Go Online to Get Your Job On

Online job tools you've likely never heard of, and tips for making the most of them.

Kelly Chi
Jul 31, 2008
<figcaption> Credit: © Andrew Meehan</figcaption>
Credit: © Andrew Meehan

The last time chemist and software developer Richard Apodaca looked for a job was 10 years ago, while he was completing a postdoc in chemistry at Stanford University. Back then, there weren't many online tools, so Apodaca followed in the footsteps of many postdocs before him: He signed up for on-campus job interviews until he found a job that fit.

Nowadays, the online tools available for building profiles, contacts, and looking for jobs can making networking easier, but there's a caveat. "With all [these tools] out there, what's the best use of my time? Am I going to be sucked into doing something nonproductive?" says Apodaca, who founded Metamolecular, a chemical software company. Back in 1999, "I knew that every single one of the things I would be doing would be productive." Now, networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and job search engines such as...

Five new Web sites that you probably haven't heard of are offering tools for your job hunt, from arranging networking meetings to keeping track of your job search strategy. The Scientist asked judges from last year's Laboratory Web and Video Awards (LaWVA), Apodaca, and others to weigh in on how life scientists can get the most out of these Web sites.

<figcaption> Credit: © Andrew Meehan</figcaption>
Credit: © Andrew Meehan

1. SciLink - www.scilink.com
Launched September 2007

SciLink, a tool for social networking in the science world, allows scientists to develop resumes and profiles online, and connect to their academic and professional colleagues using the Tree of Science application. Trees for well-established scientists may have already formed: SciLink computes relationships by mining literature databases to find authors and their relationships. Users can verify these connections when they add their names to the more than 45,000 users and build their own trees. Recruiters and principal investigators (PIs) are using the site's new job board to find researchers to staff their labs, says the site's CEO, Brian Gilman.

New features. The site plans to launch a blogging platform and chemical drawing tools, designed to help researchers develop their soft skills by showing off their personality and their expertise. "It's very important to get to be known as an expert in our field," says Gilman.

Show off your connections. Having a network tree could make you more attractive to employers. It "might be a good way to check around and get an idea of what the person is like to work with," Apodaca says. Showing connectedness to others and filling out a full profile is crucial, says Gilman. "It's really important to recruiters. They want to know what your expertise is and your background is without having to search a bunch of sites."

Don't expect immediate results. If you're new to SciLink it may take some time for your network tree to bear fruit. Paula Aracena, a postdoc at the Baylor College of Medicine, is looking for a permanent position; she recently signed up for the service with only 15 people in her tree. So while she waits for her tree to branch out beyond her immediate contacts, Aracena is facilitating the process by using the e-mails listed in PubMed's literature database to add more contacts to her tree.

<figcaption> Credit: © Andrew Meehan</figcaption>
Credit: © Andrew Meehan

2. NotchUp - www.notchup.com
Launched January 2008

NotchUp is a kind of Web site for candidate poaching. It's intended for a person who is well positioned in her current employment, who may be in a management role, and who isn't necessarily looking for a new job. Employers looking for these highly qualified, hard-to-find candidates pay to interview members. The logic is that an employer would have to pay a recruiter more money than what they'd pay through NotchUp for such a candidate. Once you join, you can check to see what the value of an hour of your time might be worth to an employer.

A seed of life scientists. Seeding the site with high-quality candidates and letting them invite friends has produced a great starting pool, says cofounder and CEO, Jim Ambras. Approximately 1,000 of roughly 100,000 users to date have PhDs, and 2,000 have degrees in biology. "In terms of the representation, that's actually pretty good," says Ambras. NotchUp is also targeting university alumni groups and professional organizations such as the American Academy of Physics to set up an automatic screening and preapproval for members.

A dozen companies, many of them technology startups in Silicon Valley, actively used the site in its pilot version and paid anywhere from $100 to $1000 for interviews. In late June, NotchUp made its newest version open to all corporate clients.

Privacy features. NotchUp has blocked search engines such as Google from indexing member profiles, Ambras says. Also, the site posts member IDs instead of names and allows users to block specific companies (such as their current employers) from finding them.

Worth your time? The small number of scientists on NotchUp might make it hard to attract employers looking to fill these niche areas. On the other hand, the site is just ramping up and competition from other candidates may not be quite as fierce as it might be in coming months, so it might be worth a shot, says Apodaca.

