Real-world practice makes perfect
So how can you project the beautiful person that you really are,
instead of coming across as a jerk? It will probably take practice.
Go to receptions, meetings, and any other event that gives you the
chance to interact with other professionals. Observe the effects
of your actions. You may find that you have some bad habits that
stop conversations short, such as interrupting or only talking about
yourself. Don’t do them again. Other actions may cause people to
flock to you, such as recalling previous comments the person said
and focusing on making others feel important. Those are the hab-
its 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 continual improvement. Informal meetings centered
on topics not related to a job are the best place to start, because
it won’t matter if things go badly there, and 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
The thing to remember is that most people, especially chem-
ists, are good at heart and want you to succeed. The people on the
other side of the table are just as likely as you to be miserable dur-
ing a bad interview. To avoid the discomfort during an awkward
interaction, they are likely to throw you a lifeline. If you feel yourself
sinking, look to them for help. You can even ask, if help is not obvi-
ous — ask them to repeat or rephrase the question. Afterall, 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
either. You just need to be likable, communicative, and trustworthy.
And remember, it’s just a conversation with another person
who either has the gift of the gab and won’t stop talking anyhow
(in which case, you may have to practice the art of making a grace-
ful exit) or is in the same boat as you, feeling a bit shy or intimi-
dated — and you could be a breath of fresh air!
By following these easy steps, you’ll find yourself feeling more
comfortable and authentic with your conversation, and people will
remember you for it.
David Harwell is assistant director of the ACS Department of
Career Management and Development.
April/May 2014 www.acs.org/undergrad • inChemistry
Six Tips for a Good Conversation
1. Make the other person the topic of conversation.
2. Ask questions you’re truly interested in hearing
3. Keep the conversation relevant to what they’re
talking about, and don’t go off on a tangent
(or you’ll kick yourself later for it).
4. Be yourself and be personable.
5. Find common interests, either personal or
6. If you connect with the person, ask them for a
business card so you can follow up (and then
do follow up!).