Five Tips for Better Online Networking

February 28, 2011

Maybe one of your resolutions for 2011 is to make better use of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other online networking tools. Even if you already have an account, there are probably things you can do to enhance your online presence. Online networking is a great way to build and nurture your in-person relationships, not a replacement. Below are a few simple rules that can help you enhance your online networking skills.

1. Monitor Your Online Persona

You want to make it easy for others to find online information about you, and only about you. Select a single variant of your name (nickname or full name, middle name or just initial, etc.), and be consistent in your use of that variant. Research commissioned by Microsoft in December 2009 found that 79% of United States hiring managers and job recruiters surveyed reviewed online information about job applicants, and 70% of those have rejected a candidate based on what they found. By using exactly the same name on your resume, LinkedIn, and in all other places, you can make sure they find information about you, not someone else with a similar name. Just like you update your resume on a regular basis, you need to periodically run a web search on your own name to see what turns up in your online persona. Sometimes you can get erroneous information corrected, but often the easiest strategy is to make sure there is lots of accurate, current information about you, so the older, inaccurate information gets pushed further down in the search results.

2. LinkedIn is not Lunch

Just because your profile is connected to someone else’s profile online, it doesn’t mean you have a personal connection with them. True networking is not about maximizing the number of electronic connections, but about building quality relationships with fellow professionals. Take the time to comment on your connections status updates, answer questions in discussion groups, and forward information they will find useful. Better yet, meet local people for coffee or lunch, and spend an hour chatting about what’s going on in each of your lives. For example, I recently had lunch with someone I have known for years. During that single 45 minutes, I learned more about what was going on in his life than I had in the previous month of daily, brief encounters.

3. Etiquette Counts

When joining a new forum or trying out a new online tool, do your homework first. Just like you wouldn’t run a new reaction without reading the literature, learn the written and unwritten rules for a new community before jumping in. Some communities are highly structured and formal, and posting anything personal or off-topic will immediately brand you an outsider. Others are much more casual, and off-topic personal comments are allowed, or even expected. Knowing the tenor of the group, and how personal or professional members are, will allow you to frame your postings appropriately and appear neither too aloof nor too flippant.

4. Contribute

Just reading discussions is useful for you, but adding to the conversation allows you to help others. As you contribute meaningful information, insights and resources, you are also building your own reputation as a knowledgeable expert, increasing the amount of positive information about you online, and making it even more likely that people will be able to find you.

5. Think Before You Post

Would you be embarrassed if what you wrote ended up on the front page of the New York Times? What if your grandmother read it? Information on the internet lives forever. (Check out the Way Back Machine if you don’t believe me.) You may delete or forget what you wrote, but the internet will not. In addition, what you send privately to one person may be forwarded over and over again. Assume everyone will see anything you write. If you want to make sure it stays private, make a phone call, or just don’t say it. The bottom line is that as long as you don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t do in person, online networking can be a great way to nurture and expand your professional network.

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

You Have to Have Been There

February 21, 2011

The other night I was having a discussion with my 17-year-old son about one of his activities.  He used to be a leader in the group, and has now moved on to other things.  I mentioned some issues that occurred at a recent meeting, and how the current leader seemed to be having some trouble getting people to listen.  My son’s comment was “That sounds about right.  They don’t listen to you when you’re in charge, they listen to the people who used to be in charge.”

As I thought about his comment, I realized I’ve said exactly the same thing about several groups with which I’ve been involved.  While the current president or chair may run the meetings and be up front, the group turns to previous leaders for advice on what should be done, and how things should be implemented.

This does make sense.  While the current leaders is the one up front, giving directions, the ones who really understand what’s going on are those who have already been through the whole process.  We want advice and information from the person who has been there, done that, and brought it to a successful conclusion.  The person who is in the middle of the job may be in charge now, but they obviously don’t know as much as someone who’s been through the whole thing.

If you think about most major life events, you will realize this is true of almost everything.  You may have done some research, and thought you knew what you were getting into, but the reality of living through it is usually quite different from what you thought you were prepared for.  Getting married, having kids, a home repair project, traveling in another country, managing other people… all turn out to be much more complicated than they appear before you’ve experienced them.  Once you’ve been through it once, you understand the issues involved, and are much better prepared for the second round of the same responsibility.

