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Physics Career Advice (6 months no job please Help)

  1. Jun 21, 2016 #1
    I need some career advice. First of off I'm a PhD graduate in physics. Yes for some stupid reason I chose particle physics. I was told by both my undergraduate and graduate program that to major in what I love since its easy for physicist to get a job doing about anything. I found out this to be a lie as I have applied to more than 600 positions over the last 6 months. I have spent more time applying to jobs than I did on my thesis officially. I have applied to data analyst positions, data scientist positions, researcher positions, government positions, engineering positions and many more to no avail. I have decent C++ skills, excellent Python (NumPy, SciPy, and Pandas) and SQL Skills. I come from a poor family from rural kentucky so I had borrowed 15000 in student loans before I graduated to allow myself time to find a position. Those funds are depleting quickly. I have attended 3 career fairs and contacted the career center at both my undergraduate and graduate institutions to look over my resume and help. Both career centers stated my resume looked excellent and so did my sample cover letter I sent. One individual at the career center told me it was just take time. Most recruiters find it odd that I haven't been hired yet and are skeptical. So I am wondering to the employed physics majors (Bachelor, Master, or PhD) how did you get your job and what do you exactly do ?
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  3. Jun 21, 2016 #2


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    Take any old job and cut up your credit card. Keep applying and the jobs will come. What kind of rejections have you been getting. Why don't you post a typical cover letter (or send it to me privately).
  4. Jun 21, 2016 #3


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    If you haven't applied with them, Northrop Grumman has a good number of job openings around the country when you put physics in their job search engine.
  5. Jun 21, 2016 #4


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    It would be beneficial to know at what stage you are getting rejected. Without further knowledge here are some general mistakes i've seen on PhD candidates resumes and interviews
    • Use specific jargon that has no real use outside of academics
    • Fail to include industry specific jargon
    • Underplay programming in their resume
    • When interviewing they get to caught up in the research and fail to convey how their work relates to my job opening****
    • Fail to explain technical details like they are speaking to an idiot.
    • Obviously depressed leaving academia
    • Applying to too low level of job for their talent(I can't hire a PhD for entry level Data Analyst, HR would murder me.)
    • Overestimating their talent (I don't care if you have a PhD, your first job will not be managing a team on a multibillion dollar project)

    ****I starred this bullet point because it happens a lot. I interview smart and qualified individuals but if you spend all day telling me how interesting and challenging your research was, but fail to use that as a jump off point to let me know how the skills learned there will benefit me, you just wasted both of our time.
  6. Jun 21, 2016 #5

    Dr Transport

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    First of all, six months is not a lot of time, I have been out of work for 4+ months and I have 20+ years experience and a PhD. I have been looking since before Thanksgiving and am now just getting interviews. Your resume might look good to a career center at a university, but until it is looked over by a head hunter who specializes in placing technical people, your kinda stuck. A new graduate needs to look for an entry level position, nothing more, look for new college graduates on the corporate job sites, I know Northrup Grumman has a section like that, so does United Technologies..

    Words of advice, each and every resume that goes out needs to be tailored for the position, a human being isn't reading them, a computer is. If you don't have the key words from the posting in there, you are not even considered. The cover letter is the same way, completely customized, no way around it. When it gets thru the filter to the next level of scrutiny, then a human reads it and makes a determination about whether or not you get to talk to someone on the phone for an hour or so to see if you get scheduled for a face-to-face interview. It take time, lots of time to find a job.
  7. Jun 21, 2016 #6
    The only question I have about the data analysis part. I apply to those type of positions because sometimes the data scientist position requires so many years experience. If you take out lower entry level jobs then there aren't a lot of options.
  8. Jun 21, 2016 #7


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    You should morph each resume to match the job description. This does not mean lying. It means making sure your resume says "I would be great for that specific job" not "i am great."

    This goes along with marnemath's point

    Also try applying through family friends, friends of family friends, college alumni (talk to your professors), etc
  9. Jun 21, 2016 #8


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    Screw what the website says to be honest. There's two issues at play here.

