Building on Your Strengths to Earn Promotion

June 27, 2011

The usual advice to chemical professionals desiring a promotion or coveted job transfer is to focus on their weaknesses and overcome them. However, there is an alternative approach that may be far more effective, particularly for individuals with no glaring weaknesses: focus on your strengths and emphasize using them in your current job assignment to obtain outstanding results and recognition from your management.

Identify your most important strengths

To begin doing this, identify these strengths. Don’t forget to list “soft” skills such as managing projects and organizing the work of others. Make your list specific.

Identify your best accomplishments

Identify the accomplishments you achieved because of each specific strength in your list. For example, in developing a particular new product, Product A, your skills in designing meaningful laboratory performance tests may have been critical.

Sometimes two or more strengths may have been major contributors to your success. For example, after developing Product A, you may have worked with sales and marketing personnel to develop technical bulletins and run field tests to bring the product to full commercialization. Here are at least two more skills that contributed to the commercial success of Product A.

Look at your target new job assignment

This may be a promotion or job transfer with your current employer. Alternatively it may be a new job with a new employer. Determine the strengths essential in the new position. If you can, rank order these strengths. Then decide which of these skills you have demonstrated in your current or previous job assignments. For you to be a strong candidate for the new job there should be a substantial overlap in these two lists.

Focus on your top strengths and demonstrate them

Don’t rush off and apply for the new job. Focus on your top two strengths and look for opportunities to demonstrate these strengths on the job and further develop them.

Keep track of your efforts

Keep an accomplishment sheet that summarizes each of your accomplishments and the strengths you drew on to accomplish them. Discuss these in your performance review. If your performance review is a long way off, find other opportunities to discuss them with your supervisor.

This is essential for the next step in your program to be successful.

Ask for the new job

When you do, be prepared for disappointment. Your supervisor may inform you of additional things you need to do to qualify for your desired promotion of job transfer. If you are prepared for this meeting, you may be able to cite things that will convince your supervisor that you are indeed quite qualified for the new job. Alternatively, you can work with your supervisor to utilize your current strengths or develop new ones that will qualify you for your desired promotion or job transfer.

Consider working for another employer

If the position you desire won’t become open for a long time, use what you’ve learned to hunt for another job. Emphasize your accomplishments and the skills you tapped to achieve them in your résumé, résumé cover letter and all your interviews with potential employers.

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.

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Should I Hire a Professional Résumé Writer?

June 20, 2011

If your job hunt is stalled and you are getting few or no responses to your résumé, you may want to hire a professional résumé writer to write a new résumé for you. However, this doesn’t come cheap. They charge anywhere from $100 to $2,000, according to Charlotte Weeks, president of the National Résumé Writers Association (NRWA), So it is a good idea to ask yourself several questions first to make sure you get your money’s worth.

What are my low-cost or no-cost alternatives?

There are alternatives to hiring a professional résumé writer. These cost less. You have to do more of the writing yourself but under professional guidance. Both graduating students and post-docs may wish to consult staff members at their university placement offices. These individuals usually won’t write your résumé for you but will help you rewrite your existing résumé to make it better. At an increasing number of universities, placement office staff members will work with alumni to help them improve their résumés as well. Their services are free to students and often free to alumni.

The main drawback of using placement office staff members to help you improve your résumé is that they often have little knowledge of the chemical sciences or industries employing chemists. This knowledge is important in understanding what industries are interested in your skills and experience and then targeting your résumé appropriately. This knowledge also is crucial in important in helping you use appropriate keywords in your résumé so it appears in the results of searching résumé databases.

This specialized knowledge is what ACS career consultants can provide. They won’t write your résumé for you. After all, no one knows your skills and experience better than you do. Hence, it’s best for you to write the first draft of your résumé. This information guides the ACS career consultant in two important ways. First, with their knowledge of the chemical sciences and industries employing chemical professionals, they can help you draw connections between your skills and experience and industries’ employment needs. This helps make your skills and experience more relevant to the readers of your résumé. Second, the career consultant may be able to suggest additional industries to target and help you write résumés customized for these industries.

ACS career consultants’ do not charge fees to ACS members, including student members, for résumé writing advice or other career advice.

Hiring a résumé writing service

If after considering these alternatives, you still want to hire someone to write your résumé for you, remember the adage “buyer beware.” Being an informed buyer begins with determining résumé writers’ professional credentials. In the wake of the “Great Recession,” many people with few professional credentials and little résumé writing experience have established résumé writing services.

