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I have been unemployed for a year.

Over the last ~10 years I have worked as a software developer, then a mathematical modeller, then back to software developer. These were all fixed term contracts, except for my very first job.

My last contract ended March 2020 and by the end of it I absolutely loathed software development and definitely do not want to go back to it.

Since then I have been applying for mathematical modeller / data scientist type roles at getting nowhere. Most of the time I don't get an interview and when I do I'm rejected.

The feedback I get is usually along the lines of "you were a strong candidate, but we went with someone with more experience". On a couple of occasions they have asked if would like to re-interview for a backend software developer type position. I politely decline.

Over the last year, I've done a lot of online courses on data analysis, statistics, scientific computing etc.. But I'm not sure how legitimate employers think they are versus more traditional qualifications.

I am in the UK, so quite a lot of my applications go through recruitment agencies, who, as far as I can tell, do not send my applications forward (probably with good reason). I have been more successful when applying to companies directly, in those cases I usually get interviews, or at least feedback explaining why I was rejected.

I am applying for entry-to-mid level positions, since I have worked in this field before and have transferable skills from my time a software developer.

I am 37, have a PhD in STEM subject.

I know my CV looks terrible, but is there anything I can do to improve my chances?

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  • 5
    "We went for someone with more experience" is frequently code for "we don't really even have a reason for this, or for some reason don't want to give the reason, but we are declining you so we're going to tell you something you can't possibly argue with". Might apply in these cases too. None of us can say for sure. On a separate note, the UK hiring market has been garbage for the past year. Hardly anyone's hiring right now, the few that are are getting a deluge of applicants. Probably not worth reading too much into it. Mar 19 at 19:16
  • It sounds like your last software development position was terrible, but that some of the previous ones had not been so bad. I realize that this may not be what you want to hear, but if you're straight-up more employable as a developer (which sounds like it's the case) then it might be worth considering what it was that made your last position so utterly terrible, and if it would be possible to filter positions in such a way as to allow you to apply for development positions while ensuring that you don't hit that same kind of suck. You've had a year to cool off. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad?
    – Ben Barden
    Mar 19 at 19:23
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    "I know my CV looks terrible" - I don't understand. You have 10 years of actual experience and you have a PhD in a STEM subject. I am lots of people are fixed length contractors so that shouldn't be the problem. What exactly do you mean by "your CV looks terrible"?
    – Donald
    Mar 19 at 20:42
  • @Old_lamplighter thanks for the bounty award for my answer Mar 30 at 9:43
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Over the last ~10 years I have worked as a software developer, then a mathematical modeller, then back to software developer.

Now, it is obviously important how much time out of the ~10 years you were a mathematical modeller. Seven years is one thing, three months is another. Even if I went to the extremes a bit, you get my point. If the time you spent actually being a mathematical modeller was closer to the "irrelevant" side, then you need to analyze your options from that point of view. Everything is NOT lost, just a bit more difficult.


I know my CV looks terrible, but is there anything I can do to improve my chances?

Well, that is the excellent attitude to make you undesirable for pretty much any job. You do not even need to say that during the interview. Just think it. Just store it in the hidden parts of your memory. The interviewer (especially if they are experienced) will read that low self-evaluation, and treat you accordingly.

Example from my own life: my experience is mostly about software engineering for automotive. I have done may things around that subject, there was a long time. However, once I wanted to switch jobs, and I found a position as a software "guy" to work (employed) on improving and maintaining some open-source compiler for some processor, under Linux. Obviously, a job very far from my experience. I went to the interview knowing very well my value and my abilities, and my willingness to get involved and learn and improve. When I knew some answer, I went ahead and provided it. Because my specific experience was practically zero, I did not know several answers, and I openly admitted to that. At the end, I pretty much got the job. I did not accept it, simply because I moved to another job, more compatible with my personal needs and priorities at that time.

So, the conclusion: know yourself, do not let your limits define who you are. Redefine yourself, push your limits. "Boldly go where no-one has gone before!"


On a couple of occasions they have asked if would like to re-interview for a back-end software developer type position. I politely decline.

That is another thing you can improve. Do not let opportunities fly by you. There are not many companies who need a mathematical modeller. If such a company wants to hire you, then find a way to turn the situation in your favor. Try an approach along these lines:

Being a (back-end developer) is not my first priority. However, I am willing to make a gradual transition, in a way that covers both our needs, to end-up with a win-win situation. I propose that I start doing (80% ?) a back-end job, and (20% ?) mathematical modelling. We evaluate my performance as a mathematical modeller in (one ?) year, and if it is satisfactory, then we review my work allocation, targeting 100% work as a mathematical modeller.

