Employers hiring chemists consider new graduates and post-docs leaving academia with a very different mindset than they do industry veterans. By understanding these mindsets both industry novices and veterans can job hunt more effectively. So what are these mindsets and the relative advantages each type of chemist brings to the job market?
Employers are searching for very specific skill sets when evaluating job candidates. They want to hire individuals who can rapidly “come up to speed” and begin producing useful results for the employer. Employers may not hire and train a new graduate when they can hire a recently laid-off scientist with exactly the technical skills they need.
Additionally, veteran industrial chemists will often have advanced soft skills that graduating chemists and post-docs leaving academia haven’t had the opportunity to develop. These include project management skills, polished oral presentation skills, teamwork opportunities and working productively with customers and suppliers. Also, preparing articles for industry trade magazines requires a different approach to writing than preparing a thesis or writing papers for research journals. The differences are important because industry trade journal articles can promote product sales while research journal papers seldom do this.
Having a practical understanding of how to protect intellectual property can help chemists work productively with patent attorneys to safeguard their employers’ interests. Many chemists, both industry veterans and novices, don’t have these skills. Therefore, veteran chemists who have these skills and can describe them clearly have a significant advantage in the job market.
Employers may be reluctant to hire veteran chemists because they feel they have to pay them more than recently graduated chemists. However, by emphasizing their ability to come up to speed rapidly and use their valuable skills gained through their experience, veteran chemists can overcome this reluctance.
Carefully choose your graduate and post-doctoral research advisors so you gain the knowledge and skills in demand when you looking for an industrial job. For example, nanotechnology is being increasingly utilized in catalysis, polymer fillers and consumer product formulations. Chemists leaving academia after working in nanotechnology can often take advantage of these needs and emphasizing their skills when job hunting.
Many industry veterans know the “rules of the road” for industrial job hunting. However, these rules have changed greatly over the last decade. Therefore, veteran chemists who have not been in the job market for many years may be competing ineffectively. Whether you are an industry veteran or are leaving academia for the first time you have to learn today’s job-hunting skills. These skills are taught in books, through ACS employment workshops and by talking to recently successful job hunters or recruiters.
Having a professional network of individuals who can provide job leads and expert job-hunting advice can be a major advantage in job hunting. It takes chemists time to develop these professional networks. Therefore, professional networks can be a source of advice for many veteran chemists looking for work. Unfortunately some veteran chemists do not take the time necessary to develop or maintain their professional networks because they feel they are too busy.
Novice chemists need not despair over their professional networks if they work at developing them starting a year or more before leaving the academic nest. Learn if your research advisors have industrial connections that will be helpful in your job-hunting efforts. You may want to consider this factor when choosing your graduate and postdoctoral research advisors.
Members of your professor’s research group who recently got industry jobs can be particularly helpful members of your professional network. This is because they work in the same or similar technology area as you and have recently honed their job-hunting skills in a very demanding job market.
The war for talent
The war for talent is not a battle between generations. Every job hunter is competing with every other to convince employers that they have the skills to best fill the available job opening. Rather than building up resentments towards other job hunters, the most effective strategies are to hone your own job hunting skills and professional networks. Good luck!
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.