For quite some time recruiters have referred to the background of an ideal candidate as being shaped like a capital “T”: having a broad background in chemistry with a deep area of specialization. While this description remains primarily unchanged, recruiters are asking that the top of the training “T” be broadened to include business skills as well as knowledge of the related sciences.
At a recent conference of the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST) titled, “Can We Compete”, I was visiting during a break with a panel of recruiters. I asked them what they looked for in a job candidate. Without prior coordination, they all said the same thing. “We need someone who can handle the science of their sub-discipline and serve as an expert in the area whether it be synthesis, spectroscopy, theory or glycolysis. But, we also need them to know about the related sciences. We have multidisciplinary teams, and our new hires have to be conversant with biologists, physicists and physicians. We would also like for them to understand the principles of business: customer relations, risk assessment, and return on investment (ROI).” It is unlikely that a job candidate will have all of these attributes, but any that they do have will set them apart.
So broadening of the “T” is taking place in two directions: towards multidiciplinarity and towards business. Nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than in the area of pharmaceuticals. All of the major producers of medicinal chemicals in the U.S. have announced plans for realignment. They are making a strategic shift away from traditional methods of synthesis to biotech sources. This shift has and will continue to cause unrest as personnel are redeployed. Similar to an airplane, it will be those with a broad wingspan who will best be able to weather the storm.
Companies are also increasingly global. They are dealing with people from around the world as clients and as colleagues. This type of interaction requires a multicultural mindset, and those who have studied abroad, or who speak languages other than English will have a leg up on the competition.
Recruiters are also looking for general business skills. People with business acumen will look toward the bottom line avoiding waste. They will also pay more attention to customer needs and wants as they design products and processes. In recent years we have seen the advent of chemistry programs which include courses in ROI calculations, risk assessment, green chemistry and atom economy. Having a business course under your belt, or practical knowledge through experience can only strengthen your portfolio.
So, as the lights in the break room began to blink indicating the next session was about to begin, I asked the recruiting panel, “What about chemistry? What role does it play?” The answer was quick and easy. Chemistry is essential to every process in industry. With respect to the “T” it serves as the central support. But it never hurts to broaden your base.
This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.