This approach gives you the huge benefit of accumulating experience as a mathematical modeller - something that is in your target. Even if this job is not very good, the next one might be a lot better - you will start from a different (better) starting point.


Most of the time I don't get an interview and when I do I'm rejected.

Again, you concentrate on the failure. What you need to see from this is that actually you were accepted for an interview. That is already a big win. It means that the company already sees potential in you. You just need to convince them.

I will not repeat the good advice from @Old_Lamplighter. But I will give you another example which actually helped me in my personal life (although not really in the direct way). Watch the movie "Hitch" (2005) with Will Smith and understand all the advice "The Doctor" gives to his customers. Once "she" said "yes", you move forward. Do not make efforts to improve a "yes". Of course, you will understand that in your case the love (or the woman) is actually the job you are targeting. Not really everything will apply ;)


have a PhD in STEM subject

While some companies are happy to have people with degrees, many companies treat such people with a cold shoulder. Search for the subject of "over-qualification". When I first heard about it, I thought it was a joke, but in time I understood that it was actually a thing.

What you might want to try is to not advertise your PhD. See what happens. If they require a PhD and they are on the verge to reject you for not having the title, just then show them that you have the needed qualification.

If asked why you kept the information hidden, just say that you did not keep it hidden. You just did not consider the title very important for the job - and admit that you were a bit wrong, using a smile.


Sometimes it will help if you study the company before the interview. See what they do, what they advertise. See where you might have a contribution. If they have people which appeared in the media or in scientific journals, study what they did. Analyze yourself and see if you fit in their projects. See where they are stuck with their work (this information is often written in plain words, both in the media, and in the scientific articles). If you have an idea to help, contact these people and see if they are willing to listen. If yes, your chances for a job are dramatically increased.


Other than these, I wish you good luck and success.

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  • Not mentioning a STEM PhD will leave a 3-4 years (or more) gap in most people's CV, and potentially years of experience for a mathematical modelling/data science position.
    – fqq
    Mar 29 at 23:13
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Full disclosure, I taught classes on this subject, and experienced it personally.

First of, as you've found there is no substitution for experience.

The best way to get that experience when you're not working is to do volunteer work, or independent, or freelance work, or any combination thereof.

Also, bring your CV to a friend who is IN the field you are wanting to transition into and see if they can tell you what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong.

Buy (and read) tools on closing sales, they can do wonders for helping you interviewing. To start getting your foot in the door, ask friends, family, acquaintances for HELP (not a job, HELP) in learning about the field.

It is important that you use the words "help" and "learning" as opposed to needing or finding a job. People are willing to help you learn, but floating your CV, not so much.

Also, you can ask your contacts if they know anyone who would be willing to sit down and tell you a bit about the field. This helps you to make professional contacts in the field, and getting your name and face out there.

For those extended contacts, you want to ask for advice not a job. Again, this is a psychological game. You're getting face-to-face meetings and you are showing them your resume and expressing your interest.

Worse case scenario, this new contact will be able to advise you, best case scenario, you could get a job lead.

You need to be very creative and driven to be able to make a career change, but steps like these will demonstrate your ambition. People naturally want to help someone who is trying.

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One way to improve your chances, when you have a CV which looks terrible, is to apply with a good cover letter. I find this especially true when one is switching fields.

As a hiring manager, I'm usually flooded with resumes, and so my strategy is to try and find any reason whatsoever to discard each one (to be clear, I'm not trying to eliminate qualified people as a way to make my job easier, rather, I'm trying reduce the pile to those which are most likely to be qualified, so I can minimize the number of people we need interview). As such, a person whom might, in actuality, be qualified, but whose resume doesn't portray that, has a hard time getting invited to an interview (or whatever the first step is).

If, on the other hand, you have a good, relevant, cover letter, explaining that you are switching fields (to a degree), highlighting the relevant experience you do have, expressing a passion for the new work, illustrating how, for the price of a entry-to-mid level employee I get someone with a decade of real work experience, you have a decent shot of getting to the next level.

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+100

I have a PhD in Chemistry and have worked in software development and support for many years as a contractor in the UK. Your PhD is NOT an advantage. I have taken mine off my CV and made sure that I use Mr each time I apply for a contract. Using your Dr title just puts people off, they don't understand what it is.

Also remember that your CV is analysed by a computer before the recruiter sees it. This means that the comparison is made between the job description and your CV and the best matches are the people who get interviews. Write a different CV for each job. Relevant experience means "has done this exact same job before"

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  • "I have taken mine off my CV" - did you just leave a gap instead? Mar 26 at 23:56

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