Why Should I Hire You?

June 9, 2014

Common interview questions are googled, anticipated, and feared by many an interviewee. People try to prepare for questions as strange as what type of animal best describes you, or what type of ice cream would you be. Answers are carefully thought through and even practiced in mock interviews or in front of the mirror. In all this preparation, people can overlook the question behind every other question during an interview: Why should I hire you?

The interview usually includes multiple rounds with panels of interviewers. It can be conducted over the phone, face-to-face in a conference room, or as all-day event including a presentation or sample work. You can count on all the usual questions, such as those related to your skills and previous experience. There are also the questions regarding “soft skills”, such as how you get along with others or how you handle conflict at the work place. Often, you will even be directly asked “Why should I hire you?” It is important to keep in mind that every question is really an attempt to answer the last one. The hiring manager doesn’t really want to listen to you recite a list of all the techniques you have used since your first lab class in college. That question is asked in order to learn whether you can hone in on your relevant skills for the current position and whether you can speak about those skills in a way that convinces others that you should be hired. Before you answer any interview question, take a second and think about your answer in terms of the real question – why should I hire you?

What type of ice cream would you be? Obviously, there’s a question behind that question. No one cares what you think about ice cream during an interview. Why would such an odd question be asked? It might be to see how well you can formulate spontaneous answers, or how well you perform under pressure. Again, what you really need to focus on with any answer to any question is why should this company hire me for this position? When you realize that is the underlying question, you can use almost every other question as a means of saying what you want to say during the interview.

What kind of ice cream would I be? If I wanted to focus on my broad skill set, I might go with Neapolitan and explain my choice in terms of the variety of experience I have. If I wanted to demonstrate that I am a reliable, consistent worker, I might choose vanilla. The point is that you can take almost any question and formulate the answer in terms of what you want to say about why they should hire you. Instead of practicing answers to questions, plan to turn their questions into opportunities for you to say what you want to say about why you are the best choice for this job.

Undoubtedly, you will never be able to anticipate every question that will be asked, especially as strange interview questions become more popular. Realize that all the hours of questioning are really just an attempt to get an answer to one question. And make sure that every answer you give to every question is ultimately answering that question behind all questions: Why should I hire you?

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. 


Don’t Be a Jerk

January 13, 2014

The title of this article is obnoxious, but that is the point.  In stressful situations, people tend to behave badly, and that will most certainly limit their professional progression.

Take for example the interview.  Interviews are stressful situations.  You are asked to go to a place that you have never been, and to meet with people you don’t know.  They are also very judgmental.  That’s kind of the point.  They want to see what it would be like to work with you, and a stressful situation like an interview gives them a great deal of insight into your worst behavior.  The key is to keep your composure and to be likable.

While the interview should be about your technical competencies, interviewers are also about interacting with you on a personal level.  They may be asking you about NMR or HPLC techniques, but they are also sizing you up.  They are thinking about whether they would want to work with you for hours on end.  What will it be like to depend on you for part of a group project that could determine the success or failure of their organization?  You will have to demonstrate your ability to work well with others, or at least these particular people.  That means you can’t clam up or become defensive.  A defensive posture can be misinterpreted by your interviewer as standoffish, abrasive, or worse.

Decisions are emotional at their root.  They may be informed by logic and facts, but human beings tend to revert back to primal instincts in making decisions.  The one at the core of the, “Do I like this person, or are they a jerk?” determination is, “Will they hurt me?”  The interviewer’s decision will be based on their level of trust in or fear of you.  In the short amount of time of an interview, trust will likely be determined based on your openness and consistency.

But likeability is important in much more than interviews.  Over 70% of termination decisions are based on a person’s inability to get along with others, or to accommodate organizational culture.  The paperwork probably won’t say as much.  But in reality, if someone messes up and we like them, we are likely to give them a second chance.  If they are a jerk, then disappointing performance may be just the excuse needed for termination.

If you are from Gen Y or a Millennial,  you may not have experienced many people showing good workplace behavior.  Since you were born, popular culture has been dominated by “reality television” where people act badly to dramatic effect.  The worse they act, the further ahead they seem to get.  Please note, that this is not how the real world works, and most of the behaviors exhibited on reality television were egged on by producers seeking salacious moments that could be used to promote viewership and ratings.  So don’t believe it.  Reality television is not real, and reality-show celebrities are not proper role models for social behavior.  If you display these behaviors at work, you are likely to be escorted to the nearest exit.

