Delaying Your Retirement

April 4, 2011

Do you want or need to delay your retirement? You are not alone. Many baby boomers are delaying their retirement. One-third plan to retire after age 65 according to an Employment Benefit Research Institute survey. In another recent survey of more than 2,200 U.S. workers by consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, 44% of respondents age 50 or older said they plan to postpone retirement; half of those say they plan to work at least three years longer than they previously expected.

However, at the same time companies continue to have layoffs. How can you remain employed even past the conventional retirement age of sixty-five years even if your company reduces staff?

The key to continue working past typical retirement age is to capitalize on skills you’ve developed over the course of your career and not compete directly with younger (and lower-paid) coworkers. Capitalize on these skills by sharing them. Become a resource for younger coworkers.

You can improve your odds of delaying your retirement by becoming involved in several of the programs described below.

Mentoring programs

Become a mentor. Many companies have instituted mentoring programs and are now taking advantage of information technology to make them more effective. For example, in December 2009 IBM created an online tool to support its mentoring program. Older employees list their skills in a database. Younger coworkers seeking to develop particular competencies can search the database to identify coworkers having these competencies. More than 3,500 IBM employees have registered to be mentors and more than 2,600 coworkers, mostly younger employees, have consulted with them. See if your organization has a program like this.

Continuing education

Talk to your manager about instituting a continuing education program. Offer to serve as an instructor sharing your skills and experiences accumulated over the course of a long, productive career. Having senior employees serve as instructors can have advantages over sending younger employees to external training programs or bringing in consultants to teach these courses. Senior employees can present information and advice in the context of the company’s culture and provide examples from their own experience. This gives information an immediacy and relevance that instructors from outside the company often can’t provide.
Workshops often offer an attractive alternative to internal short courses that require a longer time commitment.

Consultants to project teams

Offer to serve as a consultant to project teams using your experience to help team members save time and not waste their efforts. For example, a senior chemist may know of a reactor built years ago and placed in storage when an R&D program was finished. Refurbishing and using this reactor in a current project can save both time and money.

Older chemists’ experience may enable them to use a team’s discovery in the context of the firm’s earlier R&D. They can provide useful advice on such issues as the relevance of earlier projects to the current work and whether the current work should be the subject of a patent application.

“Reverse” mentoring

Don’t be reluctant to consult younger coworkers to learn new skills you need to remain employed. These include things such as online social networking, and wikis.

Publicity

Make your own manager and other managers in the company aware of your involvement in these programs and the value you provide to the organization – value that cannot be provided by younger coworkers.  Make sure you get appropriate recognition for your efforts. It was comedian George Carlin who said, “The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets the all publicity.” Make sure you’re not the caterpillar.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.

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Older Job Hunters Should Show They Are Impact Players

March 14, 2011

Impact players are employees whose knowledge, skills and work habits make them exceptionally productive. Of course, employers always want to hire new employees with these attributes. Business managers are looking over lab managers’ shoulders to assure themselves that new employees begin to contribute both quickly and significantly to help develop new products and processes and supply high quality customer support. So your job-hunting goal is to convince hiring managers that you will rapidly become an impact player. More experienced chemical professionals usually have an advantage in doing this. So they should structure their job hunt to emphasize and capitalize on their problem solving skills and accomplishments.

How to demonstrate that you are a problem solver

The best indicator of future performance is past performance. This means you need to provide evidence that you have been an outstanding problem solver in previous jobs. A bald statement that you are great at solving problems isn’t enough. You have to provide evidence in your résumés and cover letters. You have to be prepared to discuss examples in your screening and on-site interviews. Brief your references on the importance of discussing your problem solving accomplishments when employer representatives call them.

When providing examples of your problem solving skills, find ways to quantify them. Confidentiality may preclude you from providing sales figures for new products or dollar savings for manufacturing process improvements. In this case, provide percentage improvement values for these accomplishments. The same is true for customer technical support work.

Emphasize soft skills

Rightly or wrongly, hiring managers often assume that new graduates have more up-to-date scientific knowledge compared to more experienced chemical professionals. Experienced chemists can use two strategies to counter this. The first is to demonstrate the depth of your scientific knowledge and skills accumulated over the course of your career. The second is to emphasize your soft skills and the positive effect they have on your productivity. Most experienced chemical professionals have developed time management, project management and written and oral presentation skills, and they should emphasize these abilities.. .

