Take Charge of Your Training

June 24, 2013

At the recent ACS Leadership Institute, I participated in many discussions on the current and future state of the employment market for chemists.  Much was as I thought – the employment market is perhaps starting to rebound, but there is a lot of pent-up demand.  It will be a long time before it’s a job seeker’s market again, but there is hope.  One point that hit home with me was made by John Borchardt, ACS Career Consultant.  John said “Companies are much less willing to tolerate employees’ learning curves.”


It used to be that companies would hire capable, accomplished people, then train them as to how to do the job.  When it was time for the person to move up, they company would provide training in leadership and management, or whatever was necessary to prepare them for the next step on the career ladder.


As the employment market shifted, companies started cutting back on training.  For a while they supported it, by allowing employees time off to take training classes, and sometimes paying for classes taught by outside organizations.


In today’s world, companies expect you to walk in not only ready to do the job, but having already proven yourself by doing similar things successfully in previous positions.  If there are parts of the job you are less familiar with, you are expected to learn how to do those on your own time, at your own expense.  If you’re lucky, your supervisor and co-workers will point out where you need to improve, so you can get the training and experience you need to be successful – before it’s too late.


As you go through your career, you will find things that you are good at, and things that you are not so good at.  Skills that were not important to you early in your career may become more important later on.  Things you didn’t enjoy doing when you were younger may become more enjoyable later on.  You are never done learning and growing, and therefore need to constantly evaluate both where you are and where you want to go.


You should take advantage of every training opportunity that comes along.  If your company provides training, wonderful!  Often if you can prove that taking that training is going to provide a benefit to the company, you will be able to get both approval and support.


If that doesn’t work, offer to split the costs with your employer.  Maybe they pay the fee and travel expenses, but you agree to work extra hours ahead of time to cover the work that you will miss while you are gone.


If that doesn’t work, there are always low cost options.  Look into spending your lunch hour listening to a webinar, or taking an evening course at a local community college.


Depending on what it is you are trying to learn, you might also be able to take on a volunteer position that will give you practical experience in some new area that you don’t get in your job, and eventually will lead to accomplishments that you can list on your resume.


It’s up to you to determine what important skills are missing from your personal experience, or which ones you need to get better at, and then find ways to get training and experience in those skills.  Even if what you learn is you really don’t like doing those particular types of task, which in itself is valuable information, you can use when you plan the next stage in your career path.



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


Preparing for a Career Fair

June 20, 2013

A career fair is a great way to talk to employers, find out what’s going on in your industry, and advance your professional agenda.  It is free and open to all ACS members who are registered for the national meeting. If you plan to participate, check out the tips below on how to make the most of this opportunity.

Before You Go

To get the most out of the career fair, you should register now, so employers can search your information. Once you are registered, you can post your resume, browse  jobs and request  interviews.

You need to have clear idea of what you’re looking for in a job – an objective that you can state in 1-2 sentences (like the objective on your resume) when you meet new people.  You may have more than one, if you’re open to multiple types of positions. If you do, make sure to communicate the right one to the right people.  Know what you must have in a new position, what you’d like to have, and what you can live without.

Research which companies will be in attendance at the fair, and learn as much as you can about them.  You may be surprised where the opportunities are.  Don’t forget to look at speakers in technical sessions, and identify ones to whom you want to talk.  Not just chemical companies, but personal care products, food, small companies, federal government, etc. all hire chemists to do all sorts of things, so investigate all opportunities before you go, and make note of the ones in which you are most interested.

Getting Ready

Pack a large stack of  business cards and 20 copies of your resume, and know where the copy center is in case you need more.  Pack for the weather where you are going, and of course, dress professionally.

At The Fair

During the Fair, you should check your account regularly for updates, and keep in touch with employers who contact you.

Once you are on-site, there will be lots to do.  On a walk-in basis there will be workshops on a variety of career related topics, including Targeting the Job Market, Resume Preparation, Effective Interviewing, First Year On the Job, Proposal Writing, and so on. You will also be able to sign up for a 30 minute personal resume review, or for a mock interview with an ACS Career Consultant.  Sign up early, as all slots usually fill, and you can sign up no more than one day ahead of time.

