Avoid Common Networking Mistakes

November 26, 2012

Productive networking requires strategy, research and patience. Networking is about building relationships—not simply selling yourself or only asking people to do favors for you. There are five mistakes networkers commonly make during job hunting:

  • Misusing the Internet
  • Being vague about what you want
  • Being selfish
  • Over-using members of your network thus burning them out
  • Stopping your networking after landing a job

Let’s look at how to avoid each of these problems.

Misusing the Internet

You can over-rely on the Internet by depending too much on e-mail and networking websites such as LinkedIn. It’s very easy for people to delete an e-mail or not respond to a LinkedIn™ message. Telephoning is good but nothing beats face to face meetings over lunch or coffee. People remember faces and conversations more than written messages.  You may want to use Twitter™ to send shorter messages rather than relying on e-mail.

Don’t be vague

Be specific when you tell networking contacts about your career goals, education and experience. Also be focused; rehearse your discussions on career goals, education and experience so your statements will be succinct, not vague and wordy. Know what you want in terms of a job and professional growth before beginning your networking discussions.  ACS offers helpful resources such as the new “ACS Career Pathways™” series of workshops and the book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers” that can support chemists in these efforts.

Don’t be selfish

Offer help to your networking contacts in any way you can. Show an interest in them. If you only try to extract value from others they won’t stay members of your network for long. Share information your network will find useful. Assist them in connecting with each other if it will be to their benefit. If your networking contact is doing something like organizing a symposium or doing work for your ACS local section, offer to help.

Don’t overuse members of your network

By developing a broad network of useful contacts you’ll avoid the need to contact individuals excessively. Frequently contacting members of your network regarding your job hunt can burn them out. A good idea is to ask your contacts when it would be a good time to telephone them again. Then you’ll have a feeling for how soon you should call.

Contact members of your network when you have specific news to report concerning your job hunt. Also, when you have other news that should interest them or you are sending information you promised. Try to make every e-mail message you send useful in some way to the recipient.

Don’t stop networking after you find a job

Professional networks are like houseplants; they require continuing care and maintenance. Otherwise, the members of network may not respond when you contact them after a long interval. Don’t ever stop networking, even after you get a job; that way your network is in place when you need it again.

For example, my networking at an ACS national meeting with a professor led to an invitation to present a seminar to his engineering department. Subsequent discussions led us to jointly submit a grant proposal to the NSF in which I was listed as a principal investigator. We received our grant impressing my supervisor and coworkers. Our joint research resulted in issued patents on paper recycling technology and the use of one of my employer’s products in a newly developed paper recycling process.

If you’re not job hunting then members of your network may be able to provide other useful assistance such as suggesting potential research collaborators, recommending a particular model of a laboratory instrument to purchase, or helping you solve research problems.

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. As an ACS Councilor, he serves on the Joint Board – Council Committee Patents and Related Matters.

Are Your Communications in Context?

November 22, 2012

Once upon a time there was a scientist who worked at a company in a highly-regulated industry – let’s call her Olivia.  When she started at the company, she was hired to conduct quality assurance work – testing new and potential products, troubleshooting formulations and processes, and developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for new processes and procedures.  She got along well with her colleagues, enjoyed her work very much, and received glowing annual reviews. Over the years, her responsibilities grew to include reviewing procedures and reports written by her colleagues.  In addition to conducting tests herself, she was now responsible for identifying discrepancies in tests that other people had conducted, and making sure any deviations from standard protocols were documented satisfactorily.

After a few years, Olivia decided to cut her working hours to half-time. She gave up the lab work, and focused on reviewing SOPs and product development reports of her colleagues, notifying them of deviations from the established protocols, and ensuring that they were corrected in a timely manner.  While she missed the daily interactions with her colleagues, this provided the needed balance in her personal life.  However, at her next annual review, she was surprised to learn that her peers had reported problems with her attitude, and her overall rating had been downgraded.

What happened?  She was still doing exactly the same type of regulatory oversight work that she had been doing before.  However, she was no longer in the lab, so she no longer had regular, daily contact with the other scientists.  In fact, the only time most of them heard from her was when she was pointing out a problem and demanding it be fixed by a certain date.

