When Does the Interview Start?

August 27, 2012

Recently I attended an ACS regional meeting, and had a very interesting discussion about interviewing.  It seems that region had a large employer of chemists, who always used a certain car company to pick up candidates from the airport and drive them to the corporate site for their job interview.  What the candidates did not know was that the vast majority of the drivers for this particular car service were retirees of said company, and they were instructed to engage the candidates in conversation.  The driver’s evaluation of the candidate was communicated to the hiring manager, and was factored into the employment decision.  For these candidates, the interview started the minute the driver met them in the airport – but most of them didn’t realize that, and many were a little too candid with the driver.

Over the years, I have talked to many people who learned this lesson the hard way.

There was the candidate who was running late for an interview, so he cut off another driver to get a parking space, and even made a rude gesture towards her.  Imagine his surprise when that driver ended up being his interviewer. For some reason, it was a short interview and he did not get an offer.

And then there was the candidate who sat in the company lobby waiting for her interview, talking on her cell phone about how she didn’t really care about this job, rather just interviewing for the practice.  Apparently the receptionist relayed that information to the hiring team, and there was no offer made there, either.

In reality, every interaction you have with anyone is part of an interview, and even more so when it’s someone who has connections to a company you’re interested in working for.  Since you don’t know whom anyone else knows, and you should always be looking for your next opportunity, the only safe bet is to consider every interaction important, and always be on your best professional behavior.

Think about the last time you interacted with someone who was peripheral to your project – a receptionist, administrative assistant, or even a summer intern.  Did you treat them with the same respect as everyone else on the team, or did you have “an attitude”?  Did you brush them off as unimportant?  Do you know what their relationship is with their supervisor?  What about with your supervisor?

Of course you should not treat everyone as a spy, and suspect them of ulterior motives.  Contrary to what you may believe, everyone is not focused on you.  Most people will only remember you if you make an exceptionally good or bad first impression.  Which one would you rather be remembered for?

So, go out of your way to leave a good impression.  When going on an official job interview, make sure to let them know how much you want the job, how much you have learned about the company from your research, and how well that job and that company match up with exactly what you want to do next in your career.  Even in casual conversations, be careful never to speak ill of people or companies, since you never know what connections someone has.  In your current job, your volunteer work, and anyplace else that you interact with fellow professionals, you always want to leave a good impression.  Do more than what is asked, with a positive attitude, and make sure to share the credit with your fellow team members.

You never know who will be the next person to put in a good, or bad, word for you with their boss – who just might become your boss, or connect you to your next boss, at some point in the future.

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:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.

Polishing Your Social Media Profile

August 20, 2012

The great thing about the Internet is that everything you ever wanted to know is available at any time, day or night, forever.  This is great when you want a reaction mechanism or to look up a paper, but how does this apply to people?

There is also a huge amount of information about YOU on the internet, some of which may surprise you.  With more and more employers conducting background checks online, it’s more important than ever that your online persona reflects the best possible you.  Below are a number of ways you can make sure your online persona includes your professional side, presented in the best possible light.

No matter what social networking site you’re using (ACS Network, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.)  you almost always start by creating a personal profile.  This profile provides all kinds of information about you, which is easily searchable by others.  While not all of the sections below are on all sites, the general rules apply to all.

If you haven’t heard, LinkedIn is a social network for professionals – think of it as Facebook for your colleagues, not your confidants.  It is the first place most recruiters and hiring managers go these days when they are looking to hire someone.  If you are looking for a job, or plan to ever look for a job, you need to have a presence there.  Furthermore, your LinkedIn profile is highly likely to be your future employer’s first impression, so you need to put in the time to make it shine – and then continue to keep it updated throughout your career.

To fill in your professional profile, start by copying and pasting the appropriate sections from your resume (you do have a current resume, don’t you?), then edit.  There are no page limits online, so you can expand on your accomplishments, but remember the goal is to intrigue the reader into contacting you for more information.   Automated searches will usually look for nouns (chemist, manager), while humans tend to search for verbs (analyzed, managed), so include both in your descriptions.  If you’re not sure what keywords to include, look at job board postings for the types of positions you are interested in (and qualified for), and use the same keywords.

