1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Why can't I land a job interview?

  1. May 2, 2014 #1
    Ive applied to over 20 positions with no luck. I have a 2.8 im graduating in may with a bachelor degree in physics, i spent last summer in Taiwan doing bio physics research, i doubled up on physics research classes focusing on electrical engineering and nuclear physics. I worked for the last two years as an EMT in a power plant as medical standby, im a volunteer firefighter, volunteer EMT at 2 different agencies and an eagle scout. I have presented 4 posters and given 2 lectures at my university student research symposium and i cant seem to even get a phone call back from anywhere i have applied to. my girlfriends step mother had a hiring position at IBM and helped me edit my resume and cover letters. and ive got letters of recommendation from professors ive done research with.

    Im applying for mainly engineering positions, my university didnt have an engineering program until this year so i studied physics. you know what they say, any physicist can be an engineer but not every engineer can be a physicist.

    any thoughts/help would be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 2, 2014 #2

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    I would work on your English. I would also broaden the kinds of positions your applying for. People looking for engineers can hire actual engineers with good GPAs, and not have to settle for physics majors with less than stellar GPAs.
  4. May 2, 2014 #3
    Yea... your GPA is quite low. I wouldn't even advertise your GPA. If the job cares about your GPA, then you're probably not going to be considered with those numbers. If they don't care, then not having it shouldn't be an issue.

    Also, you may want to consider doing a master's degree to make yourself a bit more marketable, and this time keep the GPA around a 3.5 or higher.
  5. May 2, 2014 #4


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I am assuming your cumulative gpa is a 2.8. what is your major GPA? general rule of thumb is dont post any GPA lower than a 3.0
  6. May 2, 2014 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    What have each of the twenty places at which you have applied told you when you called them to follow up on your application?

    Simply submitting a CV is only one part of the job application process. If you're serious about a position, try to make contact with whoever is in a position to make the hiring decision. This helps you learn about the position, decide whether it is a good fit for you, learn whether there are internal candidates, and help you to tailor your CV and interview responses.

    Also, I agree with Vanadium50. Remember even websites like this can be used as a form of social networking. Typing in a non-professional manner, ignoring proper capitalization and punctuation for example, doesn't put your best foot foward.

    With respect to looking for an engineering position with a physics degree, you have to make sure you understand the rules of the playing field. Many places will only hire graduates from an accredited engineering programs for engineering positions and often they will look to their pool of interns first.

    The attitude of "any physicist can be an engineer" is probably not helping you. I'm sure some people who graduate with a physics undergradaute degree would be quite successful in some entry-level engineering positions. There are lots of examples of this, at least anecdotally. But approaching an employer with the attitude that because you've managed to slug your way through an undergraduate physics education, that you're more than qualified for any engineering position they might have is a good way to get your CV dumped into the shredder. You assess whether you are qualified for specific positions on a case by case basis, matching both what is posted and what you learn about the position from your own research with your own skill set.

    Finally, it sounds like you have a very broad array of experience. Being a volunteer firefighter and having worked as an EMT is great. But those facts are not going to help you land an engineering position because they are not relevant to the position. One way in which you could use this to your advantage would be to apply to positions that would see that experience as an asset. A position as an officer in the armed forces comes to mind.
  7. May 2, 2014 #6
    One thing to note: 20 resumes is not a large number.

    First, review your resume again with someone else, to be sure.

    Second, apply to another 30 jobs.

    Finally, be sure you're following up on them properly, as others have mentioned.

    Also, are you networking through professors, university contacts etc? That's how I got my first job after my bs. May not work, but worth a shot.
  8. May 2, 2014 #7
    As a side note, that statement about any physicist being able to be an engineer is something physicists believe. . .
  9. May 2, 2014 #8


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    True that. For example, the XYZ company bills its PE engineers out at $85 per hour and engineers out at $72 per hour. Anyone without an accredited engineering degree regardless of their skill gets billed out at $50 per hour. And no you won't get paid that rate, at max you will receive half of those billing rates (overhead and profit suck up the other half)

    I concur with this as well. I find it offensive to say that any physcist can be an engineer. I don't like it and guarantee the guy interviewing you won't like it as well.

    It's always tough starting out. Plan on sending out 500 resumes before you succeed. It's a numbers game.