The National Résumé Writer’s Association (www.thenrwa.com) has a certification program for its members. They also have a database of members which you can search to try to find appropriate writers to work on your résumé. You can also use an Internet search engine to find résumé writers.

You need to ask each résumé writer several questions to assure yourself that the individual has the knowledge and experience to write a successful résumé for you. (A successful résumé is one that wins you employment interviews.) These questions include:

Are you familiar with industries hiring chemical professionals?

This is an important question to ask before hiring a résumé writer. While a writer may be excellent when it comes to writing résumés for say marketing professionals, they may have little understanding of the important skills of laboratory scientists or the industries that employ them.

Can I see some sample résumés you’ve written?

Besides asking them about their experience in your professional field, it is a good idea to ask for example résumés written for people with a background and experience similar to your own. Evaluate these résumés and ask someone knowledgeable in writing résumés to do so.

What is your experience and training?

This is important because some résumé writers have little experience only starting their résumé writing businesses in the last couple of years since the Great Recession began.

Have you helped many people get the kind of jobs I’m looking for?

A successful track record in writing résumés that have helped people get jobs similar to the one you want is perhaps the best indicator of how helpful a particular résumé writer will be to you in your job hunt.

Talking to people who have used their services can be helpful in choosing a résumé writer to work with you.

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.


Preventing Boredom Resulting from Being Overqualified

June 13, 2011

Okay, so you were desperate and took a job for which you were overqualified. It seemed like a good alternative to continued unemployment. But now, with the job market still very, very competitive, you’re bored with your job. What can you do?

This can actually be a serious problem. Bored people pay less attention to their work and their performance can suffer. If you have skills you’re currently not utilizing in your job, you are providing less value to your employer. This lower value will likely be reflected in your next raise and perhaps in your job security as well.

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take. These will enrich your job now and position yourself for more rewarding assignments – and a higher salary in the future.

Work with your boss

Review your skills set. What skills do you have that you’re not utilizing much on your job? Once you’ve identified these, review them with your supervisor and discuss how you can put these skills to work. Doing so can lessen your boredom while increasing the value you deliver to your employer.

Work with your supervisor to develop a job enrichment program. Bring him proposals. Also try to get your supervisor to commit to actions that will promote you more fully utilizing the full range of your skills.

Capitalize on your untapped skills and experience

So what are your untapped skills likely to be? For experienced chemical professionals, these may include written and oral communications skills, project management skills and other so-called soft skills.

These may also include technical knowledge or skills that other members of your work group don’t possess. Presenting seminars to your work team can provide them with useful information. For example, while working for Shell Chemical on developing surfactants to remove ink from pulped wastepaper, I worked hard to master paper recycling mill technology through reading, attending conferences and visiting paper mills. As this business developed, additional chemists, chemical engineers and technicians joined the group. I presented seminars to these new recruits on the chemical and mechanical engineering technology used in paper recycling mills to improve their competence in working in Shell laboratories, visiting customers, and supervising mill trials of our de-inking chemicals.

Recent graduates may have computer and instrumental analysis skills and chemical synthesis knowledge that their more senior colleagues do not have. So younger chemists also can play a significant role in knowledge transfer processes.

Utilize your skills off the job

Sometimes it’s just not possible to utilize your untapped skills on the job. In this situation, professional society activities and volunteer work can give you an outlet for these skills and provide a source of job-related satisfaction. For example, you can become active in activities of ACS divisions related to your chemical specialty and other interests. Programming and participation in division governance can provide outlets for your management and project management skills while enabling you to develop them further. The professional network you develop can provide speaking, publication and research cooperation opportunities.

ACS local section activities and governance can provide similar opportunities although they tend to be less focused on your chemical specialties.

Your opportunities may not be limited to the ACS. For example, as a result of working on various aspects of oilfield chemistry, I became active in the Society of Petroleum Engineers. I attended conferences that provided opportunities to present papers and promote use of newly developed products and services. I also greatly expanded my professional network meeting industry specialists who do not participate in ACS activities. When I began working to develop products used in paper mills, the Technical Association of the Pulp & Paper Industry provided similar opportunities and advantages.

Some volunteer activities can provide sources of professional satisfaction even if they are not job related. For example, many ACS career consultants derive satisfaction from helping ACS members conduct their job hunts more effectively and deal with issues that arise on the job.

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.