Whether you are a new graduate or an experienced professional displaced for reasons beyond your control, if you are out of the workforce, there are things you can do, strategies you can employ, to enter or re-enter the labor pool. How do you position yourself? How do you think of yourself? What are your core, secondary or peripheral skills? What accomplishments make you proudest? Hold those thoughts for a minute.
If you feel that your skills haven’t kept pace, take a course to improve them. In any downturn, those who last longer before a layoff and find a chair when the music stops are often able to wear more hats because they are more multidisciplined with a wide array of tools to draw on. If you are an optical engineer who understands mechanics, take an optomechanical engineering course, or learn Solidworks or another CAD program. In the past year, I have seen more openings for optomechanical engineers than I can remember. These skills were and are in short supply.
Laser-related jobs are on a general upswing. Here, Rina Mouen works in the collimator area at IPG Photonics in Oxford, Mass. Photo by Photonics Spectra Managing Editor Laura S. Marshall.
Being a company resource in the lean manufacturing area helps you survive and prosper. Take a Six Sigma course and start the process to being a certified Green or Black Belt. Take an electronics course or pick up a software language such as C or C++, .Net, C sharp, Labview or Matlab for test or instrument interfacing. Increasingly, optical instruments are software-driven, so software skills help. Think about it this way: During down times, companies often cut deeply, creating a brain drain, and they run shorthanded until they are confident that business will pick up. If you survive reductions because of your versatility, you are better positioned for future career growth.
First and foremost, your résumé is a tool, a promotional piece, a sales brochure. It doesn’t work for all positions and is best thought of as a tool in the tool chest or an arrow in your quiver. It is a living, breathing, dynamic – not static – document. I have helped hundreds of professionals improve this most important door-opening document. Engineers and scientists often don’t like to talk about themselves in a boastful, self-promoting way. But although being modest is fine for your face-to-face interview, it will not work for your résumé.
For many, the traditional reverse-chronological résumé doesn’t work as well as it once did. If a prospective employer has a preconceived notion of people who work at company “X,” you can get labeled by the companies where you work (or worked), even if you don’t fit that profile. In the candidate-empowered dynamic, we want to drive the prospective employer’s perception of you, not let the employer take the wheel. A functional résumé that highlights your “basket” of skills and your significant accomplishments often is more appropriate than a recitation of your experience in a time line.
How do you go about finding that job that has eluded you to date? You have a profile on LinkedIn and you’ve posted your résumé on Monster or Careerbuilder or a photonics-related job board – and not enough seems to be happening. Maybe the only people calling you are recruiters like me. What can you do to empower yourself online?
The first thing you should consider doing is making your public profile private. Why, you ask? Won’t that limit my exposure? The answer, in a word, is no. Corporate and recruitment firms such as mine use keyword searches to find attributes in your résumé or online profile that are of interest to them. Less scrupulous recruiters won’t bother to tell you that they have pulled your résumé off the web and have sent it to a company. You’ll never know unless their client is interested in you.
You, on the other hand, might already have sent in your résumé to that company directly, and now it is in the same place multiple times. This is not a good reflection on you the candidate. The employer asks, “Doesn’t this candidate know who has his/her résumé and what they are doing with it?”
Jobs in optics are trending toward growth. Here, Joseph Picardo works with a polishing machine at Sydor Optics in Rochester, N.Y. Photo by Photonics Spectra Managing Editor Laura S. Marshall.
If you make your profile anonymous and your résumé “blind,” without your name and contact information, someone actually has to contact you before doing anything with your résumé. If someone is unwilling to send you an email prior to doing something with your résumé, do you really want to work with that person or his/her firm?
Next, if you make it past the gatekeeper and someone in a company wants to talk to you about an opportunity and asks what else you have going on, always reply that you have options. Never act desperate, even if you are. I don’t care if you have gone a year without an interview and you are truly desperate – you do have options. You might have sent a résumé to a company (or a few) and are waiting to hear back: That is an option. You might be networking with former colleagues at their new companies: That is an option. Remember, there is psychology at play in this process. Often, as in life, employers don’t want someone whom no one else wants.
As far as networking goes, sure, you should be on LinkedIn. You should find one or two recruiters who understand what you do, what your skills are, have placed people with your background, and then work with them. I don’t want to work with candidates who have sent their résumés to 10 other recruiters; it never works out. If someone gives you his or her time on the phone – offers you advice – that is someone with whom you want to stay in touch and with whom you want to try to work, either now or in the future. Find someone who has a longer-term perspective on you and your career.
If you are a new graduate, many of these techniques apply to you as well. Those who are flexible about working in manufacturing, test, quality, sales and field service – not just engineering and R&D – will find this flexibility rewarded. Present your skills, not just a list of your courses. Summer, co-op or internship experiences that are relevant should appear on your résumé.
Whether you are a new or experienced prospective employee, remember to think of yourself as an applied problem solver, and remember that you are a potential guest (employee) who might be invited to a party (hired by a company): You bring a present,a basket of goodies to the party (your experience, skills, accomplishments); you put that basket on the table and take out a relevant goody (present your background) for the party giver. For different employers, you present different goodies.
Tailor your delivery to your audience. Have a positive mental attitude and a firm handshake. Do your homework about the prospective employer, and when the interview is over, look the hiring manager in the eye and ask, “When can I start?”