Searching for a Job: Bumpy Ride

February 27, 2009

It’s O’dark:30 and I am heading out to a flight to San Francisco. This evening and the rest of the weekend I’ll be conducting training for volunteer career consultants and presenters on the West Coast. In this time of economic woes, ACS is stepping up efforts to serve members through career management and development programs, and ACS volunteers are heeding the call to service by volunteering to help.

As I climb into the shuttle van, I choose my seat carefully. My fellow passengers are asleep, some snoring, others perched with poise and one woman mouth agape. The only light in the cab is from the drivers GPS which is stuck on an announcement that “You have arrived”. I know that can’t be true though. This trip is just beginning.  President Obama announced last night that we are in for a bumpy ride as the nations of the world cue up their solutions for economic recovery. He cautioned that a full recovery will take several years. My trip today will not take that long. After a six-hour flight to San Diego, I’ll switch planes for a quick trip up the coast of California.

On the other end of the flight, eighteen ACS volunteers are waiting at a hotel in downtown San Francisco to receive the training that they need to present our workshops on finding a job, writing a resume and interviewing. These workshops are essential to many of our members who now find themselves out of a job after being at the same employers for the last decade or so because the world as we all knew it, have changed. When the baby boomer generation first gained employment, the job search process was paper-based, and most resumes were formatted and typed on clunky machines that sputtered letters onto a page with mechanical hammers. The most recent ACS Starting Salary Survey indicates that the top way for people to find jobs in industry is by using electronic databases like the ACS Careers Jobs Database. Number two is through networking, but even that has changed. For awhile the key phrase in hiring was, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Sure, networking still involves meeting people and finding commonalities, but the methodology has been transformed by changes in technology and culture and it is very definitely “what you know” about technology and culture that will find you gainful employment. Electronic networking tools like the ACS Network and LinkedIn are becoming more prevalent, and people need to know how to use these tools to be competitive. The third most common way to find a job in US industry is through employment services. ACS has recently started a partnership with Kelly Services as a way to bridge that gap. Kelly is now placing job listings from their clients in the ACS Jobs Database as a service to ACS members. We teach all of these techniques and more to our volunteers, so that they can in turn teach them to you. ACS members have an advantage over many others who are seeking a job. They can obtain free career consulting services through the ACS Careers Jobs Database after registering and verifying their membership in the Society.

For members concerned about the cost of membership, it should be noted that ACS offers a dues waiver for up to two years for ACS members in good standing who have been a member of ACS for at least one year. For more information on this waiver and the services available to unemployed ACS members, contact ACS Member Services or see the online summary of services.

The driver has pulled up to the terminal and it is time to wake my compadres. I am actually surprised that they were able to sleep so well considering the volume of our driver’s radio. It is tuned to a disco station that specializes in tunes that are bumpin’, bumpin’ to keep your speakers thumpin’, thumpin’. One man’s disco is sometimes another’s lullaby.

I quickly claim my bags and make my way through the gate and on to the plane. Security took longer than I thought. It seems that the analysis of my CAT scan required the evaluation of a specialist from Mumbai. On the plane I find a seat and stow my luggage. It’s been a bumpy ride so far, but I expect smoother travel once our wheels leave the ground.

As you prepare to re-enter the job market, be aware that your professional membership Society, ACS offers many tools to aide in your search and that people are standing by to help.

David Harwell is the Assistant Director for Career Development and Diversity Programs at the American Chemical Society.

Say Yes! to Networking

February 24, 2009

I recently finished reading “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive” by Goldstein, Cialdini and Martin. I found it to be a quick, interesting read, and was impressed that each of the techniques mentioned was supported by actual research data. Many of their suggestions were small changes that end up having a big effect on how your words and actions are interpreted. This small volume will help you frame your arguments in the best possible way, to increase your chances of successful persuasion.

As I was reading it, several of the tips jumped out at me as possible explanations for why networking is such an effective way to find a job (or to find anything, really).

