I just want to work, for Christ's sake.
August 22, 2009 9:42 PM   Subscribe

Why can't I find a job with my biochemistry bachelor's degree in Seattle, WA (grad school is most certainly on the agenda, but not for another couple of years)? What other options should I explore, and how do I go about it?

Possibly unnecessary details:

I think my resume looks quite good for a recent (May) BA graduate: I have almost two years of academic molecular biology research under my belt (a year as a lab assistant, a year and a half doing research at a private research university in Houston, TX), I've won grants and trained other lab workers and all that is noted on my resume. I have also listed two other jobs (web developer, legal assistant) under a "positions held to finance education" section.

I've applied to 30-40 jobs (mostly entry-level academic research positions at the local U, institutes, and hospitals but also a few production jobs) and I've been called back for an interview once. I thought the interview went very well, but I never heard from them again.

I've also submitted my resume and interviewed with a biotech recruitment agency, but they've only sent my applications to two jobs over the last three months, and in both cases the company selected candidates with a year of production experience.

The people I've had look over my resume say it looks good. My cover letter, I think, is also quite decent—and I tailor it to each job I apply—so I don't think that's the problem.

I have a very, very long foreign name (I graduated from high school and college in the USA) that most people can't pronounce. Everyone I've asked so far doesn't think that it's an issue in the sciences. If it matters, I'm a white woman, but my name does not give that away.


Is there anything I should be doing that I am not?

What about getting an internship after graduating, or even doing unpaid work at a lab for the experience? None of these would be advertised, so can I directly solicit labs for something like that (I have no connections in this city either)? How awkward and unusual would it be coming from a someone with a degree?

Alternatively, I would love to do lab or quality control work in a local or nearby brewery or winery, but very few such positions ever come up. Can I directly approach companies with my resume, and how would I best do that?

Thanks, hivemind. Not having a job is driving me crazy.

Throwaway email: researchjobseeker@gmail.com

Anonymous because I don't want my entire employment history linked to my name.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'll add my very limited knowledge on the entry-level research position topic: university endowments have gotten crushed by the economic downturn, and at least at my university, every department was asked to cut their costs by a significant amount. I would hazard a guess that BA-holding academic research positions are an easy cut to make, so the availability of that kind of position would be very limited.
posted by sinfony at 10:01 PM on August 22, 2009

Send me your CV.
posted by grouse at 10:03 PM on August 22, 2009

Just another datapoint: I have an extremely long (15+ letters, no hyphens) foreign last name, and I have had no problems with getting interviews, though I am not in biotech. If anything, I think it might actually help getting your resume looked at. FWIW, among the languages I list, I note that I am a native speaker of English, but I honestly don't think it's an issue.
posted by pravit at 10:15 PM on August 22, 2009

Seattle might not be the easiest place to be looking for lab tech/research tech jobs right now. If relocating is possible - personally or logistically - cities like Boston or San Diego that have more bio research might be easier to find jobs in. Easier, mind, not easy: I know people who are still having trouble in Boston, because although most labs still have money right now, the financial situation is extraordinarily competitive right now, and everyone's worried about their grants running out in the next few years without new ones to take their place. However, when you have a variety of potential employers, like Boston, which has MIT/Harvard/Tufts/BU/BC and other, smaller universities, along with Beth Israel, Brigham Women's, MGH, the rest of the hospitals, and all the biotech companies... there are more choices, to say the least, and there are more apt to be positions that your specific research background may make you a particularly good candidate for.

Are you checking individual university/hospital/company websites? There's a lot that never makes it to aggregators, agencies, or sites like monster.com. Only about half of the jobs I applied for when I was looking for this sort of position were advertised anywhere beyond the institution's website.

By all means, investigate volunteer or internship positions if you can afford it. I worked as a volunteer for a while, immediately after graduating, and it didn't seem to hurt. However, I had to have a second, real job to get by, and that meant my labwork schedule was much less flexible (staying late or coming in early was pretty hard.) This can be a problem for some types of experiments, and for some PIs (or grad students/postdocs, if you are hired to work on a specific project.)
posted by ubersturm at 10:16 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's a tough job market. Have you tried networking - calling people up, etc?

Washington Industry Technology Association is a good place to start.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:19 PM on August 22, 2009

Have you been working your contacts at school and any past lab work you've done? The UW and The Hutch are anything but backwaters as far as the life sciences go, it would be pretty unlikely that none of your contacts have contacts here.
posted by Good Brain at 11:54 PM on August 22, 2009

One of the problems you're running into is that right now, a lot of the small biotech companies have contracted in a big way because venture capital has dried up. This means that there is a glut of experienced people on the market.

I don't have any brilliant suggestions for you, unfortunately.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:24 AM on August 23, 2009

A couple of ideas for you, especially now with the semester starting soon:

1. You said you are targeting your applications to each position. Go a bit beyond that and find people/projects that you are interested in and send your CV/resume.

