This is the second Comment in a series started by American Chemical Society President Nancy B. Jackson last week, promoting the idea that each of us can help unemployed and underemployed ACS members find jobs and advance their careers (C&EN, Aug. 8, page 52). As chair of the ACS Council Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs and one of the more than 163,000 members of the society, I have always tried to “pay it forward”—as Nancy urged—and help my fellow members as others have helped me.
For almost 20 years, I have volunteered with ACS, helping fellow chemical professionals with their career development. Recent economic hardships and changing global trends have displaced many of my friends and colleagues from the chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotech industries. However, the group with the highest unemployment rate in the chemical enterprise is our new graduates.
The 2009 ACS Starting Salary Survey showed an unemployment rate of 11.4% across all degree levels for new chemistry graduates; that number excludes the 3.1% not looking for work. In comparison, the unemployment rate in 2009 was 3.9% for ACS members as a group and 9.3% for the general U.S. population.
Although a direct comparison of new graduates and experienced chemists is unfair, the difference in their ability to gain employment is real. One of the biggest factors is the difference in their ability to network. The average ACS member is 47 years old, has been in the workplace for more than 20 years, and has many more professional connections than a new graduate. Seasoned professionals have had more time to practice their networking skills—not that they all do.
Compounding this disparity is the fact that the importance of networking increases tremendously during tougher economic times. From the employer’s perspective, the greater availability of job seekers creates a buyer’s market. Employers don’t have to work as hard to find qualified candidates for positions, and so they often rely on word of mouth and limited Web postings to communicate availability. Networking is crucial to uncover these hidden jobs.
ACS is a ready-made global network of more than 163,000 chemical professionals who are trained to dig through data and ferret out facts. We all know someone who is unemployed, and we probably have some information or a connection that could help them in their job search. Below are a few simple ways that you can pay it forward and help your colleagues.
Most younger chemists these days know that they need to network, but they’re not sure how to do it. Contacting a fellow professional to explore career options, inquire about growing or changing companies, identify in-demand skills and knowledge, and learn about job openings is a daunting challenge for anyone, but especially for recent graduates.
If you’re a midcareer professional, you can help your younger colleagues by giving them honest feedback on their job search strategies and résumé and curriculum vitae portfolios. Show new graduates the basics of networking, and remind them that they probably have a more extensive network than they think. Encourage them to contact former graduates from their research group, other alumni, and professors and other professionals whom they have met along the way. ACS local, regional, and national meetings are great places to network, but many new graduates are hesitant to approach more-senior colleagues. Serve as an ambassador to the younger generation by simply saying hello to a group of younger chemists huddled in a corner by themselves, and introduce yourself to expand their network as well as your own.
More-senior chemical professionals often have extensive professional networks and know how to tap into them. If you do, use your connections to introduce unemployed members to key individuals, including hiring managers. Volunteer to host networking events in your local section and share tips and success stories from your own career. Younger professionals, who may not have any contacts in a particular field, would benefit tremendously from an introduction or recommendation from a more-senior colleague.
At the very least, join us in the ACS Network at www.acs.org/payingitforward. Fill out the information in your profile (employer, publications, research interests), to make yourself more findable and more valuable. Join us for an unprecedented ACS Global Networking Reception on Aug. 30 at 4 PM MDT (6 PM EDT). The main reception will be in Denver at the ACS national meeting, but many local sections, student chapters, and international chapters will be hosting satellite events, and you can attend virtually by registering for the ACS Virtual Career Fair at www.acs.org/careerfair.
No matter what your career stage, you can help yourself and others by nurturing your own professional network. Join the ACS Network, connect to others, and participate in discussions. Organize local section meetings, and encourage your colleagues to attend. Organize a technical session for your division at a regional or national meeting. Be aware of what’s going on around you. Seek out opportunities to get involved and to pass useful information and resources on to professional colleagues. Pay it forward as much as you can, and you will be prepared when you need to tap into your network yourself.
Lisa M. Balbes, Chair, Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.