If you’ve recently marveled at new airport security techniques, you’ve seen the results of work started at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a Research and Development facility.
We sat down with Rob Dromgoole, Director of Recruiting for the National Security Directorate & Director of Recruiting Technology at PNNL. Dromgoole is responsible for creating and implementing recruiting strategy for a 1,200 employee, $650-million business focusing on R&D related to nuclear non-proliferation and counter-terrorism, but he calls himself a matchmaker. “I think recruiting is the best job in the world because I get paid to help people achieve their life aspirations. While I often have to close doors when a job isn’t the right fit for someone, I’m often able to find the right place for them later when another job comes open. And that’s fun.”
We sat down and talked to him about how he hires, what he looks for, and tips for getting a job at a national lab.
Tell me about the work environment at PNNL?
Almost all the research conducted at PNNL is collaborative in nature. We’re working on hard problems, which require a collective effort. Scientists and engineers work together to solve problems for our clients. It is not uncommon to have collections of physicists, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and biologists, all working on applied solutions. Explosives detection and some of the work we’ve done in national security is one example that reflects that. Our flat organizational structure helps to promote that collaboration. There are only about 4-5 layers of management for the average individual engineer or scientist to our CEO.
PNNL is part of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science but managed and operated by Battelle, the world’s largest independent R & D organization. Given your overlap between both public and private sectors, should applicants submit a Federal resume to you – or a private one?
A private resume or CV is fine. Battelle – the world’s largest independent scientific research and technology development organization – has operated PNNL for DOE and its predecessors since 1965. Today, approximately 4,900 are employed at PNNL; our business volume is more than $1.1 billion. Our Richland, Washington campus includes unique laboratories and specialized equipment as well as the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE Office of Science national scientific user facility. In addition to the Richland campus, we operate a marine research facility in Sequim, Washington and satellite offices.
Most candidates apply with a standard resume or CV depending on the job. It’s okay to submit a 25 page CV for a science or engineering centric role that includes academic research publications. We expect to see publications on a CV. However, a standard resume is acceptable for non-research centric roles.
What are you most proud of in terms of your work environment and working at PNNL?
People want to be here. The average tenure of a PNNL employee is 14+ years. That doesn’t happen at most companies today. We have a number of employees who are over 70 years old who continue to choose to work here. As a result of this culture where people want to make a difference, it makes recruiting for the organization something I’m proud of.
The collective passion and focus around our mission make PNNL a special organization in my opinion.
I work with hiring managers who really believe in their mission and the research.
For example, our airport screening technologies were initially developed by PNNL It’ s exciting to see how technologies developed at PNNL are used in different fields. Another more recent example is our lab was the first in the U.S. to detect Fukushima radiation: http://www.pnnl.gov/nationalsecurity/highlights/index.stm#Fukushima
Tell me about one of your most recent hires. What stood out to you, and why did you make them an offer?
One hire that comes to mind is a Chief Scientist focusing on Nuclear Fuels research. He’s one of the top nuclear scientists in the world. He’s doing research on ways to more efficiently design nuclear fuel so nuclear power plants can run more efficiently. He’s one of the best scientists in his field. He was living in San Diego and moved here to make a bigger impact in the nuclear industry, and potentially change the way nuclear engineering works across the globe through his research. The less often a power plant has to shut down to re-fuel, the longer it can operate and provide electricity to America. He’ll have real impact through his work here, and he’s already making a difference.
A more entry-level hire was a Post-Doctorate student who recently converted to a full-time position focusing in Analytical Chemistry. This student initially heard about our research in analytical chemistry while studying in South Florida. He wanted the opportunity to conduct research with scientists who are considered the best in the world in this space. As a result, this person who is single, could have continued to work and live in Miami and enjoy that lifestyle. However, he chose to move to Tri-Cities, WA and work at PNNL.
That says something about our organization in my opinion.
Another recent hire was an unemployed former Marine who’d gotten a battlefield promotion in Afghanistan. Our unemployment office and veteran’s office referred her to us, and we hired her. She’s doing a great job. Her leadership qualities and initiative were an exact match for the position we considered her for.
Any “never do” tips for individuals applying to work at government agencies? For example, if you are applying for jobs with security clearance requirements, is it prudent to share your experience in the process on social networks?
Don’t apply with a sloppy resume; the little things can ruin your chances at securing an interview.
People will hear it’s all about networking but at the end of the day unless someone applies for the role during the window the position is posted – you cannot secure an offer. I know the process can take time, but unless you apply, you cannot get hired.
Don’t contact people here about jobs unless you’ve applied for the job. Apply for jobs as you see them. You need to apply before the closing date for the job to get full consideration.
I highly encourage networking and using your referrals, but you have to apply to get hired. Apply first, and then use your referrals to network. A strategy that has you applying and networking both increases your chances.
What’s the one thing people don’t know about working at PNNL that you wish they knew?
We offer robust relocation benefits for all exempt level jobs. Often, people have concerns that they don’t want to move because of the expense. However, due to our benefits, we do not want the cost to be a barrier to applying for a great research opportunity.
We offer fantastic back end benefits that account for approximately 36% of the average employees pay. Included in that suite of benefits is a generous 401k match and a pension.
Tri-Cities, Washington is a great place to live. Watch this YouTube video:
we would love to relocate more scientists and engineers here.
Are there any questions I haven’t asked that I should be asking? What’s the question, and what’s your answer?
What is it that PNNL does again?
What if you could discover dark matter … curb U.S. dependence on foreign fuel … cleanup an oil spill … or save the world from acts of violence before they happen – all by making a vital scientific discovery today? Better yet, what if you could improve humanity for generations to come by finding and nurturing the scientists who will discover a myriad of ways to improve the world around us? Would you?
At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, we are dedicated to addressing the most intractable problems in energy, the environment and national security. Located in Richland, Washington, PNNL is one among ten U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories managed by DOE’s Office of Science.
We strengthen the U.S. foundation for innovation, and we help find solutions for not only DOE, but for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the National Nuclear Security Administration, other government agencies, universities and industry. Unlike others, our multidisciplinary scientific teams are brought together to address their problems. More specifically, at PNNL we
* provide the facilities, unique scientific equipment, and world-renowned scientists and engineers to strengthen U.S. scientific foundations for fundamental research and innovation
* prevent and counter acts of terrorism through applied research in information analysis, cyber security, and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction
* increase U.S. energy capacity and reduce dependence on imported oil through research of hydrogen and biomass-based fuels
* reduce the effects of energy generation and use on the environment.
What’s often overlooked in applications?
Paying attention to details. Make sure your LinkedIn profile and resume are typo-free and align with your resume. Pay attention to the little stuff, because employers will pay attention to that, too.
Use it now actionable—advice for job seekers:
Spend some time on the front end – before you apply – and design and figure out your interests and long-term career goals. What sells hiring managers are candidates who can clearly articulate and explain their interests and long-term career goals.
The candidates who get the offers are the ones who really show a passion in the mission of what you are doing. The candidate who shows their interest aligns with the job often is the one who gets hired – even if they have less experience or education than the other candidates at times.
The key ingredient is passion for what you do, aligned with our research interests.
Be able to speak with confidence and clarity about what you want, and why a job is right for you. Getting others to vouch for you – and referrals – are also helpful.
Finally, don’t give up. Don’t forget that there are five million U.S. jobs that are unfulfilled, and we have 103 of them right now – reach out!