In another situation, Jason was trying to contact a potential seminar speaker, to confirm details of his upcoming talk.  As the date of the talk got closer, Jason got more and more nervous as the speaker did not answer emails.  Jason mentioned this problem to a co-worker who knew the speaker, and who suggested Jason send a text message with his question instead.  Jason did, and less than 5 minutes later he had his answer.

What changed?  In this case, the message was the same, but the method of delivery changed.  With the deluge of emails, the speaker easily missed one from Jason, but fewer people texted him, so the message stood out.  Since it required a quick, factual answer, it was easy for the speaker to answer quickly.

In each of these cases, a small change to a single aspect of the communication (or attempted communication) either caused or solved a problem.

In the first case, it was Olivia’s relationship with her colleagues that changed.  Instead of being one of them, she was now the enforcer from above, and only appeared to point out their mistakes.  Without the pleasantries of small talk and shared technical experiences, her relationship with the scientists quickly faded.  They came to dread hearing from Olivia, and their ratings of her performance reflected that fact.

In the second case, it was not the relationship but the method of communication that changed.  These days, we have a plethora of communication methods from which to choose (face to face, phone, email, text, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, ACS Network, LinkedIn…..).  By identifying the method his colleague preferred, Jason was able to make it easy for him to respond, and Jason got the information he needed in a timely manner.

Communication is one of the most important non-technical skills in the workplace today, and the methods available for communication are continually evolving.  One of the best things you can do when planning your communications (and you do plan them, don’t you?) is to put yourself in the place of your intended audience.  What do they want or need to know, in what format will the information be most useful to them, do they need any context, and so on.  By taking a few moments to consider the best way to convey your message to the recipient, you will maximize the value of your communications and enhance your own reputation.

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.

Four Key Leadership Qualities

November 19, 2012

Leaders exist at all levels of the organization whether they are in formal management positions or not. Leaders are the people whom others look define strategies and guide them to solutions to problems. Leaders possess four key qualities: strategic thinking, executing, influencing others, and relationship building. Let’s look at each.

Strategic thinking

Strategic thinking is identifying and developing new and unique opportunities for the employer to create value for customers. Strategic thinkers do not come up with all the answers themselves but do promote creative dialogue among employees who can affect a company’s strategy and direction. Strategic thinking involves understanding the fundamental drivers of a company and identifying opportunities for creating value through the development and growth of new businesses. Leadership may involve challenging current assumptions about the employer’s value proposition. (The value proposition is the unique value a firm offers its customers. It is why your customers prefer to do business with your firm and not its competitors.)

Strategic thinking must take into account: your firm’s strengths and how they can be used to create a competitive advantage. It also requires understanding your employer’s weaknesses and how they can leave the company vulnerable to competitors.

The result of strategic thinking is an action statement defining the goal you want the company to achieve. For example, when I headed my employer’s pulp and paper chemicals team, our action statement was “Become the number 1 supplier of biodegradable chemicals that remove ink from pulped wastepaper for paper recycling.”

To be a good strategic thinker, you must develop the capability to clearly define your objectives and develop a plan to achieve each objective. Thus, for each objective, you’ll need to establish a set of tasks that will accomplish that objective.  Developing a list of resources and a timeline to accomplish each objective is also important. Using the basic principles of project management (1) is very helpful. The technique of mind mapping (2) to develop objectives plans to achieve them, and explain these plans and objectives to others can also be quite useful.

Your plans need to be flexible to account for changing circumstances. Using project management is an excellent way to do this. If you set up your plan using project management, project milestones can be occasions to review progress, assess the current situation and change plans as needed. Milestones are the completion of a major task in your project.


Having developed plans to generate and grow new businesses, you must now execute the plans. In some cases you can do this working alone or with a couple of technicians. For other plans, you may need to assemble a multidisciplinary project team. To execute major efforts, more than one team may need to be assembled.

Project management is essential to keep projects on schedule and preventing them from drifting off course (1, 3, 4). This requires effective communications between the project manager and team members and among the between team members. Proper planning, establishing project milestones and smart staffing can keep projects on schedule.