For example, one chapter points out that “there is little social obligation to cooperate with someone who offers you something only on the condition that you initiate the cooperative effort.” If one party says they’ll do A if you do B, that is a simple business transaction, with no lasting effect on the relationship between the parties. However, if you do something for someone else first, with no reciprocation required or expected, they are more likely to do something for you in the future. The example in the book showed that hotel towel reuse programs were 45% more successful when the hotel first give a donation to a non-profit environmental organization, then ask guests to re-use towels, rather than when they told guests the hotel would make a donation if the guests reused towels. This not only increases the level of compliance, but also builds a longer lasting relationship based on trust and mutual appreciation, rather than the weaker incentive system. I’ve always said that true networking is being out there looking for ways to help others without expecting anything in return. Then when you do need something, people will be more willing to help you out because you have pre-paid the favor. And if you’re really lucky, some of those people will be actively looking for ways to help you – by passing along information they think will be of interest to you.

Another interesting fact was that over time, the value of a favor changes. It becomes worth less in the eyes of the favor receiver, and more in the eyes of the favor doer. This means you must continue to do favors for others, to keep your balance fresh, and make sure you’ll have something “in the bank” whenever you need it.

The book also quotes research that shows if someone does you a small favor, they are more likely to later agree to do you a bigger, similar favor. So in addition to doing favors for others, you must seek out help, and allow people to do small favors for you. Not only does it help build the relationship, but by seeking out different perspectives on a problem you gain insights that you probably would not have come up with on your own, and in general tend to arrive at better solutions than if you had worked alone.

There you have it. Scientific proof that if you regularly help others without expecting anything in return, and let them help you, you will build relationships that will be there to support you when you need it. Sounds like networking to me!

This article was written by freelance technical writer Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants, and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).


ACS Industry Forum:

Join us for the next ACS Careers Industry Forum:

“It’s 2009 – Do You Know Where Your Networks Are?”

Date and Time: Thursday, March 12th, 2009, 2-3 p.m. EDT

Catherine T. “Katie” Hunt, Ph.D., is currently a Corporate Sustainability Director and Leader, Technology Partnerships at Rohm and Haas Corporate and Past President (2007) American Chemical Society. She began her career as a senior scientist in analytical research at Rohm and Haas after completing an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship at Yale University. For nearly 25 years Katie has held positions of increasing responsibility, from research scientist to process chemist to plant laboratory manager to Director of Worldwide Analytical and Computational Competency Network and Technology Development. . Don’t miss out, Register in advance. For additional information about upcoming speakers, click on the ACS Careers Industry Forum tab located at the top of the ACS Industry Forum Careers Blog.
Please join us to discuss economic and employment trends with top industry executives in the chemical sciences. This is a free service via conference call.

Small Chemical Businesses

February 17, 2009

Did you ever wish you had your own business? Bored? Hate your boss? Fear retirement? Maybe you have a really good idea for a product – would you rather sell it to a big company or develop it yourself?

A surprising number of chemists own their own small chemical businesses. As defined by the Small Business Administration, a small business is one with fewer than 500 employees. These small businesses create about 75% of the new jobs added to the economy and employ about 50% of the private work force. The small chemical businesses include custom synthesis, product distribution, testing laboratories, product formulating, scientific translation, and patent attorneys.

With only three employees, V-Labs, Inc. (Covington, LA) certainly meets the definition of a small business. The carbohydrate and flavor consulting laboratory is owned by Sharon V. Vercellotti (president). Sharon explains, “We started in carbohydrates before they were fashionable. Now with the growth of biotechnology, they are astoundingly fashionable!” The second employee is John R. Vercellotti, PhD (vice president and Sharon’s husband), and the third is a combination lab technician and office assistant. They supplement the staff with student workers, both college and high school students.

Jane Thomas’s Wyoming Analytical Laboratories, Inc. (Laramie, WY) has 20 employees working in four labs in Wyoming and Colorado. She was doing coal anaylses at a University of Wyoming lab when a customer suggested that she start and manage a commercial laboratory. Thomas resisted at first, but over a 2-year period, saw that there was much demand for a coal analysis lab. Her business has evolved since 1977 when it was founded: “It started as a coal lab. We did all types of coal testing. Some of our customers needed water analysis, so we expanded into water testing and then into environmental sampling.”