So how can you show the beautiful person that you really are, instead of coming across as a jerk?  It will probably take practice.  Go to receptions, meetings, any chance to interact with other professionals.  Observe the effects of your actions.  You may find some bad habits you have that stop the conversation short.  Those are bad.  Don’t do that again.  Other actions may cause people to flock to you.  Those are the ones you want.  There will also be actions that fall in between those extremes.  Make a mental note of the good, the bad and the better, and strive for consistent improvement.  Informal meetings centered on topics not related to your job are the best place to start, because it won’t matter if things go badly there.  You can always walk away, and start anew with another group the next day.  Start small before you go big, and set yourself up with some easy wins in the beginning.

The thing to remember is that most people, especially chemists, are good at heart, and they want you to succeed.   The people on the other side of the table are just as likely as you to be miserable during a bad interview.  To avoid the discomfort during a bad interaction, they are likely to throw you a help line.  If you feel yourself sinking, look to them for help .  You can even ask if help is not obvious – ask them to repeat or rephrase the question.  They may be sinking too.

In summary, your interactions with others matter just as much, if not more than, your technical competencies.  You don’t have to be a perfect human being, and you don’t have to be the most popular.  You just need to be likable, communicative and trustworthy.

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


Preparing for Interview Questions

November 11, 2013

During an interview is no time to be caught off guard-questions that would be easy to answer normally can cause you to be speechless when asked by a potential employer. Thinking about an interviewer’s possible questions ahead of time and considering some possible answers can help you feel calm and comfortable before and during your interview.

It’s likely an interviewer will want to know how well you interact with co-workers or customers and will ask you about your ability to work with others. Consider past instances of how you have worked in teams or collaboratively on projects. Being able to give a concrete example of updating the safety manual as part of the safety committee will better let the interviewer understand your interpersonal skills than just saying you enjoy working in a team environment. Think of a few teamwork examples ahead of time to have them fresh in your mind.

Examine your resume and be honest with yourself-is there anything that an interviewer may be concerned about? Be prepared to explain a short tenure at position. If you left a company after 6 months due to conflicts with your manager, be prepared to be asked why you left after only 6 months. Keep in mind that now is not the time to vent about a previous employer. Diplomatically saying it was not a good fit is better than saying your past manager was unreasonable. Consider succinct explanations of periods of unemployment. If you took time off for personal reasons-taking care of small children, elderly parents, or other personal responsibilities that you need time off from work-explain briefly and note how enthusiastic you are to be returning to your career. Focus on how where you are now rather than a long explanation of your time away from your career.

You may be asked why you are leaving your current job or why you left your past positions. If you are changing to further your career, mention how much you learned at the position and how you are interested in growing and furthering your career. You are most likely leaving for a few different reasons. You could feel overlooked your current position. Instead of sounding negative, explain you are interesting in growing in your career and believe this position would be a great opportunity to do that.

Depending on the position, you may be asked technical questions. Be prepared to answer questions about hypothetical situations. I spent a significant part an interview describing how I would separate 2 similar molecules of interest using HPLC where the interviewer asked several follow up questions about the solvent system, and column selection. Once I began teaching, I was required to give a 10 minute mini-lecture on a first year general chemistry topic as part of the interview process. Consider the skills the job position requires and refresh your memory on what job skills you listed on your resume, and be prepared to discuss the technical aspects on what you would be doing and what you have done.

Preparation will help you be in comfortable during the interview and you will be able to showcase your strengths to potential employers.

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.


Negotiate, Proactively

August 26, 2013

You may have seen the quote “In business, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate”. The question is how do you negotiate? There are endless resources to train people in the art of negotiation. Still, for most people, it can be an uncomfortable and awkward conversation.

The truth is, in business, your salary and benefits aren’t presented as a negotiation. They are presented as facts – here it is, now sign the acceptance form. Many of my coworkers have accepted that they cannot negotiate their salaries because they don’t believe they are given the opportunity to do so. I disagree. I do agree, however, that raises are presented in a way that discourages negotiation by making people feel that they have to reject their raise in order to discuss it. No one wants to put their job in jeopardy, especially in a slow economy. And many people will choose to avoid the anxiety of negotiation. My approach is to negotiate, proactively.

I use the current annual review as a time to negotiate for my next raise. I like this approach because negotiation is most effective when you really believe what you are saying. I know that I’m not going to walk into a review and quit on the spot if I can’t get the raise I want. But what I can discuss honestly is how I feel about my current salary and where I expect it to be in the next one or two years. The first year I implemented this approach, my manager spoke to HR about promoting me within three months after my annual review. As with any negotiation, there are a few things you need to know before you engage in a proactive negotiation.

Know what you’re worth

Do your research. Find out what you could and should be making. This needs to be based on specifics – job sector, degree, performance, years of experience, geography, etc. The ACS Salary Survey is a great resource for those in chemistry-related positions.

Know what you want

This is not necessarily the same as knowing what you’re worth. For example, if research shows that you could be making 30% more than your current salary, you have to decide whether you can confidently look your manger in the eye and ask for that salary. Knowing what you want means knowing what you want to ask for.

Know what you can expect

What you’re worth and what you want may be far beyond what you can actually get at your company. If you intend to keep your current job, you should at least have a rough idea of what the company would be willing pay you. This may not be easy information to get. Search for your company on glassdoor.com to see if people with a similar job title have posted their salaries. You can also search for your job title and see what people are earning at similar companies. It won’t benefit you to ask for a salary that is far beyond what your manager could realistically offer you. Alternatively, you could ask for more vacation time in lieu of a higher raise or have the organization pay for your travel to an ACS national meeting.

Decide what you will accept

At the end of the day, chances are you won’t get exactly what you asked for, at least not every time. You need to decide what you will accept and at what point you will look for a new position. The advantage of a proactive negotiation is that both you and your manager have a year to think about it. If you let your manager know that you know what you’re worth and what you want, then s/he can spend that year considering your value, and you can spend that year demonstrating how valuable you are.

There will always be the few who thrive on the rush of a heated debate or enjoy sweating through an intense negotiation. But for most people, including employees and managers, negotiation is not embraced so fondly. Rather than choking on an awkward attempt at rebutting your raise or avoiding the conversation altogether, try negotiating proactively.

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.

 


Remember to Ask for Feedback

August 12, 2013

A quick Google search will give you more information than you need about how to prepare for an interview, how to nail the interview, how to send an appropriate thank-you note, and how to continue your job search when you don’t get the offer. What is often lost in the mix is the importance of asking for feedback after an interview. Why didn’t you get the offer? What can you learn from this interview to give you an edge the next time around?

After completing a postdoc position, I applied for a position as a Research Chemist for a filtration company. My education and research history landed me a phone interview, although I did not have any direct filtration experience. After a 45-minute conversation with the hiring manager, I was sure I would get an on-site interview. The hiring manager informed me that he had two more candidates to call but alluded to the fact that he was looking forward to meeting me. I really wanted this job and was excited for the next step. To my surprise and bewilderment, I received the rejection email two days later. Was it something I said?  What went wrong? This is the point where most people shrug their shoulders and move on. But it was different for me this time. I felt a real connection with the hiring manager, and I needed to know why I wasn’t chosen for the on-site interview. I emailed him and asked for feedback.

His response was quick and detailed. He explained that I was a top candidate and listed the reasons why. Then, he told me that I was not chosen because they really needed someone who already had filtration experience and could hit the ground running. He also offered a word of advice: in the future, show more enthusiasm for research when applying for a research position. I re-read the email over and over, mourning the loss of what I thought was my dream job. As I focused on the feedback, three important insights occurred to me.

First, I had managed to get a phone interview, and almost got an on-site interview, even though I had no direct experience. My resume was impressive enough that I was considered a top candidate despite this deficiency. This gave me hope for future opportunities.

Second, I needed to step up my enthusiasm. This is especially important during a phone interview, when facial expressions and body language don’t come into play. I was grateful that the hiring manager had been honest and taken the time to provide advice.

Third, I considered why I wasn’t more enthusiastic. The more I thought about it, I realized that I wasn’t as excited about a research career as I thought I was. It’s what I had done for nearly eight years, and I hadn’t given much thought to what other paths were out there. My lack of enthusiasm during the phone interview was simply my true feelings coming through.

A few months later, I did land my dream job, in applications support instead of research. The lessons I learned were a direct result of the feedback I received, which taught me about myself and what I wanted. Perhaps the most important lesson was this: it only takes a few minutes to send a quick email thanking someone for their time and asking if they can provide feedback – it is well worth the effort.

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.


