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Just Tell Me What You Want

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
November 4, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 44

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Bulls eye with arrows.
Credit: Shutterstock

Recently, a colleague asked if I would help him identify some good candidates for a new opening at his company—he said he needed an “analytical chemist.” Another friend just e-mailed me and said his university was looking for a “laboratory prep technician,” and did I know anyone who might be suitable? In neither case did I have enough information to even begin to point them in the right direction—I had to go back to each of them and ask a number of questions until I had enough details about the positions to start recommending people who might be suitable. I wanted to help them; I just didn’t have the information I needed.

Many job seekers do the same thing. They ask for assistance but don’t make it easy for people to help them. They don’t have a specific, concrete description of the type of job they are searching for, so they can’t explain to others what they want.

Spending a little time to craft a good description of what you’re looking for will make it much easier for others to help you find it. Below are a few things you should keep in mind when developing the description of your ideal job.

BE BRIEF, BUT NOT TOO BRIEF. For job seekers, two to three sentences should be enough to convey the essence of what you’re looking for, without being overly specific. You want to be detailed enough to convey what you want, but broad enough to cover several different options. Indicate the education and experience level you are aiming for, as well as any specific knowledge areas you want to work with, such as types of compounds, instrumentation, or techniques.

TO CHANGE OR NOT TO CHANGE. Do you want to stay in the same industry, but change roles? Or continue doing the same kinds of tasks, but change industries? If you’re thinking about a new job, you obviously want some things to change, but there are probably some things you’d like to stay the same. Make sure to identify the most important items in each category.

JOB TITLES ARE MEANINGLESS. The same job title can mean vastly different things at different companies. Focus your description on what you want to do, not what you think that position should be called. Although a descriptive title such as “analytical chemist” can be helpful, a rank title such as “senior scientist” conveys little useful information.

INCLUDE RELEVANT FACTORS. If the job must be within two hours of Boston or you want to manage people or you want less than 20% travel, include that information in the description. It may be obvious to you, but different things are important to different people—and even to the same person at different points in his or her career.

By developing a succinct description of exactly what you’re looking for, you will be able to explain it to others, making it easier for them to help you. They will recognize the job when they come across it. Even better, forcing yourself to write down a succinct description will help you clarify your goals in your own mind.

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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