Networking

Knowing the right people can be invaluable in starting and advancing your career no matter your field of study. The process of meeting people in your field and using your professional contacts to advance your career is often referred to as networking.

Networking can bring tremendous personal and professional benefits. Through networking you can for example, learn about career related opportunities that you might otherwise never hear about, move to the top of the list of candidates in a job or fellowship search, establish new and useful collaborative research relationships, and meet some really exciting and very nice people who just happen to share some of the same interests that you do.

For some individuals networking provokes negative images of saying and doing things that one wouldn't ordinarily do. Nothing could be further from the truth if you are genuine in your approach to networking. In this section we'll discuss some simple techniques you can use to begin to build and use your own professional network.

Articles on Networking

How Do I Network?

You are actually networking anytime you meet, write, or otherwise interact with anyone who can potentially assist you or whom you can assist in some career-related way. That said, there are some settings that naturally lend themselves better than others to informally "growing" your professional network. These include attendance at technical meetings, social events at conferences, participation in professional organizations, etc.

Technical Meetings

If you attend a technical conference and hear a talk by someone that you believe you could a useful contact such as a potential graduate research mentor or a future collaborator, don't be afraid to seek them out at the end of their talk and introduce yourself. Attend social events at professional conferences such as luncheons and social hours. Don't be afraid to walk up to someone you don't know and introduce yourself. If you are unsure what to say and/or do, remember that people always enjoy talking about themselves and their interests professional and non-professional. A good way to begin a conversation might be to ask what kind of research your new friend does and then really listen to what they have to say. You are likely to find that their reply prompts you to ask another question or to share some information about yourself. Don't forget that scientists are people, too. Personal connections are an important

If you are considering attending graduate school, it can be extremely beneficial to attend technical sessions in areas that interest you and look for academicians who might be good research mentors. If you like what you see and hear from them in their formal meeting presentations, seek them out and speak with them personally afterward one-on-one. If you area concerned that you might become afraid or nervous, write out what you want to say to them in advance and then really listen to what they have to say in response. If you think you might be interested in their research, proffer them one of your handy business cards. When you return home, be sure to follow up with a brief letter (relative link to letter writing section) thanking them for their time and inquiring about the availability of research opportunities (and financial support, if you are interested in this) in their laboratory.

Professional Organizations

Consider joining a local student chapter of a professional organization in your discipline such as the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, or the Materials Research Society and actively participate in their monthly meetings. Professional organizations are a useful mechanism of forging new professionally mutually beneficial relationships as well as developing new non-technical skills (leadership, teamwork, etc.). Professional associations often significantly discount membership prices as a means of encouraging student participation. Monthly meetings often begin with a brief technical presentation by an invited speaker and are usually followed by informal dinners. The relaxed environment is ideal in facilitating interactions among participating members.

Networking Tools

Three simple and invaluable tools you need to have in order to effectively network include

business cards;
an up-to-date copy of your resume; and
letters including cover letters and thank you letters.


Business Cards

The first time you meet someone whom you feel might be a useful resource to you professionally in some way in the future (career, research area, education, etc.) it is a good idea to exchange business cards with them. Offer them one of yours and be sure to accept one of theirs. When you accept the card, make a notation on the back of the card indicating when (date) and where you met this individual and what they do or could do for you. To be effective, it is important that you carry your business cards with you at all times. So, keep a few in your wallet or pocket book.

Making Your Own Business Cards

Anyone can make and print good quality business cards today on either a laser or inkjet printer using perforated sheets of special card stock (e.g., Avery) commercially available at any office supply store. Microsoft Word has the capability of printing business cards so you need not purchase any special software. Reasonably thick, white card stock is best. When designing your card be sure to keep it simple.

Making a business card is really easy. Basically a business card contains your contact information, specifically:

  • Your full name;
  • Your title (e.g., Research Assistant or Research Associate);
  • Name of the academic institution or company where you hold the position above; and
  • Full mailing address at your workplace including telephone number (including area code), fax (including area code), and e-mail address. If you have a local home address where you may be contacted, you can include this information as well.

Be sure that the contact information on your card is:

  • Accurate and current (proofread, proofread, proofread!);
  • Professional (Note: e-mail addresses like "cuttie@hotmail.com" or "sweetasspice@hotmail.com" may give a potential employer the wrong message about you); and
  • Readable to all (use a minimum 10-pt font size printed using a readable font such as Times New Roman, Helvetica, or Arial)

Guidelines for Purchasing Business Cards

Business cards can be purchased from stationery, office supply, or photocopy stores. The most important advice when dealing with these stores is to be sure to ask to proofread a copy of your business card before your cards are actually printed. This will give you a chance to make sure that all of your information is printed correctly and that the desired card stock, fonts and font sizes have been used. Prices for commercially produced business cards vary widely but average about $50 for 250 cards. The turnaround time on business cards is approximately one-to-two weeks.