What to Expect

If possible, have a mock interview before you start real interviews, to identify and fix any problem areas.

If you are scheduled for a real interview, do much more research on the company.  Make sure to be on time (which means 10 minutes early), and allow for travel time.

To begin, shake hands, look the interviewer in the eye, and introduce yourself.  Sit down after invited to do so, or after the interviewer does. Throughout the interview be positive, don’t interrupt, and avoid nervous habits.  Listen to what they have to say, as well as telling them about yourself.

Be prepared to talk about your research for a 5 minute mini-seminar, with a flow sheet or diagrams handy to guide the discussion.

At end stand up, shake hands again, thank them for the interview, and ask them for their business card.


Make sure to send a thank you note, most likely an email before the end of the national meeting. Follow up with the company if you haven’t heard from them in 2-3 weeks, to let them know you’re still interested.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).

What Motivates You? Lessons from “Drive” by Daniel Pink

June 17, 2013

I recently read the book “Drive” by Daniel H Pink (http://www.danpink.com/). While I’m not sure it’s going to “change how (I) think and transform how (I) live” as the dust jacket promises, there are a few things in there that made me think.

Traditional motivational theory talks about using carrots and sticks (usually in the form of monetary rewards and punishments) to get people to do what you want them to do, or stop them from doing things you don’t want them to do. While companies have used these motivators for a long time, Pink describes new research that indicates human motivation is a much more complex process. The “cocktail party summary” of the research to date is that human motivation actually has three parts, autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy means that humans want to direct our own lives and have some say over what we are going to do. Perceived control is an important part of one’s happiness, but what people want control over varies – it may be the tasks they have to do, how they are going to accomplish those tasks, other people, and so on.

The second part is mastery – we all have the urge to get better and better at something that matters. Mastery of a task is an asymptote. You can get close, but you can never get there – there’s always some aspect that you could do at least a little better. But just getting close makes you want to get just a little bit closer…. There needs to be a match between what you must do and what you can do. You want your job to be challenging, but not impossible and not boring.

Finally, we are motivated by purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. We want to feel that our work matters, that we are contributing to making the world a better place. Some of the most interesting studies in this book had to do with artists. For example, independent studies of a variety of artwork showed that commissioned works were judged to be significantly less creative than non-commissioned works. Apparently, doing it for the money made the creative process less enjoyable and less creative. Studies also found that artists who were more intrinsically motivated were better able to weather the down times in their careers, continued to spend more time on their art than those who were financially motivated, and over time produced superior art. The very fact that they were doing it for love, and not for the money, is what brought the recognition (and money) to them in the end.

This may be a good time to stop and think about what motivates you, and how your current professional position is meeting those motivations. Are there parts of your job that are under your control, and are those the parts you want to control? Are there parts you truly enjoy, that you are actively striving to do better? And finally, do you have a sense of fulfillment that your current work is making the world a better place?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, figure out where the mismatch is, and what you need to change. Once your motivations are being reinforced by your environment, success is sure to follow.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.

How To Ask For Help

June 10, 2013

These days, we all need a little help from our friends. If you’re unemployed or under-employed, chances are many of your friends have been there, empathize with you, and want to help.  But you need to let them know you need help – you need to ask.

Asking for help is not something everyone does well.  In fact, several people have recently asked me for help in interesting ways*, prompting me to think about you can effectively ask for help.  I decided there are really two parts – know what to ask for, and know people of whom you can ask things.

First, and most importantly, know what your goal is, and do a reality check on it.  If you tell me you “need a job”, i may point you to the Burger King down the street that is hiring.  Conversely, if you tell me you want a new job as a medicinal chemist working on oncology targets for an international pharmaceutical company in St. Louis, I’m going to tell you those jobs don’t exist anymore.  Make sure your career goal is specific enough that others will recognize it when they see it, but also realistic.