Influencing others

The old workplace style of command and control leadership is decreasingly productive in today’s fluid work environments with project team members reporting to different managers, team members often working for different organizations (suppliers, customers, consultants, etc.) and coworkers increasingly scattered across different work locations.

To get one’s plans and proposals accepted and obtain budgetary and other needed support, you must influence others. This means developing persuasive arguments to get what you want and be able to get others to accept these arguments in a nonabrasive way. Often you must gain the support of people who do not report to you but are your peers in other parts of the company or even are your superiors (5, 6).  Negotiating skills are often essential in doing this. It is essential to approach negotiations with the goal of developing win-win agreements. Start negotiations with your goal clearly in mind but be willing to compromise to get most of what you want.

Relationship building

Another essential skill is relationship building. When you are trying to get people to accept your proposals, good working relationships with stakeholders can reduce their resistance to change. However, many chemists, because of the pressures of routine activities, do not devote adequate time to building beneficial relationships with coworkers. How can you do so?

Listen to your coworkers and colleagues to learn what their goals and skills are. When you identify relevant information they may be interested in, send it to them. Respond when coworkers when ask you for your opinions or feedback. Above all, reciprocate by helping others when they help you. Be sure to thank them for the efforts in helping you.

Building relationships in this way is enlightened self interest. When senior managers make promotion decisions, they usually consult their colleagues. In choosing between two equally qualified colleagues, they’ll usually pick the individual with whom they feel they can work best.


  1. J.K. Borchardt, “Project Management for Teams,” Today’s Chemist at Work, http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/tcaw/11/i05/html/05work.html (May 2002).
  2. J,K, Borchardt, “Mind Mapping,” Lab Manager, http://www.labmanager.com/articles.asp?ID=753 (October 7, 2010).
  3. J.K. Borchardt, “Invention, Innnovation and Lab Management,” Lab Manager, www.labmanager.com/articles.asp?ID=171 (January 2009).
  4. J.K. Borchardt, “Staying on Schedule,” Lab Manager, http://www.labmanager.com/articles.asp?ID=332 (August 2009).
  5. Alan R. Cohen and David L. Brandford, Influence without Authority, John Wiley & Sons, 2nd edition (2005).
  6. Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp, Getting It Done: How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge, HarperBusiness (1999).

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.

What You Should Be Doing?

November 12, 2012

Being unemployed is bad enough, but when unemployment stretches out for a long period of time, it brings all sorts of new complications.  There are a few things you could be doing during this time to ensure you are able to navigate this tumultuous time.

Assess your finances.  Based on your personal situation, will you have the luxury of conducting a prolonged job search, be able to take a temporary contracting position, or will you need to take a “survival job” to get some income in the door quickly? If you get into “survival job” mode, are you choosing a job that brings you more than just a paycheck?  For example, you could work at a local coffee house, restaurant or grocery store geographically close to a company at which you would like to work, and strike up conversations with customers there to learn about the company and potential openings.  Ideally, the job will bring you into contact with people who help connect you to your preferred work, providing both networking opportunities and financial support.

Evaluate your priorities.  Are you willing to relocate for a new position, or do you have geographic or other restrictions?  If you are unwilling to change location, are there enough suitable opportunities in your location?  If not, you may have to re-adjust your definition of ‘suitable’, which might include taking additional training courses or an internship to make yourself qualified for related occupations within your local area.

Attend technical and professional meetings.  Many professional meetings have reduced or waived fees for unemployed members.  Take advantage of them!  Search out related professional societies, such as the American Chemical Society, and find local or regional meetings in areas that are of interest to you. Use the time between jobs to attend conferences and meet other professionals; while keeping current on scientific discoveries.  Keep yourself focused on the latest chemical information and processes.

Read journal articles.  Check with major universities in your town, and find out which ones allow public access to the journals you prefer.  Being an alumnus may also grant you library access.  Browse the table of contents, or use what you learned at the technical meetings or from reading Chemical and Engineering News as search topics.