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Resume

The goal of a resume is to get noticed by a potential employer so you can obtain an interview (next step in being hired). A resume should provide a quick overview of your skills and qualifications. It is often said that an employer spends only 30-45 seconds reviewing your resume before deciding whether or not he/she is interested in you as a job candidate. So, the content and format of your resume is critically important.


Format

There is a standard format used in the preparation of resumes. If you really want 'the' job then it is not a wise idea to attempt to standout by using a non-standard format. This is increasingly important today as many employers scan resumes and analyze them electronically. You should strive to standout based on the content of your resume not its format. Be sure use at least a 10-point font size in preparing your resume and a standard font such as arial, helvetica, or times roman. Your resume should be printed on good quality (20 lb.) white paper. The printed copy of your resume should be clean, i.e., free of stray ink marks, spots, or other blemishes. Make sure your toner or ink cartridge is fresh so that the print is sharp, dark, and easy to read. All of this is important as the visual appearance of your resume will be interpreted as providing clues concerning your personality and work attributes. The standard format and headings for each section on a resume are as follows:


Contact Information

Your name and current mailing address should appear at the top in the center of the page. If you have multiple addresses, for example, a current work address, school address (dormitory or apartment), and/or permanent home address at which you are comfortable being contacted then these addresses should be listed on your resume. Two addresses at most should be listed. Be sure to list your full mailing address including zip code, telephone and fax numbers (including area code), and e-mail address.


Job Objective

A job objective may be listed underneath the contact information. Job objectives should be clearly written, succinct, and targeted to meet the specific needs of the employer to whom your resume is directed. Inclusion of a job objective is optional. If you don't have a clear job objective or your objective doesn't meet your potential employer's needs, don't include one. An example of a good job objective targeted for a B.S. in chemistry entry-level position at a major pharmaceutical company might be: "Opportunity to learn and apply organic synthesis, problem-solving, and analytic skills in the development of new pharmaceutical drugs in a team-oriented organization."


Education

Next you should list your educational achievement chronologically from present to past. In general, this section should contain information only for educational achievements from the bachelor's degree through the Ph.D. Information on high school graduation, a standard pre-requisite for college admission, is not normally included on your resume. The dates of study, the name of the academic institution you attended, your major areas of concentration/study, your GPA, if above 3.0, and any academic honors/awards received should be listed here. If you attend an academic institution with a common name be sure to include the name of the campus where you study or the state in which your institution is located. An example of an educational entry on a resume might be:

2004 - B.S. in chemical engineering cum laude with honors - Notre Dame University (IN)

Academic coursework is not normally listed on a resume. Academic course work completed should only be listed if the coursework is not something that someone with your academic background would ordinarily be expected to have completed and if it provides evidence of expertise and/or technical knowledge relevant to the specific position for which you are applying.


Work Experience

This section should provide information on any/all salaried work and/or volunteer positions you have had during your college education that showcase your technical, teaching, and/or leadership skills. This information should be listed chronologically from present to past.

Do not include high school work experiences unless they are truly unique, relevant, and outstanding. Otherwise you are likely to be viewed as “padding" your resume and the assumption will be that you perceive yourself to be a weak candidate for the position for which you are applying. It is understood that college students and recent college graduates' resumes will present limited work experience.

For each activity, you should provide the dates you held the position, a title for the position, the name of your employer, and a succinct list of your accomplishments. The accomplishments should be selected to highlight any unique abilities, skills, and/or accomplishments that uniquely qualify you for the position for which you are applying. To increase the impact of your work experience, be sure stress actions and to quantify results if at all possible. Examples of good action words include: created, designed, selected, developed, invented, approved, etc.

An example of a Work Experience section on a resume might look like:

Research Assistant, Biotech Company (MA), January – August 2007

  • Developed novel fluorescence enzyme assay for thermophilic peroxidase
  • Authored quality assurance (QA) standard operating protocol (SOP) for novel enzyme activity assay for thermophilic peroxidase

Be careful in using acronyms such as QA and SOP which appear in the example above. Acronyms can only be used without definition if the acronyms are considered to be universally understood in your discipline. It can be very tricky to decide what is universal and what is not so you are strongly advised to define any acronyms you wish to use.

It makes good sense to introduce acronyms if you intend to use the term several times in your resume. The acronym is properly defined by writing out the term the first time you use it in your resume and then immediately following it with the acronym rendered in parentheses. This procedure was illustrated in the resume section shown above for the acronyms QA and SOP. At any point following an acronym's introduction in your resume, you may use the acronym safely.


Presentations and Publications

If you have made any technical meeting presentations, published any technical articles, or filed any patent applications, this information should be listed next on your resume under the heading "Presentations and Publications." A full reference citation including paper titles using the format standard in your discipline should be provided for each paper and/or presentation. Whatever format you select, be sure to be consistent from entry to entry in applying it. Do not list technical papers on your resume unless they have at a minimum been submitted to (and preferably accepted by) the journal for publication. If there are multiple authors on the presentation or publication, you should highlight your name in the list using either boldface or by underlining it.