Striking out on your own takes courage and a bit of luck. Ronald Versic says, I am the type of person who enjoys making money. I always sold things when I was in school. At a certain point, I became dissatisfied working for a large business. It was a life-altering experience when I became disenchanted with my employer.” Versic went on to found the Ronald T. Dodge Co. (Dayton, OH) which does microencapsulation – preparing coated particles for industrial, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and other applications. “We do all types of encapsulation, we are oriented toward manufacturing, and we follow high ethical standards.”

The biggest obstacle to starting your own business is money. Chemical entrepreneurs finance their businesses with various combinations of bank loans, government grants, personal contributions, and thrifty lifestyles. Versic said that Ronald T. Dodge Co. was also self-financed. “I put $500 in the bank as capitalization. Then we borrowed against the value of our house. There were no personal loans or venture capital. Now we have money in the bank.” Versic did not take a salary at first and depended on his wife’s job for income and benefits. He recommends deferred gratification so that you can plow money back into the business and finance the growth internally.

The entrepreneurs recommend the ACS Division of Small Chemical Businesses (DSCHB) as a way to learn from those who know – the other small chemical business people. DSCHB’s programming at the National Meetings provides symposia on topics of interest to small businesses and opportunities to network. The Division also subsidizes the cost of a booth at the National Meeting Exhibition.

Small chemical business people find their businesses to be stressful but full of variety and fun. “You have to deal with all the problems yourself,” says Jane Thomas. “Little businesses are inherently inefficient,” says Ron Versic. “You have to do things yourself.” He cites safety training of employees as one of the things he does, which another person would do in a large business.

The uncertainty of that next contract is worrying for most small business people. “You have to be confident that someone will call on Monday morning,“ says Sharon Vercelotti. “You don’t know what the client’s request will be. You have to be open to new challenges.”

Nonetheless, when asked if they enjoy having their own businesses, most small chemical business people say “I love it!”

Anne Kuhlmann Taylor, PhD (ACS ’67), is a consultant and technical writer based in Baton Rouge, LA. Previously, she was an analytical chemist in the pharmaceutical industry. Working with CTD Quality Consulting, she writes, edits, and critiques documents for the pharmaceutical industries. She is Councilor from the Baton Rouge Section of ACS and serves on the Committee on Community Activities.

Technology Changes Everything – Including Interviewing

February 8, 2009

As a candidate, you need take advantage of every possible way to sharpen your interview skills, and make sure you are presenting yourself in the best possible way. Many career advisors recommend practicing answers to standard questions out loud, in front of a mirror or with friends. While this is a good start, how much better would it be if you could replay your answers for yourself?

Fortunately, technology has come up with a way for you to do that. Video cameras are so inexpensive now, it’s very easy to get one and record your answersto standard questions. You can then review the recording, and practice until you like what you see.

Many college career centers are using this technology. Their students are able to video themselves interviewing from their dorm rooms, using the webcams that are now standard on many laptop computers. They can practice at any time, and use a web interface to instantly replay, evaluate, and practice their answers. At some schools, students can email the video to their career counselor, who can provide advice on body language, content, and the number of “um”s. Not only wording, but body movement, facial expressions, and other non-verbal messages can be reviewed and critiqued.

Being able to practice your communication skills, and see how you appear to others, can give you a big advantage. All this practice not only makes perfect, but it also builds confidence. A significant part of the interview process is watching how the candidate deals with stress. By practicing, you build your confidence and comfort level, so you appear much more relaxed when you get to the actual interview.

Companies are starting to embrace video interviewing as well. Being able to interview candidates at a distance is a tremendous cost-cutting device, allowing companies to eliminate non-viable candidates without airfare and hotel bills. Only the best candidates are brought on-site for final interviews and to sell them on the company.

In one scenario, a third party interviewing company sends the candidate a webcam and detailed instructions on how to set it up, along with contact information in case of technical problems. When the candidate is ready to begin, the questions appear. The candidate has a set amount of time to read/watch the question, then answer on camera. The candidate can rehearse as many times until comfortable with the final submission. Employers are looking not only for technical skills along with the highly valued soft skills. If you display promise in both areas then you could get the prized face-to-face interview. This could give you the advantage you need.

