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Have We Got a Job For You!

Since I’m still on the job-hunting trail, after the events described here, I think I’d find it a bit therapeutic to complain about one part of the process that’s a complete waste of time.
Now, there are open positions that are advertised, both online and in the various science and trade publications, and there are some that are handled mostly by recruiters. I’m working both of those, naturally, since at my level of experience it’s generally harder to find a position. Friends of friends, former colleagues, company websites, online job boards, headhunters of every description – if this isn’t the time to pull out all the stops, when is?
But there are recruiters, and there are recruiters. I’ve spoken with several who really seem to know their business, and I’m glad to have had the chance to contact them. But I’ve also spoken with several who don’t seem to have the first idea of what they’re doing. Let’s just say that I’ve been pitched more than enough positions for “Formulations Chemist” and “Clinical Research Data Scientist” and God only knows what else. There are so many things wrong about these inquiries that I hardly know where to start.
For one thing, it shows that either the recruiter involved knows nothing about the industry, or they haven’t even looked at my CV – and it’s a good question as to which of those is a worse sign. I’ve had headhunters confidently forward me positions that focus on, say, developing generic injectables: what in my background makes that even remotely a match, unless all the other resumes they have on hand are from Linux developers and salespeople? The other day, I had someone pitch me a job that, while actually in medicinal chemistry, was at a level I wouldn’t have interviewed for in 1992, much less now. And they seemed surprised that I wasn’t considering it seriously.
Another problem with these is what’s happening on the other end. Here’s some company, paying a search firm to go out and beat the bushes for them, but the outfit’s actually just randomly hitting up everyone who’s walked across a drug company parking lot. You wonder what kind of progress reports these people are submitting on how their trained placement professionals are on the case, as in the background someone sits on the phone asking a cell biologist if they’ve ever considered running a mass spec lab. “Hello. . .hello? Cut off again. . .”
Well, at any rate, there are some good ones out there. But they sure stand out against the background.

14 comments on “Have We Got a Job For You!”

  1. Cuberdon says:

    Aren’t the headhunters also paid when they send candidates to a company, and not only when a candidate is effectively recruted (well, I guess in the later case, they get more money ;-))
    It may explain why they are ready to send anybody for an interview (I have received proposal to be interviewed for a job as a clinical trials manager, even if my experience in pharma is about dossiers publishing and electronic submissions).

  2. Petros says:

    I had the same thing some years ago when ina simialr position, and in the UK, so it would seem to be a general phenomenon of the recruitment business.

  3. NJBiologists says:

    Derek, you have my sympathies–working with headhunters can be really frustrating. It certainly was for me when I had to do it recently. And yet, there is wheat among the chaff….
    I suspect a combination of education and lack of just asking questions. Many of the recruiters who actually talk about their educational qualifications mention a BS in biology; this doesn’t start them out well-prepared to distinguish between specialties. The good ones overcome this by asking questions, both of the hiring manager and of the candidate. But then, you’ve seen how often this happens.

  4. utenzi says:

    That reminds me of the time human resources sent us this woman to interview for a tech position. She was applying for a clerical position and was bewildered at finding herself in a wet lab. As it turned out, the HR person saw that the woman listed ASTROLOGY as a hobby and figured she’d be a natural at science research. Typical HR!
    Good luck with your job search, Derek. It’s a tough slog when you’ve got lots of talent and experience.

  5. Flangeon says:

    Hey Derek… Don’t you see your calling as a recruiter for displaced chemists. Why bother with a lab when fertile pickin’s abound.
    How do you think recruiters came into being… they couldn’t find work… and for a reason…
    those who can’t, recruit; and those who can’t recruit, ….?

  6. larry says:

    As far as recruiters, many companies shun applicants from them. They are required to pay substantial finders-fees so this puts you at a disadvantage. Why bother with paying extra when the market is currently saturated with Chemists? In a few months the bottom will drop out when the economy further softens. You might try getting an MBA.
    Also a warning: Many big name recruiters require you to sign a ‘non-compete’ agreement. You are thus restricted from contacting companies they have ‘approached’ for a period of up to one year after ‘they make-contact’. I found out this included fax solicitations and I cancelled the deal. Apparently their strategy was to mass fax every major company in the area and then lock you into them!
    One thing I did learn from talking with several recruiters is that many of the big-pharma companies HR dept’s canvas the street with fake job positions so that they can establish salary controls. Ever see a company job-board light up with 100 positions after a major layoff? Well, thats one reason. Also, HR people need to do something with their time.

