Searching for a Job: Bumpy Ride

February 27, 2009

It’s O’dark:30 and I am heading out to a flight to San Francisco. This evening and the rest of the weekend I’ll be conducting training for volunteer career consultants and presenters on the West Coast. In this time of economic woes, ACS is stepping up efforts to serve members through career management and development programs, and ACS volunteers are heeding the call to service by volunteering to help.

As I climb into the shuttle van, I choose my seat carefully. My fellow passengers are asleep, some snoring, others perched with poise and one woman mouth agape. The only light in the cab is from the drivers GPS which is stuck on an announcement that “You have arrived”. I know that can’t be true though. This trip is just beginning.  President Obama announced last night that we are in for a bumpy ride as the nations of the world cue up their solutions for economic recovery. He cautioned that a full recovery will take several years. My trip today will not take that long. After a six-hour flight to San Diego, I’ll switch planes for a quick trip up the coast of California.

On the other end of the flight, eighteen ACS volunteers are waiting at a hotel in downtown San Francisco to receive the training that they need to present our workshops on finding a job, writing a resume and interviewing. These workshops are essential to many of our members who now find themselves out of a job after being at the same employers for the last decade or so because the world as we all knew it, have changed. When the baby boomer generation first gained employment, the job search process was paper-based, and most resumes were formatted and typed on clunky machines that sputtered letters onto a page with mechanical hammers. The most recent ACS Starting Salary Survey indicates that the top way for people to find jobs in industry is by using electronic databases like the ACS Careers Jobs Database. Number two is through networking, but even that has changed. For awhile the key phrase in hiring was, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Sure, networking still involves meeting people and finding commonalities, but the methodology has been transformed by changes in technology and culture and it is very definitely “what you know” about technology and culture that will find you gainful employment. Electronic networking tools like the ACS Network and LinkedIn are becoming more prevalent, and people need to know how to use these tools to be competitive. The third most common way to find a job in US industry is through employment services. ACS has recently started a partnership with Kelly Services as a way to bridge that gap. Kelly is now placing job listings from their clients in the ACS Jobs Database as a service to ACS members. We teach all of these techniques and more to our volunteers, so that they can in turn teach them to you. ACS members have an advantage over many others who are seeking a job. They can obtain free career consulting services through the ACS Careers Jobs Database after registering and verifying their membership in the Society.

For members concerned about the cost of membership, it should be noted that ACS offers a dues waiver for up to two years for ACS members in good standing who have been a member of ACS for at least one year. For more information on this waiver and the services available to unemployed ACS members, contact ACS Member Services or see the online summary of services.

The driver has pulled up to the terminal and it is time to wake my compadres. I am actually surprised that they were able to sleep so well considering the volume of our driver’s radio. It is tuned to a disco station that specializes in tunes that are bumpin’, bumpin’ to keep your speakers thumpin’, thumpin’. One man’s disco is sometimes another’s lullaby.

I quickly claim my bags and make my way through the gate and on to the plane. Security took longer than I thought. It seems that the analysis of my CAT scan required the evaluation of a specialist from Mumbai. On the plane I find a seat and stow my luggage. It’s been a bumpy ride so far, but I expect smoother travel once our wheels leave the ground.

As you prepare to re-enter the job market, be aware that your professional membership Society, ACS offers many tools to aide in your search and that people are standing by to help.

David Harwell is the Assistant Director for Career Development and Diversity Programs at the American Chemical Society.

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Persistence: 2009 Word of the Year

December 31, 2008

In many ways, 2009 will be a challenging year for each of us in terms of career management and development. Persistence will serve as the key to success.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”

~ Calvin Coolidge

There is little that is certain about 2009 except that there will be discord in the financial markets. As a result, the workplace will continue to evolve into a new and more stable configuration. Among other things, the second law of thermodynamics states that energy naturally flows from areas of high to low concentration. Unless countermanded by a persistent external force the system will progress to a greater state of disorder—entropy. The governments of the world are currently amassing a response to the financial entropy that is rampant in global markets, but there will be no quick fix. All parties involved will need to doggedly and consistently pursue subsequent solutions to ensure our recovery and success.

