Say Yes! to Networking

February 24, 2009

I recently finished reading “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive” by Goldstein, Cialdini and Martin. I found it to be a quick, interesting read, and was impressed that each of the techniques mentioned was supported by actual research data. Many of their suggestions were small changes that end up having a big effect on how your words and actions are interpreted. This small volume will help you frame your arguments in the best possible way, to increase your chances of successful persuasion.

As I was reading it, several of the tips jumped out at me as possible explanations for why networking is such an effective way to find a job (or to find anything, really).

For example, one chapter points out that “there is little social obligation to cooperate with someone who offers you something only on the condition that you initiate the cooperative effort.” If one party says they’ll do A if you do B, that is a simple business transaction, with no lasting effect on the relationship between the parties. However, if you do something for someone else first, with no reciprocation required or expected, they are more likely to do something for you in the future. The example in the book showed that hotel towel reuse programs were 45% more successful when the hotel first give a donation to a non-profit environmental organization, then ask guests to re-use towels, rather than when they told guests the hotel would make a donation if the guests reused towels. This not only increases the level of compliance, but also builds a longer lasting relationship based on trust and mutual appreciation, rather than the weaker incentive system. I’ve always said that true networking is being out there looking for ways to help others without expecting anything in return. Then when you do need something, people will be more willing to help you out because you have pre-paid the favor. And if you’re really lucky, some of those people will be actively looking for ways to help you – by passing along information they think will be of interest to you.

Another interesting fact was that over time, the value of a favor changes. It becomes worth less in the eyes of the favor receiver, and more in the eyes of the favor doer. This means you must continue to do favors for others, to keep your balance fresh, and make sure you’ll have something “in the bank” whenever you need it.

The book also quotes research that shows if someone does you a small favor, they are more likely to later agree to do you a bigger, similar favor. So in addition to doing favors for others, you must seek out help, and allow people to do small favors for you. Not only does it help build the relationship, but by seeking out different perspectives on a problem you gain insights that you probably would not have come up with on your own, and in general tend to arrive at better solutions than if you had worked alone.

There you have it. Scientific proof that if you regularly help others without expecting anything in return, and let them help you, you will build relationships that will be there to support you when you need it. Sounds like networking to me!

This article was written by freelance technical writer Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants, and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).


ACS Industry Forum:

Join us for the next ACS Careers Industry Forum:

“It’s 2009 – Do You Know Where Your Networks Are?”

Date and Time: Thursday, March 12th, 2009, 2-3 p.m. EDT

Catherine T. “Katie” Hunt, Ph.D., is currently a Corporate Sustainability Director and Leader, Technology Partnerships at Rohm and Haas Corporate and Past President (2007) American Chemical Society. She began her career as a senior scientist in analytical research at Rohm and Haas after completing an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship at Yale University. For nearly 25 years Katie has held positions of increasing responsibility, from research scientist to process chemist to plant laboratory manager to Director of Worldwide Analytical and Computational Competency Network and Technology Development. . Don’t miss out, Register in advance. For additional information about upcoming speakers, click on the ACS Careers Industry Forum tab located at the top of the ACS Industry Forum Careers Blog.
Please join us to discuss economic and employment trends with top industry executives in the chemical sciences. This is a free service via conference call.

Go Put Your Strengths to Work

January 21, 2009

Whether you are starting out in your career, jumping back into the market after being downsized, or considering changing jobs to something better, it is essential to know what you really want. In the book Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham offers a six-week, six-step plan for mapping your road to a better career. The first step in the system is to inventory the tasks that make you feel strong—give you energy, as well as the ones that make you feel weak—zap your energy over the course of a week. The inventories of tasks are then further refined to yield strength statements and a list of tasks to stop or curtail. Buckingham points out that just because you do something well doesn’t mean that it should go to the top of your strengths list. Using his process you actually determine the items that you are both good at doing and which you have a passion for doing. It will be these passionate strengths that will make your job worth pursuing. Buckingham also acknowledges that we are not always given the liberty to choose what not to do. However, he outlines plans for transitioning away from these activities where possible.

The entire premise of the book is based on the assumption that we will produce better results, develop our professional aptitudes more quickly, and generally feel better about our situation if we focus on our strengths rather than spending all of our time trying to fix our weaknesses. The systematic method for honing personal preferences outlined in the book also takes away much of the stress and pressure normally encountered in career self-assessments. Online tools and videos are also provided through the website using a unique ID code printed inside the book cover. These videos can serve as a comfort and inspiration.


I found the book worthwhile and recommended it twice  recently to new graduates who were unsure of where they wanted to go professionally. I am hopeful that you will find the book of use as well.

