Career Next Steps

This is a talk I gave at the Women in HPC workshop at the 2017 Supercomputing Conference in Denver, CO. Specific points in this talk are geared towards those who are early-career (particularly graduate students), but the general gist should be applicable to anyone thinking about finding a new job.

0. About Me

I am received my Ph.D. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York in December of 2015. I was able to continue working at RPI for the spring while was I looking for a new job. I finally accepted a job offer in June, took some time off over the summer to move across the country, and started work in September. That is over 9 months between starting to look for a job and finally starting a new job.

My experience is not universal, I was privileged in a number of ways. First, I had (still have) a boy friend who was willing to leave his job and move across the country with me. It’s just him and I, there is no other family I have to support. Also, I was able to job hunt all over the US, with almost no limitations.

Enough about me, the first thing you need to know is:

1. You are Amazing

You are going to need confidence throughout the whole job-hunt process, so I’ll say it again: you are amazing!

Selling yourself is hard and does not come naturally to most people. So you have to boost your own confidence. Any employer would be lucky to have you. You deserve that job! You have more experience than you think.

Here is an anecdote about having more experience than you realize: When I was looking for job, NASA posted for astronauts. Turns out, I met all the criteria to get the job to go into space! My PhD was equivalent to 10 years job experience of being a pilot. Which leads me to my next point:

2. Know Yourself

I actually really like my boy friend and family. Heck, I really like earth; I don’t want to leave it for months or years a time.

You have to know yourself and know your operating parameters. What are your limits? Would you take a job where you’re on the night shift? Or where you have to travel 80% of the time?

Know your personal limitations and eliminate the jobs that just don’t fit with you. Now that you know what to look for:

3. Work Your Connections

This is common advise. I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t have any connections!” That may be true now, but that’s whay you’re here. Remember, you aren’t trying to be best-friends-for-life. All you need to do is connect with someone so that when you see them again at this same conference next year, you recognize each other. Don’t forget, that’s why everyone else is here, they are looking make connections too.

So, as you practice your small talk:

4. Be Blatant

Tell everyone that you are looking for a job. It really is true that most jobs are found through personal connections.

You can talk about other things too, but if you don’t say anything about looking for a job, people will assume you already have one! You need to tell people, so that they know to hire you. It may feel awkward, but, especially when you’re graduating, it is expected that you will be looking for a job.

I know at least 2 people in this room who are looking to hire someone. Go and find those people! Once you’ve found them:

5. Have a Clear Objective

I would recommend having an objective statement on your resume. Clearly state your time frame (when you can start work) and general area of interest, perhaps HPC. You should use this objective statement to build an elevator pitch. Be able to clearly communicate what types of jobs you are interested in. Some times its a tricky balance between being too specific and too general, but use the conversations that you have here to help you refine your words.

Personal connection is one way to find out about a job, you will eventually have to put your details into an online system. Get ready to:

6. Spray and Pray

Make it as easy as possible to apply to an online job posting. So easy that you can do it from your phone while eating breakfast. You want to apply to every job that you see, without getting emotionally invested in it during the application process.

So, have your CV and resume on hand and make it easy to tailor for any particular job. Have a text version of your resume (with decent formatting) so that you can copy and paste it into those online systems. Create an email folder where you can keep track of thing. Finally, have a few people on hand that are willing to recommend you. Hopefully they have written you a recommendation before and are willing to send a similar one to any job that asks for it.

With all of that, just send application after application into the void.

Okay, finally you’ve made it to the interview step. Now it’s important to:

7. Have a Reason

You will get asked why you want this job. Saying “because I need a job” is not the right answer. You need an authentic answer for yourself.

Your reason doesn’t have to be nerdy, that you’ve been into this topic since you were six. My reason for being in HPC is that I love science and have a passion for helping scientists get their work done. This brings us back to:

8. Know Yourself

Know what your passions are and what you are trying to share with the world.

Also, you need to remember to take care of yourself. Know how much sleep you need, how much exercise and alone time you need to stay healthy. If you don’t know these things, start figuring them out now. It will be essential to understand your core needs as the whole rest of your life undergoes a major shift.

Just remember:

9. You are Amazing

Anyone is lucky to have you, as an employee or team member. You deserve that job you’ve been eyeing. Just go ahead and apply to every job you want, even if you don’t meet all the “required” qualifications. You never know who will see your resume and find the perfect spot for you.

You are amazing. Fake your confidence through this whole process and I promise you will come out better on the other side.

Final thought: if you are in the US, remember to negotiate your salary at least once. It is expected.


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