Get Technical with Your Resume

September 30, 2013

It can often feel like your resume is lost in a deep cyber abyss after clicking “submit”. That’s why many people seek advice on how to make their resume stand out. The problem is that people start following the same advice, so one resume begins to look like every other as trendy buzzwords are circulated. My advice is two-fold: 1) to get back to the basics and 2) go with your instincts.

To get back to the basics, think about what you look for when searching for job openings. Have you ever used search words like “confident” or “team player” when searching for jobs? Probably not. You may have used techniques to search for jobs, such as “chromatography” or “mass spectrometry”.  By considering what you search for, you can compile a list of techniques that highlights your relevant skills and experience.

After completing graduate school, I carefully constructed my first resume. It included a long list of techniques that I had used during my research. I considered that list to be an essential component of the resume, demonstrating my technical capabilities. Shortly after submitting my resume to about 100 job openings, I read the following statement in an article advising people on what not to put on their resume: “Don’t put a list of techniques on your resume”. Based on that advice, I was beginning to doubt my resume, when I received a request for a phone interview, which later became my first job offer, based solely on one of the techniques listed on my resume.

While it is true that a list of techniques may sound boring, your primary goal should not be to entertain people with your resume – it should be to inform them about your skills. For a technical position, it makes sense to put a strong emphasis on your technical skills. It is safe to assume that every hiring manager is seeking someone who is confident, self-motivated, accomplished, a team player, etc… In fact, you can find hundreds of the trendiest resume buzzwords online in five seconds. Keep in mind that chemistry is a technical field, and hiring managers for chemistry-related positions are seeking someone who has relevant technical skills. That is what gets your foot in the door for a technical position, and that is what your resume is for – getting your foot in the door. The interview is your chance to demonstrate your interpersonal skills.

A list of techniques does more than you might think. It highlights three important areas that hiring managers want to know about: your knowledge, your skills, and your experience. Including a technique indicates that you posses some knowledge about what it is and how to use it, you have applied the technique and acquired some degree of skill, and in doing so, you have gained experience using that instrument or method and interpreting the data to resolve a problem. You don’t have to go into detail about exactly how you used each technique – save that for the interview.

Be careful not to exaggerate your technical capabilities on your resume. Remember, anything and everything you put on your resume can and will be discussed during an interview. Make sure that you can speak to every bullet point. Be prepared to back up your list of techniques with examples that demonstrate your problem-solving abilities. How did you use technique X, Y, or Z, and how does that experience relate to the job? It is your technical experience – whether it’s a previous chemistry job, graduate research, or coursework – that relates to your ability to perform the daily tasks of a technical position. The key is to connect the dots between your list of techniques and the job requirements.

Finally, go with your instincts. A highly technical resume has worked well for me. However, if my advice doesn’t resonate with you or contradicts what you think is important for your resume, don’t use it. After all, if I had followed the wrong advice at the wrong time, I might have removed my boring list of techniques and missed out on a great job opportunity.


This article was written by Sherrie Elzey, Ph.D., a chemical engineer and freelance technical writer/editor. Sherrie has a background in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, with experience in academia, government, and industry positions.


Common Resistances to Changing Jobs

September 23, 2013

A great job opportunity is yours for the taking. It sounds like the chance of a lifetime, and yet you find yourself resisting the urge to go for it. Changing jobs or pursuing a new career path is a big decision that should not be made in haste. However, there are some common reasons why people resist an opportunity even when they really want to go for it. Resistances can cause a great deal of stress and make you doubt whether the job is really what you want. It is helpful to identify your resistances so that you can make the choice that is right for you.

Staying in your comfort zone

Your current job is familiar, and it can be comfortable to stay with what you know. This is especially true if you like your job and feel that you are good at it. You are also familiar with the people you work with and the company culture. Even if you aren’t particularly happy with your job, your boss, your benefits, ect., at least you know what to expect. What if I give up all this for something that is unpredictable?

Fear of Failure

In addition to being familiar, your current job is likely something you are good at. People are hired because they possess certain knowledge and skills that make them good at their jobs, and experience adds to that competency. If the new job opportunity involves more responsibility or requires new skills, you might be afraid that you won’t be able to handle it. What if I go for it and can’t cut it?

Minimize Risk

You have a job. You have a regular paycheck. Stable employment is not something to take for granted. Although you recognize that the new job is a great opportunity, it can feel risky to change jobs. The risk is even greater if you are changing companies, switching career paths, or moving to a new state or country. What if I make this change, and it doesn’t work out?

No Regrets

People can be so afraid of having regrets that they avoid trying. If you don’t try, you can’t fail, and you won’t feel like you wish you wouldn’t have. What if I take this job, and I wish I could go back?