If you don’t know exactly what kind of job you want, that’s okay.  Your first goal may be to identify some possible career paths that will let you do more teamwork and less leadership, for example.  In that case, you are not looking for a job (yet), but ideas, information, and introductions to others in those new areas.  For example, a friend recently told me she’s unhappy with her employer of 10 years, as she has been reorganized into a group she does not enjoy, and she’s realized the company is rewarding people for things she does not enjoy doing.  Her personal life has also changed over the years, and she now needs more flexibility in her work life.  We were able to come up with a few possible career paths that would take advantage of abilities she has and does enjoy using, and I was able to give her contact info for several people in each of those fields, so she can investigate further.

One thing to remember is that when she asked me to help her brainstorm, I had known her for several years, and we have worked together on several volunteer projects.  She was did not find my name on the internet and send a resume out of the blue.  You need to build your network of professional relationships BEFORE you ask for help.  Those with whom you have a previous relationship will be much more willing to help you, and to go out of their way to identify resources they have that might be of value to you.

One of the best resources they can give you is a lead on someone they know, who has information about your target field.  In this case, you are using your friend’s reputation to gain entry to someone you may not have been able to reach on your own.  Ideally, you want to get the lead’s name and contact information, then contact them yourself while mentioning the name of the person who put you in touch with each other.  That way you make sure to present yourself to your best advantage, and you can start your own professional relationship with the new person.

Building your own professional network, one person at a time, will hold you in good stead when you next need to ask for help.  And knowing what to ask for will make it easy for them to help you find it.

*  One person, whom I had never met, found my home phone number and called me one evening to complain that I had not answered their email asking for a resume review quickly enough. Another person came to a talk I gave on how to write a better resume, then afterwards told me they were looking for a job, handed me a copy of their less-than-perfect resume, and ran out of the room.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.

Being There, Even When You’re Not

June 3, 2013

With warmer weather and school breaks, many people are planning summer vacations.  Whether you’re taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip around the world, or making it a staycation in your own hometown, the common factor is being away from work for an extended period.  While it’s great to unplug and recharge, a little planning can go a long way towards making sure that your absence does not disrupt your workplace any more than absolutely necessary.

Plan Ahead

When planning when to take your time off, make sure you have no hard deadlines or deliverables occurring while you’re gone, or immediately after your return.  If your trip is scheduled immediately after a big deadline, make sure that schedule is not going to slip, causing it to shift into your planned time off – or plan for what you will do if it does.

Determine Availability

Think about your travel plans.  How often will you realistically be able (and willing) to check voice mail and electronic mail?  Will you be camping on a mountain in West Virginia, with no connectivity for the entire time you’re gone?  Or will you be hanging out at home, where you could check voice mail and email on a daily basis?  As well, consider how often you want to check in.  Some people need to completely disconnect in order to recharge, while others feel better if they can keep in touch regularly.

Make Availability Clear

Let your boss and direct know how often you’ll check email or voice mail, and when they can expect to hear from you. Set their expectations appropriately, and then stick to what you said.  If you do leave a contact number, expect people to use it.

Get Coverage

For each of your major projects, identify someone knowledgeable who will be available to answer questions and make decisions in your absence.  Put their contact information in your email autoreply, your voice mail message, and post it on the door of your office.  For regularly scheduled meetings, get someone else to cover for you, or cancel or re-schedule if necessary.  Of course, this means that you are willing to cover for others when they take their time off as well.

Publicize In Advance

Let people know ahead of time when you will be out of the office, and with enough notice that they can get what they need before you go.  You don’t want people coming to your office to get a crucial piece of information and being surprised when the office is empty.

Ideally, you set things up so well that when you return, no one will know you were even gone.  While it can be sobering to realize you are not as indispensible as you thought you were, it’s actually a positive reflection on your organizational and planning skills.  If you show that you have your responsibilities well under control, and that they continue progressing even when you’re not there, it will be that much easier the next time you want to take some time away.

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 Careers blog (acscareers.wordpress.com)._—Brought to you by ACS Careers