    And if I'm being totally honest, I would rather work with a guy with a couple years experience and NO degree.......over a new guy fresh out of school with a physics degree. The guy with 2 years experience would hit the ground running.....the new physics guy would have to be trained for a couple years just to get up to speed.
    Last edited: May 2, 2014
  10. May 2, 2014 #9

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Welcome to the real world.
    In the power plant,
    We had a saying " The fact somebody got his education by going to college shouldn't be held against him."

    A degree demonstrates that one is capable of learning.
    So does progressing up the ranks via growing his technical competence.

    I'd say work on your written exposition
    and cultivate humility.

    The day i interviewed, while in the waiting room with other interviewees i picked up some highfalutin' executive magazine.
    They'd published an interview with a successful executive nearing retirement and among the questions they asked was :
    "Did you find over the years any perpetual problem, something that just never got better ? "
    His reply: "Yes. Spare me those young know-it-alls who think everything has to be changed."

    Now that was humbling. But i came to appreciate his wisdom.
  11. May 2, 2014 #10
    All good comments above. I won't repeat them except to point out what I consider to be a Chinese Wall, called the Human Resources department:

    WATCH OUT FOR KEY WORDS IN EVERY AD! You could be qualified, but if you don't use the right keywords, that highly paid clerk in the Human Resources department will kick out your resume as "insufficient."

    They don't know what an EMT stands for. They don't care about your Eagle Scout achievement. They're looking for key words that tell them your resume is suitable for review by the person who actually requisitioned the position. So look for those key words in the ad. Don't lie about anything, but if you have done something or studied something that can reasonably be phrased in those terms USE THEM.

    For example, while studying in my electrical engineering curriculum, I went through an extensive course in Boolean logic. The position required experience with relay ladder logic systems. With a straight face, knowing how to present one in terms of the other, I applied while mentioning my course in logic being applicable to relay ladder systems. I got the promotion.

    Good Luck!
  12. May 2, 2014 #11
    The myth that any physicist, or even a mere BS physics graduate, can be an engineer seems pervasive and is really quite ridiculous. I think its mostly perpetuated by students who have yet to get a degree, but I think professors and teachers can be guilty of it as well.

    Let me offer my experience for some perspective. I graduated with a high undergrad GPA, only got one B+ in a physics class. In grad school I struggled and had to leave with only a masters and a low GPA just barley above 3.0. I have been applying for all sorts of STEM positions for two and a half years and have never gotten an interview. I apply for positions ranging from manufacturing tech requiring only a high school diploma, equipment tech requiring an associates, "engineer" positions requiring a BS in engineering and sometimes physics to masters required/PhD preferred scientist/engineer positions (and also teacher positions at community colleges). Never one call back. I have been to numerous career fairs, particularly engineering career fairs. I have had multiple people look at my resumes and cover letters and offer minor critiques. I have used the few people I know in STEM positions/companies to get my resume in to the right person. Nothing.

    I think psparky's comment regarding experience is spot on. My degrees and research experience are no substitute for real on the job experience. To the prospective employer my resume is one of hundreds and my lack of experience makes me undesirable. Why would they offer on the job training to me when they get many applications from people already experienced who can hit the ground running on day one? My physics education is esoteric and the stuff I learned in classes is useless to them. This coupled with the glut of STEM graduates compared to jobs available leaves me with no hand.

    Though I am still, perhaps naively, applying for STEM positions nearly all of my non-PhD classmates have moved on. They are seemingly happy and productive doing other things. The most popular choice seemed to be "Teach for America".

    The only advice I can offer is to consider non-STEM careers or consider getting a different degree (and doing better at it). Otherwise, its tough out there. Apply all over the place and apply often. And be sure to let us know if/when something works out.

    edit - Also, keep in mind that many listed positions are not "real" positions. Sometimes a position has a shoo-in candidate already before being listed, but it is listed anyway because it is required to be listed by the funding agency or internal policy. Other times the listing is just there to fish for resumes or to keep up appearances. This is one reason why only 20 applications is not nearly enough.
    Last edited: May 2, 2014
  13. May 2, 2014 #12
    I'm sure the relevance of physics depends a lot on the fields of engineering you’re looking at, but even in the best case scenario it seems unlikely to me that a physics education makes one better prepared than an engineering education for an engineering job. For some areas of engineering, physics probably doesn’t do anything at all to prepare one. Speaking for myself, I learned more relevant job skills my first week writing software than I learned the entire time I spent studying physics (PhD), yes I mean this literally and it was really more like a couple of days.

