Where Are the Jobs?

March 28, 2011

The national job market for all college graduates should rebound slightly this year as many large corporations end hiring freezes and small, fast-growth companies continue helping reshape the economy. This forecast comes from the Michigan State University (MSU) 2010-11 Recruiting Trends report.

While the following discussion is cast in terms of graduating college students, much of it applies to experienced job hunters as well.

Overall hiring is expected to increase 3 percent, with bachelor’s-level degree and MBA-level hiring both surging 10 percent, according to Phil Gardner, director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute, which conducted the survey of some 4,600 employers. In particular, Ph.D.-level hiring is expected to increase 5%. What this means specifically for new chemistry graduates and experienced chemists is not clear. Nevertheless, the news is encouraging.

The National Association for Business Economics survey of economists provides a similar finding. The survey indicates the 51 economists surveyed expect an average 2011 economic growth of 2.6%.

Where the jobs are

Overall, employment growth has traditionally been driven in large part by small companies and start-up firms. However, the pace of their hiring has slackened. This is due in large part to the greater difficulty these firms are encountering in obtaining loans for business development and expansion. This would appear to be less the case for start-up firms in fields such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. These firms obtain much of their funding from venture capitalists and less from loans. Some of these firms also benefit from outsourcing contracts from large firms, particularly pharmaceutical companies.

Still, hiring by small fast-growth companies (9 to 100 employees) is expected to increase 19% over the next two years. “These fast-growth companies in many ways represent the new economy – that bold employer that can adjust quickly, that sees a niche and runs with it,” said Kelly Bishop, MSU’s career services director.

Mid-size companies (500 to 3,999 employees) are no longer strong engines of employment growth. These firms will continue shedding positions according to Gardner. However, large companies (at least 4,000 employees) plan to hire 114 bachelor-level employees per company in 2011.

Typically, Bishop said, large corporations now hire about 50% to 75% of new employees from their own intern pool. So graduating chemists should consider industrial post-docs and internships as a means of providing an entrée into potential long-term employers.

Planning for job-hunting success

Kelly Bishop advised students to begin planning for the type of position they want early in their college careers. What does this mean for chemistry students?

Maintain contact with recent graduates from your university and particularly from your research group. These individuals are a great source of job-hunting advice and may also be able to provide information on what types of positions are open in their company. Attending ACS local section, regional and national meetings are other ways to expand your professional network for later use in your job hunt.

Developing your professional credentials is important. Work with your professor to identify opportunities for you to present posters and papers at meetings. Offer to write the first draft or the experimental section of research papers for submission to journals.

Nontraditional careers for chemists

The MSU survey indicated that about 36% of all companies said they’d consider any major for a position. This is an all-time high for the MSU survey. “Most employers are out there are looking for the best candidate they can find, regardless of major,” Gardner commented. This suggests that chemistry students should consider what types of nontraditional careers they would be interested in and factor this into their job-hunting plans.

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 published 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.

The Six C’s of Career Control

March 21, 2011

There are six methods that you can use on a day-to-day basis to help manage your chemistry career. These are applicable whether you work in a laboratory, management, sales, a non-traditional chemistry career or are self-employed. Practicing the “6 C’s” of career control will enable you to meet deadlines while providing high-quality work that meets your manager’s requirements. By practicing the 6 C’s, you’ll also reduce the stress associated with deadline pressures and increase your productivity. So what are the 6 C’s of control?

Control the clock

Some of us spend our entire careers struggling with time management. Time management is a skill that we are always developing. Even the best of us probably can improve. Some people manage their time well getting through an impressive amount of work in an 8-hour day. My manager in my first industrial research job used to advise me, “Work smarter, not harder.” I was doing the second but it took a while to learn how to do the first. Others work longer hours than necessary to complete an adequate amount of work. If you are a chemical consultant paid by the project, not by the hour, this means earning less than you otherwise would.

Effective time management requires productive work habits. Learn the length of time you can work productively without a break. Then schedule your time to provide for daily blocks of this length during which you work without interruptions. Use other, perhaps shorter time blocks, for checking e-mail, telephoning, reading, and other workplace chores. Also understand what times of day you are most productive. Then schedule your most demanding tasks for this time.

Tracking and scheduling your time helps you manage it more efficiently. I find the simplest methods are the most useful. I record deadlines and times of meetings on a large month-at-a-glance calendar hanging on the wall above my desk. I put my to-do list and appointments on a daily calendar. I’m old fashioned and list my daily tasks and note their completion on a paper planner with a separate page for each day.