What to Ask at Your Interview

July 29, 2013

You have written resume, submitted it for your dream job and now you are going in for the interview. You take to time to think of answers to the questions they may ask: What is your experience in this field? How would you solve this problem? What are your greatest strengths? What are your greatest weaknesses?

Have you thought of questions to ask them? It’s important to show interest in the company and let the interviewer see your enthusiasm for the job. One way to do that is to ask questions. Make sure that your questions reflect your familiarity with this company-don’t ask things that are clearly on the website. Keep in mind your own career goals and what you want to know as well. Try to think up open ended questions and follow up on the answers.

Find out about employee career progression. A good question for a human resources interviewer is “What is a typical career path for a chemist here?” A manager or scientist may be able to be more specific. Ask about his or her career path. Where did he or she start at the company? Has he or she changed departments? What educational background do employees in the department tend to have? What career paths have other people starting in this position followed? You want to find out if you will able to fulfill your long term career goals at this company.

Learn about opportunities for training. Will you be able to attend workshops and seminars? Will the company send you to conferences? Are you required to undergo a certain amount of training? What kind of training is done by the company? Keeping up with the new techniques and ideas in your field of chemistry should be import to the employer. If you are interested in going back to school, ask about education benefits. Has anyone in the department gone back to school?

Inquire about employee satisfaction. What is the turnover rate? How long do employees tend to stay at the company? Get information about the interviewer’s experiences. What does he or she enjoy most about his or her job? What is the hardest part of his or her day? You want to find out if people are unhappy and if you would be, too.

Ask about the position. What does a typical day look like? What is the most rewarding part of the job? What is the toughest part of the job? What is the most important skill needed to perform well in this position? Make sure you understand what you would be doing day to day.

Discover what the corporate culture is. How are employee evaluations handled? Is there a process for employees to give feedback? Ask the manager about his or her management style. How does he or she handle projects? How much freedom is given to an employee? Think about how you like to work and whether you would be able to fit in here.

Towards the end of the interview, inquire about the next steps. Will some applicants be called back for more interviews? Decisions may be made that day, sometimes there will be a series of interviews. Is there a set date when the applicant search comes to a close? Sometimes applications are collected until a position is filled, other times a search must take place during a set window of time. Are all applicants notified when the position is filled?

Think about what you want to know about the company and the position and keep in my mind how an interviewer will perceive your questions.

 

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.


Interview Etiquette

May 27, 2013

Recently, I read about a student who applied for a summer internship with a professor at their university.  Many other students also applied for the internship, and several were interviewed. Although the professor promised to make a decision and notify all the applicants soon, several of the students heard through the grapevine that someone else had been selected over a week before they got an official email from the professor saying they had not been selected.  One student wrote back to the professor, thanking him for his interest, indicating that the student he had selected was an excellent choice, and then ended the note by saying that he had in fact heard this news more than a week earlier.

Was the professor wrong to take so long to notify the students who were not selected? Perhaps – at a small school he should probably have known that word would travel fast once the decision was told to anyone. However, he eventually notified the others, which is more than many employers do.  In recent years, the percentages of employers who respond to candidates to let them know their resume has been received, or even to let them know they have not been selected to move on after an interview has been getting smaller and smaller.  It’s a sad fact of modern times that everyone is busy, and some things have gone by the wayside.

What about the student’s response?  Replying to the professor, thanking him for his interest, complementing him on his choice – all good.  Had the student stopped there, he would have been in great shape, and have solidified his relationship with the professor.  The selected student might be unable to accept, or another position might open up, and the professor in question would certainly think highly of this student.  Not to mention that the professor has friends who may also need students, and may be providing references or recommendations.  However, by complaining about the timing of the notification, the student effectively insulted the person who they were hoping would hire them at some point in the future.

While it is very tempting to want to get back at someone whom you think has insulted you, it’s almost never a good idea – especially in a professional context.  What appears like a slur to you may just be lack of time, lack of knowing any better, or some other factor getting in the way.  If it makes you feel better, write the email, then hit the delete button (and just to be sure, remove the person’s name from the To: line before you start writing anything.)  Rant to a trusted friend (out loud, not in a format that they could forward to someone else, even by accident), then move on.

It’s always better to take the high road, and “never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence” (Napoleon Bonaparte). While it may make you feel better in the short term, burning bridges within your professional relationships is never a good thing.  We live in an increasingly small and interconnected world, and your actions are very likely to come back to haunt you in unexpected ways.

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.