…about Applying for a Job in Industry
Featuring questions and answers
with guest columnist Mark D.
Frishberg, Ph.D., Vice President of
Business Development at JenKem
Technology USA, Inc. If you have a
question to ask an industry recruiter,
please e-mail it to inChemistry@acs.org.
Frishberg: I strongly recommend getting an ACS-certified chemistry degree, if it’s an option. It may not make a difference in small companies, or with management who are not familiar with this distinction, but it does show a higher level of academic achievement. Also,
it could be very helpful to you if you’re seeking an entry-level position
with a large company as a technician or associate. ACS surveys have
shown that a chemistry graduate with a non-certified degree may
be offered several thousand dollars less in salary than a B.S. chemist
with an ACS-certified degree. The surveys have also shown that B.S.
chemists with ACS-certified degrees are more likely to start at the
“chemist” entry level, and thus be one step higher in advancement
from the very beginning.
Frishberg: At the undergraduate level, be sure to build the basic
academic and laboratory skills needed to enter the chemistry profession, whether you’re moving directly into industry, or going on to grad
school first. You should have a solid background in the foundational
areas of organic, physical, inorganic, analytical, and biochemistry,
along with math and physics. If you take specialized courses, make
sure that they are not in lieu of core courses, and that they are directed
toward specific career goals. For positions involving laboratory work,
expected skills include being able to set up and run reactions, and use
associated analytical and computer techniques. Try to learn advanced
techniques that differentiate you.
Keep in mind that as an undergraduate, you are learning how to
learn. Industry is prepared to teach you about their products and markets, and the specific skills needed to perform your job responsibilities.
Employers do not, however, expect to need to teach you basic chemistry and computer skills.
Frishberg: So-called “soft skills,” or non-technical capabilities, have
become more and more important in industry, and elsewhere. These
include skills in oral and written communication, as well as listening.
The ability to function well in a team environment and adjust to a
variety of cultures is also very important.
Frishberg: Undergraduate research experience is generally good
to have on one’s résumé. It improves one’s chances to acquire more
lab skills, offers the potential for publication, and generally results
in better reference letters from the faculty member — all of which
will be viewed positively by a prospective employer. If you haven’t
done undergraduate research, for whatever reason, make sure that
your résumé includes some other activities or accomplishments that
strengthen your credentials.
Frishberg: Your area of research may or may not have impact. It
depends on the employer and the entry-level position under consideration. What is important is that you have attained some research
Frishberg: It depends on what they are, the lessons or skills you
gain from them, and how you present the experiences in a résumé or
interview. Such skills or experiences can add to your résumé by providing examples of leadership capabilities, teamwork, and/or comfort
with marketplace interactions. They may not be the best opportunity
for strengthening one’s technical skills, but many companies do look
favorably at a person who is well rounded in their skill set.
For example, let’s say a student tried but failed to get a summer
job or internship in a lab, and took a job at a fast food restaurant. If
the person were to summarize this experience on their résumé or at
an interview as essentially “just getting any kind of job and going
through the paces,” then there is not much value. On the other hand,
if the student were to explain that they used the opportunity to earn
some money to help pay for their college expenses, while also getting a chance to interact with the public and learn how to function
in a team environment to meet company objectives, then it shows
maturity and an understanding of interpersonal dynamics that could
be important in business.