday!
It will take them two weeks before they really even start looking through the applications. Hiring is an extremely time-consuming process, but at the early stages it is easy to add in another application to be considered. So definitely apply.
I was once a wee beginning job applicant, afraid of annoying the powers that be by not following the rules.  But, having now been at the other end of the table, I have a much different perspective.  While there are some things that may disqualify you for a particular position, there are few acts so egregious that a hiring manager will remember your name and make sure that you never, ever get a job with anyone they know.  (This is a notable exception!)

For that job where I applied  20 days too late, I told them my reason why.  It wasn't even a very good reason -- I hadn't seen the job posting until that day, and it just seemed like something too good to pass up.  I did not have a good excuse like Dr. Isis' correspondent.  But my application was very strong and I got the interview.  So it can happen.  In the worst case, they don't interview you, which is the same result as if you had never applied.

Really though, unless they are a completely unreasonable person (in which case, you don't want that job anyhow!), there is no negative repercussion from applying a little late if you accidentally missed the application deadline.  Now, that is not me giving you permission to willfully ignore all deadlines -- I'm just saying that honest mistakes are easily forgiven.

Job applicants often have this myopic vision of the hiring process.  I was talking to one of the postdocs I'd hired and I complained about how hard it was to fill the position, how many times my offers were rejected, and how glad I was that they were there.  "Oh," said the postdoc. "I only thought of it from the applicant's perspective -- it never occurred to me that you would be disappointed by people rejecting your job offers!"

Yes, we are disappointed by people rejecting our job offers!  Just as much, if not more, than applicants are disappointed by not getting the job.  It is a huge investment of time to screen applications, talk to applicants, bring them in for interviews, collect and evaluate feedback, and extend offers.  I was so heartbroken the first time my offer was rejected.  I really thought I'd had that candidate in the bag!  But I had to get over it quickly and get the whole process started again.

Making a job offer is a lot like making a Jane Austen-era marriage proposal.  You tell the person you really like them, they are just what you've been looking for, and you want to spend 40 hours a week together with them.  You have these means to provide for them (a.k.a. a salary), and you hope to produce little hybrids of yourself and them (a.k.a. research papers), if only they find you as attractive as you find them.  Then you smile nervously and hope they will say yes.

They usually have to take some time to think about your offer, and you desperately hope that they will think you are Mr. Bingley and not Mr. Collins.  I've been Mr. Collins more often than I would like.  In fact, I once had one person reject my job offer so that they would be free to possibly interview elsewhere (the place of their dreams, but that had not yet contacted them with any interest).  I don't know if that puts me in the same league as Mr. Darcy with his first proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, but that was a pretty odd rejection to say the least.  But it was all good, I offered the job to the next person on the list, who verbally accepted it immediately, and I felt relief that the position was finally filled.

After experiencing both sides of the table, I understand the hiring process much more, and at this point I am unafraid of applying for jobs (if I were in a position that I needed to do so).  I know how the system works.  I would know how to make myself attractive to hiring managers because I have been in their shoes.  I will write another post on that topic.