If you’re going to include a photo, use a current, professional-quality headshot, with a simple background.  While some people omit the photo fearing age discrimination, including one personalizes your profile, and may remind people of whom you are.

LinkedIn allows you to include recommendations, or paragraphs that other people write about you (like a letter of recommendation). On the order of five to eight recommendations, ideally from a mixture of supervisors, colleagues, and direct reports, is good.  You initiate the process by requesting a recommendation from a connection.  The text is sent to you and you can approve it for posting, or not, but cannot change the content.  You might ask for recommendations when you are leaving a company or upon completion of a highly successful project.

One of the most important items in your profile is the headline, that 120 character tag line that goes with your name everywhere on the site.  You want it to be a concise summary of who you are and what you can do.  Don’t just use your job title, and definitely don’t use “Seeking position”.  Think carefully about how you want others to see you, and your capabilities.

Once you have a perfected profile, start connecting with your fellow professionals.  Spend a minute or two personalizing the request – don’t use the generic one.  Regularly add people you meet at conferences or talks, and comment on their status updates or answer their questions.  Periodically download your entire network to your personal address book (there’s a button to “export connections” on the Connections page on LinkedIn), so even if the Internet disappears tomorrow, you’ll still have the information.

None of this is exceptionally difficult, or even really time-consuming in the long run.  The habit of keeping your online profile current, and paying attention to your entire professional network, not just those who are physically near you, will pay enormous benefits over the course of your career.

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:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.

Teamwork Training

August 13, 2012

The ability to work in a team is essential in today’s workplace environment. This is true for many industries and many types of jobs. To be effective, each team member must coordinate their work with that of other team members like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Working together is the responsibility of each team member and team leader. However, working in a team doesn’t come naturally to many scientists. They’ve been trained in undergraduate and graduate school to work independently. That’s a major reason why team-building and training courses are big business in the United States. Since the recession hit, this type of training has been cut back at many firms to reduce costs. Team leaders have become more responsible for coaching team members in how to work together effectively.

Teamwork training

How do you train yourself or others to work effectively on teams? “We are developing a new science to show what works and doesn’t work and why,” says Eduardo Salas, an organizational psychologist at the University of Central Florida. His research is in this area and the subject of a paper in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science.

A team is not just a machine for doing things; it is a system of social relations. Teamwork training is about instilling knowledge, skills, and attitudes; all needed competencies to work effectively in teams. Team building helps individuals on a team learn about each other, clarify roles, work through problems, and cooperate towards accomplishing shared goals. Most interventions focus on the latter—”team building is the largest human-resources intervention in the world,” comments Salas. However, according to Salas, much teamwork training is ineffective. He suggests that organizations rarely do the front-end work of figuring out which they need in the way of effective teamwork training but rather deal with team effectiveness problems on an ad hoc basis.

One problem is that teamwork successes get published and talked about while failures just fade away. Yet sometimes one can often learn more from failures better than successes. In terms of training, it’s not difficult to determine if team members liked a training program or absorbed some of the knowledge it imparted. However, it’s much more complicated to evaluate team members who have adopted the behaviors in which they’ve been trained.

Managers are now less willing to take people off the job and to spend money on team training without clear proof that they’ll get what they paid for. This requirement has been invigorating for the science of teamwork, Salas suggests. “Because of the push for results, we are getting better at collecting the data and are making a better case for cause and effect.”

Where can you get teamwork training when corporate training budgets have been reduced? Reading books is a good way to start. References 1 and 2 below are two of the many books available on developing teamwork skills. Some independent consultants offer modestly priced teamwork training. Internet search engines can help you identify some of these individuals. Perhaps your ACS local section could organize a teamwork training short course presented by one of these individuals.