I give steps as to how to do so in a previous AskMefi answer here(I'm a computer idiot please go to the steps I describe if it doesn't go directly there) but go to the about me page, read about the research….send off your CV

2. Walk around biology department, ask the people in the central biology office if they know about any available positions, look at the department bulletin board, etc. I would also put a flier about you on the bulletin board if it isn’t against the rules. If you are very bold, make queries in some of the labs. I once hired a student who showed up at my door at the start of the semester and asked me. “are you going to hire anyone to help with your anatomy class?” There was so much for me to do at the start of the semester, and I had $ and needed a student ASAP. Student appeared = saved me time and student got the job.

3. Send out emails to several other labs in Seattle, WA, even if they don’t have a position listed.

To find labs, you can do a google on terms like “Seattle WA lab list” and usually get 50 or more labs. I found this:

Although contact info is not on that page, google the name of the company and webpages come up.

Check out your local libraries - here in NYC the business library has access to a database called Reference USa, and you can search for businesses by location and category. If you have this acccess, I would go to a library, bring something to download that info onto, and run that search and get a list of the many labs biotech companies in the area.

4. I am going to assume you told your contacts (former lab supervisor, PI) that you are looking for a job position and if they know anyone in Seattle, WA Update your linkedin profile to also say that you are looking for a job, a contact of a contact may know about an opportunity.

5. If you have the time, I would also conduct an info interview at a brewery or two. Tell them a little bit about you, and say "can I have X amount of time, by email/phone/in person - your preference - X minutes/max" Send a bunch of those out and someone will reply. Ask those pple what they would suggest. I've done this in the past to make career changes and it always worked out well - I was told about opportunities that were not listed and how to target my CV/resume to those type of positions.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 4:47 AM on August 23, 2009

Even many top private universities have declared hiring freezes for the coming year, so an academic (paying) position may not be in the cards right now.
posted by availablelight at 5:07 AM on August 23, 2009

All good advice above. Take it.

I graduated from college with a BS in science in the recession of 1991 and had an awful, awful time trying to find a job. I wish I'd had the above advice then (and the Internet to help, for that matter!)

I hate the word "networking", but really, getting out there, meeting people, and letting them know that you're looking is very, very helpful. Email (or better, drop by and *briefly* catch up with) the people who you know professionally, let them know you're looking for work. Ask if you can email a copy of your CV--definitely if they seem like they know of an opening, but even if they don't let on that they do. If they hear of one next week, they'll have your contact info near the top of the list on their Inbox, right?

Rereading your question, it sounds like you are new to the Seattle area (my previous paragraph assumed you'd gone to school/done some work in the area already). In that case I'd definitely suggest showing up at events held by the Washington Technology group that KokuRyu linked, and making connections there. I think that there's also a women in science? Women in biology? organization that's active in Seattle. Groups like these are explicitly intended to be networky, so people won't think you're out of line to bring up your job/work history and your hopes to find a new gig.

Good luck! It is a really hard time to find a job. Long story short, even if you're coming out into a crappy job market, life goes on, science still needs you, and you'll be OK.
posted by Sublimity at 5:23 AM on August 23, 2009

Repeating the dreaded n-word (networking) and to add to Sublimity's suggestions above, check out your university's alumni club out there, and just start contacting people through the events or individually. The alumni thing really does work. Weird but true.
posted by whatzit at 5:55 AM on August 23, 2009

I graduated with a B.S. in Bioengineering and ended up doing a few years in a production job in Seattle. I got the job by a weird telephone tree mistake where I learned the name of the HR rep, and then when I called to follow up on my status, I asked for him by name, got his office (to his surprise, as I should have been fielded out), and told him about my resume. I had an interview within the week.

After working in the industry, looking back on how I was applying - I realized what little I knew about the job and the industry. Talking to people in the field would help, because then you'd know what's happening with all the companies - whose buying who, what company x is doing, product pipelines - stuff that in a way is difficult to find on the internet, but we chat about in smalltalk at work.

Obviously you also want to tailor your resumes...be specific, don't just throw a bunch of copies into the void. Don't lie...embellish somewhat? Of course, like the above - you need more information if you want to be specific.

So get contacts with people. Maybe just show up and ask for tours of facilities.

Also - wrt getting a job in another town. A lot of time recruiters will overlook you, and will contact local canidates first, just because it's easier.
posted by iamck at 6:27 AM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I work in biotech/biopharma and we don't hire directly for entry-level positions. Have you tried registering with a temp agency like Kelly Services?

Mail me if I can provide more information.
posted by kamikazegopher at 10:18 AM on August 23, 2009

Don't lie...embellish somewhat?

This is a bad idea. In fact, my first thought upon seeing the blurb above about the OP's experience is that it looked like it might be a little embellished (she hasn't sent me her resume yet so it's hard for me to know). If I find one thing on your resume that seems embellished, it is an easy way into the circular file—how am I going to trust the rest of the resume?
posted by grouse at 10:45 AM on August 23, 2009

Upon seeing the resume, I don't think there is really any embellishment there.
posted by grouse at 2:17 PM on August 23, 2009

Seattle is glutted with biotech job seekers right now. Zymo has been laying people off left and right. Its former employees are gobbling up whatever they can get. Good luck to you.
posted by Shutter at 6:28 PM on August 23, 2009

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