EDITORIAL: Set Yourself Up
for Professional Success
BY LISA M. BALBES
At the 241st ACS National Meeting in Anaheim, CA, the ACS Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs reported that job growth in chemistry-related professions
is expected to remain slower than average and that chemists will
face increased competition for jobs at all levels. This means that, as
companies cautiously hire new employees, simply having the right
technical skills is no longer enough to secure your future. It’s also
essential to possess nontechnical skills and a professional network,
and as current students, you should begin acquiring both now.
Take advantage of opportunities to try new things inside and
outside of the lab to expand your nontechnical skills. Take a class
in a new field. Organize an event or serve on a committee to build
leadership, project management, and organizational skills. Present
a talk or write a paper to build your communication skills, or serve
as a treasurer to increase your business acumen. These activities
will teach you skills and provide real experience to add to your
résumé. Employers don’t care if you got paid or not, as long as
you have experience. At worst, you may learn that you don’t like
performing a certain kind of task and that you don’t want to do it
again. This, too, is very valuable.
While the job market is not great, there are opportunities.
Many companies are choosing not to advertise positions, in order
to avoid a flood of résumés from unqualified candidates. Instead,
they are asking their employees to recommend friends or associates who could fill a need. In most cases, candidates who come in
through referrals are “pre-vetted” and are thus a better fit for the
This is why it’s imperative to have a professional network. The
more people who know and will recommend you, the better off
you will be. Take every opportunity to meet new people, and talk
to them about their careers. Ask them about their responsibilities, what they like and don’t like, how they got started, and what
advice they have for a newcomer. Find ways to build mutual professional relationships over the years.
While you are learning and planning, enjoy the journey. You
will most likely have many jobs and many careers over your lifetime, and they will often appear in new and unexpected ways. Be
alert for and open to possibilities as they present themselves.
Often, it is the side roads that are the best part of the trip and that
eventually lead to much more interesting places.
Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D., is chair of the ACS Committee on
Economic and Professional Affairs. She has been a freelance
technical writer and editor for almost 20 years and is the
author of Nontraditional Careers for Chemists.
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