SIAM News Blog

Inside Out: A Value-Based Approach to Industry Job Hunting

By Vrushali A. Bokil

Students looking for jobs in industry are often advised to develop soft skills, effective communication abilities, cross-disciplinary collaborative techniques, and interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary training. What jobseekers do not typically hear about is the need to understand who they are, what they want, and their core values, strengths, and passions. In other words, the most efficient method of career preparation is the inside-out approach. Roughly 50 young SIAM members received this message during the Professional Development Evening at the 2018 SIAM Annual Meeting, held in Portland, Ore., last July.

Di Ye of Zhennovate (left) interacts with attendees of the Professional Development Evening at the 2018 SIAM Annual Meeting, held in Portland, Ore., last July. SIAM photo.
During the event, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers received advice and training from Di Ye, a professional trainer and certified coach at Zhennovate [3]. Ye provides high-performance training and one-on-one coaching to clients from various institutions, including Boeing, Microsoft, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During a three-and-a-half-hour gathering, Ye—who has industry experience working at a variety of different firms—led the eager participants in a professional coaching session that comprised topics like “self-discovery and self-awareness,” “clarifying your core values,” and “strategic, authentic, and disciplined networking.” The session also covered familiar subjects, such as writing a resume, developing and delivering an elevator speech, and preparing for a job interview. Ye explained the differences between industry and academia, the value of networking and referrals, and the realities of the job market. She discussed ways to determine goodness-of-fit for specific jobs and institutions, and articulated a big-picture view of the process of landing a satisfying “dream” job and fulfilling career, aided by a support network. For reference, attendees received a booklet entitled Industry Job Hunting Bootcamp: How to Stand out in the Industry Job Hunting Process and Optimize your Career Potential.

To begin, Ye asked participants to clarify their core values—such as “authenticity” and “creativity”—and record a few of their most important principles along with a brief description of their personal significance. She emphasized that people must know who they are, what they want, and what their contributions are worth to confidently communicate and negotiate job offers with prospective employers. Effective communication is a crucial soft skill, and an elevator speech that employs powerful, concise statements and clear language helps one articulate his/her hiring potential. Participants had the opportunity to test what they had learned and practice their elevator pitches with volunteers from companies including Microsoft, NASA, 3M, and Nokia Bell Labs at a networking reception during the session.

The inside-out approach requires outside help in the form of a support network. Did you know that more than 70 percent of jobs on the market are not published [2]? Ouch! On average, every posted opening receives over 100 applications [2]. The realities of the job market require that applicants not only know who they are and what they want, but also have a network of people familiar with their values and passions to promote them to prospective job hunters. Ye classified members of this support network into four categories: people who provide emotional support, challenge one to grow, help expand one’s possibilities, and share power. Participants then performed a short activity to identify the people in their network, pinpoint missing categories, and brainstorm ways to engage and expand their connections. Some attendees expressed discomfort in categorizing people this way, noting that it made friendships feel business-like. Ye assured them that this would not be the case, provided they approach networking with respect, authenticity, and a mindset that includes genuine intention and gratitude when building meaningful connections. This technique helps set the right expectation about the kinds of support to seek from each person in one’s network.

Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers think about their core values and support networks during the Professional Development Evening at the 2018 SIAM Annual Meeting, held in Portland, Ore., last July. SIAM photo.
Everyone wants to find their dream job — employment that is fulfilling, avoids undesirable tasks, and involves an ideal location. But is this always possible? One participant noted that applicants must face realities, such as paying bills. Ye reassured attendees that while their first job may not be their dream job, and they may have to work their way through several positions acting as stepping stones, they can eventually attain their ideal career. She also affirmed that realistically optimizing and strategizing one’s job search is far more important than the quantity of applications he/she sends out. First salary does matter as a benchmark for future pay.

In summary, an inside-out approach that accounts for authenticity, curiosity, motivation to learn and contribute, willingness to build meaningful relationships, and constant adaptation to the job market will keep people moving towards their objectives and goals and hopefully lead to that ideal dream job.

The Professional Development Evening received positive feedback, and SIAM plans to offer similar career development workshops at future meetings. Stay tuned for announcements about these upcoming workshops from SIAM. In the meantime, online workshops about soft skills development are available through Zhennovate. All job seekers in mathematics, statistics, and operations research would highly benefit from perusing BIG Jobs Guide by Rachel Levy, Richard Laugesen, and Fadil Santosa, now available for online purchase at the SIAM bookstore [1]. Jobs in these areas are projected to grow by 30 percent over the next decade. The guide provides practical steps for finding that dream job in business, industry, or government (BIG), and includes information on the types of available jobs as well as tips for writing high-impact resumes and securing rewarding internships. BIG Jobs Guide also offers insights to mentors and advisors on building institutional relationships and enabling math departments to aid students in finding BIG employment.

Acknowledgments: The author would like to thank Di Ye from Zhennovate, Fadil Santosa of the School of Mathematics at the University of Minnesota, and Richard Laugesen of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for feedback that greatly enhanced this article.

[1] Levy, R., Laugesen, R., & Santosa, F. (2018). BIG Jobs Guide: Business, Industry, and Government Careers for Mathematical Scientists, Statisticians, and Operations Researchers (1st Ed.) Philadelphia, PA: Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.
[2] Smith, J. (2013, April 17). 7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Your Job Search. Forbes – Leadership. Retrieved from
[3] Ye, D. (2018, June). Stand Out in the Industry Job-Hunting Process and Optimize Your Career Potential. SIAM News, 51(5), p. 10.

 Vrushali A. Bokil is a professor in the Department of Mathematics at Oregon State University. She is a computational mathematician whose interests lie in mathematical modeling and numerical analysis, with applications in mathematical biology, epidemiology, and computational electromagnetics. Bokil is a member of the SIAM Career Opportunities Committee.
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