When you are a niche specialist, looking for a job might seem very daunting. You open a job board and there is nothing – literally not a single offer for you. You know that your profession is not the most common on the market, but that’s the one you chose, you love it and you would like to earn your living doing just that. A niche specialism can be many things: a scientist, an engineer, a doctor. Being very specialized can be very attractive – you can be singled out by employer who knows about your skills. However, this usually only happens to established professionals, not recent graduates or those who have just started their career.
My profession is a popular one, you can say mainstream. There are many jobs I can do and there are also many vacancies in my field. It is very easy and straightforward for me when it comes to looking for a job. But my partner is a niche specialist – a scientist in a narrow field. When he graduated, he knew that he would like to work outside the academic world (which would be the most common career path) and so we set out to find a job where he could use his niche skills. He now works happily in a renowned company, doing what he enjoys, but it took a while to get there and on the way we discovered what works and what doesn’t when looking for a niche job.
In this post I therefore share tried and tested tips for seeking a job in a narrow field.
Contrary to what you may think, the main challenge of looking for a job in a narrow field is not the number of jobs, as with fewer properly qualified specialists, the competition level is similar to the mainstream market. In my opinion, the main challenge is actually to locate those jobs, as they are scattered across the country or even across the continent, and often are not advertised in a mainstream, easy-to-spot way. This requires adopting a different approach to searching, based on two principles: be active & be easily found.
Let me give you few examples of how to achieve those goals.
Be easily found: specialist recruiters or HR departments in niche sectors often take the initiative and actively look for candidates to fill their vacancies. They go through data bases of their own, they might also use their own network to source information on potential candidates and finally, they look on the internet. You can make sure that you are there for them.
Network is a powerful tool
In niche sectors, a network is a powerful tool. Invest effort in building it and cherish it. Take part in every networking event available to you (conferences, meet-ups – there will be different ones depending on your sector). Initiate relationships with fellow specialists and work on developing them. Let all the people in your professional network know that you are open to new career opportunities. In my partner’s experience, an interesting job offer was missed out on due only to the fact that his network was not aware of his search. A colleague from another research center had been sent a job offer with a request to circulate it among appropriate and potentially interested people. He forwarded it to those who had mentioned they were searching for a job but my partner was not in that group…
As mentioned in this post, I find that it is often difficult for people to feel comfortable with letting others know they are searching for a job. My own personal experience has shown that as long you don’t ask others to actually find you a job, and instead just ask them to be aware that you are looking for one, and to inform you if a suitable opportunity arises, you will not face any problems. Also, remember that some people will be more active and willing to help than others. It does not have anything to do with you, people are just like that – varied.
Social media is another major source of candidates in modern recruitment. Companies circulate news about vacancies on their dedicated profiles/websites on Facebook or Twitter. However, there are also online communities dedicated exclusively to professional activities. Among the most popular is LinkedIn, which features people from every kind of background. There are also others with more specialized profiles, e.g. language specific (like Xing in German speaking region). If you know some of them, please do share your information below in the comments section!
These platforms work like a huge CV database, with an algorithm based on key words.
For many recruiters they are favourite places to look for candidates, thanks to the abundance of potential candidates on offer. It is like a trip to the supermarket. And as in a supermarket – marketing is crucial. You want to be the most visible and appealing product on the virtual shelf (with the difference that you have much more say than a grocery product!). So, set up your account (it is free on LinkedIn) and fill it in! Make sure that you use the description box to put as many key words related to your profile as possible. Think of various ways the recruiter might search for somebody with your skills and list them. Add your photo (two thirds of people use their sight as their main sense). List your experience using key words again. In case you don’t have “proper” job experience yet – list your education, making sure that you mention your thesis title or giving a short description of it, plus conferences and workshops you have taken part in.
And lastly, find people you know on the platform and invite them to connect with you – especially those active in your field. Due to the platforms’ algorithms, building connections and extending your network enhances the visibility of your profile to those searching for particular keywords.
You will find good tutorials on how to set up a profile on LinkedIn here.
If you are a niche specialist, the chances are that you know the majority of your potential employers. Visit all of their websites and check if they have a career section. It can be called: “career”, “work for us”, “job offers” etc. It can be a standalone section or hidden in “About us” one. Scroll and look until you find them, and then bookmark them. Visit regularly for any openings posted or set up an alert if possible.
Online job board
Then, set up an account with the online job board site. Again, there are many. In the UK, the most popular is Reed, but there are many others, e.g. jobs.ac.uk with offers for anyone involved in academia, from scientists to administrators. Google until you find the right one for you (please do mention in the comments if you know of particularly interesting ones). After you set up an account, you usually have an option to set up a search alert. In this way, any new job opening that matches your search results will be emailed straight to your inbox. It can be easier to follow new openings this way.
Now, if there are any interesting opportunities advertised, go ahead and apply. However, be prepared to accept that if you are a narrow field specialist there might not be that many be many. So, you might be more successful if you contact directly the companies you are interested in. Though it may sound scary, there is nothing to be afraid of. I will explain how to do it in one of my next posts.
All in all, the main difference between looking for a mainstream job and a specialist one is the amount of effort you have to put into making yourself visible to potential employers. However, once you have done this investment, at least a few interviews should find their way in your diary. Good luck and let me know your experiences with looking for a job as a niche specialist!
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