Control your interruptions. Interruptions can kill productivity – primarily by disrupting your train of thought. The main culprit is the telephone. So use caller ID to screen phone calls and answer only the truly important ones immediately. Otherwise, schedule time blocks to answer telephone messages and to make calls of your own.

Control your concepts

Make good use of your creative imagination. When I’m exercising or engaged in intellectually undemanding tasks, I think about work projects. This strategy seems particularly useful for short tasks. As a result of my preliminary thinking, I often can write short memos, e-mails and other documents manuscripts quite quickly using short time blocks or unexpected openings in my schedule.

Control your contacts.

Who you know is how you grow. So focus your attention on productive colleagues both within and outside your employer. While you should strive to be helpful to others, your time is too valuable to spend it on people who are overly demanding or ungrateful for your assistance.

By the same token, make your networking contacts value you by providing value to them. This can be by providing advice, helping on projects or just being a sounding board when they want to talk about their problems or frustrations.

Control your communications

Periodically keep your manager, team leader and coworkers apprised of your progress on work projects. If there is a miscommunication regarding one of your assignments, this strategy can help resolve it before you spend too much time working on the wrong things.

Control your commitments

It’s hard to say no to managers and colleagues when they ask you to take on extra work. However, over-commitment can lead to slapdash work and missed deadlines. There is nothing that will destroy a relationship with a manager or team leader faster and more completely than not meeting a deadline or turning in substandard work.

I use a four-step process to meet deadlines:

• Use a month-at-a-glance calendar to track deadlines and your progress in meeting them.

• Set your own deadlines for all your projects. Make these at least a week before your manager’s deadlines. That way, if you fall behind schedule, you can still meet your deadlines.

• Develop intermediate goals (milestones) and deadlines for large projects. Achieving your milestones on schedule helps the entire large project on schedule.

• Negotiate a revised deadline as soon as you can see there will be a problem meeting your manager’s assigned deadline.

Meeting commitments is more than just meeting deadlines. It is also submitting high quality work that needs minimal changes to be acceptable. Doing this helps you win rewarding assignments later. During the course of my own career, I have found that what managers value most in their staff members is completing high-quality work on time.

Control your concerns

Much of our workplace is beyond our control. Frustrating situations are commonplace. One has to focus on productive projects and not dwell on these frustrations – easier said than done.

Controlling your emotions means not venting to a manager or a coworker who might not respect the privacy of your communication. Having trusted colleagues can enable you to vent your frustrations and discuss ways to bounce back from disappointments. This can be very valuable to both your emotional health and your career. You can develop these trusted relationships with a mentor, an occasional coworkers and friends from your academic days. Confiding in family members can also be helpful although if they aren’t chemists they may not understand the nuances of your workplace problems. Getting over these frustrations and moving on will enable you to better direct your energy towards future success.

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 published 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.

Older Job Hunters Should Show They Are Impact Players

March 14, 2011

Impact players are employees whose knowledge, skills and work habits make them exceptionally productive. Of course, employers always want to hire new employees with these attributes. Business managers are looking over lab managers’ shoulders to assure themselves that new employees begin to contribute both quickly and significantly to help develop new products and processes and supply high quality customer support. So your job-hunting goal is to convince hiring managers that you will rapidly become an impact player. More experienced chemical professionals usually have an advantage in doing this. So they should structure their job hunt to emphasize and capitalize on their problem solving skills and accomplishments.

How to demonstrate that you are a problem solver

The best indicator of future performance is past performance. This means you need to provide evidence that you have been an outstanding problem solver in previous jobs. A bald statement that you are great at solving problems isn’t enough. You have to provide evidence in your résumés and cover letters. You have to be prepared to discuss examples in your screening and on-site interviews. Brief your references on the importance of discussing your problem solving accomplishments when employer representatives call them.

When providing examples of your problem solving skills, find ways to quantify them. Confidentiality may preclude you from providing sales figures for new products or dollar savings for manufacturing process improvements. In this case, provide percentage improvement values for these accomplishments. The same is true for customer technical support work.

Emphasize soft skills

Rightly or wrongly, hiring managers often assume that new graduates have more up-to-date scientific knowledge compared to more experienced chemical professionals. Experienced chemists can use two strategies to counter this. The first is to demonstrate the depth of your scientific knowledge and skills accumulated over the course of your career. The second is to emphasize your soft skills and the positive effect they have on your productivity. Most experienced chemical professionals have developed time management, project management and written and oral presentation skills, and they should emphasize these abilities.. .

In addition many experienced chemical professionals have first-hand experience with inventions and working with patent attorneys to obtain U.S. patents. You could mention mentoring younger coworkers educating them about the patenting process from the researchers’ perspective and mentoring them in other ways.

