Location, Location, Location …


Dear CareerDoctor,I am going to finish my PhD at the end of this year. I know that I want to stay in London and I also know that many positions in science are not advertised. How can I find out what is available in London?MaxI'm currently working overseas for a large multinational company, for whom I've worked for 7 years, based in England and Europe. I want to return to the UK, specifically the Oxford area in the next few years--but my current employer doesn't have any sites in this region. It's been many years since I was involved in hands-on science and I am more on the management side of things now, which I think makes me less restricted in the type of employer I'm considering. Any advice for my job search in the UK? (I'm a UK national and was educated in the UK to PhD level.)DaveFor personal reasons I'm keen to remain in the North East when I finish my PhD in Chemistry. How can I identify employers in this area? I feel there are expectations that I shouldn't be restricting myself in this way. Will my desire to remain in this area be seen as a problem?Lou

Dear Max, Dave, and Lou

In earlier columns I've strongly recommended that any career search or plan begins with a clear idea of what you want from your work life. As all three of you have very specific criteria for where your job should be based, I'd like you to go one step further and list the implications of accepting a post away from this area. This might mean having to live away from a partner or your family, move your children out of their schools, give up commitments to local societies, or simply leave a place where you are happy. At some point during your career search you may well be tempted by opportunities further afield, and this list will help you keep things in perspective.

You will need two approaches during your job search. To start with you should identify all the suitable vacancies on offer in a given area. But as Max acknowledges, many jobs are not advertised, so you need a second strategy to fish for these--carefully targeted speculative applications based on knowledge of the local labour market.

I'll take you through the first quickly as most of my suggestions are obvious. Start your search for vacancies with the "usual suspects"-- Science , New Scientist , Nature , and any publications that carry vacancies specific to your subject area, like, say, Chemistry in Britain . Most have Web sites you can use to search for vacancies, but beware that they may not allow you to find jobs in areas as specific as you might like. Also keep an eye out for and make a note of employers you'd like to work for, even if the immediately available vacancies don't suit you. You can come back to these companies later with speculative applications.

Other general publications include Prospects (the graduate recruitment site, which also carries vacancies for PhD students), the national press, and national jobs listings sites. The Virtual Careers Library lists many such Web sites, including some for specific regions in the UK. I'd say, though, that these large, general sites are better equipped for general management posts, so they would be more relevant to you, Dave. You may be lucky and see a great job in the right location, but again try and build up a bank of potential employers you can fall back on.

Which leads us nicely to our second approach: contacting employers through speculative applications. For this you first need to research the local employment market. Lou and Max, as you are both students you can take advantage of the local expertise your careers services can offer--they should be familiar with local employers and their recruitment practices. In particular, Newcastle University produces the North East Graduate Directory , which ought to be a fantastic starting point for you, Lou, as there are nearly 100 scientific companies listed--along with very valuable information such as their policies on speculative applications and what skills they are seeking. The University of London Careers Service will certainly be able to help you focus your search, Max, as you may find yourself overwhelmed by the range of vacancy publications in the capital.

Dave, even though you are neither a student nor in the UK, with the wonders of the WWW you will not be at a great disadvantage, being able to click on the majority of the careers services resources as well. As for personal advice, commonly support from university is available for up to 5 years after graduation. However one exception to the "5-year rule" is C2, run by the University of London Careers Service, which offers a range of careers services for private clients. The charges are competitive, particularly for the capital. There are also other methods of support you can find out about on the Prospects Web site.

To see the rest of the jobs "iceberg," start thinking like an employer--how would you recruit staff in a particular region? Local papers are worth a try, but an employer looking for an experienced scientist or manager will want a more targeted approach, which may mean an agency. A good way to identify those is to look at which agencies are advertising regularly on the big scientific Web sites and ask them if they have an office in the region of your choice. Some professional bodies have also developed links with recruitment agencies so it is worth finding out if they would recommend one as well as suggest tips for securing work in a specific region. Also, never forget how useful your network and alumni association can be when it comes to ideas and recommendations.

If your list is still looking a little feeble, then I would call the local careers companies (look under Careers Advice in the Yellow Pages), formally local authority careers services which now operate as commercial organisations. You'll need to clarify what they can offer and whether they will charge for advice or information, but in any case they should know of publications where jobs are advertised or lists of local employers broken down by sector that will help you build up a picture of the local labour market. If not, they will tell you how you might get one--Chambers of Commerce or local business networks may also produce these listings. Alternatively ask the librarian of your local and university libraries for any local business listings or directories.

Most of the companies you are going to find that way are likely to be small to medium sized enterprises (known commonly as SMEs). Don't feel that they offer less challenging careers than big multinationals--they have their own strengths. I know of a scientist in a small medical equipment testing company who not only worked at the bench, but also regularly promoted the company's products at conferences and was directly involved in managing budgets and choosing product logos. He felt these opportunities would have been much harder to combine with his scientific role in a larger company.

Lou, it sounds as though the expectations of others represent an added pressure for you, which I hope won't persuade you to compromise on something that is important to you. Having worked in the North East for 3 years I can assure you that there are many exciting opportunities available and your career will be as challenging and promising as in any other part of the country, combined with an enviable quality of life. Employers in the North East will see your commitment to the region as a positive asset, but it isn't something you need to dwell on--focus on your skills, experience, and what appeals to you about the employer other than its postcode.

Once you have the names of a few employers you can send them speculative applications or ring them to ask where they advertise vacancies and if they are recruiting at present. Of course there are good ways and not-so-good ways of approaching an employer, and I will cover these in a forthcoming column to save you having to sort these out through personal experience!

Finally, I honestly believe that an apparently ideal job in the wrong location is NOT ideal and if you can hang on and have a degree of flexibility about the type of employer or job that you will consider, then you will find a career that will fit into your life, not jar against it.

All the best in your career,

The CareerDoctor

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