Finding a Science Job
Finding a job in science careers can be a long, busy process, whether you are a recent college graduate or someone looking for a change in jobs. You need to make a schedule for your time and the steps you will take. Plan it out just as you would an experiment or project.
First, you need to decide what kind of job you desire. Do you want to do research, work in industry, or teach? Think about what areas of science you want. Many science careers merge over discipline dividing lines, so you may need to look in more than one science field.
Once you have those basic decisions figured out, start your search. Some ideas to help are:
- Check with your school's placement or career advancement office. Even if you have been out of school for a while, they may still have resources available to you. They may have listings of job openings or people to contact, so use whatever information you can find.
- Attend job fairs, either at school or in the community. If you are willing to relocate, check online for job fairs in other cities.
- Check with your professors, bosses, and other students to see if they know of openings or of people to contact.
- If you have been working an internship, your first talk about a permanent job should be with your boss there. They may have openings, and they know your work record.
- Your contacts at your internship workplace may know of people in other companies that have openings. Follow up on those contacts.
- Check online job boards. Don't rely only on sites such as Monster and CareerBuilder. There are some job boards that cater to science and technology jobs, such as Dice.com. Post your résumé on these boards, and you may receive phone calls or interviews.
- There are also science-specific job boards, often operated by science organizations. These are especially valuable, and you may already have a student membership to groups such as the American Chemical Society.
- Contact human resources at any company or industry that would be a good place for you to work. They may have listings that are not yet publicly posted, which you may qualify for.
- Check online job boards for specific companies.
- Hire a recruiter who specializes in science jobs.
Finding a science career position starts with a résumé. Having a professional-looking and well-written résumé and cover letter gets you past the first cut in the hiring process. A sloppy résumé full of typos usually gets put in the discard pile immediately. If you don’t feel comfortable writing your own résumé, you can hire someone. Just be sure you give them every bit of information that needs to be in your résumé, and check it over carefully once it is done. If you are writing the résumé yourself, here are some ideas.
- Your résumé will need to serve as both paper and online copies. A lot of white space is eye pleasing, so use wide margins, but still try to keep it to one page.
- Include all of your contact information at the top. A professional-sounding e-mail address is critical. Don’t have a joking or playful one.
- Choose a font that is bold and clean. Don’t use more than one font, but add bold or italics as needed.
- Use a large font; size 12 is good for most fonts.
- Bullets eliminate long blocks of text and make the words stand out. Use them when possible.
- Have someone else read your résumé to catch typographic errors or misspellings.
- Your school record, such as GPA, core classes, and membership in scientific organizations should be in your résumé.
- Include any internship work as close to the top as possible.
- Use some space to briefly describe scientific projects you carried out, especially senior projects or research you performed.
- Quantify your research with as many facts and numbers as possible. The more concrete facts you can put down, the better. Even if the results were a failure, it is an important part of any scientific endeavor.
- List your other jobs, including responsibilities that you had, particularly if you had a management or leadership role.
- Include any volunteer work.
- Add something personal about yourself, your extracurricular activities or hobbies.
- You may need to prepare more than one résumé to emphasize different scientific abilities.
You will need a cover letter to accompany your résumé, both in paper and online. Use the cover letter to show that you have done some research on the company where you are applying for a job and show enthusiasm for their work or reputation. Be sure to address it to a certain person, not just anyone. Research the company to find the head scientist or project lead. Stress your strongest qualities, and explain any employment or schooling gaps briefly. Keep the letter short, but include your contact information. Again, check carefully for typos or misspelled words.
Congratulations, your cover letter and résumé have gained you an interview. Now, you need to prepare.
- You may have a phone interview before a face-to-face interview. Be sure to be ready for the call in a quiet place with your résumé in front of you and paper and pencil to take notes.
- Research the company or agency so you know a little about the position and the work they are doing
- In phone and personal interviews, speak calmly and clearly.
- For a face-to-face interview, dress in business clothes, preferably a dark suit.
- Find the place ahead of time so you can be on time or, even better, early.
- Take several copies of your résumé in case they are needed.
- Be courteous to everyone, including the first people you meet. Be ready to shake hands with everyone.
- Interviews for science careers can often be group interviews. If you have to face several interviewers, try to relax and answer each person’s questions while looking at him or her.
- To prepare for the interview, review your research or senior projects or any projects done during your internship so the facts are clear in your mind.
- Think about your strengths and weaknesses. Try to find a way to turn your weaknesses into hidden strengths.
- Answer questions as clearly and succinctly as possible. Don’t wander off on a tangent.
- Have questions prepared for your interviewers. You can ask about current work or research that you saw listed on their website.
- Questions about the specific job opening and the work it requires are acceptable.
- Don’t be negative about any past employers or professors
- Don’t be afraid to be yourself and show some emotion, whether a chuckle at a funny episode or excitement about your research or theirs.
- After a group interview, you may interview separately, so be ready for that. Thank each person after your interview.
- Ask for a tour of the company or lab if possible.
- Leave several copies of your résumé.
- Ask when the position will be filled and who you can contact for more information.
- Write thank-you notes as soon as possible. You can mention briefly some interest that you talked about in the interview.
Many employers will ask for letters of reference, so take them along on your interviews for science careers or send them ahead if requested. You need to start gathering them before you start the job search process.
Decide who would write a good reference for you. For new graduates, a letter from a professor or a boss from an internship are great choices. You will need more than one letter so you can fit them to the position for which you are applying. For example, ask your microbiology professor to write a letter for a microbiology job. Put that letter on top in your packet. You will need other letters as well, usually two or three. Choose the professors who know you best or who you have worked most closely with. If needed, give them lists of the classes you have taken under them.
If a professor has supervised you during a senior project or research, make sure he or she includes that information in the letter of reference.
When you request letters of reference, ask your contacts if they have the time to write the letters and if they can write positively about you. A negative or neutral letter hurts more than helps, so do without if you can’t get enough positive letters.
There are websites with sample reference letters, if the letter writer needs them. Be sure to give them plenty of time to write before you need the letters for an interview, and check a few days before to see if they are ready. Don’t wait until the last minute.
Ask the letter writer to include specific information about you and your work. Just saying that you are a good student doesn’t carry much weight, but concrete examples of your lab technique or research ideas are vital. Be sure that your full name and contact information is included with each letter.
Besides letters of reference, an employer may ask for contact information for references. Be sure you have each person’s permission to include this information in an application.
Write thank-you notes to everyone who writes letters of reference for you and to everyone who is willing to be a reference. Their time is valuable, so show your appreciation.
Last Updated: 08/20/2013