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.


Careers in Biotechnology/Drug Development

September 8, 2008

A recently read a review of a new book entitled “Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development” by Toby Freedman, 2008, Cold Spring Harbor Press. Freedman is a PhD molecular biologist that has moved into life sciences recruiting. Since I’m alway interested in career development, and biotech is a field I don’t know enough about, I thought I’d check it out.

I must admit I was highly impressed with the material. The book discusses current conventional wisdom for scientists who are concerned about their careers. Freedman totes that “there are lots of jobs in the biopharma industry”, so it’s worth looking there for options. But what are those jobs? Freedman then proceeds to give a comprehensive answer to that question.

Along the way, she provides a detailed description of the drug discovery process.

The first 6 chapters of this book provide general career advice, giving an overview of what is expected in the biopharma industry, what it takes to succeed, how to write a resume, network, etc. Most of the advice applies to all jobs, but some is specific to science or these industries. The advice is very good, and includes lots of details, examples, and resources for further information. Freedman provides a balanced overview, pointing out both the good and bad points of this industry.

The industry she is focusing on includes both biotechnology and drug discovery & development, also called biopharma. These industries have a great deal in common, and similar career paths and positions are available in each. The entire process is very complex, and often not well understood by those who have not been immersed in it.

The second, and major, part of the book breaks the drug discovery enterprise down into its various stages, describes the role of each step in the process, and details positions available at each stage.

The positions described range from those that require a PhD or MD, to those that are accessible to those with a college degree.

Freedman describes the types of positions, typical job titles and career paths, roles and responsibilities, typical tasks, relative salaries and other compensation. She also describes in detail the pros and cons of each field, how to excel in the field, and what personal characteristics are most often found in those who succeed in that field.

She predicts where the field is going and what job prospects will be like, and also talks about how to get started in each field.

Finally, each chapter ends with recommendations for training, professional societies, and other resources. The entire volume is well organized, with important points in callouts, and many clarifying diagrams.

Anyone who reads this book will come away (like I did) with a deeper understanding of the drug discovery industry, and how complex it really is (and perhaps why marketed pharmaceuticals really cost more than you’d think).

Hopefully, they will also come away with several ideas of places they might fit into that industry, and the resources and inspiration to start investigating those options. I would have liked to have seen more statistics and numbers (salaries, etc), but understand that data would get dated quickly, and ACS members can get current information from the Salary Comparator.

As further proof of the growing importance of this field, ACS has started an Industry Forum and their first speaker is from Wyeth Drug Discovery and Development. The free teleconference is coming up on Thursday, September 11th. While I may never work in a traditional job in this field, it is certainly an area I am going to keep an eye on, and learn more about.

This article was written by freelance technical writer Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants.

-Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. Scientific Communication Services since 1992, Balbes Consultants –

 Author of:  “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006)



ACS Careers Industry Forum:  Monthly Teleconferences featuring Luminaries in the Chemical Sciences.

We feel this is a great opportunity for practitioners in the chemical sciences to listen in to top industry leaders in their industries and will assist in making informed career decisions. Guest Speakers include

ØSeptember:  Dr. Abou-Gharbia, Senior Vice President & Head of Chemical & Screening Sciences, for Wyeth Drug Discovery & Development.

ØOctober:  Dr. Carolyn Ribes, Process Analytical, Dow Benelux, B.V., Terneuzen, The Netherlands.

ØNovember:  Michael Strem, Ph.D., President, Strem Chemicals, Inc. founded Strem Chemicals in Newburyport, MA.

ØDecember:  No teleconference to be scheduled.

ØJanuary:  Dr. Tom Lane, to be President of ACS.

ØFebruary:  Dr. William F. Carroll, Jr., Vice President, Chlorovinyl Issues for OxyChem and works on public policy issues and communications related to chlorine and PVC.  He is also Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana where he teaches polymer chemistry.

Please join us to discuss economic and employment trends with top industry executives in the chemical sciences.  Go to register now.  This is a free service via conference call.







Make Your Contacts Count – Networking Know-How for Business and Career Success

January 14, 2008

Networking is a necessary and often derided skill. To most, its rules are ambiguous and the concept overwhelming. In their fifth book, coauthors Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon explain the rules of the game.

I met with Lynne Waymon last week to discuss networking and her new book, “Make Your Contacts Count”. She told me a little about her background through an anecdote. Her story was short and sweet, but it gave me the basics of who she was. It highlighted her tenacity, adaptability and knowledge in the areas of training and group dynamics. After all, she was preparing to facilitate a training session later that afternoon for another association in town.