At this point, you should see a common theme among these resistances. They are all based on what-if thinking: What if I don’t like the new job? What if I’m not good at it? What if I take it, fail, and lose my job? What if I make the change and regret it? It’s no coincidence that these resistances are all phrased as questions, because they are really all based on fear of the unknown. If you could fast forward and see exactly what the new job is like and how much you would or would not like it, the choice would be easy. In reality, the only way to answer these questions is to make the unknown, known: take the risk and go for it.

Your resistances may be valid and should be considered. However, the decision should be based on what you really want for yourself and your career, and not on the anticipation of worst-case scenarios. Remember, people often regret what they don’t do more than what they do.

This article was written by Sherrie Elzey, Ph.D., a chemical engineer and freelance technical writer/editor. Sherrie has a background in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, with experience in academia, government, and industry positions. 

Your Career as a Tourist

September 16, 2013

I recently took a significant family vacation, which required a lot of planning, organization, and communication.  As I thought about how we prepared for and experienced the trip, it occurred to me how well this process paralleled the career transition process.

When we decided to take a big trip, we started by gathering everyone involved, and discussing where we wanted to go. Not specific attractions or activities, just listing major cities/locations, and figuring out which destinations would work together.  Before too long, we had agreed to a basic itinerary.  In the same way, when you’re thinking about the next phase of your career, you want to start by discussing various options with other interested parties.  You may have a general idea of where you want to go next, but it will be modified by requirements from others such as a spouse who can’t relocate, a desire for more or less travel, etc… Eventually, you will come to an agreement about what is required, and what is merely desired, in your next professional destination.

Once we had our list of destinations, we obtained as much information as possible about each one.  We looked online, at both official and unofficial sources, as well as reading books (yes, actual dead trees).  Learning about our destinations, their history and current offerings, gave us a better feeling for what to expect, and allowed us to enjoy the actual visit more.  We added some things to our itinerary, and deleted others.  In the same way, researching career options that appear interesting will reveal hidden aspects that will make them more or less attractive to you.  The more you learn about a new field, the better you will be able to determine if that path is right for you.

We talked to people who had recently visited these locations, as well as people who currently lived there. When researching new career options, do you talk to people who have been doing that for a long time, as well as people who have just moved into that field?  Both novices and experts have useful information, and provide information not found in any printed publication.

We also used a travel agent who was based at our destination, not in our hometown.  Like a good recruiter, she had the inside track on current issues, but because we had done research on our own we were able to communicate effectively with her, and make more informed decisions quickly when she presented us with options.

Before we could leave on the trip, we had to think about what we would need for the journey, and pack it.  Some things we already had, but others we had to go out and acquire.  Similarly, a new job or new career path may require new skills, which you will need to acquire through education or experience.

Once on the trip, we pretty much followed our itinerary.  However, we had purposely left some time unscheduled.  An advertisement we saw while on the trip made us aware of a new attraction, and we used one of the gaps in our schedule to visit it.  That detour turned out to be one of the high points of the trip for everyone!  Just like in your career path, taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity can lead you in a whole new direction that you never knew you loved.  You should always be on the lookout for new professional experiences, and don’t be afraid to take a chance and try something different.

Throughout our adventure, we tried to balance the interests and desires of everyone in our group.  By the end of the trip, everyone had done something they really loved, many things they liked, and had spent some time completely bored waiting on the others.  We adjusted our plans along the way as some activities turned out to be better than expected, and others were disappointments.  Just like a career, where you will love some parts of the job and dislike others, overall you will hopefully find a balance that satisfies your own personal situation.

Now that we have returned home, the only thing left to do is sort through the pictures and memorabilia, and put it neatly into the scrapbook for whenever we want to revisit our adventure.  The sorting and reflecting is important, as it allows us to look back at the experience as a whole, and learn from it for the next time.  When you move on to a new stage in your career, do you take time to review the highlights and lowlights of the previous stage, or even of your entire career (maybe while you’re updating your resume)?  Spending some time reflecting on your professional journey to date can provide valuable insights, and prepare you to make more informed decisions about your next destination – be it vocational or vacational.

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.

Before Changing Careers

September 9, 2013

There are many types of jobs to pursue after completing a degree in chemistry: laboratory work, scientific writing, project management, and teaching in a variety of areas of chemistry like medicinal chemistry, materials science, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, or forensic chemistry.  A few years or even decades later, you may realize you want to jump onto another career path. Before deciding, ask yourself a few questions.

What do you want to do instead? This can be tough. If you do not have a career in mind, explore what aspects of your job you enjoy and what aspects you would be happy to leave behind. A pharmaceutical chemist may enjoy the theory behind the lab work but not actually like being in the lab. Looking into a data analysis role could be great idea for this chemist.

What are you qualified to do? Education can play an important role here. Scientific careers often require a certain level of education in the subject area; however, a science degree may be used in non-scientific careers. Teaching college chemistry tends to require a master’s degree in chemistry if not a doctorate. Grant writing may require a college degree but it doesn’t have to be in English or writing, a degree in chemistry may work here.