    • A job is posted with no intention of hiring outside the company. I have to post a job on a job board (at least on the company job board) even if i'm just promoting someone from my team to the next tier. So I may get qualified candidates who I would hire, but I rather just promote just someone on my team to the position. The good thing is that many companies keep your resume on file and an HR recruit may search the database for keywords if a "real" job opening appears and reach out to you. (That's what happened to me.)
    • There's a template that companies use for positions. However, you'll find that it's flexible. My generic data scientist ad goes something like REQUIRE: MASTERS 5-10 YEARS EXPERIENCE, PhD - 3-5 YEARS EXPERIENCE. Yet, I hired a PhD candidate with 0 years of "work" experience and a Masters candidate with 0 years of work experience. Why? Because most people consider finishing your thesis to be work experience (especially if you've dealt with raw ugly data). Secondly, I told my HR to remove the education filter. The key take away is that you just don't know how much flexibility a manager has, so you might as well apply if it seems like something you can do.
    Lastly, Data Analyst is a tricky position to apply too. A lot of times it requires someone with subject matter expertise or relevant experience. Also i've seen that it can also be another term for someone who is proficient in ETL. When I was looking for an analyst, I had the misfortunate of getting 100 resumes dealing with ETL and very few dealing with actual data processing.

    I'm not saying take out the lower entry level jobs entirely, but in my opinion, you probably shouldn't avoid something that requires3-5 years of work experience.
  10. Jun 21, 2016 #9


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    Some additional tips:
    1. 600 positions in 6 months sounds like a shotgun approach. Personally I've had a lot more success with a sniper approach. That means that you have to do as much as you can to investigate any position that you're applying to.
    2. How are you networking? Who have you talked to in the industries that you're trying to get into?
    3. I wouldn't spend a lot of time at career fairs getting resume and cover letter advice, unless you're certain that's something that's blocking you from getting a position. These are opportunities to talk with people who are hiring, or who may have positions that you're interested in at least. Even if someone isn't currently hiring, a 10 minute conversation can generate all sorts of information such as when they will be hiring, who to talk to, others in the industry who might be hiring, what they typically look for a in a candidate, what are game-changing factors, etc.
    4. If there's a specific industry you're looking into, see if you can get into a conference. I know these are expensive in many cases, but sometimes you can cut into the cost by volunteering at them. There are another way to meet key players in the field and figure out what you need to do to get hired.
    5. How professional is your online presence? One of the first things a lot of employers do who are considering hiring a person is to look them up online to see what kind of person is behind the resume. Don't assume that you're anonymous either.
  11. Jun 21, 2016 #10

    I do a mixture basically. If the position is something I really want and am 80 to a 100 percent qualified for then I will use the sniper approach. Then for the others I have 12 resume designs (based on the type of job I'm applying to) which I chose from depending on the position that I will use for the others along with a customized cover letter. I've done the sniper approach on at least 150-200. My issues is network which is where I am lacking. Most of my colleagues in college were foreign (My department was 80 percent foreign) . I do have a LinkedIn and joined a few alumni and job searching groups but that is about as far as I've got with networking. Like how should I expand my network ? Also about the career fairs that sentence is a little confusing and I'm going to rewrite it. I meant to say I have been to 3 career fans where I have indeed spoke to individuals about positions to no avail. Also I spoke to the career centers at both my undergraduate and graduate institutions about improving my resume and cover letter.
  12. Jun 21, 2016 #11

    Dr Transport

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    if your doing it right, and I suspect you aren't, you should be spending about 2-3 hours per application, given your 600 applications, you have spent 1200-1800 hours in the past six months??? I doubt it. remember you are selling yourself and your talents, everything must be absolutely perfect before you hit the submit button online.

    to give you an idea, i have applied for approximately 40 positions in the past 6 months, or about 2 a week. of that number, I have had hits for phone interviews on 6, do the math, right now i have three phone interviews being scheduled in the next two weeks, two if which I am reasonably confident will end with an offer, both of which i had an extreme amount of help from friends in the business making phone calls and sending emails to get me in the door to talk. terrible cliche, but appropriate, it ain't what you know, it's who you know......
  13. Jun 21, 2016 #12
    Okay so I looked at how long I've spent and it's close to about a 1000 hours (I actually apply to positions about 5 to 7 hours a night) As I mentioned in a previous post I do a mixture and you are correct only about a 150 is the sniper approach the rest is a mixed approach.
  14. Jun 21, 2016 #13

    Dr Transport

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    good, 1000 hours isn't too bad, but the shotgun approach isn't gonna work in this day and age. I am sure that the positions I didn't get interviewed for I didn't do my homework as well as I should have, one I know i was considered for, but rumor has is that they thought i would want too much money and they were not willing to pay it. i even had a head hunter submit m resume and he was kinda upset with the company because of that ( i had 5 of 6 of the basic qualifications and all 8 of the preferred qualifications and didn't get a call).

