Wednesday, April 11, 2012

David Harwell responds to a reader question, talks ACS Careers' strategy

The other day, Anon040420120157p had the following comment on the official numbers from the 2012 San Diego Career Fair:
I think good or bad numbers like these are meaningless. Number of offers made based on career fair interviews - now that's something I'd love seeing!
In response, David Harwell of ACS Careers has a fairly lengthy e-mail, both on the statistics and on ACS Careers' general strategy for responding to these times:
The question raised by Anonymous is a good one.  We ask our employers if they made offers, and we ask job seekers if they received them; however, neither group is good about returning information to us.  It is also important to note that very few actual offers are made at career fairs.  Most employers are using the career fair as a first screen.  Therefore, it is more realistic to look for the number of people that received follow up interviews, or invitations for site visits.  We don’t have good numbers for those either.

Therefore, we concentrate on the variables that are most within our domain of control and/or influence.  Namely, I look at the number of employers and the number of jobs they bring.  In recent years, several things have changed making it harder to attract employers.  The biggest change is the availability of job seekers.  Employers have more candidates to choose from than ever before, and those candidates are actively searching out opportunities.  Therefore, employers don’t have to come to us, because, job seekers will go directly to them.  The second factor affecting onsite job fairs is that most employers are listing two or three jobs instead of 100 or more.  With that reduction in volume, many companies decide that it is not economically feasible to send a hiring manager to a meeting for several days to recruit.  The cost of travel and missed days on the job is greater than the gain of one or two people.  For this reason, we coupled our onsite career fair with our virtual career fair, and I look at them as one hybrid event.  Attending the virtual fair eliminates travel costs and losses of productivity.  We have been able to grow the number of jobs and the number of employers through this strategy.

With regard to interviews, the number one factor determining whether a candidate gets one is their application package.  This is out of our immediate control, but we can help.  At the last meeting, we doubled-down on our workshops with a new series called the Chemical Career Pathways series.  In the workshops we explore careers in four different sectors: higher education, industry, government, and self-employment.  We explore strategies to successfully address the application process in each sector with the exception of self-employment.  For self-employment, we lead attendees through the creation of a business plan.  We also offer resume reviews and mock interviews onsite and online to our members.  We know from surveys that going through the resume review process increases a candidate’s chances of a callback fivefold.

The Chemical Career Pathways series was piloted in San Diego.  We are currently optimizing the content based on participant feedback, and we will roll out the full-scale program this fall.

The second stumbling block for candidates is the interview process.  Again, we have beefed up our workshops and advice.  We also have onsite mock interviews, and an online practice interview program called InterviewStream.  Going through a practice interview with either system will increase a candidates chances of success significantly.  For the onsite program, we staffed the mock interview booths with hiring managers and HR consultants from ACS.

In the coming months we will continue to supplement our online support materials for job seekers, including a stronger focus on online applications.  For example, that means looking at a resume as an online document that must be optimized for searches (search engine optimization), as well as formatted for people.  As a start, we conducted an interview with Joshua Waldman, author of Job Searching with Social Media for Dummies, in San Diego with an online simulcast.  A recording of the event can be found in our OnDemand archives:
This is a big problem, especially for new graduates and postdocs, but we are trying to help in the ways that we can.  We are also open to advice, constructive criticism, and suggestions through
I'd like to hear from readers if they participated in the Chemical Career Pathways series -- it'd be interesting to know both what you thought of it and how your job hunt is going.


  1. Why so much focus on the young? What about all the over 45 who are being forced out of the profession?

    Maybe it because unemployed young have ramifications for the graduate pipeline. If they don't get jobs future newbees get the idea chemistry careers suck which impacts grad schools and future ACS dues (and MJs/RB's fat pay). On the other hand no one sees the suffering of the over 45 chemists who unlike new students have a much harder time redirecting their careers after 15+ years as a chemists. It appears that to the ACS, the over 45 chemists are just yesterday's news best kicked under the rug.

    1. Yeah... my old man is a really good organic chemist and he was always making too little at the university as a research scientist after he lost his old job despite the research job being really interesting and requiring all his natural-product synthesis skills, and he couldn't leave the city we lived in for family reasons. He was always in debt actually.

