Issue Date: May 26, 2008
Fast Track To Finding A Job
Despite the economic slowdown (C&EN, April 14, page 37), soaring food and gas prices, and plunging consumer confidence, job seekers in the chemical industry still have good reason to stay optimistic.
"There is a little downtick now, but if we look further out, employment conditions are going to start favoring employees," predicts Lisa M. Balbes, a volunteer career consultant for the American Chemical Society and author of "Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas in Chemistry" are starting to look longer term. They realize that as the baby boomers retire, there aren't going to be enough people to fill the jobs that they leave," she says.
In any kind of market, however, a successful job search requires hard work and lots of preparation.
Balbes recommends that job seekers in the chemical sciences take advantage of the many free resources available through ACS, including the Career Consultant Program, which matches them with seasoned professionals who serve as mentors. Aside from offering practical advice on everything from résumé preparation to salary negotiation, these consultants also help job seekers to stay optimistic during their search.
On the ACS Careers website, www.acs.org/careers, job seekers can download information on résumé preparation and interviewing skills, read about a variety of topics on the careers blog, learn about career fairs and short courses, watch webcasts from past workshops, and search job openings on the ACS Careers Job Database (formerly Chemjobs).
C&EN recently asked Balbes and other ACS career consultants to share their best tips for finding a job in the chemical industry. In addition to the standard interview advice such as "smile, make eye contact, and give a firm handshake," the suggestions quickly segued into strategies that are less intuitive, but important in any job search at any level.
1. Focus your job search.
One of the most important steps in any job search is figuring out what you want to do and then identifying companies and career paths that match your interests. "Companies don't have time to figure out what you want to do or what you'd be good at," Balbes says. "You need to do that."
If you're not sure what you want to do, talk to teachers, friends, colleagues, or an ACS career consultant who can help you narrow your choices. In addition, you can read profiles of chemists at work on the ACS Careers website. The society also offers a variety of career workshops, including "Preparing for Life After Graduate School," a two-day session that explains different career options in industry and academe (C&EN, March 3, page 47). You might also attend workshops at regional or national meetings, or a lecture series at nearby companies to find out whether their research focus appeals to you. Some ACS local sections also host lectures by industry scientists who can offer a perspective on what it's like to work at their company.
Once you identify some fields or companies you're interested in pursuing, find people who work there and talk to them about what they do. How do you find these people? Network! Go to local, regional, and national meetings and ask whether anyone knows someone who works there, Balbes says. You can also search publications and patents from that company and jot down the names of the authors, she adds. Ask your friends whether they know someone who works there; even nonchemists may know someone who works in another department, and that person could get you in touch with a chemist. After you establish a relationship with someone, use them as a contact when it comes time to apply for positions.
2. Build your network.
One of the most efficient ways to network is by volunteering. "Networking is not going out and asking people for a job," Balbes says. "That's absolutely the wrong way to do it. You want to look at networking as, 'I am looking for ways to help other people.' This gets you known as somebody who's capable, responsible, and willing to help. The more you help people, the more good things come to you."
There are many ways to network, and it can be as simple as offering to serve refreshments at a local section meeting or advising a fellow job seeker. Or perhaps you're talking to someone at a meeting and they mention that their dog competes in flyball tournaments. If you go home and see a newspaper article on flyball competitions, you should clip it and send it to them. They'll appreciate your thoughtfulness, and the next time they hear about a job opening that fits your needs, chances are good that they'll think of you.
3. Make your résumé stand out, but keep it relevant.
Purple paper will grab someone's attention, but don't expect it to win you any points with employers. In fact, gimmicks like that could prove to be a distraction. "In chemistry, I think the most outstanding thing you can do is make sure that you have the necessary and compelling information right up on top," says ACS career consultant Joel Shulman, who retired from Procter & Gamble in 2001 and is now an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati. "You want to differentiate yourself by your accomplishments and abilities rather than by doing something that you think is imaginative."
4. Remember to spell-check.
The résumé is often a recruiter's first impression of you, so make sure it doesn't contain any spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. Shulman recalls getting a résumé from someone who said they wanted a job with "Protecter and Gamble." "That's going to immediately doom your application," Shulman says. Even though spell-checking can be done with a simple click of the mouse, job seekers should go the extra step of having someone else look at their résumé to check for mistakes and make sure that the information makes sense. Career consultants offer free, one-on-one résumé reviews at every ACS national meeting and most regional meetings, so take advantage of this service.