As she explained, “Your job is to teach people about who you are, what you need and what you have to give.” The best way to explain all of those things is through a story. You need to be able to tell your story at a moment’s notice, and it should demonstrate something about your character and competency straight away.

That’s when she turned the tables on me by asking for my story. I told her that I didn’t have anything prepared. I wasn’t ready. I was coming to interview her, not the other way around. With a gentle smile and a lilt of her head, she quickly put me at ease. She said, “That’s where the rules of engagement come into play. By following a few simple steps, you can easily move past your intimidation of talking to a stranger.”

Most casual conversations revolve around three basic questions, or moments as Baber and Waymon describe them. There will be a name exchange, “Hi, I’m Dave.” Someone will ask, “What do you do?—I’m a chemist.”, and then finally you’ll get the inevitable, “How are you today?—Fine.” Just as quickly as the conversation was initiated, it is over without a real connection.

The key to initiating a connection is to be ready to answer these questions in a meaningful way. “A good story gives your contact a vivid picture of what you do,” said Waymon. “It doesn’t have to be long, but it should give insight to your character and your competency.”

To compose your story, think back to your childhood. Children’s stories have four basic parts:

  • The beginning: Once upon a time…
  • The set-up: suddenly…
  • The turn-around: luckily…
  • The ending: …happily ever after.

For your story, think of a key moment in your life when you saved the day, served a customer, demonstrated commitment, or solved a tricky problem. These are the kinds of stories that will demonstrate your character and competence, and that is what will make you interesting to others.

According to Waymon, most people know about 250 people. However, few people have cultivated their contacts into the networks that they need to succeed. To help you, your contacts must trust you and know of your abilities, success stories and your challenges. Furthermore, you must know theirs. You have to realize that your network is an investment of your time and of yourself. It is really about getting to know people.

Among the other topics in the book, Baber and Waymon discuss the characteristics of the ideal network, conversation do’s and don’ts, stages of relationships, and the types of contacts.

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.

Women Don’t Ask – Negotiation Strategies

December 10, 2007

You know a business idea has made the big-time when it appears in a Dilbert comic strip. In the 2007 October 17 strip a female employee complains that her male colleague has a second monitor, while she does not.  The boss responds by telling her that research shows men ask for more, so men get more, but she can complain if she wants.


Much of that research is cited in the book “Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation–and Positive Strategies for Change” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever (Bantam Books, 2007).  This well- researched, highly readable volume is loaded with details of scientific studies on gender, negotiation, compensation, and much more.  It is balanced with anecdotes that personalize the issues and show how they play out in both corporate and personal interactions.


The research cited shows that women (in general) do not ask as often, don’t ask for as much, and settle for less.  Women expect life to be fair, are more likely to be satisfied with what they have, and expect others to notice and reward their accomplishments. Men are willing to ask for what they want and think they deserve, and will push harder to get it.  Men tend to treat negotiations as a competition, where they are trying to get the biggest piece of the pie for themselves.    Women tend to have a more collaborative approach, sharing information to find out what each side really wants, then finding ways to enlarge the pie so each can get what they need.


The final chapters talk about positive changes women and men can make to improve their negotiation skills.  Men and women can learn from each other’s styles, and use their own strengths to their best advantage.  Overall, a fascinating book with valuable insights. 


This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. 

Danger in the Comfort Zone by Judith M. Bardwick

October 7, 2007

The workplace environment has changed dramatically in the last few years, in many ways. The book Danger in the Comfort Zone by Judith M. Bardwick discusses where many companies used to be – a state she calls “entitlement”, where companies were expected to take care of employees for life. When companies were doing well and the economy was growing, they could afford to keep some less productive workers. These workers were often shifted to different areas, to keep them busy (but not necessarily productive). Their long-term loyalty ensured them virtually complete job security.

As the economy became more competitive, this model no longer worked. Organizations began massive downsizings, which meant letting go of “entitled” workers. Employees left behind were in a state of fear – it seemed that no job was safe. In reality, companies were starting to hold employees accountable for their performance, and needed to move past the fear and into a productive, “earning” state. Those people who did became more valuable to their own company, as well as more satisfied with their work and more employable by other companies.

Bardwick talks about how executives and managers can help their companies and employees move from entitlement, through fear and into earning. She gives specific methods, as well as case studies. Perhaps of most interest to the individual is her assertion that no one should stay in the same position for more than 3 years, and at least 25% of assignments should be new each year, to ensure professional growth. This may or may not work in the chemical enterprise, but it’s an interesting observation.

This book offers an interesting historical perspective, and some tips you just might use in your own organization.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants.