Advice to Job-Seekers from C&E News - Blog Thyself

You know something's gone mainstream when chemistry's flagship magazine, Chemical & Engineering News, recommends it. The current issue contains an article offering five tips for a better job search. And right there at number three is "Connect through blogging."

What specifically should job-seekers be doing with their blogs? The article suggests:

  • writing short summaries of your presentations at meetings
  • inviting comments to create an interactive environment
  • posting fresh content regularly

("Writing summaries of your most recent publications" is not one of the suggestions. Perhaps certain unpleasant copyright issues are best avoided altogether).

I could be dead wrong about this, but the day may well come when not having a professional online presence outside of standard publications will be a competitive disadvantage to chemists. Regardless of whether you're still an undergrad or in your third decade in industry, blogging does something for you as a candidate that is impossible to achieve by other means.

Let me explain.

I've interviewed numerous job candidates, but I find it very difficult to do. No matter how good a company is at pre-screening and structuring the on-site interview, and no matter how skilled the interviewers, the process is fundamentally flawed. Here are some of the things I always looked for but was rarely able to fully address during an interview:

  • How passionate is the candidate about their field? Clock-punchers have a tendency to stay in an organization for a long time.
  • How does the candidate deal with criticism? The better the working environment, the more likely it is the candidate will be exposed frequently to one form of scientific criticism or another. Dealing with it is not always easy, especially when money and promotions are involved.
  • How does the candidate work with potential competitors? Most academic programs in chemistry do very little to prepare chemists for the reality they face in flat, efficient organizations oriented around teams of equivalently-trained peers.
  • Can the candidate generate enough new ideas to sustain themselves and anyone who might work with them? A chemist who runs out of good ideas quickly, or who doesn't dig deeply enough when the project is failing will have a very hard time thriving professionally.
  • How does the candidate try to persuade others? Persuasion plays a deciding role in getting things done within organizations. Integrity, humility, and tact are incredibly powerful persuasive tools that are only taught by the very best mentors and professors.
  • How willing is the candidate to stand against established dogma? Dogma kills innovation. But going against dogma is often very unpleasant, especially for the person doing it. People with the skill and courage to challenge orthodoxy while keeping their cool are worth every penny they earn.

Sadly, no matter what you ask a candidate, you will rarely get good answers to questions like these. For one thing, interviewing is very stressful for candidates, and as surprising as it might sound - it can be equally so for interviewers. For better or worse, what you see during an interview may not be what you would get in a colleague. Another factor is the interview schedule itself and its dampening effect on in-depth discussions.

Blogging, on the other hand, has the unique potential to give insights into all of these questions.

How many blogs do you read by authors you respect but whom you've never met? How many of those blogs offer insight into one or more of the questions listed above? If one of these respected authors were interviewing at your company or university, how would your expectations differ from a candidate you knew less about? How would the quality of the interview differ?

Of course, the effect works in the opposite direction as well. We're just starting to come to grips with the idea that it's literally possible for ordinary people to reach a world-wide audience for virtually zero cost with content that stays around for a long time. The concept is simultaneously liberating and terrifying.

The payoffs can be large for those willing to take the risk, stay creative, focus, and persevere. Which, of course, are exactly the kinds of talents your next employer may be looking for.