    print out the posting, highlight your qualifications and the make sure that they are in your resume and cover letter almost verbatim. if you don't have any experience in an area, tell them that you'd be interested in learning that and how you would go about doing it.
  15. Jun 21, 2016 #14
    Thank you guys for the helping any more advice would be welcomed as well.
  16. Jun 21, 2016 #15


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    One thing that I have been told is that if you are applying for programming jobs, it is important to have a github presence. If you don't have one already, I would take some of the code you wrote for your PhD and post it on github. Then you can include this in your resume and will have a presence if a recruiter searches or it.
  17. Jun 22, 2016 #16


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    Are you doing a nationwide job search? With strong NumPy and Pandas skills I think you would be a very strong candidate for a data scientist position in San Francisco. Have you applied to any of the larger companies there (e.g. Salesforce, New Relic, Google, AirBNB, etc etc)?
  18. Jun 28, 2016 #17
    I have a Physics undergraduate degree (MS in engineering, but I got that after working for a few years), and I now lead a team of firmware and software developers, so I understand what you are going through. Every manager is different, so it's tough to give general advice, bu here are three things that worked for me, or people I know.

    First, if you haven't done so already, try looking at Craig's List, or other small job posting places. A lot of small companies that can't afford the big job sites post their jobs to Craig's List. Those jobs tend to have less people applying. The down side is that those companies generally can't pay as well, but it's easier to get a foot in the door. One of my Physics classmates found his first technical job on Craig's List several years ago.

    Another thing you can do, if you haven't already, is try to work through contract agencies or what are sometimes called body shops (companies that work is outsourced to. You can often find them on Craig's List and the like). The smaller companies and the ones owned by offshore companies, seem especially not picky about whom they hire. Some of the agencies are pretty unscrupulous and greedy, so again, don't expect much in the way of pay or benefits if you don't have any bargaining leverage (i.e. no industry experience). It's pretty common for large companies like Microsoft to outsource large parts of their development effort to body shops, or just hire contractors through these agencies essentially en masse for things like software development in test, bug fixing, or software testing. I got my first job after finishing my Physics degree through a shady little contract agency. The pay was terrible, and there were no benefits, but after just six months, I was able to get enough experience to find a "real" job, so I quit.

    The last thing is you can get qualified in some skill that isn't common. Everyone knows Python, Java, etc. so there are going to be lots of candidates for those jobs. A comparatively small number of people know things like LabVIEW, Smalltalk, FORTRAN, tcl, etc. Some of these technologies have certifications you can get. Both myself and a friend of mine with a Physics degree started out doing LabVIEW. I know another guy who didn't have a CS degree and started with Smalltalk, and one woman who started with FORTRAN. Look up a list of software languages by market share, or popularity, and go way down the list to find a language you want to learn. Then make sure there are companies with ads out for those languages, so you know the languages aren't totally dead. Find out which ones you might be able to get a certificate in either through industry, or a university extension program, or just teach yourself. I've had to hire people to program some of these not-so-popular languages. Some times we only get 1 candidate after weeks of searching. The down side is that you might have to relocate, since, obviously, not a lot of companies use these technologies. Once you get some industry experience you can likely move into more in-demand languages, so you don't have to base your whole career on writing COBOL. I mean, that language just has to go away eventually, doesn't it?

    Sorry about the long post. I hope it was helpful. Good luck in your job search. I'm sure you'll find something.

  19. Jun 28, 2016 #18
    Are you limiting yourself to a certain location? I feel like, as an above user said, you will have a lot more luck in the Silicon Valley area for the type of jobs you are looking for. I also think it's important to have key words on your resume and cover letter and leave out the physics jargon. Instead, talk about why what you did in physics gave you a useful skill (s) and how it can apply to the job. 6 months is not that long. Once I graduated with a bachelors, it took me a year to get a job. I've had several interviews during that year and I kept learning what I was doing wrong and how to improve.

    It's definitely important to network as well! Have you thought about reaching out to the alumni network of both of your schools?

    Epic systems is a healthcare software company that have hired a decent number of physicists in the past, see if they have any openings. Also think about working in IT in the finance industry. Maybe you could even apply for consulting positions if you enjoy problem solving... maybe look into Deloitte, McKinsey and Compan, PwC, IBM etc.
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