So as of a couple of months ago, I joined what we might call the employment challenged. This was quite a shock for me as it was the very first time (if we include being at school as employed) that I have ever been out of work. So what are my prospects?
Well, you don’t need to be an economics wizard to tell that we are in a down economy. Companies are laying off so many people such that when the unemployment numbers for last month were released, over 500,000 newly unemployed was considered an improvement. Within my particular sector, thousands have been laid off or are going to be laid off, partly as a result of cost-cutting and partly as a result of mergers (Pfizer-Wyeth; Merck-Schering Plough, Roche-Genentech, to name a few).
How about RTP in particular? Well, again, several names come up. Eli Lilly closed their site here some years ago. Inspire and King Pharmaceuticals had lay-offs. Of course, my old employer let some people go too. And the big boys in the park, Glaxo SmithKline, have had several reorganizations in recent years, with a significant lay-off last year.
All in all, it is not looking promising.
But all is not black. I did get a decent severance, to give me time to find my feet. They also put me in touch with some transition consultants to give me advice, support and training. Moreover, I am not alone. There are a multitude of networking and job seeker groups in the triangle area alone, including one through my transition group, DBM Pathfinders, as well as general ones, such as Colonial Job Seekers, Triangle Networking Group and TAFU (to avoid future unemployment), which meet at different times during the week.
These networking meetings are quite key. I hear different statistics about the subject, but the consensus is that most jobs are found via someone you know. Many jobs are never even posted, so unless you know about the vacancy, you never even see it. And those jobs on monster.com are much more likely to go to someone who knows someone on the inside already. Especially nowadays, as the number of applicants for each position rises, the hiring managers can spend less time looking at your resume. You need something to make you stand out from the crowd. That usually means a recommendation from someone the hiring manager knows.
So suddenly networking is all important (as if it was not previously) but the nature of how that networking is done has been changed by the internet. First, sites like Monster and Craig’s List took the classified ads from the newspapers and put them online, but now people communicate digitally so much more. So we have Facebook, MySpace and, increasingly, Twitter. We also have sites like LinkedIn, where you can post your professional qualifications and build your network online via connections.
The face-to-face interaction is still important – crucial even – but with the tools out there, the prospects of that meeting being useful and informative to both sides increases, as you already know more about that person than you might in a chance encounter at a conference.
So what about me? My best chance of finding a job would be if I were able to move anywhere and that is not an option at the moment. But RTP is not a terrible place to be stuck. Aside from climatic considerations, while it lags behind the hottest biotech centers of the country (Boston, San Diego and the bay area), it also lags behind them in cost of living as well. I am very glad to be not paying one of those mortgages right now. You also have to believe that companies will stop cutting and look to research to give them growth. Even now there are a few glimmers. UNC opened the Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery, which aims to bridge the gap between basic research and new medicines. Glaxo and Pfizer announced they would combine their HIV efforts in a new entity that will have its US headquarters here in RTP. And Bayer CropScience plan to expand their facility here, adding 120 jobs over the next 5 years. While these are the bigger players, there is also an opportunity for smaller companies to come in and take advantage of the talent pool here. I already know of several displaced chemists that have started their own businesses and while I am not cut from that cloth myself, I can see myself grabbing onto their entrepreneurial coat tails.
Yes, it is bleak, certainly the toughest job market I have seen. But a positive outlook and a little faith go a long way.