      A few years ago he took out a second mortage on the house and bought a store. The kind of thing which sells everyday crap but caters to a specific community. With a bit of really ingenious advertising (using those 'critical skills' acquired being a chemist, but it could have been from reading books or watching 'Alien Autopsy' or something people told him at church just as well), he turned a profit in his first year. Now he put enough money in the bank to pay off the mortage and since taxes on small businesses are close to non-existent where he lives, he just recently offered to buy me a new fridge! Even the old patents he had started paying him a few grand a year, but it's laughable compared to the profit from the store. Organic chemistry: 0, Service Economy: +100

  2. In nearly a decade of grad school+postdoc, I have had more mock interviews at ACS and related meetings than I have had actual interviews. My CV has been reviewed at these meetings, by the career center, by multiple profs, by a professional resume editor, friends, family, etc. I have been under/unemployed almost a year now, post-postdoc. I had one low ball industry offer (less than a postdoc) that got rescinded before the start date due to lack of funding (really? you lack funding for a low ball offer?). Adjunct teaching pays less than waiting tables, and has no benefits. If there aren't jobs, all of this career prep bull doesn't make a bit of difference. It doesn't seem like the ACS understands this.

    If I was at the bottom of the applicant pool, I could understand the lack of response. Without compromising my anonymity, I will mention I was the valedictorian of a high school class of over 700 students, I finished two majors in three years as an undergrad, and I have over a dozen publications in mostly high-profile journals. I am open to any position, anywhere in the world. I'm overqualified for entry level positions outside my field, and I'm apparently underqualified for all the positions within my field.

    No unemployment insurance with a postdoc position, no savings, drowning in student loans. I am close to giving up. Blinded by youthful optimism, I feel like I took the worst possible career path. I wish I never took a chemistry class.

    1. Here's some valuable ACS advice for ya:

      Thinking that chemists can only work for chemistry companies is much too narrow - our critical thinking skills are of value to a wide variety of industries and job types. Obviously I agree with being flexible in your career goals, and exploring as much as possible. There are many more careers out there that you've never heard of than that you have heard of, and one of them may be just what you're looking for.

    2. Great advice. Thanks, I never thought about applying to jobs that I never heard of. In all seriousness, I've applied to everything from entry level computer programming gigs, to clinical trials manager, to lab tech, to shipping coordinator. As soon as any of the places find out I have a PhD they run the other way. Any way to renounce a PhD? I'll trade it away from a decade of resume filler.

    3. Have you thought of going abroad to be an English teacher? I say this in all seriousness actually. I also have a pretty similar resume to you actually, but I'm not really looking seriously at jobs in research chemistry at this point.Unlike you, I don't have any student loans anymore and I have some savings. There was a guy at my university who was a long term postdoc (this is one of the best research universities in the world) who just gave up on everything and went to teach in Japan despite having a few high profile papers. If you give up on chemistry altogether, it would be a nice change of pace to go to a foreign country and have a great experience for a few years while thinking of what else to do. You might end up working for the American embassy or become a spokesperson for a local company and then will get paid really well. You must learn the local language however, otherwise it's a bit of a waste. I've seriously considered doing this by the way at a few points in my life, but I have a 'two body problem'.


      Remove xx by tt.

    4. If you want to teach English abroad, and you want cash quick to get out of the student loan hell, work in Saudia Arabia. Hell, do just about ANYTHING in Saudia Arabia. Chemists in Alaska supposedly make money too.

    5. Anonymous041120120952AMApril 12, 2012 at 12:03 PM

      Thanks Uncle Sam. I actually had an opportunity to travel in Asia in grad school, and it was my intention of teaching there (chemistry/English/whatever) when I finished. Unfortunately, my own two body problem (and student loans) prevents me from giving up and working for peanuts in the 3rd world. The other (non-chemistry, thank god) body spent 20+ years immigrating here from the 3rd world and isn't in any hurry to move back.

      I've applied to a handful of chemistry-related jobs in Saudi Arabia.

  3. Dear Anon 10:53 am,

    Please don't insult us with your platitudes. Offer up some real data on how much employers outside of chemistry value people with chemistry degrees.

    I'm sure the person above who has been to numerous ACS meetings and attended ACS career workshops has already heard the 'alternative careers' mantra. I doubt they could have avoided it.

    1. Anon is (ironically, I assume) quoting Lisa Balbes here:

    2. @ CJ That's correct, and I intend to keep doing so.

      @ Anon 5:14 Only two things scare me and one of them is nuclear war. The other is people who need emoticons.

  4. I am glad Lisa has found a way to "apply critical skills" but, reposting from my own post:

    "Thinking that chemists can only work for chemistry companies is much too narrow - our critical thinking skills are of value to a wide variety of industries and job types."

    The ACS needs to stop selling this drek. "Critical thinking skills" are everywhere! MBA's take whole damn courses. Quantitative research skills, software coding skills, and the like are not the same as "critical thinking" skills.

    Older chemists need to go back and get re-trained in something that adds demonstrable skills to your CV. It sucks, and will be easier with a chemistry background, but it still sucks.

    Younger chemists take heed- this is most assuredly NOT the smaller cyclical downturns observed in the past 50+ years. What we are seeing are fundamental changes to the chemical research landscape, and the result is highly unlikely to be in your favour!


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20