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How The Internet Changed The Way Chemists Look For Work

From job boards to social media, the World Wide Web has given job hunters new tools

by Linda Wang
August 16, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 32

An illustration of a toolbox filled with social media icons.
Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN

For young chemists today, it’s hard to imagine looking for jobs without the Internet.

But it was only a couple of generations ago that chemists didn’t have the benefit of job information at their fingertips. They had to rely on either newspaper and other print ads or word of mouth to find out about available positions. And they had to prepare their résumés and job applications using—brace yourself—a typewriter. If you said “Google,” they might look at you funny.

The Internet has clearly made it easier for chemists to find job openings and for employers to search for qualified candidates.

Job Ads Aren’t What They Used To Be, By Chemjobber

When I was a postdoc and actively searching for a job, my relationship to C&EN changed dramatically. I approached every new issue with trepidation, skipping past the popular science in Newscripts (who does that?!?) and heading straight for the jobs section. I was used to seeing positions advertised in the back of C&EN. So I never really looked for jobs anywhere else—why would I? I’d found my postdoc position in those friendly pages.

But during that historic, dismal 2008 job-hunting season, the pages of full-color, double-page ads from large pharmaceutical companies seemed to give way to just a few inches of plain black text per column offering positions. So I turned to Web searching. Monster and CareerBuilder became constant companions. I discovered the local Craigslist science/biotech section, with its collection of funny—and sometimes bizarre—ads from small companies with occasionally questionable origins. And I kept obsessively close tabs on my local ACS section’s online newsletter, which offered a few ads for positions with companies nearby. It was another thoroughly obscure website,, that ultimately provided me with my first full-time job.

As in my case, these days the job hunt seems to start and end online. Everyone has their favorite job search engines, aggregators, and social networks. We perfect our CVs and burnish our LinkedIn profiles, and we might even have our own personal websites, putting our best digital foot forward, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And yet, despite all of this computer connectedness, it’s through a phone call that we still hear those magic words, “You’re hired.”

Chemjobber is an industrial chemist who blogs about the chemistry job market at

Retired Boston University chemistry professor Mort Hoffman gets nostalgic when he recalls how challenging it was in the early 1960s to learn about jobs in the U.S. At the time, he was completing a postdoc in England. He found an academic position through a colleague in the U.S. who periodically sent him information on faculty openings via airmail. “The world has changed dramatically in the past 50 or 60 years,” Hoffman says. Back then, “everything was word of mouth.”

Today, location is no longer an obstacle to job searching. “The Internet has allowed anybody living anywhere to have access to any job opportunity anywhere,” says Steven Meyers, assistant director of career and professional advancement for the American Chemical Society.

Furthermore, Meyers says, “at every step of the job search process, there’s a way to do it online,” from discovering new jobs to networking and even interviewing.

According to the 2014 ACS salary and employment survey (C&EN, June 29, page 27), nearly one-third of the B.A. and B.S. graduates surveyed reported successfully finding a job using online tools. What’s more, a 2015 survey conducted by polling company Jobvite found that, nationwide, 47% of millennials are using their mobile devices in their job search. The survey also found that younger, highly educated job hunters are most likely to use social media to look up information about the skills and experience of current employees at a company of interest.

“In the ’90s, the Internet and job search equaled job boards. And websites like got big. In the early 2000s, it was, but it was still a one-directional type of communication,” says Joshua Waldman, founder and chief executive officer of and author of the book “Job Searching with Social Media For Dummies.” “With social media, communication became multidirectional, so conversations could start to happen.”

In fact, social media has led to new ways that chemists can stand out from the crowd. For example, French chemist Pierre Morieux used social media to make his job hunt go viral. Six months before the end of his postdoc at the University of Strasbourg, Morieux began applying for industrial R&D jobs. “I applied everywhere—the U.K., the U.S., Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, China, and Singapore. I sent between 80 and 90 applications,” he says.

Morieux received four replies, two of which were rejections. The other two didn’t result in an offer either. Frustrated, he knew he had to change his approach.

To get his name out in front of a wide audience and hopefully some possible employers, Morieux decided to create a video and post it to YouTube. In the video, he demonstrated some tips on how to draw chemical structures with PerkinElmer’s ChemDraw software. He asked his friends on Facebook—as well as several influential chemistry bloggers—to share the video.

Derek Lowe, who publishes the blog In the Pipeline (see page 30), agreed to write about it. “That triggered massive sharing,” Morieux says. A reader of the blog who worked for PerkinElmer watched the video, and “within a month, I got a job offer,” Morieux says.

He is now a chemistry field application scientist for PerkinElmer’s informatics business and is based in France; his new job involves demonstrating software applications, including, of course, ChemDraw, to potential customers. “Without social media, I wouldn’t have this job; it’s that simple,” he says.

For employers, the Internet has made it easier to identify qualified job candidates who may not actively be searching for a job through tools such as LinkedIn. “It broadens our pool of candidates,” says Natasha Bowman, vice president of human resources at Synthetic Genomics, in La Jolla, Calif. “In the past, the only way to get to a passive candidate was through a headhunter or a recruiting agency.”

As much of a blessing as the Internet has been to job seekers, it can also be a source of consternation. “Candidates should be aware of their digital presence,” including their activity on social media, Meyers cautions. “Somebody will type their name into Google and see what comes up.”

And although the Internet has introduced a whole new set of tools and pitfalls to the job-hunting process, it still hasn’t replaced the need for having some good old-fashioned luck.  


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