Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Experience Conundrum

A comment on yesterday’s post raised an interesting issue – how do you get the job you want when they ask for experience, but you’re fresh out of uni?

So I need yet more training that the employer is unwilling to give me, must work for free, or go back in to education. After getting the degree that is!”

One key consideration is that a chemistry degree fulfills the basic prerequisite to getting a professional job, but it doesn't guarantee entry into the perfect position straight away.

Some jobs (like those in patents) usually do require either a conversion course or on-the-job training as standard. However, while the pay may be low during training, it should pay off after qualification. 

Other jobs (like yesterday’s software engineering role) may ask for experience, but it could be something you already have a relevant interest in. It might be a hobby (programming), related to additional modules chosen during the course (computer science), or be part of a Dual Honours degree.

Many positions (like EHS or regulatory affairs) are topics unlikely to be appropriately covered during a degree. Here is where graduates (and professionals looking for a career change) need to be creative and proactive in gaining experience when and where they can. 

For graduates, this may be choosing a less desirable job that requires little/no experience as a stepping stone to their career of choice. For professionals, it’s how to make the most of the time and resources available both in and out of the workplace. Either way, unless re-entering full-time education, it may be preferable to be earning a reasonable salary while gaining experience rather than opting for unpaid internships.

While an employer may be unwilling to train their new synthetic chemist in the latest EHS qualification, there are a number of ways relevant experience can still be gained at work:
  • Show an interest in the subject (eg, help or join a safety committee, become a first aider)
  • Take on jobs other people don't want to do (eg, writing Standard Operating Procedures and Risk Assessments)
  • Research how the company systems work (eg, trawl the intranet, read training procedures and policies; include topics outside of your direct job role)
  • Network with relevant people (eg, build a relationship with the EHS advisor)
  • Access course materials or notes, either internally or from the internet
  • Make the most of conference opportunities – network effectively
  • See if funding is available for membership  to a professional body (eg, RSC) and continued professional development (eg, CChem)
  • Keep up-to-date with journals and industry publications
One outcome may be that the EHS advisor moves on and you're suddenly the lead internal candidate for the job. Alternatively, the above demonstrates proactivity and practical experience, and allows you to discuss the topic knowledgeably during interview at another company.

For those committed to pursuing a new or preferred career, there are options for gaining experience outside of work:
  • Evening classes at a local college
  • Distance learning courses (from specific subjects that may take months, to comprehensive qualifications that take years)
  • Books (teach-yourself about specialist branches of chemistry, languages, programming, maths, etc)
  • Join LinkedIn groups and follow Twitter users and bloggers that discuss relevant topics
  • Personal development in soft skills
…and Research, Research, Research – whatever industry, company or specific job you’re pursuing, read around the subject so thoroughly that when it comes to interview you can talk as though you already work there.

Finally, a note on the wording in job adverts: "desirable" and "preferably" are different to "essential" and "required" - they loosen the job spec for the agency, presumably allowing them to put more candidates forward. While not having a food technology qualification will place you lower down the list, a demonstrated enthusiasm for molecular gastronomy and the ability to dazzle the recruiter with your thorough research of industrial food processing technology may be enough to secure an interview.

In summary – getting the career you want can be a long-term play. Make the most of the jobs you can get, and the time that you have, to build the bridges to get there.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.