Skills

An optional section you may see on some resumes is entitled "Technical Skills." If you choose to include a technical skills section, this should be a list of the software, research grade instrumentation and /or laboratory techniques with which you have hands-on experience and which are relevant to the specific position for which you are applying. Do not list rudimentary skills that everyone in your discipline is expected to possess at your academic level, teaching-lab quality instrumentation, and/or general software such as Word, PowerPoint, or Excel, as the perception will be that you are “padding" an otherwise weak resume. You should only include information if you are comfortable using the technique, instrumentation, and/or software independently, i.e., unassisted.


References

Most resumes close by indicating that the interested employer can contact the job candidate for names of references that he/she can contact to obtain additional information concerning the past work performance of the job candidate. This is typically done by simply writing "References - available upon request." In general, most employers will require references from three individuals. It is a wise idea to at least identify in your mind who those references will be before you prepare and distribute your resume. Always contact your references in advance and let them know where you are applying and ask whether or not you can use them as a reference. Never list the name of your reference on your resume without contacting them beforehand.


Tips For Preparing An Effective Resume

  • There is no need to purchase any special software. Most modern wordprocessing programs such as MS Word and WordPerfect have built in templates for resumes.
  • Use plain white paper (20 lb. weight) that doesn't contain any background graphics or shading. This is particularly important as employers increasingly turn to electronic means (scanning, electronic character recognition software (OCR), etc.) to screen resumes.
  • An effective resume is clear, concise, well organized, factual, and accurate in the information it provides. Don't exaggerate your credentials.
  • Make sure that your resume is tailored to the specific position for which you are applying. This means you will need to prepare a resume for each position for which you seek consideration of employment. Be sure to keep a copy of each resume you submit for your records.
  • Pruf yor wurk. At a minimum use the grammar/spell checker feature built into most word processors. It only takes a minute to do this. Ask a friend to review your resume. Finally, take the time now while you are a student to learn how to proof read your own work: finish your draft well in advance of any time deadline and set the document aside for a day or two. Then read your resume through as if it were written by a student or a friend. Proof reading is invaluable skill. Cultivate your proof-reading skills now while you can!
  • A good final check for your resume is to prepare a checklist summarizing those skills, techniques, and other expertise the job advertisement lists for the position of interest and then all of those skills, techniques, and other expertise you believe the position likely calls for and then review your resume with that checklist in hand.


The Electronic Resume

An increasing number of companies are using the World Wide Web in hiring. These employers use automated search and retrieval systems to scan the myriad of resumes they receive. These systems use optical character recognition programs (OCR) and search for keywords that the employer has identified as compatible with the job requirements for the available position. To maximize your likelihood that the OCR software will select your resume, it is important to prepare your resume using a standard font and font size such as 10-12 pt Times New Roman, Helvetica, or Courier. Don't italicize or use underlining. Finally, be sure to follow the standard resume format in structuring your resume.

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Letters and Letter Writing

When should you write a letter to someone? Whenever you:

  • Meet someone who may be helpful to you now or in the future (contact);
  • Receive help/assistance from someone (thanks); or
  • Need something from someone (e.g., job, materials, other assistance).

As soon as is practically possible after you make a new acquaintance, be sure to send them a follow-up postal letter or e-mail note thanking them for their time, conversation, advice (whatever is relevant) and remind them when/how you met.

Business letters follow a standard format. Your address (contact information) should be listed at the upper right of the letter and should be right justified. Below this should be the full mailing address for the recipient of the letter. This information should be left justified. The letter should open with a standard salutation such as: "Dear Dr. X". The body of the standard business letter usually consists of three paragraphs identified as the introduction, body, and close of the letter. The introduction should state the purpose of your letter (to apply for a job, to thank someone, etc.). The body should amplify the introduction - providing any needed supporting information. For example, if the purpose of the letter were to obtain a job with the recipient, then this paragraph should contain specific information emphasizing the relevant accomplishments of the applicant. The purpose of the final section (the close) of the letter is to close the letter and provide any information needed to continue any discussion relevant to the letter. For example, if the purpose of the letter is to solicit a job, this paragraph might thank the employer for his/her time and request a meeting at a specific time using a specified mode of contact (such as telephone).

To be meaningful and most effective it is really important that your communications are personal, timely and readable. E-mail thank you notes are useful if it isn't possible for you to deliver your missive in a timely manner otherwise. However, remember that most people feel that e-mail is less personal and that it doesn't require the same effort to send as does a postal card or letter. At the same time however an illegible handwritten note on vellum paper that is delivered three weeks after the fact will also likely carry very little networking power.

Useful Guidelines for Electronic Correspondence

  • Be sure to spell check and grammar check your work before sending it. Poor grammar and incorrect spelling are likely to be viewed as evidence of a sloppy, poorly educated individual.
  • Avoid the temptation to "mass mail." If you want your e-mail to carry weight, send a personalized note to each person.