Attend networking events.  Find local organizations that are chemistry or life-science based, attend a few of their events, and if it’s a good fit, join.  Not only will this broaden your professional network, but it will also give you another avenue to learn about local employment trends.  You can create and print business cards at a very low cost, or even free, to leave with your newly encountered contacts.  You should also create and update your ACS Network and LinkedIn profiles, and use social networks to find new contacts in your area.  Invite them for coffee, or ask to meet and discuss what their day-to-day life is like on the job.  Never come right out and ask for a job, but use your network to find openings and solicit feedback on potential companies and bosses.

Volunteer and become active with professional organizations.  Beyond just joining an organization and attending meetings, volunteer to help.  You can do something as simple as offering to help out at the registration table (allowing you to meet everyone who attends), or something as complex as organizing a technical session with multiple speakers (allowing you to invite people you’d like to hear speak).  Helping out lets you meet the active and involved people who can connect you to opportunities.  It also shows them that you are a reliable, valuable addition to the team, and someone they would be happy to work with.  You could even volunteer to facilitate a group of unemployed professionals who might need emotional support or ideas to jump start their own job searches.

Continue your education.  Even if you don’t need a certification for your next job, taking a class can help add structure to your time off and increase your value to your future employer.  Local community colleges, online courses, your professional association, or regional training centers may offer continuing education courses in technical writing, business administration, intellectual property, public speaking or even biotechnology and Six Sigma Certification.

No matter how long your period of unemployment lasts, you will always have to answer the question “What have you been doing with your time?”  Whether asked during a networking or social event or during a job interview, you need to have a prepared and professional answer to that question.  By putting into practice some of the actions outlined above, you will have positive constructive things to talk about, and you can steer the conversation back to what you have done lately making you even more valuable to that particular employer.

As a matter of fact, all of these are good things to do, whether or not you’re currently employed.  Keeping your eyes open and preparing for your next opportunity should be something you do routinely, so you’re always ready for the next step on your career pathway.

This article inspired by a conversation with Joe Martino, ACS Career Consultant, and 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.

Is Your Resume Out of Style?

November 5, 2012

Just as clothing styles change over time, so do other styles.  While your resume still details your professional history, the overall look and specific content that employers expect to see changes over time.  If your resume style is outdated, that implies that you are out of touch with the current employment market.  Below are a few trends that have been observed in the chemical employment marketplace to test to see if your resume is “in style”.

Contact information

The first thing on your resume is your name and contact information, and that is probably never going to change.  However, as most communication is now electronic, including a physical mailing address has become less important.  All resumes should include an email address, but it is no longer necessary to include a street address, rather only the city and state which you reside. The email address does not have be your current employer’s (and probably should not be), but the username should not be flippant. Including the URL to your LinkedIn profile can provide more detailed information.

Executive Summary or Highlights

Instead of job objective describing the position you are seeking, more and more people are using an executive summary or highlights section.  This describes what you have done and what you can do, and will match a wider variety of possible openings.

Nouns and Verbs

People scan resumes for verbs, but computer keyword searches look for nouns, so include both.  For example, a person might skim for someone who has “managed”, while a human resources request might require a “manager”.  Including both words is better, and using them in context is even better for search engine optimization.  For example, “Manager Quality Assurance – ensured documentation, sample testing and calibration was conducted according to protocol and ISO/IEC 17025 standards as appropriate.”


In order to include all possible keywords, many candidates used a “Keywords” section where they listed 25 or so additional words that did not appear elsewhere in their document.  Since humans never read that section, and computers read the whole thing, it’s no longer a good use of space.  Keywords should be worked into the body of the resume.  For example, “NMR spectroscopist specializing in multi-dimensional analysis of protein structures” is better than, “NMR, proteins, structure”.

Paper is Out, PDF is In

The vast majority of resumes are sent electronically, read online, and never printed.  Therefore, how your resume looks when printed is not nearly as important as how the electronic version looks.  Sending an Adobe portable document format (pdf) version of your resume ensures that anyone will be able to read it, the formatting will remain as you wanted it, and no one will be able to accidentally edit it.

Keeping your personal data format (resume or CV) current is one way to show potential employers that you keep up with the changing requirements of the employment marketplace.  Making sure your style, as well as your content, is as current as possible, is an easy way to make a great first impression, and start you on the road to a new chapter in your professional life.

Get Involved In The Discussion.

The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers)._—Brought to you by ACS Careers.