Likewise, we must be persistent in our pursuit of personal success. We must be aware of the opportunities and the challenges looming in our future and we must position our selves to our best advantage. When seemingly insurmountable obstacles present themselves, we must either chip through them, tunnel under them, or jump over them. We must be persistent in our resolve to solve the situation.

Growing up in rural west Texas, most of my afternoons and weekends were spent working with my Dad on various outdoor projects. I credit my Mom for these experiences. Her core philosophy was that we could not mess up the house if we weren’t in it, and the chief weapon in her arsenal was a list of to-do items that was a mile long. As a result, Dad and I were in a state of perpetual motion. As it turned out, most of our projects included digging: digging a post hole, tilling a garden, or simply removing rocks from the soil so that plants would grow. In retrospect, I realize that many of my chores were busy work intended to keep me occupied and out of trouble. I also realize that digging was a free activity that could be accomplished with little supervision. But digging holes also taught me a lot about persistence. In west Texas the soil is poor. It is composed of caliches and gypsum. The only way to dig a hole is to chip your way through the calcite deposits found in the soil. Dogged persistence was the name of the game. At the end of the day, we almost always got what we wanted. Another hole would be dug, another fence pole installed, and for my Mom, the house would remain clean.

“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.”

~ Frank Lloyd Wright

By committing ourselves to a personal set of goals, we can be successful in the coming year, but there will be challenges. We must resolve to persevere, to find solutions that face our society and to overcome the barriers that we face in our professional lives.

Best wishes to you and yours in the year ahead!

David Harwell is the Assistant Director for Career Management and Diversity Programs at the American Chemical Society.


Reacting to Economic Pressures

October 21, 2008

Jeff Kindler, CEO of Pfizer, addressed the HSM World Business Forum in New York a couple of weeks ago. He stated that Pfizer had sufficient cash flow to weather the storm, but what does this mean for you and me?

Although Mr. Kindler acknowledged that hardships were ahead for all world markets, he stated that “With Pfizer, we are very fortunate. We have lots of cash flow and a strong balance sheet, and project we’ll generate $18B cash flow this year.”

At the time of the address the US Congress was still in discussions about whether to approve the $700B rescue of Wall Street. They have since acted, sending Ben Bernanke’s team into overdrive, but the recovery is slow and a global recession is looming.

Pfizer, along with almost every publicly traded company in the world has taken an economic beating. At the time of this writing, Pfizer’s stock performance roughly matched that of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In recent days, Pfizer’s stock prices have shown modest gains from a low of $14.31 on October 10, 2008.

The effects of the market have also spread to privately-held companies, academic institutions and even the government. At times like these it is best to avoid any sudden moves. If you have a job, keep it. If you are looking for a job, consider accepting an offer of employment that meets your minimum salary and work requirements with an eye toward “upgrading” to a better job after the economy recovers.

Now more than ever it is important to check on the people in your network. Say hello and find out what they are doing. In some cases, they may ask you for help, but it is important that you keep up with these connections, because you may need them later.

This is the time to be indispensable, versatile and resilient. Take a moment to update your resume. Keep your knowledge base current through reading or training. And be willing to try new projects that push you beyond your comfort zone. The worst thing that you can do right now is to bury your head in the sand and wait until this all blows over.

In the coming months, we can expect the current wave of mergers and acquisitions to continue as well-established and more stable companies shop for bargains among highly leveraged start-ups. We can also expect reorganization, restructuring and realignment in corporations as they reinvent themselves and eliminate or spin off any underperforming units. In many cases, this will be bad news for our members; however, some companies are still hiring. Vertex has added two dozen job listings to the ACS Careers Jobs Database in just the past few weeks. All the same, most companies will take a wait and see stance as the markets regains its focus and center.

It is important to remember that an economic recovery will happen. People still need basic goods and services including medications, and they will also want the high-end electronics and accessories that our industries provide. The world is currently holding its breath. We must wait for it to exhale.

This article was written by David E. Harwell, Ph.D.,Assistant Director for Career Management and Development at the American Chemical Society.