Experienced chemical professionals often have improved networking skills compared to younger colleagues. Update your computer skills if necessary. Currently social media are hot and often used for networking. Register on sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook and contribute to discussions as appropriate for you.

Stress your flexibility and adaptability. Younger new hires often require more time to adapt to working in industrial laboratory workplace cultures than more seasoned new hires. Experienced new hires often come from laboratories employing different workplace procedures. Some of these may be more cost-effective than current ways your laboratory does things. You can help open-minded lab managers explore and perhaps implement new, improved operational procedures.

Putting it all together

Keeping all of this in mind, prepare examples of each of your attributes. Use these in your résumés, cover letters and discussions during screening and on-site interviews.

Utilize your professional network

Unlike most new graduates, many experienced chemical professionals have developed extensive professional networks during the course of their careers. When job hunting, capitalize on your professional contacts particularly those working for your former employer’s suppliers and customers. Those you know who work for competitors also can be valuable contacts. Don’t neglect colleagues working in fields related to your own whom you have met at conferences or through professional society activities.

Let these individuals know that you are job hunting but don’t ask them directly for a job. Send them a copy of your résumé so they can refresh their recollection of your accomplishments and professional interest.

Maintain a confident tone when discussing your job hunt over the telephone or when meeting networking contacts face-to-face. Avoid sounding desperate. Don’t become a stalker but touch base with your contacts once a month or as appropriate.

In the current economic climate, hiring managers are looking for new staff members who will have both a rapid and significant effect on improving lab productivity. This often means hiring experienced people. Industrial experience can hone problem solving skills while providing knowledge of how to get things done in an industrial work environment. So while experienced staff members can cost more, they can be worth the extra money.

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 published 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.

Taking Advantage of Industry Restructuring

March 7, 2011

Industry restructuring is the result of mergers, acquisitions and changing R&D models. Restructuring is creating more opportunities for chemists interested in nontraditional careers. These opportunities are increasing even as R&D is increasingly done overseas. The primary reason these employment opportunities are increasing is because corporations outsource work to vendors and contractors, consultants and other “non-employee” workers.

Many chemists work in industries undergoing major restructuring. For example, many large pharmaceutical companies currently are outsourcing more R&D as the result of changing business models and disappointing results from their recent R&D programs. Entire large research centers employing hundreds or even thousands of people have already been closed. Oil companies provide another example. Many have outsourced chemistry-oriented activities to oilfield service companies. There have been waves of restructuring in the oil industry in the late 1970s – early 1980s and mid 1990s. The chemical industry experienced a lot of restructuring in the 1990s and in the years just prior to the 2008-2009 recession.

Contract and project managers

While the headlines have touted the large number of bench research jobs lost, restructuring can increase job opportunities for chemists interested in nontraditional career fields. In particular, firms need contract managers and project managers to manage their outsourced R&D projects. Strong chemistry backgrounds and industry R&D experience is needed for many of these projects.

Companies use contracts to manage outsourced R&D. Contract managers write the technical terms of these contracts. Their industry experience and strong chemical background is needed to write these contracts. The technical requirements for project success must be defined. For example, in developing a new manufacturing process for a chemical product, contract managers set required maximum cost per pound, process yields, required product purity and acceptable concentrations of byproducts. Dates must be defined for project milestones that represent intermediate goals. These project milestones must be achieved on time and on budget for the overall project to be successful.

Companies also need project managers to monitor progress on their outsourced projects and work with their R&D contractors to help keep programs on course and on schedule. These project managers must have the chemical expertise to understand the details of the contractors’ work and recognize when a project may developing problems. They have to be able to review spending and recognize when a project is going seriously over-budget and how to remedy the situation.

As mentioned, industrial R&D experience is essential in chemical R&D contract and project management. In particular, having experience as a team leader or research group manager will make one a leading candidate for these positions.

Lean R&D staffing

Companies are trying to operate with leaner R&D staffs. One way to do so is to hire chemists only for the life of a project. Both parties involved, the chemist and the employer, recognize that the employment is only for a limited period of time. When the project is completed the chemist must look for another position. Outstanding performance can maximize a chemist’s chances of being hired for subsequent projects. In my own consulting and technical writing work, initial assignments have resulted in additional ones that have kept money rolling in for as much as seven years.

Many chemists will regard these positions as stopgap measures to provide income while they look for a long-term (once called permanent) job. These positions sometimes offer the opportunity to develop and practice new skills. The people you work with in these contract or temporary assignments can become helpful members of your professional network.

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 published 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.