When the Dream Job Doesn't Appear

By Nicholas Tesla

My name is Nicholas Tesla, and I'm an unemployed chemical engineer. That's not technically true; I am an avid blogger, and I work in a pizzeria to pay my rent. I spend my free time doing odd jobs: mowing lawns, clearing brush, painting houses. In short, my career isn't really "taking off" just yet. It's not for lack of trying - I've sent my resume to dozens and dozens of companies. I don't have an interest in graduate school, but it's something I've been considering since industry doesn't appear to be lucrative for me.

I contacted ChEnected after seeing a few posts from more successful ChemE's. "I got my dream job right out of college!" Nice. Good for you. I didn't. In fact, if the Internet is anything to be believed, chemists (and even chemical engineers) face a growing unemployment rate with just a B.S. degree, but that doesn't mean you can't do something to help your situation. So here is an article for the rest of us, an article written to the unemployed ChemE (wherever you are).

So you graduated. Now what?

Being busy boosts your morale and your image.

Did you not get that job offer before graduating? It can be emotionally difficult to watch as your friends head off to make $68k/year at Fortune 500 companies. "Hey! I'm totally smarter than Joe Smith? How did he get a job before me?" Even if you were smarter than Joe Smith, what did he do to score that awesome job? Did he co-op? Did he talk to professors more? Maybe he has a skill that you lack! Maybe his GPA was just better. Maybe his r?sum? looks better. But you cannot sit on your couch watching re-runs of Breaking Bad and think, "Man - I should get an RV and head out to the country...I'd make so much money!" You can't sit on your couch five days a week submitting your r?sum? via some online service to company after company. Odds are, a real person isn't going to see your r?sum? before you get that e-mail saying, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Being busy is good for morale, and it's good for the job search. So first thing: Go get a job. No employer is going to want a ChemE that sat at home and did nothing but try and get the job they trained for. I get it - from a young age we're told that if we don't want to have a future flippin' burgers then we need to get a good degree. Now you've gone to a good school, have a great degree, and you're being told that you're going to have to get a job flippin' burgers. This isn't forever. So do something. Try looking for lab tech jobs at the local college.

Use Facebook, Twitter for more than pictures of food

Next step? Get on social media and build a network. Log into that forgotten LinkedIn account, and add all your friends from college, your professors, folks you interviewed with. Add everyone! Make sure your profile looks like it belongs to a professional. You are a chemical engineer! You are marketable, and you need to represent that idea.

Get a Twitter account. Add journals and professors and students, and join scientific communities. I started on Twitter at the urge of a chemist and have since seen two interviews develop from it. Build a network and a reputation. I recommend making friends with ChemJobber.

AIChE and ChEnected already have a great resource for starting out in social media. Here's another great trick: point people to your LinkedIn on your r?sum?.

Ever thought about scientific writing? Start a blog, like I did, and write about what interests you - this can show future employers that you know what you're talking about and aren't just a pretty face.

Don't give up

I worked for a Fortune 500 company for 30 days. The company didn't have any projects for me. My manager had me scrubbing and organizing the lab. And then I got a call one Friday afternoon telling me that my contract was being terminated. My heart dropped, and I spent a month on my mom's couch doing nothing. But you know what? No employer likes a gap in employment. No employer is just going to magically come to you. You have to find them. If you use social media correctly, you'll have taken the first step towards your amazing future career.

What are your questions or advice on job searches?

You can follow Nicholas Telsa (aka @KentuckyTesla) on Twitter and see what he's up to through the blog Kentucky Chemistry.


BS Daly's picture

Having personally interviewed a few fellow YP chemes, I can offer a few tips based what I've seen: 1. Leverage all of the experience you had during your senior design project as much as possible. In lieu of actual industry experience, it's the best way to showcase your technical skills and show a prospective employer that you have engineering competence. 2. The biggest thing holding many new graduates is a lack of good process simulation experience. If you didn't get enough exposure to simulations during your senior design, AIChE offers a few webinars on the subject (BTW the first 6 are few with your AIChE membership) and if you have some money stowed away, try taking a simulation course offered by some of the simulations *cough*Chemstations*cough*. 3. Make the most of your burger flipping experience because sometimes the skills that helped you get promoted in that job can be sold to prospective employers. For example I was sold on one of the new grads I hired because they were able to leverage their experience being the manager of a Chipotle to the position I was hiring for. 4. Finally, if you have time on your hands then the best thing you can do for your career is join AIChE and take on leadership roles either locally or nationally. YPC has many positions and roles it always looking to fill as well as other committee within the Institute as well as possible roles at local sections. Why bother? Well number one it allows you to interact with other chemical engineers who can give you tips or give you the chance to get face to face with engineers in middle management. Second, it gives you valuable experience leading a group and working to meet an objective or even blaze a new trail by taking charge of new objectives for the Institute. I mean what's the worst that can happen? If it fails, no big deal, no one is going to fire, it's a volunteer organization. Just move on to the next project and see if that works. It's not so much a resume builder than it is a confidence builder and that will shine through when you interview with prospective employers. That's it. I will you luck Nick. I'm sure if you keep plugging away you'll eventually find that dream job you've been seeking.

nicholastesla's picture

Thanks so much for the advice. I'm sad to say that my school's 'senior design' was horribly lacking; we were asked to conduct a process simulation for the production of dimethyl ether from methanol. There was little to no hands-on application to this project but it provided us with amazing process simulation experience (especially with troubleshooting ASPEN with Excel and MATLAB tie-ins). I am going to make the most of my pizza-tossing just like I made the most of my burger flipping years ago. These opportunities provide amazing chances to interact with the customer on a product that you produced. I am responsible for selling the product and assisting the customer when the product is not the product they thought they were getting. It's important to remember that everything you do can be beneficial experience for the future. The other lamentation that I have is that where I live does not have a full-chapter of AIChE; I was the secretary for our student chapter in college and have continued to pay my dues since graduation. The seminars - like you mentioned - are amazing. Don't neglect ACS, either - after all, we're chemists, too. Thanks again.

BS Daly's picture

"The other lamentation that I have is that where I live does not have a full-chapter of AIChE" Hence my saying there are many *National* committees you can participate in who would welcome you with open arms. If anything the YP Committee needs help with planning conference events at both the Annual and Spring or representing the YPC at student regionals.

Wael Charanek's picture

Which webinars cover process simulations?