5. Don't distort the facts.
It's okay to promote yourself on your résumé, but be honest. Shulman says he's seen résumés where job seekers list themselves first on their publications when in fact they're the third author out of five. That kind of exaggeration usually eliminates them from consideration, he says.
6. Introverted? Use it to your advantage.
Although extroverts are natural communicators, introverts have a strength they may not realize. Introverts are excellent listeners, and they are very perceptive when it comes to body language, says ACS career consultant Dan Eustace, who retired from MultiLayer Coating Technologies (formed from a Polaroid business) in 2007. "In fact, introverts have a great advantage over extroverts in that they are doing an audience analysis all the time," he says. "The introvert is processing other signals all at the same time while the extrovert is thinking, 'This is what I want to say.'" He says that introverts can learn to be great performers and that this skill can win over hiring managers during an interview.
7. Use technology the right way.
Social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn can help you stay connected. But keep in mind that even though these networks can play a role in your job search, they shouldn't replace traditional job search methods.
Balbes says that after returning from the ACS national meeting in New Orleans, she received requests from two people to join her LinkedIn network. She recognized one person as someone who asked insightful questions after her talk, but she didn't recognize the other individual. It turns out that the unfamiliar name belonged to a person in the audience who never made an effort to meet her.
In the end, Balbes accepted the invitation only from the familiar name. "Don't forget that there are people behind the technologies, and it's the personal connections with people that are going to help your career in the long run," she says.
It's relatively common these days for people to have a personal website. By referencing it on your résumé, you can direct employers to additional information about you that might reinforce your case. They can include publications, research summaries, and information about other relevant activities that won't fit on your résumé.
Finally, blogs are all the rage, and writing your own can increase your visibility in the field. "A blog can help promote you as an expert on whatever topic you choose to write about," Balbes says. It also displays your writing skills and your willingness to help others in the field.
If you have a particularly good blog, reference it in your cover letter and résumé and bring it up during the interview. If you don't feel comfortable writing your own blog, you can post comments on other blogs. That shows that you can keep up in the field. One note of caution: Anything posted on the Internet is public, so be careful what you post and keep it professional.
8. Expect the unexpected.
If you're lucky, an interview will go without a hitch. But occasionally, something unexpected happens. For example, you're doing a telephone interview on your cell phone and the call gets dropped. What should you do? The best advice is to be prepared, Eustace says. Although he discourages doing interviews by cell phone, he says that if you must use a cell phone, get the interviewer's phone number so you can call back if you get disconnected. Something else that often catches job seekers off-guard is when the interviewer asks, "Do you have any questions for me?" Eustace says you should have a list of questions prepared ahead of time, and don't be reluctant to ask them. Interviewers expect candidates to ask questions.
9. Send a thank-you note.
A simple thank-you note can increase your chances of getting hired, Eustace says. These days, an e-mail thank you can be just as effective as a handwritten card, but make sure you have a clear subject line so that the e-mail doesn't get lost in an interviewer's mailbox or spam folder.
10. Be patient and persistent.
Job hunting is not easy, and success doesn't come overnight. But the previously mentioned skills can be applied over and over throughout your career. And someday you might find yourself offering these tips to a new job seeker.
Many ACS local sections, such as the Northeastern Section and the Southern California Section, offer employment assistance. Check their websites for more information.
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Basalla, Susan, and Maggie Debelius. "So What Are You Going to Do with That?': Finding Careers Outside of Academia." University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Fetzer, John. "Career Management for Chemists." Springer Verlag, 2004.
Fiske, Peter. "Put Your Science to Work: The Take-Charge Career Guide for Scientists." American Geophysical Union, 2000.
Freedman, Toby. "Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development." Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2007.
Kessler, Robin. "Competency-Based Interviews." Career Press, 2006.
King, Larry, and Bill Gilbert. "How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere: The Secrets of Good Communication." Gramercy, 2004.
Rowh, Mark. "Great Jobs for Chemistry Majors (2nd ed.)" McGraw Hill, 2005.
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