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Website helps scientists learn about careers within Federal agencies

As an individual currently employed in the private sector, I must admit to a wide breadth of ignorance regarding what employment opportunities may exist for a scientist within a Federal government agency.

It would I appear that my own personal lack of knowledge regarding government science positions is shared by many others, and this has not gone unnoticed by the very Federal agencies who are in need of top scientists to fill these roles.

Seeking to bring attention to the variety of science and technology (S&T) opportunities available, a pilot website, INSPIREST (careers.science.gov) has been created.

The website was developed through a collaboration of six Federal agencies—the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Labor (DOL), Department of State (DOS), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)—along with the Partnership for Public Service—and they would like your help in directing its mission to provide useful information to prospective employees at all stages of their careers.

Curious? And how!!

Learn about a variety of science and technology positions available within the Federal goverment. You won't be sorry.

INSPIREST was created in response to a perceived lack of general awareness and understanding of the opportunities in the Federal government for scientists and engineers, but this was not the only factor. Other challenges to nurturing a vital S&T workforce include: increased vacancies of key positions due to growing retirements within the “baby boomer” generation, and competition with the private sector for top talent.

The website’s creators also recognized that USAJOBS.gov—the primary avenue for applying to science and engineering positions for most Federal agencies—had a limited ability to communicate what jobs are available and what these jobs are really like.

I, for one, am grateful that a need was recognized to create a site like this. When I was going through my job search last year, government positions were definitely on my radar, and a few emerged from job search engine queries. I found that gathering information on and applying for these position were long, convoluted ordeals. INSPIREST seeks to demystify that process.

The INSPIREST website currently consists of three main sections. The Profiles section contains interviews with scientists, engineers, and technology specialists (actual people—including chemists and chemical engineers! Here, here and, yes, here) who currently have jobs “related to National priorities such as energy, discovery science, space exploration, national security, international diplomacy, and U.S. competitiveness in the 21st century,” according to the website.

The Resources section contains, not unexpectedly, resources. Okay, about what? Well, you can find information extolling the benefits of public service and the Federal employment experience. There is also key information and resources for finding Federal positions and applying for them.

There is also a section highlighting the six participating Federal agencies. Information is provided regarding the agencies’ respective missions, needs for a highly skilled S&T workforce, and direct links to current employment opportunities.

Uncle Sam can point you to a rewarding S&T career

...to fill out a quick survey...and learn about gov't science careers. That is all. Carry on.

I mentioned that the creators of INSPIRESTwould like your help. To guide the development of the website, they are requesting your feedback through the completion of a brief survey.

This beta site and the opportunity to provide feedback on this pilot will only be available through February 15, 2012. Links to the survey are liberally distributed through all sections of the INSPIREST site, or you can follow this link.

I have taken the survey – it is simple, straightforward and doesn’t take much time to complete. I would urge others to do the same, whether one is considering government S&T positions or not.

This is a chance to influence the creation of what could become a valuable resource for job-seekers. I commend the site’s creators for the transparency of this effort, and hope it continues as the site grows. So, remember, please try to complete the survey by February 15th!

Stay tuned to Just Another Electron Pusher as well over the next few days, as Christine has two upcoming posts, each about individuals with chemistry backgrounds, and who are now in science roles within the Federal government.

Making a Case for the Overqualified

You think I’m qualified for the job? I’m delighted you think so! When do I start? What’s that? You said overqualified? Really, now, that’s quite a compliment. You’re making me blush. I’m sorry – am I missing something? You say “overqualified” like it’s a bad thing. Oh…I see. I’ll just show myself out, then.

It sounds like a compliment...and it should be. Photo credit: flickr user o5com

In my current combined job search and self-discovery vision quest, I’ve been met on different fronts with the recurring theme that a wealth of experience may, in fact, be a detriment. There is no shortage of “expert” advice, online or otherwise, suggesting that you should hide or neglect to mention years of education and/or employment. If your light is too bright  or its spectrum contains too many wavelengths for the position, hide it under the nearest bushel. Okay, honestly, I do get it – target your resume and cover letter toward a specific position. Focus I understand. However, I can’t completely evade the feeling that this gamesmanship of playing hide-and-seek and cherry-picking facts seems disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. It’s somewhat against the grain of how one is trained to think as a scientist.

Even if one hasn’t been met with this particular o-word per se, it lies not too far beneath concerns that are more openly stated.

Prospective employers are worried that so-called overqualified candidates might jump ship at the first opportunity for a better position elsewhere. They’re concerned that after going through the interview process, they won’t be able to seal the deal because their budget can’t meet the candidate’s salary requirements. They fear their new hire may soon be bored. This sort of thinking is, well, a bit risk-averse, shall we say.

