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Looking for a Career in Industry
The AMS has a list of articles relating academic and non-academic job hunting.
Industry jobs are very appealing to some people. The pace is often quick, there is immediate feedback on your work from fellow employees as well as customers, and the pay is generally good. Often as a mathematician you must convince the employer that although they did not advertise for a mathematician, you are, in fact, the best for the job. Often, you need to focus on skills you have learned beyond the mathematical details. Remember, job advertisements are often written by people in personnel and sometimes they are not educated in our field. You need to show them why you should be hired (and paid well!) Some examples include the following.
- You are proficient in breaking down problems into manageable bits.
- You have been trained to spot variables that have much/little impact on the final result.
- You are comfortable attacking a problem, discovering it is infeasible and backtracking to a point where you can attempt to progress again, etc.
A Few Industry Benefits
(These are in general and may not apply in all job situations.) These include: a variety of responsibilities, well defined goals, fast pace, a good salary, a chance for lateral as well as vertical growth, exposure to other disciplines, exposure to other ways of thinking. In addition, your mathematics may be used by others (co-workers as well as customers) and mathematicians tend to be few in number so they are often called upon to educate co-workers. Mathematicians are often appreciated because they are comfortable with a subject that so many people are frightened of!
A Few Industry Negatives
Compared to academia, your hours are more restricted. Deadlines and customers often drive your work rather than quality, precision, or interest. Often more time is spent programming, in meetings, or dealing with customers, than actually doing mathematics. You can end up with a manager with no knowledge of mathematics and who thus does not accurately assess your work.
Getting a job in industry has changed in the past few years. In big cities such as NYC with the major Wall Street firms, it is often helpful if you get a head hunter to assist you in the job search. Finding a good head hunter is a challenge in itself. Your best bet is to ask around (friends already working in that area, friends of friends, or graduates of the department can be very helpful in this).
The Internet is also now a hot place to find job postings. The Career Development Center (CDC) here on campus can also offer some help. However, the CDC tends to play a passive role, simply providing a service between interested companies and students. The CDC is primarily directed towards undergrads. Unlike a head hunter they do not seek jobs for you.
You should never have to pay a head hunter. The good head hunters (now referred to as H.H.) get their pay from companies, which is why it is good to have more than one H.H. Each tends to deal with a certain set of companies. The classic model is, the H.H. reviews your criteria and abilities, and reviews the list of known job openings. Then the H.H. calls the company and convinces them to interview you. Sometimes, that is all the H.H. does. If you get hired then the company gives the H.H. a kick back. On occasion the H.H. negotiates your salary for you too. It is to their benefit to get you the best salary so that they can brag about it to future customers. Often the company pays the H.H. not a flat fee, but an amount based on your initial salary. So, for example, you get offered $60,000, if you accept the offer the H.H. makes $6,000 (not out of your salary, but from the hiring company). So, it is of mutual benefit for you to get a great salary.
Networking through people in the department (professors and their friends and former students, other graduates, their friends, current graduates and their friends and so forth) can help you find out about job openings and get interviews. This process makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but it is becoming more and more common place. Avoiding this means you are missing out on potentially great jobs.
You will need a strong resume. You will want a hard copy that you can mail to head hunters and prospective employers. Make sure it photocopies well. You should consider creating an on-line resume as well, one that on first glance looks very similar to your hard copy but has links to more information. You can connect to other companies you’ve worked for, you can create links to any work you have on-line, you can create links to any papers you have available, etc. This way, potential employers can access as much or as little information as they want on you. Include this web address on your hard copy resume. The CDC has drop-in hours, when you can bring your resume and have it critiqued. Also, there are many books with examples of good resumes on the shelves in the CDC café.
List of References
When it comes time to provide a list of references, you should contact each person you want to put on this list and make sure they agree to it. Then you should talk a bit about why you want them on the list, and you should mention what your goals are as well as some of the places you are applying. It is best to pick people not only familiar with you and your work, but familiar, in some respect, with the job you are seeking. If you can ask someone who is already an employee of the company for a reference, so much the better!
All through your graduate school time you should be building and maintaining a list of contacts that you can call upon when you are in the job market. People in the department are easy contacts, but do not limit yourself to only professors and grad students. Talk to them about who they know and try to meet as many people as possible. You need to maintain and broaden this network the whole time you are in grad school and beyond.