Employers are people too.  When looking for someone to do things for them, they want someone who has been through the process.  They want to know what you have successfully accomplished, what you’ve already done.  They don’t want to know what you think you can do, or are willing to do.  They want proof that you can do that type of work, because you have already done it in another context.

You need to keep this in mind when talking to potential employers (which really means talking to anyone, because you never know where the information will end up).  When asked what you do, provide a couple of recent accomplishments, instead of a job title or a list of “responsible for”s. Talk about what you have done, not what you might do.  It will make you sound more qualified, because you are talking about successful past accomplishments.  It will also make you appear more engaged and active – you actually did something, rather than just watching others do it.

So give it some thought – what are your most significant accomplishments?  What have you successfully done, that would be of interest to a potential employer?  Can you quantify your accomplishment?  Present yourself as someone who has done things, and is therefore highly qualified to do similar things in the future.  Then you will be one of those “been there, done that” former leaders to whom others will come for advice and ideas – and to whom they will bring opportunities.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.

Organization of Resumes: When versus What

February 14, 2011

Should I use a chronological or skills-based (functional) format for my resume?

It depends.

Actually, the answer to almost all resume questions is “it depends”. There are very few firm rules when creating a resume, mainly because each person’s professional experience is so different.  (About the only firm rule is that you have to have your name on your resume – though I’ve even seen that one violated.)

However, when deciding how to organize the information on your resume, there really are two choices – chronologically or functionally.

The easiest, and most common way to do it, is to list each of your jobs in reverse chronological order, with brief descriptions of the major accomplishments under each position. This makes it easy for the reader to skim through your career history, and see the progression of your professional responsibilities.  This works well when you’ve had a fairly traditional career path, staying in the same field and just increasing responsibility with each step on your personal career ladder.

But it doesn’t work quite so well if you’ve shifted your career focus, moved into a new field, or had an extended period of un- or under-employment.  In that case, you’re probably better off with a functional format resume, where you group your accomplishments by what they are, not by when you did them.

For example, suppose you started out in a traditional laboratory career, but after a significant length of time at the bench, you become concerned about the future of your company.  You start thinking, and realize your favorite part of your current job is not working at the lab bench, but evaluating test methods, making processes more efficient, and disposing of waste products properly.  Upon further reflection, you realize that others come to you for advice on these topics, and your proudest moment was when you passed your first OSHA/EPA audit with no citations.

In thinking back over your career, you realize that at your previous job, you really enjoyed preparing the lab for EPA audits, and tracking all the MSDSs and other paperwork required for proper certification.   And at the job before that one, you identified a problem with the fume hoods that was not only causing a safety hazard for laboratory workers, but actually saved the company significant amounts of money when it was fixed.

Using a traditional chronological format, each of these items would appear under a different job, and the common theme would be lost. A better organizational scheme would be to group them under a functional category, such as “Laboratory Safety”.  You’ll probably have about three functional categories, which could include things like “Analytical Chemistry”, “Organic Synthesis”, and “Business Management”.  Under each category will be your top four to six most significant accomplishments, which demonstrate your mastery of these categories.

In resumes, the most important information is always listed first, so give some thought as to what order to list the categories, and what order to list the accomplishments in each category.  You want to make sure to use parallel construction, and start each accomplishment with a verb. An example is below.

Environmental Health and Safety:

  • Identified and fixed fume hood malfunction that improved air flow 75% and reduced heating/cooling costs significantly
  • Prepared lab for over 20 OSHA/EPA audits, with no citations in any audit
  • Maintained MSDS database for 15,000 chemicals and transitioned from paper to electronic version, reducing costs and increasing use 300%
  • Streamlined waste disposal processes, saving company $150K annually

Even if you use a functional format, you still need to have a list of all your jobs. However, it will be near the end of your resume, and will just list job title, company name and location (city and state), and dates of employment.

So give some thought to where you want to go, and what experiences have prepared you for your goal.  Then, present your information in the best way possible for the reader, and there’s no limit to where you can go.

For more information, see Resume Preparation – Tips for Chemical Professionals and Preparing a Resume.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.

Take Charge of Your Training

February 7, 2011

Take Charge of Your Training

At the recent ACS Leadership Institute, I participated in many discussions on the current and future state of the employment market for chemists.  Much as I thought – the employment market is perhaps starting to rebound, but there is a lot of pent-up demand.  It will be a long time before it’s a job seeker’s market again, but there is hope.  One point that hit home with me was made by John Borchardt, ACS Career Consultant.  John said “companies are much less willing to tolerate employees’ learning curves.”

