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Look beneath the surface when job searching

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
February 5, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 6

A magnifying glass reveals the word "truth" hidden behind the word "image."
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock
Uncovering the truth during a job hunt can save you from problems later on.

While Susan and her family vacationed in Europe, she posted photos of their activities on social media—eating at nice restaurants, visiting museums, and lounging in luxurious hotel rooms. Everyone appeared to be having a wonderful time.

She didn’t reveal to her friends what really happened until after she returned home. The truth is that Susan had been ill with the flu just before the trip, so she did not have time to pack. She had only two shirts for the entire 10-day trip. Because neither she not her husband were able to supervise the children while they packed, the kids were no better off. Her husband caught the flu after she did and had to skip the trip entirely. One of her children came down with the flu on the flight and got sick all over one of Susan’s two shirts.

If Susan had not chosen to reveal it, her friends following along on social media would never have known the truth behind those happy pictures.

The same thing can happen in your professional life. Sometimes the image projected is not the way things really are. As an employee, and even more importantly, as a job seeker, it’s up to you to seek out the truth.

Suppose you are interviewing for a position and the hiring manager tells you that employee professional growth is important to the firm. The hiring manager says the company will nurture your career and help you advance in the areas that interest you.

But after you start researching the company, you learn that it doesn’t reimburse for continuing education and only a few employees are allowed to attend conferences.

Through your network, you learn that several employees left recently because promotions were few and far between. Upper management preferred to bring people in from outside rather than promote from within.

The company’s actions do not match up with their goals. If you care about your professional advancement, you might want to think carefully before joining the organization. If you decide to accept the position, you will at least be aware that you need to look after your own professional development.

How do you dig below the surface and find out what it really going on? Ask yourself these questions:

Does this position sound too good to be true? There is almost nothing that is all good or all bad. If your prospective employer won’t tell you anything bad, you have to wonder what that person is trying to hide.

Does the job description lack specifics? If everything you are being told is vague and general, you have to wonder if it’s because the employer doesn’t know the details or because the details have never actually been worked out.

Is the story consistent? If everyone is telling you the same thing, you can be confident the information is accurate. But if different people are saying different things, you may want to investigate.

You’re a scientist; find the data! It’s important to look beyond the surface and learn the truth, especially when making important decisions about your professional future.

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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