Will you need to go back to school or get further training? If you are not qualified for the career you want, figure out what you need to get there.  If you are trying to change departments, perhaps all you need is on-the-job training that your company will provide. Discovering a love of patent law and deciding to practice law, however, will require you to go back to law school.

Is it feasible for you to go back to school? Paying for school is a consideration. Your current employer may pay for part or all of your education if you will be able to use it working for them. You may be comfortable taking out loans to pay for school yourself, but that can be a tough decision later in your working years. You may have to consider other career options, rather than becoming a patent lawyer perhaps being a scientific consultant on patents would be a better choice.

If you are going back to school, will you continue to work or quit and go to school full time? It may make sense to quit and finish school quickly, depending on your circumstances. Often, people will have commitments that they have to meet, and will only be able to go to school part-time. Keep in mind you may be more focused now then when you first studied chemistry but you most likely have more responsibilities and your time is stretched thinner than before.

Can you translate skills learned in your current career to another? Conducting meetings and public speaking skills may help you to give college lectures.

What life/work balance do you need? Having many personal commitments- taking care of small children or elderly parents for example-may make going back to school or changing to a career that has longer hours difficult and is something to take into account before leaving your job.

What is the job market like for the career you want? You may try to hold onto your current job a little longer and stockpile savings if your new career field is not in high demand or is unstable.

After considering these questions, prepare yourself:

  • Get your paperwork in order
    • Update your resume to emphasize skills from past jobs that will be applicable in the future. Remove parts of your job description that are no longer relevant.
    • Find out the time line for applying to schools. Order transcripts, take entrance exams, and ask for letters of recommendation.
    • Network
      • When trying to move within your company, talk to your current supervisor about your goals and see about getting his or her guidance.
      • Connect with schoolmates and friends in this field to learn more and find out about opportunities that are available.
      • Utilize technology like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc…
      • Utilize the ACS Career Consultants for professional career advice.
      • Explore professional contacts. You may need reference letters or they may have heard of a job opening.
      • Check out professional organizations, newsletters, or trade journals for information and job openings
        • The ACS portal has a lot of information about a variety of careers in chemistry.
        • Consider ways to break into this field.
          • Work part-time as long as it complies with your current employer’s moonlighting policy. If you are considering working in higher education, look for a part-time faculty position that meets nights or weekends to get experience and to explore this option.
          • Volunteer for interdepartmental projects or committees that would give you contact with the department you would like to transfer to.
          • Take a deep breath and change your life.

This article was written by Sara Stellfox. After working in contract and pharmaceutical laboratories, Sara changed her career path and is now a free lance writer and chemistry instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago.


September 2, 2013

Life is full of negotiations.   Every time you get a new project, you have a chance to negotiate the deadline, deliverables, and priority for this task relative to existing tasks.  Negotiating is really a balancing act with multiple interdependent variables – not only what each party wants and is willing to give, but the relative importance of each role individual’s play.

By preparing ahead of time, you can put yourself in the best possible position, and make the most of your negotiations.


Identify the entire range of possible answers, then determine where in that range you prefer to be, and what is the least you are willing to accept. Find out as much as possible about what the other party wants, needs, and will accept.

Remember that people’s desire to get something new is usually less powerful than their desire to not lose something they already have (psychologists call this loss aversion).  The desire to avoid a loss causes many people to take suboptimal deals, just to keep something that they currently have, even when they don’t really want it that much.  If you find yourself balking at the thought of giving something up, take a step back and make sure it’s something you really need.

When you do give up something, make sure you get something in return.  The other side will place more value on what they got, thus strengthening your position.



Listening is not waiting to talk.  Really listen to what the other person is saying, and paraphrase it back to them if necessary.  Once you’re sure you understand their point; then frame your response.  Ask open-ended questions, to get the other party to talk about what they want, and you’ll find out which items they really care about, and where they are more willing to concede.

When it’s your turn to talk, make sure to include reasons for your requests.  Simply adding why you need something has been shown to make people more likely to acquiesce to your request.


Look for the Win-Win

If each party gets to win on the term they feel is most important, everyone will go away happy.  Try to find ways to bring more into the negotiation, so everyone can have a win somewhere.  Maybe you can offer something they didn’t think of, or can set things up so they get something in the near future.

Acknowledge Obstacles

When the other party tells you why they can’t do something, accept the fact, but look for other ways to achieve the same goal.  If they don’t have the authority to make a particular decision, suggest they involve the person who does.  If they don’t have the budget for what you need now, suggest installment payments.

Be Patient

Sometimes you reach an impasse and can’t see a solution.  Pausing the discussion may give you time to come up with a solution. Can you think about it overnight, or research some other options?


Negotiations do not have to be adversarial.  By using the simple tips outlined here, you can make sure that everyone, including you, walks away happy.

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 (—brought to you by ACS Careers.