In addition many experienced chemical professionals have first-hand experience with inventions and working with patent attorneys to obtain U.S. patents. You could mention mentoring younger coworkers educating them about the patenting process from the researchers’ perspective and mentoring them in other ways.

Experienced chemical professionals often have improved networking skills compared to younger colleagues. Update your computer skills if necessary. Currently social media are hot and often used for networking. Register on sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook and contribute to discussions as appropriate for you.

Stress your flexibility and adaptability. Younger new hires often require more time to adapt to working in industrial laboratory workplace cultures than more seasoned new hires. Experienced new hires often come from laboratories employing different workplace procedures. Some of these may be more cost-effective than current ways your laboratory does things. You can help open-minded lab managers explore and perhaps implement new, improved operational procedures.

Putting it all together

Keeping all of this in mind, prepare examples of each of your attributes. Use these in your résumés, cover letters and discussions during screening and on-site interviews.

Utilize your professional network

Unlike most new graduates, many experienced chemical professionals have developed extensive professional networks during the course of their careers. When job hunting, capitalize on your professional contacts particularly those working for your former employer’s suppliers and customers. Those you know who work for competitors also can be valuable contacts. Don’t neglect colleagues working in fields related to your own whom you have met at conferences or through professional society activities.

Let these individuals know that you are job hunting but don’t ask them directly for a job. Send them a copy of your résumé so they can refresh their recollection of your accomplishments and professional interest.

Maintain a confident tone when discussing your job hunt over the telephone or when meeting networking contacts face-to-face. Avoid sounding desperate. Don’t become a stalker but touch base with your contacts once a month or as appropriate.

In the current economic climate, hiring managers are looking for new staff members who will have both a rapid and significant effect on improving lab productivity. This often means hiring experienced people. Industrial experience can hone problem solving skills while providing knowledge of how to get things done in an industrial work environment. So while experienced staff members can cost more, they can be worth the extra money.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.


Delaying Your Retirement

December 20, 2010

Do you want or need to delay your retirement? You are not alone. Many baby boomers are delaying their retirement. One-third plan to retire after age 65 according to an Employment Benefit Research Institute survey. In another recent survey of more than 2,200 U.S. workers by consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, 44% of respondents age 50 or older said they plan to postpone retirement; half of those say they plan to work at least three years longer than they previously expected.

However, at the same time companies continue to have layoffs. How can you remain employed even past the conventional retirement age of sixty-five years even if your company reduces staff?

The key to continue working past typical retirement age is to capitalize on skills you’ve developed over the course of your career and not compete directly with younger (and lower-paid) coworkers. Capitalize on these skills by sharing them. Become a resource for younger coworkers.

You can improve your odds of delaying your retirement by becoming involved in several of the programs described below.

Mentoring programs

Become a mentor. Many companies have instituted mentoring programs and are now taking advantage of information technology to make them more effective. For example, in December 2009 IBM created an online tool to support its mentoring program. Older employees list their skills in a database. Younger coworkers seeking to develop particular competencies can search the database to identify coworkers having these competencies. More than 3,500 IBM employees have registered to be mentors and more than 2,600 coworkers, mostly younger employees, have consulted with them. See if your organization has a program like this.

Continuing education

Talk to your manager about instituting a continuing education program. Offer to serve as an instructor sharing your skills and experiences accumulated over the course of a long, productive career. Having senior employees serve as instructors can have advantages over sending younger employees to external training programs or bringing in consultants to teach these courses. Senior employees can present information and advice in the context of the company’s culture and provide examples from their own experience. This gives information an immediacy and relevance that instructors from outside the company often can’t provide.
Workshops often offer an attractive alternative to internal short courses that require a longer time commitment.

Consultants to project teams

Offer to serve as a consultant to project teams using your experience to help team members save time and not waste their efforts. For example, a senior chemist may know of a reactor built years ago and placed in storage when an R&D program was finished. Refurbishing and using this reactor in a current project can save both time and money.
Older chemists’ experience may enable them to use a team’s discovery in the context of the firm’s earlier R&D. They can provide useful advice on such issues as the relevance of earlier projects to the current work and whether the current work should be the subject of a patent application.

Reverse” mentoring

Don’t be reluctant to consult younger coworkers to learn new skills you need to remain employed. These include things such as online social networking, and wikis.

Publicity

Make your own manager and other managers in the company aware of your involvement in these programs and the value you provide to the organization – value that cannot be provided by younger coworkers. Make sure you get appropriate recognition for your efforts. It was comedian George Carlin who said, “The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets the all publicity.” Make sure you’re not the caterpillar.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.