Preparing for a Career Fair

March 15, 2010

A career fair is a great way to talk to employers, find out what’s going on in your industry, and advance your professional agenda.  It is free and open to all ACS members who are registered for the national meeting. If you plan to participate, check out the tips below on how to make the most of this opportunity.

Before You Go

To get the most out of the career fair, you should register now, so employers can search your information. Once you are registered, you can post your resume, browse  jobs and request  interviews.

You need to have clear idea of what you’re looking for in a job – an objective that you can state in 1-2 sentences (like the objective on your resume) when you meet new people.  You may have more than one, if you’re open to multiple types of positions. If you do, make sure to communicate the right one to the right people.  Know what you must have in a new position, what you’d like to have, and what you can live without.

Research which companies will be in attendance at the fair, and learn as much as you can about them.  You may be surprised where the opportunities are.  Don’t forget to look at speakers in technical sessions, and identify ones to whom you want to talk.  Not just chemical companies, but personal care products, food, small companies, federal government, etc. all hire chemists to do all sorts of things, so investigate all opportunities before you go, and make note of the ones in which you are most interested.

Getting Ready

Pack a large stack of  business cards and 20 copies of your resume, and know where the copy center is in case you need more.  Pack for the weather where you are going, and of course, dress professionally.

At The Fair

During the Fair, you should check your account regularly for updates, and keep in touch with employers who contact you.

Once you are on-site, there will be lots to do.  On a walk-in basis there will be workshops on a variety of career related topics, including Targeting the Job Market, Resume Preparation, Effective Interviewing, First Year On the Job, Proposal Writing, and so on. You will also be able to sign up for a 30 minute personal resume review, or for a mock interview with an ACS Career Consultant.  Sign up early, as all slots usually fill, and you can sign up no more than one day ahead of time.

Monday morning at 9:30 am there will be a welcome mixer for candidates and employers.  This will be a way to mix INFORMALLY with both employers and other candidates.  This is not a place to ask for a job, but a place to talk with employers and find out what they are looking for in general (technical skills, interpersonal skills, etc.), what the market is like, and so on.

What to Expect

If possible, have a mock interview before you start real interviews, to identify and fix any problem areas.

If you are scheduled for a real interview, do much more research on the company.  Make sure to be on time (which means 10 minutes early), and allow for travel time.

To begin, shake hands, look the interviewer in the eye, and introduce yourself.  Sit down after invited to do so, or after the interviewer does. Throughout the interview be positive, don’t interrupt, and avoid nervous habits.  Listen to what they have to say, as well as telling them about yourself.

Be prepared to talk about your research for a 5 minute mini-seminar, with a flow sheet or diagrams handy to guide the discussion.

At end stand up, shake hands again, thank them for the interview, and ask them for their business card.


Make sure to send a thank you note, most likely an email before the end of the national meeting. Follow up with the company if you haven’t heard from them in 2-3 weeks, to let them know you’re still interested.

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 (2007).

How to Discuss an Employment Gap with Prospective Employers

March 12, 2010

Many mid-career chemists have to deal with employment gaps when job hunting. Attempts to disguise them in your résumé are seldom successful. How should one discuss these employment gaps when called upon to do so by recruiters and prospective employers? This can be a critical factor landing a new job.

Long employment gaps are no longer uncommon among mid- and late-career chemists. According to the 2008 ACS Mature Career Chemists Survey, nearly 20% of chemists between 50 and 70 years of age reported experiencing a period of more than six months when they were neither employed nor attending school full-time. Currently many chemists are experiencing periods of unemployment lasting this long or longer. How you deal with this time and explain your employment gap to prospective employers can be a critical factor in landing a new job?

When entering the job market, one’s first priority is developing job-hunt strategies, identifying candidate employers, writing résumés and cover letters, and updating one’s job-hunting skills. Initially this can easily take forty hours per week or more. But as one’s job hunt becomes extended it becomes more difficult to spend this much time per week productively job hunting.

However, there are things you can do to productively make use of this time. You can remain active in chemistry and also explore career transitions that utilize one’s skills. There are several ways to do this thus keeping constructively busy while job hunting. One is by attending local or regional meetings of ACS and other professional societies. Another is by presenting a paper at one of these meetings or an ACS national meeting. Unemployed ACS members receive complimentary registration for ACS national meetings. Using frequent flyer miles and sharing hotel rooms with friends are other ways to reduce meeting expenses.

Taking one or more short courses or online courses is another option. These can be a great way to expand your skills.

Options include:


Noting these activities in your résumé and cover letter shows prospective employers you are an energetic, self-motivated individual.

Once you press the send button on your computer and the employer has your résumé, cover letter and application materials, you have little control over the process. This can be frustrating. By engaging in some of the activities suggested above, you at least have some control over your time. This control reduces stress associated with your job hunt. It also provides a sense of accomplishment at the end of what might otherwise be a frustrating week.

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 1200 articles publsihed 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.