Sometimes You Can Go Back: Starting a New Job at a Former Employer

July 25, 2011

Once nearly all job-hunting experts agreed that it was a bad idea for scientists, engineers and technicians to go back to work for a former employer. Many employers had policies against hiring former employees. This changed ten to fifteen years ago. Why?

Willingness to return

Widespread layoffs resulted in large numbers of scientists, engineers and technicians entering the job market. Recently the collapse of the housing market meant that many job hunters feel they can’t afford to relocate to accept a new job. At the very least they are reluctant to do so because of the financial loss they would incur in selling their house. Going to work for an ex-employer often means there is no need to relocate and suffer this financial loss.

Many job-hunters feel that it is a matter of pride not to go to work for a former employer. However, many ACS members are spending a long time in the job market in the wake of the recent recession. According to data collected in the 2010 ACS Salary and Employment Survey, the mean unemployment period for ACS members was 11 months with the median unemployment period at 9 months. This discouraging news makes it easier for chemical professionals to take a giant gulp and go to work for a former employer.

Willingness to hire them back

The large number of chemists in the job market makes it more difficult for employers to sift through job candidates to find those well qualified for a particular job opening. Many former employees have left a reservoir of good will and respect behind them at their former employer. Because of the widespread nature of twenty-first century layoffs, everyone knows that many good employees lost their jobs. In hiring new employees, employers are always rolling the dice to a certain extent. In hiring a good ex-employee to return to work, the employer is taking less of a risk. Some employees at the firm, known and trusted by the hiring manager, can testify to the former employee’s qualifications, experience and work ethic.

Going back to work

Okay, your former employer has made a decision and you’ve made a decision. You’re going back to work for a former employer. How can you get off to a good start?

First, be careful of what assumptions you make. Things are not necessarily the same as they were when you left. Most employers restructure in the wake of layoffs. There may be different departments and different people running the show in each. R&D in some areas may have been terminated while new programs in new fields have been initiated. Human resources policies and procedures may have changed. Workplace procedures on many things from reserving time on instruments to signing out equipment may have changed. Determine what the current workplace procedures are rather than assuming nothing has changed. Treat returning to work for a former employer just like going to work for a new employer and try to learn as much as you can about the current state of affairs.

Second, no one likes a complainer. Avoid the temptation to talk to people about how much better things were in the good old days or how tough it was being unemployed.

Third, make a strong effort to get along with all your coworkers. There may have been coworkers with whom you did not get along before your layoff. Overcome your former dislike and make it your business to get along with them. The last thing you want is for your manager or coworkers to start thinking that the company made a mistake in hiring you back.

If you were hired back while unemployed after the company had laid you off, in essence you have lost seniority. For example, if you were unemployed for one year after being laid off, your coworkers have developed a year of seniority and additional accomplishments while you have languished in unemployment. It is easy to be resentful of this. However, there’s nothing you can do about it. It may be difficult but shrug your shoulders and move on. Realize that developing an excellent track record of accomplishment in your new job with your old employer is the only way to catch up.

Fourth, let your manager and coworkers know what new skills you have developed while unemployed. Seek ways to use these skills in your job. This is another way to catch up to coworkers.

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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Starting a New Job? How to Bounce Back from being Unemployed

July 18, 2011

Whether you expected it or not, losing your job is highly emotional experience. But it’s over now, right? You’ve got an excellent new job, one you’re excited about. Now you can move on. Right?

Not necessarily. It can be hard to leave behind the emotional baggage associated with job loss. You don’t want your emotional reaction to your job loss affect your performance or behavior on your new job. Talking with your spouse, relatives, and trusted friends about your job loss can be helpful. I am not aware of any job-loss therapy groups but I can see where sharing experiences and feelings with others who have lost their jobs could be helpful. But don’t talk about your job-loss experience on your new job. Focus on your positive experiences, not your negative ones.

Avoid brooding over negative experiences on your former jobs. Remember the positive but don’t dwell too much on those either. You want to look ahead rather than focusing excessively on the past. 

Have a self-improvement plan when you start your new job

To begin bouncing back from job loss, have a plan when you start your new job. Meet with your new supervisor and determine her priorities and where you should initially focus your efforts to get a fast start in your new job. Work with your supervisor to develop short-term goals and a plan for achieving them.

When discussing your new job with your supervisor, try to find out what your predecessor in the assignment did well and where he could have done better. If your predecessor was a less than stellar performer, try to avoid falling into the same behavior patterns he did.

Keep your supervisor informed about what you are working on and your progress in achieving goals the two of you mutually agreed upon. By doing so often, you’ll receive frequent feedback on your performance and suggestions for improvement.

Don’t be negative but do reassess

Don’t be negative and gripe about your former job to your new coworkers. However, try to look back on your previous job experience objectively. Ask yourself whether the criticism you received from your former manager was justified. How could you have done your job better? What new skills should you have developed but failed to do so? Could you have gotten along better with your former coworkers?

In short, try to learn as much as you can from your experiences on your former job. Try to put these lessons to work in your new job.

Practice good oral communications skills

Improve your communications with your supervisor and coworkers as well as your suppliers and customers. This can mean improving your speaking skills and developing better listening skills. Put these skills to good use on your new job. One thing that impressed me about most of my coworkers at the Halliburton Research Center was how well they communicated with the firm’s customers and suppliers. I tried to learn from them. In contrast, there were few such role models when I went to work for a new employer. I quickly developed the reputation as one of the best communicators in the lab. This definitely helped my job performance.

Share with others

Socialize on the job with your new coworkers in an appropriate way. Go out to lunch with them or join them for a drink Friday afternoon if these are the custom in your new department. The sooner you begin fitting in the sooner you will be regarded as a valuable member of your new team.

