As chemists, we invest years of our life studying to become a trained professional. Naturally, we want to capitalize on this investment by finding work in our field (i.e. synthetic chemist, materials scientist, analytical chemist, etc.). But finding a job that is an exact match for your specialty is a low probability activity.
The best employees are flexible and happy just to be on the team. They figuratively hold out their hands and say “what do you want me to do?” This is the attitude you want to maintain in your job search. Don’t be a specialist – instead, be an enthusiastic chameleon, eager to pitch in and help as needed.
Think of your job search like this: Imagine a house on top of a hill next to a lake. The house is on fire, and the local people have formed a line from the lake to the house and are passing buckets of water up to be thrown on the fire. Now you want to help, so you walk up and down the line asking “Can I fit in here? Do you need my help?” Most of the time the person replies “No – keep looking.” Most people do not want to be waist deep in the freezing lake, and most people think they are smart and want to decide where to throw that last bucket of water. We benefit when you go to where you are most needed, and the only way to find it is to keep looking.
Want your resume to stand out from the crowd? Be a chameleon! Read the job description and list these skills on the top part of the front page of your resume. Do not list your whole history of instruments and techniques. It is confusing. It is better to focus on the employer’s needs. If you are a recent grad, describe your lab experience in a way that is similar to a job description.
After you find a job that is a match for your skills and experience, search on LinkedIn for people who work at the company and ask to connect: send them 1 or 2 sentences – don’t just click the auto invite. After you are connected, ask if they will forward your resume to either HR or the hiring manager. Resumes forwarded from an internal employee always get read! If you get up to bat with the hiring manager, and s/he presses you for your experience with a particular method or instrument, reassure them of your passion and enthusiasm for the opportunity.
Have an “elevator speech” ready. The next lead may come from a neighbor when they ask you “What kind of work do you do?” You need to describe it in a way that is simple to understand, and all in about 60 seconds.
Avoid spending hours completing the online application at very large companies. Wait until someone in the company has reviewed your resume and invited you to interview.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
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