  7. Derek Lowe says:

    Larry, I have to say that I’ve never run into a one-year noncompete agreement from a search firm, nor have I heard about that faxing trick. Given what happens to unsolicited faxes, and has happened to them for years, I have to ask how current this information is.
    As for your advice to get an MBA, well, I’ll take that as well-meant. But I’ll pass. And while I’m not saying the employment situation is great, I’m not sure I’d use the word “saturated”, either. The majority of my chemist colleagues have been able to find jobs, especially the Master’s level folks, who have actually been in demand. It’s the experienced PhDs who have had to scramble a bit.
    Overall, your comment is quite the ray of sunshine.

  8. molecularArchitect says:

    I’m an experienced PhD who has been looking for a year since being laid off. At our level, the market is supersaturated. Based on what has happened with my colleagues, experienced PhDs need to scramble a lot and get lucky.
    I’m not sure of the value of recruiters. Some of the ones I spoken with seem informed and genuine. Others have no clue. But this also applies to in-house recruiters. I just went to a recent job fair where I spoke to the HR rep/recruiter for one of the 3 large biotech/pharma companies in the Bay Area. Asked him if the rumor that his company would be expanding their Medicinal Chemistry department was true. He gave me a blank look and said “I don’t think we do that. Would that be part of R&D?” This after a recent C&EN article talking about their big buildup of med chem!
    If anyone knows of good recruiters, I’d love to see the information posted. Most company on-line systems are just black holes that you send your resume into and never get a response back. The importance of a good network can’t be overestimated, I wish mine was better.

  9. Thomas McEntee says:

    Industry will always prefer that there be an oversupply of professionals in whatever fields are relevant to their business. Industry may even work with professional societies to promote/hype the field, fund professors, etc to ensure that oversupply of professionals with advanced degrees. Having been through the layoff dark side of the oversupply game, I would encourage _chemists_ to remember that they are _chemists_, and that there are many companies not in the _chemical_ business that need chemists. You may not end up doing bench chemistry but if you really learned how to _think_, you’re prepared for synthesis and analysis in all kinds of fields.

  10. Chrispy says:

    I’ll echo the hard-to-get-a-job-as-a-Ph.D. theme here. And you know what? I’m sick of applying myself so hard to such a mercurial endeavor. So much is always lost as these re-orgs happen (so much that was never published!).
    Do you folks who have jobs now regularly apply for others? I’m thinking that even though I have a job I like that perhaps it would be wise to keep a backup plan running. Scary, stupid business we’re in!
    A Ph.D. chemist in industry probably makes, what, $150k with benefits. (?) And the work is very interesting. But it has its downside, too — like getting laid off. This kind of salary can be made doing lots of things. (Not totally easily, but Ph.D.s are a rare lot, no?) Given how wacky this specialization is, maybe it would be prudent to do something different?

  11. Milo says:

    I can tell you that a new PhD does not make close to $150k, and with the average cost of living increases being 2-3%, it will take a while to get there 🙂
    The idea of always looking for new opportunities I think is a healthy thing. You never know, you could be laid off, or tire of your current position or decide you want to relocate…
    While it was once a small dent to my ego, I am rather glad that I did not get a job in pharma. There is too much uncertainty right now for me.

  12. Timothy says:

    The thing about chemistry is that your half-life is brief. Unlike other professions, once you hit 40 your value shrinks considerably. Could you imagine such discrimination with MDs lawyers or MBAs?
    The problem is we’ve never convinced society that our skills are cumulative. I see managers who treat all scientists like glorified technicians. Hence the mentality amongst human resources is to hire and fire to minimize accumulated benefits.
    So here you have Dereke, a highly qualified individual. Do you really think companies in California are looking at him? They say, well, he’s got a mortgage and kids and jesus he’s old and could catch a case of cancer any day! And we’d have to pay for his ticket over here for that whole circus of a life! Thus they’ll stick with the younger individual with a puffed up resume (who’s local) and has no attachments (children-family, etc).
    Just my experience anyway.

  13. Tim Mayer says:

    I am convinced that HR departments are taking over the world. The “Managerial Revolution” that Burnam predicted in the 1930’s is upon us and technical people are it’s targets.
    My decision to get off the hired/layoff/hired wheel was an interview I had with a major chemical company over a year ago. After being flown out to their site in a blizzard, I was told(before the interview even began) that I would have to take a “mechanical and comprehensive reasoning test”. My “Are you serious? Is this some kind of a joke?” response effectively ended the interview. Mind you, I’ve been in the chemical industry twenty-five years.
    So now I spend my days hustling up customers and trying to keep the numbers up. But I don’t have to deal with HR wonks. I also get the singular pleasure of telling the occasional brain-dead recruiter what I think of his or her company.

  14. si says:

    been there done that to the extreme and back if you know what I mean. Looking for work in some form of research based upon experiences I’ve had. Wheather you believe or not.

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