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Monday, April 16, 2012

Trying to get a job? Try the online job fair at CLEO!

There are many things you do not want to miss in CLEO:2012 – A conference full of high quality technical sessions spiced by cutting edge presentations from invited speakers, not to mention the inspirational talks of renowned plenary speakers. For young graduate students, these are stimuli they want to boost their research. On the other hand, in the mind of senior graduate students, there is one more mission besides getting loaded with technical knowledge – Landing on a job after graduation. The good news is that you can get two birds with one stone since CLEO provides a nice channel for you to get connected with your potential future employers.
If you are interested in staying in the academia, your advisor(s) and the department may be the best resources for you. However, if you consider changing the tracks and exploring the industrial career, CLEO: 2012 is something you cannot miss. It brings employers from the entire US under one roof, and you get to meet them all. This year, you can try the online job fair by CLEO and WORKinOPTICS by OSA to get a head start. Unfortunately, not all the employers are actively involved in the online job fair. As a result, walking throughout the exhibition hall will be your next move.
Trying to get exposed in the exhibition hall is a must. To get you exposed in a right way is not that straightforward. For the past few years, I feel lucky to have the opportunity to look into these job-hunting games from both sides (as a senior graduate student trying to impress future employers in the conference, and a employee actively working in the tradeshow). Here are some tips I hope that help:
1.      Get to know the companies you want to visit before hand – Even though your lab has the instruments from the company you want to drop by, it does not mean you know the company, not at all. Try to do the homework to learn the histories of the companies, including their competitors and their niche technologies. This is the appetizer (topic) for you and the people who work on the exhibition hall in the first encounter. You intrigue them with the right motive, and it will be the impression that lasts in their minds. Besides, by studying the companies, you will find out the photonics industry is a big intricate web and companies are related to each other in a very intimate way.
2.      Set the right goal – Your goal is not to give the resume away. Instead, your goal should be building up a new connection/strengthen the existent ones with the companies through the representatives. Making a good impression, staying in touch with them, and updating them with your research progress are means to achieve those objectives. You will never know when there will be a vacancy in the company. And believe me, when there is a vacancy, the first thing they do is to request their colleagues to see if they know anyone who is qualified. You want to be the one that comes cross their minds.
3.      Who will you encounter? – Most of the time, you will bump into a sales representative, but not always. There is a chance you will meet technical sales support people, product managers, directors of divisions in the company, CTOs, and marketing personals. If you are a Ph. D. student, try to talk to people who have strong technical backgrounds such that they appreciate your effort. If you are a master candidate with a minor/major in marketing, you may find yourself more comfortable to talk to the product managers.
Of course you cannot tell one person’s job title by face. What happens if you pick the wrong one at the first place? Don’t’ worry; just ask politely after a nice and warmed up conversation. People who work on the floors are nice, and their duty is to help, in all possible ways. They will not say no to you. That harms them in a bigger way.
4.      Never just hand in your resume right away, and do not walk away immediately after you do so – when standing on the carpet of the company’s territory, do not just look for the representatives and hand in your resume. Spreading as many as you can does not guarantee you a job. In addition, by doing so, your resumes won’t reach the places they are supposed to.
Wrap your purpose in a delicate way! For example, start the conversation with your interest in the new lasers that are released by the company in 2012. Ask technical details to show your knowledge. Then, slowly express your expertise in this field, and ask if there is any opening in the company. If yes, trying to learn more, if not, stay motivated and talk about the instruments in further depth. Simply walk-in, drop the resume, and walk away, you basically leave no indentation at all.
5.      Avoid rush hours when planning your visit – In almost all the conferences, there is a time period where no technical sessions are happening. I call it the rush hour on the floor. It is true that at this time window, there will be more representatives working on the floor, but there will be ten times more visitors. So do the math.
6.      Remember to get the contact information from the people you talk to – Trust me, when you start job hunting, you will need it. And you will regret you did not get it before. Asking for their business cards should be a habit for you if you want to start your career in the industry. You should also stay in touch with them. Ask them if they are visiting your area, if they plan to release new products and so on. One day, they might be your future colleagues.
A few more things about job hunting you might want to think about. I find there are many people who are not aware of this, or neglect this.
1.      Job-hunting requires a warming up time – It is rare to start getting a phone interview or response from the companies right away when you start to post your resumes on the websites. It takes about 1-3 months. Do not get frustrated. Keep polishing your resumes. Make this as a habit.
2.      Resumes have to be tailored to the jobs – There is no such thing as a universal resume that you can use for all the jobs posted. You have to spend time on each and every single one when submitting your applications (at least for those jobs you feel your skills match seamlessly). Writing a cover letter for your dream job will help for sure.
3.      Do not abuse online job-hunting websites – Choose no more than three job posting websites for yourself (for the optical science people, WORKinOPTICS is definitely a good one to have). All the websites nowadays have most of the jobs posted by other websites. Three job-hunting sites are enough to cover them all. You do not want to submit three copies of the resumes to a company, do you? In addition, try to apply for the jobs at the company’s website
(s). When a job hunting website gives you a job posting of a specific company, you go to that company to apply directly. Do not rely on the “middle man” of the Internet!
Finally, I want to use one of my mottos to encourage all of us – “When you started your graduate study, you have already started your career. Jobs are just methods to achieve your life long career.” Indeed, a job may seem to be the only thing that matters for you when the time is pressing. You might even feel desperate when you are in the process. But this is just a short period of time in your life. Once you really get one, spend some time to figure out what you want to achieve in your career and lay it out in brevity. This is what matters the most! Having an idea of your career path is a very proud thing to possess. It is the rudder of your professional life and it keeps you from being lost in the ocean of the diverse jobs.
Best of luck in job hunting!

The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not represent the Optical Society of America (OSA) or any OSA affiliate.

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