<figcaption> Credit: © Andrew Meehan</figcaption>
Credit: © Andrew Meehan

3. VisualCV - www.visualcv.com
Launched February 2008

VisualCV is a site for professionals who want to create multiple versions of their resumes, enhance them with multimedia, and control access to them. Elizabeth Kerr, an LaWVA judge and director of science and technology markets at Apple, says scientists can use VisualCV to add a personal touch to their resumes by including photos, links to professional groups, and even podcasts of presentations. "If you've never been invited to present your data, so what," she writes in an e-mail. "Create a presentation podcast anyway based on your killer research results, and attach that to show off your communication skills."

The caution. Just because you know how to use a digital video camera and upload a video doesn't mean you should, says Daniel Promislow, a geneticist and coauthor of Survival of the Fittest: The Chicago Guide to Landing an Academic Biology Job. "I've seen Web sites for scientists that incorporated multimedia, and, if it's well done, it can be great," he says. "If it's badly done, it can be worse than nothing at all." Promislow suggests staying away from excessive animations and distractions that would detract from the content.

Worth your time? Kerr says the site might especially suit scientists who are looking for a job outside of the lab, for example, in medical illustration, teaching, and business. On the other hand, if you already have a Web site and know how to upload multimedia content, this may not be the site for you. Apodaca says it's not that hard to build a basic site. "A personal Web site would give you a lot more flexibility in the look and the URL that you would use," he says. (Read about building a lab Web site, "If you build it ....," in our March 2008 issue.)

<figcaption> Credit: © Andrew Meehan</figcaption>
Credit: © Andrew Meehan

4. Jibber Jobber - www.jibberjobber.com
Launched May 2006

Jibber Jobber is a general purpose Web tool that helps manage professional contacts and track job searches. The tool keeps track of a number of elements, including a candidate's target companies, recruiters, and expenses incurred during interview trips.

The site grew out of founder Jason Alba's frustration with the job search. When looking for a job several years ago, he started putting together an Excel spreadsheet of his target companies, interview dates and network contacts. "My Excel spreadsheet worked for about a month," Alba says. "Then I started adding new columns. It was really hard to keep track of it."

Worth your time? If you anticipate a lengthy job search, then use it from the beginning. The service may have been helpful for Aracena, who has, in recent months, embarked on an exhaustive job search, applying to more than 60 faculty positions before deciding to focus on biotech posts. The bottom line: Aracena was so busy with experiments and job searching that she didn't have time to use the site, although if she had, she might have exceeded the free data limit of 75 prospective employers. Unlimited data entry and additional features, such as the ability to export your contacts, costs about $10 per month.

A long-term tool? Though it touts itself as a career manager, this tool may be too focused on job searching, says Apodaca. The career management portion of the site, a space created for adding networking contacts and relationship goals, may not keep users coming back, Apodaca says. However, Jibber Jobber's Alba says he hopes that plans to integrate with networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook will help keep people coming back.

<figcaption> Credit: © Andrew Meehan</figcaption>
Credit: © Andrew Meehan

5. Meeting Wave - www.meetingwave.com
Launched July 2007

MeetingWave is a general purpose tool for arranging face time with people you don't know. Originally called Travelers Table, the site was designed for professionals who wanted to network on their business trips. Increasingly, the more than 30,000 members are using the site to meet others in their area, but a few of the invites are geared toward discussing job opportunities and offering career advice, says founder John Boyd.

The meeting tool is available as an application within Facebook, and each scheduled meeting integrates with Google's Gmail calendar. To arrange a meeting, a user or host would post a public invitation describing the purpose and the location of the proposed meeting.

The potential. From his experience working as a patent attorney for several biotech companies, Boyd has seen the isolation that scientists can feel when taking their first permanent position. "When you start working, you're just totally pulled away from your contacts," he says. "It can be a jarring experience for people." Boyd says the tool would help researchers build new contacts, although he doesn't keep data on how many life scientists have signed up.

MeetingWave has set up categories of invites that include "job inquiry," "career inquiry," and "business networking." Boyd says the networking option is best for making new contacts and learning about jobs before they are posted. "That's really what the site is all about - helping you develop new clients and new opportunities."

Plug into your network. Jean-Claude Bradley, an LaWVA judge and chemistry researcher at Drexel University, says there is a chance for the tool to work, if you send out an invitation with the right specificity for your city or town. In Philadelphia, for example, sending out an invite to talk about chemistry might be too broad, whereas organic chemistry might be better, he says. The tool works better as an application for Facebook than a stand-alone tool, since you mine your established Facebook network, he says.