Capturing the information

In the wake of staff reductions, best practices that took years to develop can disappear overnight – without a trace. Why? The people who developed these teamwork skills and their team leaders have lost their jobs.  Much of this knowledge is never captured in reports. Because of the need for this information some large companies have developed knowledge retention programs to capture the data. One approach, on which I’ve worked, is to interview highly competent employees leaving their assignments as a result of retirement, job transfers, and promotions. The focus of these interviews is to capture information on teams’, both the successes and failures. The interviewer must be skilled in giving the interview and capturing outstanding performers’ teamwork experiences and opinions in well-written reports, reports understandable to people who aren’t specialists in the field of the team’s efforts.

These efforts work best if one hires outsiders, usually in a consultant capacity, to conduct the interviews and write the reports. Outsiders will not have preconceived notions of individual and team performance.

Methods of knowledge retention have been described (3-7).


1.    C.M. Avery, M.A. Walker, and E. O’Toole, Teamwork Is an Individual Skill: Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility, Berrett-Koehler Publishers (April 9, 2001).

2.    S.J. Stowell and S.S. Mead, The Team Approach: With Teamwork Anything Is Possible, CMOE Press (November 12, 2007).

  1. J.K. Borchardt, “Retaining Knowledge,” Lab Manager, http://www.labmanager.com/articles.asp?ID=595 (June 2010).
  2. S. Parise, R. Cross and T.H. Davenport, “Strategies for Preventing a Knowledge-Loss Crisis,” MIT Sloan Management Review, Vol. 47, No. 4, pp. 31-38 (Summer 2008).
  3. Knowledge Harvesting, Inc. http://www.knowledgeharvesting.com/Clients.html .
  4. D.W. DeLong, “Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce,” Oxford University Press (2004).
  5. M.T. Hansen and B. von Oetinger, “Introducing T-shaped Managers: Knowledge Management’s Next Generation,” Harvard Business Review Online (March-April 2001), http://hbr.org/2001/03/introducing-t-shaped-managers/ar/1.

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.

Do You Agree with Your (online) Self?

August 6, 2012

If you’ve ever sent an email, tweeted, or published a paper, you have an online presence.  Your “social media presence” or “digital identity” is the sum of everything you’ve ever sent or posted, your network of connections, and anything your colleagues have posted about you.  Many people are quite surprised when they first start reviewing their own online presence – and since employers use all this information in their recruiting efforts, it is to your advantage to make sure your online presence reflects your proper professional reputation.

Below are some steps you can use to take control of your digital self, and make sure your online persona is as professional as your offline one.

Gather Your Data

Start by doing a search on your name and email address to see what’s already out there about you.  Make sure to include any variants of your name (nicknames, initials) that others might use to search. Is the information accurate and current?  Does it provide a positive first impression for people who are looking to know more about you?  Is there so little information people will wonder what’s wrong with you?

If you have control over the source, it’s easy to correct outdated or inaccurate information.  If you do not have control over the source you can request that it be changed or deleted.

Create Some Content

Even if you correct information now, you don’t know where it has been archived, and will continue to appear.  Often, publishing new information, which pushes the older stuff lower in the search engine results, is the most effective way of making data disappear. Post positive, useful information in the comments on other blogs and articles, or start your own blog or twitter feed and provide pointers to useful papers or blogs relevant to your areas of interest.

Update Your Contacts

The real power of social networking is in your connections with other people.  Make it a habit to add people you meet to your online groups, and regularly download their information into your personal address book (in case the data in the cloud disappears).

Keep It Current

Make sure your ACS Network (www.acs.org/network), LinkedIn, and other professional sites have the most current information about your professional capabilities and qualifications.  Put a reminder in your calendar to refresh them every 6 months and take the opportunity to update your resume at the same time.


You can also use online reputation management tools, such as Reppler , BrandYourself, and/or Google Alerts to automatically notify you when new or potentially inappropriate content appears, so you can remove it quickly before it propagates.

Just as you build and guard your professional reputation in real life, you must build and guard your digital reputation.  For many people, including potential employers, the first impression of you will be shaped by what they find online. Make sure what they find is what you want them to see, and is a true reflection of who you are as a professional.

Get Involved In The Discussion

Welcome to the ACS Career Tips column. Each month, this column provides advice and answers to career-related questions on a variety of topics, from job search to career development and transitions.  Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network  — Brought to you by ACS Careers.