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Dan Karmgard Tips

Job Search Impressions

1. Target your resume and cover letter for the particular firm you're applying to. For software companies highlight programming skills from your analysis, for engineering companies play up your hardware work for the upgrade etc. If you're at a job fair (as I was), you can't do this very well. But play up the general skills you've developed in the area covered by the job fair. So, at the computer/engineering fair, I tried to highlight both upgrade and software experience.

2. Face it, we're overqualified for everything except physics research, which we seem to be underqualified for (if postdoc salaries are any indication). Also, nobody cares about the physics we've done. It's our job to make the companies understand that being overqualified for everything also means that we're qualified for everything. List the skills you've aquired during your graduate years and make sure that they are prominently displayed for prospective employers. They'll be suitibly impressed. But be prepared for this one because it's going to come up for almost everyone you talk to.

3. Wherever possible, translate your skills into the current industry buzzwords. For example, a new phenomena search is another form of data-mining (which is a hot topic now). If you've used neural networks in your analysis make sure that they know it. Varied and marketable job skills are the sort of thing that will justify that fat salary you're about to demand.

4. Highlight the fact that we've proven that we're capable of original research. Let the company know that in a few months we will have learned the job and started to inovate. Companies love to hear this sort of thing. Another thing to note is that physicists have a proven capacity for critical and analytic thought. We solve problems and we do it well.

5. Interviews: when you get an interview (and an imminent Ph.D. is almost certain to arouse interest) be prepared. Know something about the company you're interviewing with. Ask questions. Especially ask things like where do you see the company in 5-10 years, how will I fit into the group, etc.. This tells them that you are interested in a job for the long term (even if you aren't, this is still the impression you want to leave). It also tells them that you know something about them and want to know more. Try to leave the impression that you aren't just sending resumes to everybody you could find, but that you want to work for them.

6. Be prepared to tell the company why you've decided to leave physics after spending so many years getting trained for it. Saying "I want lots o' cash" probably isn't going to go over well, although it's most likely true. Come up with something that sounds reasonable and have it ready.

My overall impression from my job search so far is that most people are intimidated by my being a physicist. They don't see basic research as something that develops any marketable skills (ie; what is a Higgs boson and why should I care anyhow). My most difficult task has been to get them to realize that the skills and problem solving ability I've developed along the way are general and can be applied to anything, with beneficial results for their company. I try to stay away from disscusions of physics (for the most part) and dwell on the techniques used to get the physics done. Experimental physics means developing into a remarkable generalist, and this is something that companies have a need for. I try to let them know that I can not only do the job that they are talking about now, but that I'll be able to do jobs that they haven't even thought up yet.

Dan Karmgard,
Florida State University
Dzero experiment


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