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.


9 Steps to Improve Your Networking to Find a New Job

July 11, 2011

Networking is one of the most important job hunting techniques. As much as 80% of jobs go unadvertised. One has to go beyond checking online job postings and print media job advertisements to identify these “hidden” job openings and apply for them. The most effective way to do this is networking. So how can you make your networking more effective? Here are ten ways.

Begin with your existing contacts

Begin by letting people you already know that you are looking for a job. Whether or not you have already graduated, these people include your professors and fellow students. It’s a good idea to maintain contact with these people when you leave campus for graduate school or your first job. Also include friends and family members. If you have already been working include former and current coworkers. Make sure you trust these colleagues if you are employed and trying to keep your job search confidential.

Spread the word to these individuals that you are looking for a job. Ask for their advice and if they know someone who can offer advice. Contact the people they suggest you talk with to get their advice as well. Ask these new individuals for referrals as well. This process grows your network so more people know to contact you should they hear of a suitable job opening or an appropriate employer to contact given your skills and experience.

Attend local, regional and national chemistry-related meetings

When you do so, focus on events within the meeting for chemists with similar skills and interests to your own. Cast your net beyond ACS and attend meetings of trade associations and other professional societies. Attend meetings related to the dominant industries in your area if you are reluctant to relocate. For example, I live in the Houston area, which is dominated by the oil industry. The Society of Petroleum Engineers and other groups focusing on oil industry concerns have well-attended local meetings.

Volunteer to serve on one of the group’s committees. This is a great way to meet their members.

Join a local job-hunting club. Members of these organizations may hear of a job opening that, while not suitable for them, may be an excellent fit for you.

Build relationships

Attending local, regional and national meetings and volunteering to help is an excellent way to build relationships. Build ties with people before asking for their advice and help. Collect business cards and send these people e-mails when you learn something that will probably interest them. Attaching an article of interest to your e–mail or referring them to information available online can be a good tactic.

Don’t ask for a job

Don’t ask your networking contacts for a job. This can make people uncomfortable. Instead, ask for job-hunting advice and any relevant information about possible job openings they may know about. They are more likely to spend time helping you if you use this approach. And, if you do seem qualified for an opening at their organization or some other firm, they’ll probably let you know the right person to contact.

Prepare an “elevator” speech

This is a 30-second speech about your most relevant professional qualifications in the context of your job hunt. Prepare one to use in telephone calls or at a conference where you are likely to meet people who may be helpful to your job hunt. Practice your speech in front of a mirror and then in front of friends. Keep it brisk and upbeat. Make it too long and you’ll turn off your listeners.

Don’t focus only on yourself

Show interest in the people you meet. Ask questions and get your new contacts to talk about themselves particularly their professional interests. They’ll be more likely to like and help you.

People are more willing to help someone who helps them. So help contacts when you can. This may mean providing information, helping them out by serving on a committee, or some similar activity.

Don’t become a pest

There is no hard and fast rule about how often to contact someone. However, doing so too often can give the impression that you are desperate and always looking for favors. After contacting someone give events time to develop before contacting them again.

Follow through

When you do promise someone something, follow through in a timely way. When a contact refers you to someone, let this first individual know how your discussion with the second person went. Use the occasion to thank your contact. Informing your contact that you did follow through on their advice is a way to touch base with this person without seeming a pest.

Maintain your network

Maintain ties even when you aren’t job hunting. Then you will have an established network should you enter the job market. Your network also can help your career in other ways. For example, I’ve developed joint R&D projects with several professors I first met at conferences. These have helped advance my career.

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.


I Love Parking Lots!

July 4, 2011

After a recent professional meeting, I was walking to my car in the company of several others who had attended the same meeting that evening.  As often happens, as we walked out of the building we started talking about events of the meeting, and giving our opinions on the issues.  From a meeting of 25 or so people, there were perhaps 4 or 5 of us standing in the cool night air, brainstorming about how to handle a particularly sticky issue.  We came up with a few possibilities, and agreed to pass those ideas to the appropriate person.  Several of the ideas came from newer members of the group, who never would have spoken up in front of the entire committee, but were willing to do so in the less formal atmosphere of the parking lot. 

Often, the most interesting discussions of a meeting take place not during the formal meeting itself, but between smaller groups during breaks, or before and after the official meeting.  Sometimes this is because newer and perhaps shy people are intimidated, and don’t want to speak up in front of the larger group.  Unfortunately since they have a different perspective than those who have been around for a while, they may have just the fresh ideas that would be of value to the group.

Additionally, there are some people who need time to process information, mulling it over themselves before their ideas and opinions congeal into something that can be shared.  It may happen by the end of the meeting, or maybe not until several days later, when they are able to express their ideas in a coherent matter, or perhaps come up with a unique perspective on the issue.  For them too, an opportunity to share informally before the next meeting can be quite productive. 

There is another type of parking lot that can also be quite valuable in moving meetings along.  This is the bulletin board parking lot, or a place where an idea or issue that needs to be addressed can be tabled for the moment, but not forgotten.

Sometimes during a meeting, when a particularly difficult or divisive issue arises, that discussion threatens to derail the conversation on the main issue.  Especially when the controversial issue is peripheral, the facilitator may choose to put the issue in a “parking lot”, to be dealt with later.  Often this involves actually writing it down, and posting it on a bulletin board or blackboard where it remains visible to all participants. This allows the group to move on to the important business at hand, with the assurance that the other issue will be addressed eventually. Those vested in that topic know they will have their turn eventually, so can concentrate on the more urgent issue at hand.

In both cases, letting people have some time to think about an issue, taking the conversation to a different setting, and perhaps even closing off contentious arguments for a while can reset people’s thinking and spark new and better ideas. 

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