The Value of Virtual Career Fairs

May 26, 2009

It seems like everything we do in the real world can also be done electronically. We can send a letter, or we can email, We can call each other, or we can Skype. We can print photos to paste into albums, or we can post them on Facebook.

Like everything else, job searching has gone to bits and bytes. Now you can print resumes on nice paper and hand them to recruiters, or you fill out a form on the company’s web site and enter yourself into their database. The latest addition to the electronic world is virtual job fairs – expositions held entirely on the internet. Virtual career fairs eliminate the costs and hassles of travel, and allow participation on your own schedule.

At a typical job fair, candidates will peruse a list of openings, submit resumes for consideration, and request interviews with companies of interest. Employers will post a list of open positions, create agents to search a database of submitted resumes, and schedule interviews with promising candidates.

Virtual interviews can be handled a number of different ways. They can be conducted synchronously, with both parties using webcams to talk to each other in real time. Alternatively, they can be conducted asynchronously, where the company submits a list of questions, to which the candidate records answers, and the company then views them at a later time. Each method has its own advantages – synchronous interviews are more like live interviews, and tend to give a better picture of the individual’s personality. Asynchronous interviews can be more convenient, since everyone can do them on their own time.

After hosting 122 career fairs since 1948, the American Chemical Society (ACS) is hosting their first virtual career fair June 8-12, from 9 am to 5 pm Eastern time. Free to candidates, this event is a great way to find out what’s out there, practice your interview skills, and maybe even learn something at one of the workshops. Even if you’re not currently looking for a new position, career fairs can give you some insight into who is hiring.

A wide variety of companies will participate, so you can use this as an opportunity to stretch your horizons, and learn about new fields. Perhaps this can be a pointer to a new field you hadn’t considered before.

Just like with a traditional career fair, doing your homework is critical. Make sure you know which company’s values and scientific focus match your own, and determine how your skills and knowledge can add to their assets.

While you can do research and set up appointments in your pajamas and bunny slippers, you may not want to appear that way for interviews. Even if it’s only a telephone interview, dressing professionally and taking the call in a quiet office will go a long way towards making you feel professional, which will result in you making a professional impression on the company representative.

Even if you do not see immediate job offerings from a career fair, it can still be a good long-term investment and valuable learning experience. Continue to follow-up with companies of interest on a regular (but not too frequent) basis, so you will be uppermost in their mind when the right opening does come along. Practice answers to interview questions that surprised you. Refine your elevator speech, and work on ways to tailor it to various companies.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).

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Chemists in Law Careers

May 18, 2009

As chemistry students most of us imagine a future working in a laboratory and/or teaching. However, many chemists end up in quite different careers, including the legal professions. Some examples of chemists who made the transition from laboratory to law follow. All retain their love of science although they are not in traditional science careers.

While there are no figures on how many chemists have careers in the legal world, about 1150 are members of the ACS Division of Chemistry and The Law (CHAL). Of these, the most common specialty is patent law or intellectual property (IP).

Sandra Thompson is one of two patent attorneys at a general practice law firm, and her work involves a lot of writing. “I am kind of a chemist that happens to be an attorney. The attorney part of my job comes in when I advocate for my clients before the Patent Office.” Does she argue cases before a court? No. “That is one of the nice things about my job. I never have to go to court – some patent attorneys do – I’m on the transactional side, not the litigational side.” The patents she handles include “semiconductors, chemical intermediates, fibers – a little of everything – mostly on the chemical side of the business.”

IP is not the only field for chemists in the law, but it often makes up part of their work. If you or your company were sued for damage resulting from a chemical spill – a toxic tort case – you might hire Jim Carver to defend you. This PhD chemist with a law degree is part of a general law firm, but because of his chemistry background, he often handles the firm’s toxic tort cases. “When science and chemistry are a fundamental part of the case, I can translate the science into legalese. I work with experts, not just chemistry experts. I can talk to physicists, doctors, and others. I try not to tell the experts that I am a chemist. That way I can catch them off-guard.”

While Carver works primarily on toxic torts, he is also involved in the environmental regulatory field. His environmental work includes both regulatory work, such as permitting, and lawsuits.

Gianna Arnold is a business attorney whose practice includes IP work. “Primarily, I work with companies whose business is technology focused.” She often works with start-up companies who need legal help; for example: “When they are ready for acquisition, I make sure that their assets are protected properly, the agreements are in place, everything is lined up so their value is as high as it can be.“ “I may also work for another entity that is interesting in acquiring a company. Then we do due diligence.”

As the Central Science, chemistry makes an excellent background for a lawyer. Some chemists study law after completing a PhD. Carver switched careers when his former employer was downsizing. Thompson made her decision while she was studying for a PhD at North Carolina State. However, a PhD is certainly not required for a chemist who seeks a law career. Arnold was a bench chemist while her husband was a graduate student. “When he finished his PhD, it was my turn. I started my JD then and later did an MS in Intellectual Property.” Arnold explains that unlike chemists, lawyers study for master’s degrees after they complete their doctorate of law (JD). In addition to the master’s in IP, Arnold later obtained an MS in biotechnology. “Science keeps marching on, so I went back to learn biotech which has been exploding.”

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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.


Don’t Exaggerate Your Resume

May 11, 2009

You know it; everyone knows it. First or new jobs can be harder to find these days than an ice cube inside a glacier. So this might tempt you to pump up your resume just a tad—or even outright lie— in hopes of increasing our appeal to employers.

Don’t Do It!

You will get caught, if not the first time, then eventually. And the penalty could be worse than one lost job

“Companies have found more and more that individuals will fabricate or stretch their experience,” says Mike Fosnot, Managing Partner of Management Recruiters of McMurray, Inc., in McMurray, Pa., which serves the chemical industry. “They spend a lot more time ferreting out what is fact and what is fiction. Companies believe that if a person will lie on a resume, they will have other things to worry about from that individual.”

