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.

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