This article was printed in CONTROL's October 2009 edition.
By John Rezabek, Contributing Editor
If you're looking for a job or interviewing to fill a vacancy in your organization, what kind of qualifications should you be displaying to qualify for the jobs that are available? A plant in our vicinity recently lost its instrument specialist to the refinery across the street and found it had a lot of applicants, but few who came close to meeting its needs.
Our area has been hard-hit by the recessionbecause of our dependence on the auto industry, so a lot of people who applied are coming from a discrete manufacturing, non-process background. "I'd be starting from ground zero with these guys," said the hiring manager for the plant. "They have never dealt with a DP cell, a flow loop or a valve positioner." Therefore, his short list of applicants was very short indeed.
The following short list can help you to get on the "short list" of the local hiring manager.
- Don't be a proselyte. Even if you are expert with current technology—let's say, Ethernet—don't try to tell your prospective boss how it's going to solve all his or her problems. I heard about a California plant that had ripped out fieldbus and reverted to 4-20 mA, after a complete shutdown necessitated an expensive emergency visit from the expert residing in the Southern hemisphere. Not a good place to show up proclaiming the wonderful virtues of digitally integrated field devices. You probably don't know what the recent travails of the plant to which you're applying have been—and Murphy says your chances of sounding like the salesperson recently banished for all time is significant. So saying, "I think I bring skills and insight that can be applied to help the plant," might be a better pitch than, "I have the answer to all your problems."
- Talk shop only to your kin. There's an excellent chance no one on the hiring team understands what you do, especially if the team consists of the plant manager and the HR person. So talk of instrument databases, hand-held communicators or publish-subscribe data transfer may be snooze-inducing for the person who's going to choose his or her next employee. If the interview team includes some bona-fide instrument or controls specialists, then maybe take the opportunity to detail the extent of your technical insights. Otherwise, speak to the broader needs of the process plant to which you're applying.
- Learn the needs of the enterprise. If you can, develop a network that includes contacts —for example, sales people who used to call on your plant—that also have dealt with the place you're applying.
There's a lot of interest now in complying with safety instrumented system (SIS) standards for plants governed by OSHA 1910 regulations for highly hazardous chemicals. If you can show up with a CFSE (Certified Functional Safety Expert) or CFSP (Certified Functional Safety Professional) stamp, it could push hot buttons throughout the organization. Likewise, if you've done anything with wireless instrumentation, you could distinguish yourself from the majority of applicants.
- Search the Internet and trade journals for recent articles about the industry to which you're applying. Suppliers are eagerly publishing all their recent successes, and some of those issues may be relevant to the plant to which you're applying. Dropping a line like, "I see where Anheuser-Busch has improved their fermentation with wireless instrument validation," may strike a chord at a pharma plant or an industrial-scale bakery, as well as a brewery.
- Subscribe to forums, such as those hosted by ISA or Foundation fieldbus/Profibus and HART, to gain insight into the problems other industry professionals are trying to solve. If you're aiming to transition from dissimilar industries, emphasize the technologies they share, such as operator interface configuration, interconnections between the plant and the board room, or data historians. Use these forums to identify the skill sets that you can apply to the the job for which you're applying.