Avoid Career Potholes


Career potholes are behaviors or events that slow your progress towards your career goals. Just like potholes in the road, career potholes can upset your mental equilibrium and focus. They can have a long-lasting effect on your career progress. Therefore, it is a good idea to steer a career course that helps you avoid career potholes. What are some common career potholes and how can you avoid or deal effectively with them?

Job loss

The biggest career pothole is job loss. Determining your skill deficiencies and repairing them can help avoid job loss. Pay careful attention during performance reviews and ask your boss how you can improve your performance. Ask your mentors the same question.  Get the advice of both your boss and mentors on strategies to overcome your deficiencies.

However, as recent and widespread events in the pharmaceutical industry illustrate, outstanding job skills cannot save you from job loss if your employer makes major changes in its R&D and business strategies. Savvy chemical professionals closely observe events and trends in their company, industry and chemical specialty. Attending professional conferences and networking with your peers working at other firms can also help you identify troubling trends. Your efforts can indicate whether developing trends are occurring that have a substantial possibility to cause you to lose your job despite excellent performance.

Should this be the case, you should at the least be prepared for job loss by updating your résumé, developing a job-hunting plan, and building up your personal savings. You may wish to transfer to a department experiencing healthier business conditions. If your entire industry is experiencing major business problems, your best course of action may be to change industries as well as companies.

Recharge your mental batteries

Establishing a better balance between your personal life and your career can have the effect of reenergizing your career. So can taking a wonderful vacation. For example, in 2005 I took a two-week vacation and traveled through Alaska engaging in many recreational activities. It was the first real vacation I took in more than a decade. I returned home with a new sense of energy and purpose.

Reconnect with the best of who you are

Since the early 1990s I have been a volunteer ACS career consultant helping new chemistry graduates and experienced chemical professionals find jobs. Giving back to the profession in this way has been tremendously fulfilling. My college roommate, still a good friend, has long been involved in various activities to encourage grammar school students to consider engineering careers. There was an article about him in the March 2011 issue of Amazing Kids Magazine. Another ACS Career Blogs author, Lisa Balbes, is currently chairperson of the ACS Committee on Economic Affairs and a volunteer ACS career consultant. In fact, all of the more than 70 ACS volunteer career consultants are reconnecting with the best of who they are through their volunteer efforts to help ACS members find jobs. I find just being around them and seeing how much they care about ACS members and the chemical profession to be energizing. Working with them at ACS national meeting career fairs boosts my morale.

Avoid self-sabotaging career behaviors

It often takes self-analysis to determine what your toxic career behaviors are. For example, I used to be so completely focused on my work that I seldom considered my coworkers. I would rush from my office to my lab and back again often ignoring my coworkers in the hallways. I would routinely eat lunch at my desk while working. As a result my coworkers, while respecting my abilities, didn’t like me much. My boss gave me a wakeup call when he commented that whenever he saw me I had a scowl on my face.

Many television shows include workplace behaviors that, while entertaining would be very annoying in real life. A great example is the show NCIS. The lab rat, Ph.D. chemist Abby Sciuto, is brilliant but exhibits behavior that in real life would drive most managers crazy. Don’t believe everything you see on TV!

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1400 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.

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