When recording an interview, there are several things to keep in mind. Make sure you have a quiet location with no background noise, and ideally a blank or visually boring wall behind you with no inappropriate items in view. Dress professionally, just as you would for an in-person interview. You never know what will show up on camera, and it will make you feel more professional.

As more and more organizations start to use this technology, your familiarity with it can only help you. And who knows, you may become a YouTube star! ACS is paying attention to this growing trend, so stay tuned for announcements of new developments in this area.

This article was written by freelance technical writer Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants, and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).

New Member Benefit: ACS Careers Joins Forces with InterviewStream

ACS Careers and InterviewStream are joining forces to help you build strong critical interviewing skills. By using the InterviewStream system, this is your opportunity to convince the employers that you are the right person for the job. InterviewStream’s development module will provide you with the tools to learn about the interview process, conduct practice interviews, and receive feedback from ACS Counselors. Average users report a reduction in interviewing anxiety by 35%.

Click here to View Demonstration.

You can use this tool and get feedback from your friends, business associates and ACS Career Counselors (a free service available for ACS Members).

Jobs Going Green

February 3, 2009

For chemists searching for areas of job growth, look no further than green chemistry—the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances.


Many U.S. companies are going green.  For example, General Electric in 2007 invested $1 billion on eco-friendly R&D, and the company plans to spend another $1.5 billion by 2010, according to an October 2008 report in New Scientist.


Smaller companies are active as well.  At a recent Bioneers Conference, researchers from Novomer, a next-generation eco-plastics company based in Boston, reported on its family of high-performance, biodegradable plastics and other chemicals that are made from renewable substances and designed for a variety of industrial uses.

Federal and state governments are also promoting efforts to expand green chemistry.  For example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has expressed her desire to incorporate green jobs into any economic stimulus plan passed by Congress.  “Central to the job creation issue is the strong piece for rebuilding the infrastructure of America, in a way that reduces our dependence on foreign oil and that creates good green jobs in America,” she said in news reports.

Indeed, green chemists are finding jobs with pharmaceutical companies, environmental groups, waste management firms, and the biofuel industry.  Among the most active areas for workers looking to enter green chemistry are alternative energy, the development of replacements for petroleum-based products, and environment remediation to remove contaminants from soil and water.

One particularly hot field is the development of better fuel cells to power vehicles—especially research into catalysts that can make fuel cell technology feasible.  “Material science is a critical part of the hydrogen economy. That’s a rich area for chemists,” Robert Farrauto, a research fellow at BASF Catalysis Research, told New Scientist in October.

For years, the ACS has promoted this branch of chemistry, especially through its Green Chemistry Institute.  Among its upcoming activities, the institute will hold its 13th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference on June 23-25, 2009, in College Park, Md.  See the ACS website for more information about the institute and its activities (

When it comes to job searching, though, help may be as close as your local news station, according to a recent Web report on Green Career Central (  Reading and watching news reports with a careful eye may give you a better picture of what’s affecting the green economy in your local area—and, in turn, what areas may hold growing job prospects.  

Another Green Career Central report offers a more broad-based picture of how to prepare for and find green jobs in chemistry and elsewhere (  Among the recommended steps are understanding the emerging landscape of the Green Economy, determining your green focus and the steps you can take to build on that focus, and immersing yourself in your targeted industry or profession.


— Tom Burroughs is a freelance science writer based in Chapel Hill, N.C.


Watch for the ACS Industry Forum Teleconference for April with featured Guest Speaker:  Dr. Berkeley “Buzz” W. Cue, Jr., Founder and President of BWC Pharma Consulting, LLC. Dr. Buzz Cue is the former Vice President of Pharmaceutical Sciences with Pfizer Global Research and Development in Groton, Connecticut, where he spent 29 years before retiring in April of 2004. While at Pfizer he created and led Pfizer’s Green Chemistry initiative.  Dr. Buzz Cue will share is background and experience in green chemistry.