Once upon a time, experience won out in a job search. If you had a good resume with lots of titles that showed loyalty, seniority, and experience, the odds were in your favor that you would be offered a job.

Times, of course, have changed, and those changes have hit senior-level executives hardest of all. As companies and whole industries are getting back to hiring it often is the senior executive who gets left out.

“I hear people say it all the time — ‘They can’t afford me,’” says Rich Carlson, a former senior manager at Kodak. “‘But they never even offered me anything, how do they know what I’d be willing to work for?’”

Carlson is relaying a common woe among out-of-work senior executives. He has not personally been told that he would be too expensive for a company to hire, but many people in his orbit have made this complaint.

He believes the excuse to be a cleverly couched form of age discrimination, but he also acknowledges that there is a certain kernel of truth to saying “We can’t afford you.”

Odds are, the company could afford a candidate, but when the job market is flooded with just-out-of-college candidates willing to work for less and make names for themselves, companies can afford to go cheaper than some people’s experience deserves.

Carlson is a member of ChemPharma Professional Association, a national group of high-level professionals in the chemical, biotech, pharma, and life sciences industries, for which he has helped put together the association’s first career fair. On Friday, August 24, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., ChemPharma will host its career fair at the Princeton Marriott at Forrestal Village. The event is free, but registration is highly recommended. Call 609-443-1233 or E-mail rcarlson@aol.com.

Carlson says ChemPharma already has registered more than 600 attendees and at least 18 companies covering everything from pharma and agrichemical companies to flavorings and specialty chemical companies. His own professional experience with Kodak, he said, was in specialty chemicals, mostly for motion picture production.

Carlson was born in Wisconsin but grew up and went to college in South Dakota. He says he learned his work ethic from his father, who owned a grocery store, but was drawn to the sciences. He earned his bachelor’s in chemical engineering from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 1973 and went to work for Kodak, where he spent his entire 37-year career.

Carlson started in Kodak’s photofinishing group before moving into the motion picture film department. He worked his first 17 years in Hollywood and the rest in New York City, where he oversaw film sales to studios, producers, and film schools. His largest client for 16mm film was NFL Films, which Carlson says has finally had to admit that video is the future and is expected to move into digital video as film production is phased out.

Carlson says he saw the handwriting on Kodak’s film wall for years, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the end presented itself. “Selling print film was a big part of Kodak’s business,” he says. “But film sales were in decline, and 2010 was the tipping point.”

At the time, he says, digital video projection installations were being driven by the boom in 3D movies in theaters. Then there was the introduction of a major new digital motion picture camera from Arriflex, one of the biggest names in the game. Kodak, he says, decided to start getting out of the film production business, and part of its gradual downsizing was Rich Carlson.

Since leaving Kodak in late 2010 Carlson has done consulting work. Ideally, he says, he is seeking employment opportunities in the photographic or chemical industry, but he is not hopeful about his chances for a new career in the photochemical realm. “I’ve pretty much written off photography,” he says.

Still, he is hopeful, and he is not just the guy promoting the ChemPharma career fair, he also will be an attendee. The fair itself targets senior level executives like him (he left Kodak as a regional technical manager), but Carlson says it is open to anyone with a science degree who is looking for work.

ChemPharma, he says, was launched in 2007 as a pharma-only networking group designed to introduce industry higher-ups to each other. Over the past five years, he says, the association realized its symbiosis with the other arms of the life sciences and chemical technologies industries and expanded its reach to everyone from consumer products to materials science companies.

The career fair will feature speakers, such as Alex Freund, a resume and job skills professional who operates Landing Expert Career Coaching in Hopewell, and career counselors. So far, he says, FMC, a chemical manufacturing company whose Research and Technology Center is based in the Princeton South business park in Ewing, and BioTest Pharmaceuticals of Boca Raton, Florida, have stated that their companies have reserved space for on-the-spot interviews.

As for tips to making a successful appearance at the career fair, Carlson says there is nothing complicated about it — wear proper business attire, have copies of your resume and business cards handy at all times, and be ready to answer questions from prospective employers.

His biggest tip is to make sure you are registered for the event, he says, because space is filling up fast.

As for his hopes to return to the familiar ground of photochemicals, Carlson says “it’s interesting work but not very profitable these days.” So he is willing to go elsewhere. Like the candidate who hears “We can’t afford you” without even knowing what the employer’s salary range would be, Carlson would not want to hear a chemical company tell him, “Sorry we don’t do photochemicals.” He is, after all, a chemical engineer, he reminds. He is willing to work in whatever capacity he can. Even if it doesn’t lead him back to Hollywood.

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