It used to be that companies would hire capable, accomplished people and then train them on how to do the job.  When it was time for the person to move up, the company would provide training in leadership and management, or whatever was necessary to prepare them for the next step on the career ladder.

As the employment market shifted, many companies started cutting back on training.  At the beginning of the recession, they supported it, by allowing employees time off to take training classes, and sometimes paying for classes taught by outside organizations. Now things are different.

In today’s world, companies expect you to  arrive not only ready to do the job, but having already proven yourself by doing similar things successfully in previous positions.  If there are parts of the job you are less familiar with, you are expected to learn how to do those on your own time, at your own expense.  If you’re lucky, your supervisor and co-workers will point out where you need to improve, so you can get the training and experience you need to be successful – before it’s too late.

As you go through your career, you will find things that you are good at, and things that you are not so good at.  Skills that were not important to you early in your career may become more important later on.  Things you didn’t enjoy doing when you were younger may become more enjoyable later on.  You are never done learning and growing, and therefore need to constantly evaluate both based on where you are and where you want to go.

You should take advantage of relevant training opportunities that comes along.  If your company provides training, wonderful!  Often if you can prove that taking that training is going to provide a benefit to the company, you will be able to get both approval and financial support.

If that doesn’t work, offer to split the costs with your employer.  Maybe they pay the fee and travel expenses, but you agree to work extra hours ahead of time to cover the work that you will miss while you are gone.

If that doesn’t work, there are always low cost options like spending your lunch hour listening to a webinar, or taking an evening course at a local community college.

Depending on what it is you are trying to learn, you might also be able to take on a volunteer position that will give you practical experience in some new area that you don’t get in your job, and eventually will lead to accomplishments that you can list on your resume.

It’s up to you to determine what important skills are missing from your personal experience, or which ones you need to get better at, then find ways to get training and experience in those skills.  Even if what you learn is that you really don’t like doing that particular type of task, that in itself is valuable information that you can use when you plan the next stage in your career path.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.


February 1, 2011

Traditional motivational theory talks about using carrots and sticks (usually in the form of monetary rewards and punishments) to get people to do what you want them to do, or stop them from doing things you don’t want them to do. While companies have used these motivators for a long time, the book “Drive” by Daniel H Pink. describes new research that indicates human motivation is a much more complex process. The “cocktail party summary” of the research to date is that human motivation actually has three parts, autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy means that humans want to direct our own lives and have some say over what we are going to do. Perceived control is an important part of one’s happiness, but what people want control over varies – it may be the tasks they have to do, how they are going to accomplish those tasks, other people, or other aspects of their life.

The second part is mastery.  We all have the urge to get better and better at something that matters. Mastery of a task is an asymptote of the curve – you can get close, but you can never get all the way there.  No matter how good you are at something, there’s always some aspect that you could do at least a little better. But making progress, and seeing yourself get close to perfection makes you want to go to the next level, and get a little bit closer.  In work terms, there needs to be a match between what you can do (and the level at which you can do it) and what your job requires you to. You want your job to be challenging, but not impossible and not boring.  When you get significantly better at your tasks, the job gets boring, and it’s time to move on to something more challenging.

Finally, we are motivated by purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. We want to feel that our work matters, that we are contributing to making the world a better place. Some of the most interesting studies in this book had to do with artists. For example, independent studies of a variety of artwork showed that commissioned works were judged to be significantly less creative than non-commissioned works. Apparently, doing it for the money made the creative process less enjoyable and actually less creative. Studies also found that artists who were intrinsically motivated (as opposed to financially motivated) were better able to weather the down times in their careers, continued to spend more time on their art than those who were financially motivated, and over time produced superior art. The very fact that they were doing it for love, and not for the money, is what brought the recognition (and money) to them in the long run.

Now may be a good time to stop and think about what motivates you, and how your current professional position is meeting those motivations. Are there parts of your job that are under your control, and are those the parts you want to control? Are there parts you truly enjoy, where you are actively striving to be better? And finally, do you have a sense of fulfillment that your current work is making the world a better place?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, figure out where the mismatch is, and what you need to change. Once your motivations are being reinforced by your environment, success is sure to follow.

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