Monday, May 24, 2021

Job Hunting in Unprecedented Times, by HappyChemist (Part 1)

(This is a part of a three part series written by HappyChemist hired in industry during the pandemic. It has been lightly edited - CJ) 

Interviewing for chemical industry positions in the midst of a global pandemic has been anything but easy. As companies transition to completely virtual interview formats, they are able to interview more candidates than usual, while saving a lot of money in the process. With fewer open PhD level positions, competition is extremely high! Fear not, the goal of this article is to provide some advice for those in the midst of their job search and insight into this completely virtual process from someone who has recently been through it.

In most cases the virtual interview process goes as follows:

Step 1: Apply → Step 2: Phone and/or Video Screening → Step 3: Virtual On-site Interview → Offer?

Alright, let’s walk through each step…

Step 1: Apply

My approach was to start with a quality over quantity mindset in my application process. I set myself a “desperation date” and before this date, I would take my time to tailor the materials within each application (resume and cover letter) to the position, highlighting the parts of my career / skills I thought they would be most interested in based off of the posting. 
Once the “desperation date” arrived, I would ramp up production and just apply, apply, apply with a more generalized resume and cover letter. The idea being that by this point the materials would be of the highest quality possible and I could just churn them out, simply changing the company name, date, and role applied for in the cover letter between applications. I could also select from several top-notch cover letters tailored to different types of work, pharmaceutical research job? Tailor my pharmaceutical cover letter. Materials research job? Tailor my materials letter. Easy peasy. 

Unexpectedly and excitingly, I managed to get a job just a few days before my desperation date. In all, it was a 6-month long process, in that time I applied to sixteen companies and for some I applied to several different jobs within the company. Eleven of these companies called me to schedule a phone (or video) interview, that’s a 69% success rate. Not bad! I attribute this to my materials being flexible to tailoring, allowing them to pass through the HR filters and make it into the hands of the recruiters. 
I also used my resources—if I knew someone at the company, I emailed them and asked for advice and/or a referral. If I didn’t know anyone at the company but was really interested the position, I looked for talent acquisition/recruiters for that company on LinkedIn and sent them a message telling them I would love a chance to tell them how my skillset fits within the role. I got interviews at every place I did this with, as well as several I didn’t. 

A few key tips for your job applications:
  • DO have your resume and cover letters proof read! Don’t be shy. Every proof will only make your resume and cover letter stronger.
  • DO be direct in your cover letter. For example, write “I am well suited for x role for y and z reasons”, don’t write “I think I will be well-suited for x role…”
  • DO put together clear, concise, consistent, and attractive materials to help you stand out. Your resume should be 1-3 pages (three pages max, two pages preferred), and aim for a one-page cover letter. There should be consistency between documents in terms of general aesthetics, letterhead, etc. 
  • DO submit your documents as a PDF, do not leave your fate up to the conversion Gods! The only time I wouldn’t submit as a PDF is if they recommend you submit your resume as a word document. As an avid Mac user, I personally would still submit my resume as a PDF. 
  • DON’T half-[donkey - redacted for corporate browsers - CJ] it. This is your first shot to showcase your attention to detail, so do it!
Thanks to HappyChemist for their work, and stay tuned on Tuesday for part 2! 


  1. As someone who has extensively applied for jobs recently (2015-2016, 2018-2019, and now somewhat), I noticed that even though we're in a pandemic it is significantly easier to land interviews now. Not sure why that is, but it seems that employers are becoming less picky now, which is good news for job seekers.

    1. Yeah, I took part in a rapid recruiting event last Fall and in previous years if you took part in the rapid recruit you had a 50% chance of securing a job (25 jobs, 50 candidates) but because they didn't have to fly everyone out they invited more candidates so dropped to a 31% chance to get hired (25 jobs, 80 candidates). So I think securing an interview was easier but getting the job def became harder. Then again, I have some friends that have been pumping out applications and have gotten little to no interviews. I haven't seen their application materials but know they should have strong resumes, so I guess it depends? On what? I have no idea.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20