And the further up the career ladder you climb, the more employers dig. So if you lie and escape detection, almost certainly as you seek greater pay and responsibility, someone will unearth your misstatement(s). In 2006, the chief executive office of RadioShack resigned after the discovery that he claimed two degrees on his resume he never received.

“Skilled interviewers are a lot more sophisticated today in how they interview people, using behavioral-base interviewing techniques that really force a candidate to give details that are not easily fudged,” says Mr. Fosnot.

One interviewer unmasked an applicant’s claim of fluency in Spanish by speaking the language to him. The man couldn’t respond.

Many resume exaggerations come in areas easy for companies to check: education, technical skills, and certifications; past employment; salary; and work experience, responsibilities, and accomplishments. Yet from first job application to last, these areas are likely to be examined.

Exaggerations in education may be a degree the applicant doesn’t have—perhaps he’s three credit-hours short of a B.S., or she’s completed her course work but is finishing her Ph.D. dissertation.

Some people will claim jobs they never held, but more often job seekers try to hide gaps in their employment. They may have been fired, or job-hopped, or even done prison time. Women or men may have taken off a few years to raise children.

Salary is another area commonly misstated. Some people simply overstate their base pay, others combine salary and bonuses. Some recruiters now ask for a recent pay stub or your tax return.

Job padding includes claiming experience never acquired, or having supervised others, or upping the number of the team members. Some sales people claim greater success than they ever achieved.

“Standard operating procedure for us is that candidates will always have their degrees verified by us, their references checked, and their employment dates and salary, where possible, verified,” Mr. Fosnot says.

Beyond these areas of potential deception, employers may delve very deeply into an applicant’s background. They may look for the candidate name in criminal and civil-court records, including bankruptcy proceedings; require drug testing; search credit reports and department of motor vehicle records; and examine worker compensation claims.

Some even use resume-sifting software to search for problems, despite questions about the programs’ reliability. [And increasingly, employers check social networking sites, such as Facebook and YouTube. One Pennsylvania college student never joined the nation’s teaching ranks because of a picture of her posted on the Web. It’s best not to list your site on your resume, unless absolutely relevant to the job, and to sanitize you postings before filing your application.]

Still thinking about a tiny fudge on your resume?

“In my mind, there is no allowable exaggeration,” says Mr. Fosnot. “If candidates will just be upfront about a problem, often the employer can work around it. But once candidates misrepresent themselves, it’s the point of no return.”

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Freelance writer Patrick Young is a former editor of Science News and a winner of the American Chemical Society’s Grady-Stack Award, which recognizes outstanding reporting that promotes the public’s understanding of chemistry and chemical engineering.


Employment Websites for Retired Chemical Professionals

May 4, 2009

“The organization that first succeeds in attracting and holding knowledge workers past traditional retirement age, and makes them fully productive will have a tremendous competitive advantage,” wrote famed business consultant Peter F. Drucker in his book (“Management Challenges for the 21st Century,” Harper Business, p. 48 (1999)). Employers are increasingly following this advice and seeking to tap the skills of retired professionals. At the same time, demographics, better health and personal financial concerns are increasing the ranks of highly skilled retired professionals eager to return to the workforce. How do companies find retired professionals such as chemists and technicians with the specialized skills they need? How can these retirees find positions that tap their skills?

More than 200 Internet websites specializing in retired professionals have sprung up to serve individual’s and employers’ needs. Different websites target different groups of retirees. For example, Alumni In Touch (spelled all one word) and SelectMinds target primarily former employees and retirees of large firms. Scientists and engineers are the primary focus of YourEncoreTM. RetiredBrains.com takes a broader focus listing retirees in 27 job categories including scientists and engineers.

Currently more than 30 large companies are YourEncoreTM clients. Retirees describe their experience and qualifications in a keyword-searchable database. Also, they check off categories of skills called “service offerings,” which they can provide to employers. While non-member companies are able to search the YourEncore retiree database, they pay higher fees than member companies.

Retirees work as YourEncore employees – usually either in the client company’s facility or in a home office. Retired professionals who have relocated sometimes work in home offices with a supervisor located hundreds or thousands of miles away and may travel occasionally for meetings.

Founder Art Koff calls RetiredBrains.com “a job board for seniors.” Retirees create free accounts classifying themselves by profession. He says that more than 30,000 retirees are registered. Employers pay to post job openings using the same classifications and to search the retiree database to identify employment candidates. The employer also is informed when a newly posted résumé contains the appropriate keywords matching the job posting.

Companies have begun encouraging their employees and retirees to register on their own retiree websites and provide contact information plus summaries of their work experience, accomplishments and skills. This enables their former employer to identify suitable candidates for both short-term and permanent positions. For example, more than 200 former Shell employees in North America, Europe and elsewhere registered the first day Shell’s AlumniInTouch website went online.

Chemical employers that have established AlumniInTouch databases include chemical, drug, and energy firms. If they can’t find a suitable candidate among their own retirees, companies can then search among the retiree listings for other employers. Retirees register on AlumniInTouch in their former employer’s websites. Retirees who have worked for more than one company can register on more than one AlumniInTouch website.

Don’t forget, retired ACS members can post their résumés on the ACS job site ChemistryJobs (http://chemistryjobs.acs.org/apply/advertise.cfm).

URL Addresses of Retiree Employment Websites (all free to retirees)

California Employment Development Department – Senior Workers www.edd.ca.gov/eddswtx.com

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Full-time science writer John Borchardt is an ACS Career Consultant and certified Workshop Presenter. As an industrial chemist he holds 30 U.S. patents and written more than 130 peer-reviewed technical articles.