A recent post by Amy Gallo on the Harvard Business Review blog makes a case for taking such a risk. A challenge is posed:

“When making hiring decisions, visionary leaders don’t just focus on the current needs, but on the future.”

So, will the final hiring decision for the position you desire be made by such a visionary leader? Does the future lurch and loom darkly before them, or will they embrace the challenges ahead? I think it’s safe to say that most people would prefer to work for someone in the latter category. A perceived benefit for a hiring manager to adopt this mindset is driven home:

“Hiring overqualified candidates can help you achieve much higher productivity, grow, and achieve opportunities that you may not even be thinking about pursuing right now.” There are other less obvious benefits too: these employees can mentor others, challenge peers to exceed current expectations, and bring in areas of expertise that are not represented at the company.

Yummy knowledge! Save some for me! Photo credit: flickr user Christian Haugen

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Honestly, though, don’t most people’s jobs change over time? There are new developments in technology, best practices, knowledge within your discipline, business needs, what have you, that necessitate modifying some aspect of what you do. If you’re adamantly resistant to change, you’ll be left behind. Successful people aren’t usually like that, though. They have amassed their supply of deep, diverse experience because they want to learn all the time – that’s what has driven them from day one. They don’t wait for knowledge to be fed to them; they seek it out like it’s a special treat, and then devour it – nom nom nom nom. They evolve; curiosity and a hunger for knowledge feed their evolution. To behave otherwise invites negative consequences. The philosopher and writer of social commentary Eric Hoffer put it best: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”  This preferred path of continuous learning will reap benefits whether you’re an experienced professional, a new chemistry graduate, or anywhere in between.

Okay, prospective employers, here’s my mission statement. While I’m in your employ, you will have my full attention. I will give my all and strive to grow in the position. All I ask is a chance to do what I do best every day. I will reward your courage with my efforts to contribute and make a difference. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

All the jobs that are fit to be analyzed

Chemjobber: getting down and dirty in the chemical job market. Image by flickr user artbandito.

If you’re in the chemistry job market, I really hope you’ve heard of Chemjobber. Yin to my yang, he blogs about the job outlook for industry and academic jobs in chemistry, basically all the stuff that this blog skips. He does quite a bit of analysis of the positions that show up in the back of C&E News, as well as charting and discussing long-term trends in the market. So the well-informed job seeker would do well to follow his activity, even if it’s to watch what you’re missing by not going into one of these more well-worn careers.

CJ personally is from the dark side (industry). He’s a synthetic organic chemist at a small company, with a wife and kids at home. So what really made me curious was, he’s not looking for a job himself, and he definitely has a full life of his own—so why the heck does he blog about chemistry jobs?

“I think the real reason is that I don’t quite understand the chemistry job market, where the supply is and where the demand is. I figure that if I do enough of an amateur sleuthing job and reach out to enough people, I might be able to come up with some statistics to show where we have been, where we are and where we might be headed,” he said.

CJ compared the chemistry job market to the NFL draft, which was somewhat lost on me, but apparently he’s a big Colts fan so there you are.

In the draft, “there are 32 teams; they each have a 53 player roster. Usually, there are about five to ten positions in each team that they’re looking to replace. What are the odds that any one graduating senior college football player is going to get a job in the NFL through the draft? Not high, but at least he knows the odds. Furthermore, we know the general statistics about life in the NFL. You can be cut at any time, the average career is about three years right now, and after 30 years old the typical running back can’t do their job anymore.”

Not Chemjobber's family. They're probably way cuter.

Sadly, he said we don’t have a similar idea about the statistics for the chemistry job market. “We’re all playing a game of musical chairs (to switch metaphors) where we have no idea to the number of chairs, the number of players and the length of time the music plays. That’s not good for anyone,” CJ said.

He also just enjoys the chemical blogosphere, and has been reading and commenting since finding Derek Lowe’s site, around 2002 or so. He tried his own fingers at the blogging thing and started two others of his own. His current blog is the only one that had some staying power, though.

“I love contributing and being part of an online community, it makes me happy when I learn things I didn’t know about chemistry (like the Kilomentor blog — it’s great!), and I really like applying statistical and economic thinking to an area of chemistry that could really use some.”

It’s a hobby he said, but apparently one that sucks him in from time to time. “I try to remind myself that I’m a husband and a father and a chemist before I’m a blogger. Some days, it’s easier than others.”

CJ can be found at his blog, and also at the Chemistry Blog.