    I’ve been there and I know it’s tough, but as others have said, 20 resumes aren’t that many. Not nearly enough to get discouraged. In terms of suggestions, from the employer perspective they likely expect that you’ll need a lot of training (Side note: the first person that hired me after I finished school told me, at my 90 day review, that he thought hiring me was a gamble, but he was glad he did because if paid off.). I might help if you could somehow get across (cover letter or in the interview when it gets to that point) that you know the transition will be tough, but you’re excited about the challenge.

    That’s my 2 cents.
  14. May 2, 2014 #13
    what if you offer to work for free some place to gain experience.
  15. May 2, 2014 #14

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Illegal in the US, where there are minimum wage laws.
  16. May 2, 2014 #15
    ok then work for minimum wage
  17. May 2, 2014 #16
    Putting that you are willing to work for minimum wage on your resume isn't going to help you get hired for a career style STEM job. In fact, I think it would only hurt because that implies you are no good and will consume more of their resources to get up to speed (if you ever do).
  18. May 3, 2014 #17


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The idea that "a physicist can be an engineer but an engineer can't be a physicist" is not accurate. Maybe if you're comparing a PhD experimental, applied physicist and a BS engineer. But the physics major and the engineering major have completely different educational goals.

    I don't understand why so many physics majors want to work at engineering firms. They turn their noses up at engineering in school and then are crawling to these firms asking for a job.

    With your extensive bio-physics and EMT experience I'd be applying to hospitals and things like that. "physicist's assistant" jobs at hospitals usually only require a bachelors. That's if any hospitals near you are large enough to have medical physicists.
  19. May 3, 2014 #18

    Yeah and it's quite annoying.
  20. May 4, 2014 #19
    As a registered professional engineer, and one who holds a BSEE, I should be the one who is most offended by the statement that any physicist being able to be an engineer. But I am not.

    True, there are things in engineering that are not taught to physics students and vice versa. But there are also a great many things that schools do not teach engineering majors that they encounter right away on the job. In other words, anyone with a technical college degree is going to be drinking from a fire hose of experience to learn what they need as soon as they get to the working world of engineering. Yes, the physics majors will be at a slight disadvantage, but compared to what everyone has to learn when the get to the working world that disadvantage isn't as stark as it might first seem.

    Show a willingness to learn and you will get work. Take the FE exam (for EIT), learn the trade from a mentor, and then take the principles and practices exam after a few years. Then, for all intents and purposes you ARE an engineer, no matter what your degree says.

    Yes, any physics graduate can become an engineer. But you need motivation, commitment, and perseverance, just like any other engineering student. In many cases, people's lives depend upon what we design. Half baked attitudes will not get you anywhere.
  21. May 6, 2014 #20


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I'm an EE as well, and also not offended by that sentiment (life's too short to get offended all the time). When people make that statement, they usually mean a physics grad (or Ph.D. experimentalist) can ease into an engineering role and succeed immediately. I work with lot of physicists and this attitude is pervasive. It is also false.

    Many physicists are very smart and capable. However, their goals are often very far removed from an engineer's. A physicist will typically build a amplifier (for example) by throwing something together from a book and tweaking it until it works in the lab. That's fine for doing a quick experiment or feasibility study.

    However, I'm paid to design robust, low-cost systems that operate correctly over the long term with varying component tolerances and environmental conditions. This is a far cry indeed from making an amplifier work on the bench. In my experience this capability is very often overlooked and unappreciated by physicists and the methodologies needed to successfully build these kinds of systems are not included in a physics curriculum.

    That said, a lot of the techniques engineers use boil down to common sense, but it would take a physicist time to come up to speed and equal an engineer's capability. This is the key reason that an engineering firm would rather hire engineers than physicists. From a company's perspective an engineer's education is more germane and an engineer requires less training and remedial education than a physics grad and is therefore cheaper.

    I think most physics grads are quite capable of being competent engineers over time, but it would be more efficient from them to just study engineering.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Threads - can't land interview Date
Job Skills The most important factors to land a job Feb 15, 2018
Physics Bachelor's in Physics: Retail can't be my only option!!? Aug 3, 2016
Other Can't shake the feeling I should be in Physics... May 29, 2016
Can't decide on a career path Jan 24, 2016
Can't find a job with a PhD Dec 30, 2015