Around this time of year, recently graduated seniors head off into the next stage of their careers, and younger students start new summer jobs, REUs, and internships, or debate about what they really want in the future. Everyone has questions about how to prepare for job interviews and what employers really want to see in a candidate. There is an overabundance of advice on the web about how to land the perfect job, but what does that mean for a Simmons graduate, just starting out? What are the chances of success, and what are employers really looking for in a candidate?
To find out, we interviewed Chau Vy, a recent Chemistry/Physics graduate who has just started a new job at Jordi Labs. Below, Chau generously shares some of the insights that she’s gained during this first experience on the job market as a college graduate.
1) a. How did you find out about the job opening/opportunity that you ended up taking, and (if you’re willing to share) b. how long were you looking c.how many others did you apply for?
a. I found the job listing on Indeed.com, which I think gives very relevant search results as compared to other job search engines. Some other places I looked were: Monster.com, the LinkedIn Jobs tab, the ACS Careers Tab (only works if you are a member I think), and direct websites of the companies I heard of from friends and professors.
b. I was looking for one week and waited another week before hearing back from an employer, so two weeks before I was given an interview opportunity.
c. I applied to roughly 30 positions and about 20 employers (some had more than one position I was qualified for).
2) What did you do to prepare for the interview?
Just as a warning, two places called me for preliminary phone interviews without any warning so as soon as you apply, be prepared to answer questions the next day. To prepare for the interviews, I looked up common interview questions and took notes on the most sensible answers. I practiced asking and answering these questions as well as other questions that I thought may be relevant. Dr. Lee warned me that I may be ask chemistry questions that are more technical so I reviewed the concepts and background behind all the techniques and instrumentation listed on my resume. Thank goodness I did because both the interviews I went on were basically like an oral exam for chemistry. I was even asked to draw organic synthesis mechanisms and reaction products. My best advice is to be prepared for both the Human Resources questions as well as the technical chemistry questions.
3) What one thing was most important/most helpful in your preparations?
Pretty much that Dr. Lee warned me about the technical questions because otherwise I would have been dumbfounded and probably not performed as well. Take this as your warning.
4) Could you describe the general interview process, and what you were asked to do?
This could be different depending on the scale of the company. For the smaller company, I was given a 20 minute phone interview that focused more on the human resources side of the job and general personality traits and then was asked to come in for an on-site interview which was more like an oral exam on my chemistry knowledge. There I spoke to two representatives, one senior scientists and one higher level business manager. For the larger company, I was given a preliminary 10 minute phone interview on general human resource questions, followed by a scheduled 30 minute phone interview that focused on the technical chemistry questions and then was given the opportunity for an on-site interview where I was asked to give a 30 minute presentation on my research and meet with 5 company representatives for 30 minutes each for questioning.
5) Do you have advice for other students getting ready to go out on the job market, especially about things that they can do to prepare while they’re still at Simmons?
There are a few things.
- If you put something down on your resume, be prepared to answer any relevant questions on it.
- Learn to use as many instruments as you can. Laboratory techniques are important as well if you are planning on entering the pharmaceutical/biotech world. I wish I had taken a couple extra biology courses just to get experience on biological techniques like running assays or growing cells. Many jobs asked not only for chemical techniques but also biological ones.
- Do your best to format your resume to fit one page. Leave out detailed descriptions. They’ll ask you for the details on the interview if they’re interested in knowing more. The title of your research and presentations will usually suffice. Employers told me they appreciated that I only put what’s relevant on there so they didn’t have to search through a long CV for things they were looking for.
- Like I said previously, be prepared for both the Human Resources questions as well as the technical chemistry questions.
- To re-iterate again because I think it’s pretty important: Two places called me for preliminary phone interviews without any warning so as soon as you apply, be prepared to answer questions the next day.
- Attitude really matters. Appear as enthusiastic as possible.
- Negotiate your pay. Employers can often understate what they ought to pay you to see if you’d settle for it or to leave room for negotiation. Ask for a higher number (specify it) and see what their reaction is. If they’ve already offered you the job, the worse that can happen is you get the original offer. If you succeed, you’ve just gotten yourself a few more grand a year. Happened to me.
- Life happens but it’s really best if you could answer employers’ calls the first time they call. Remember, you’re just one out of many qualified candidates so take reign of the opportunity.
6) What will you be doing in your new position?
I got hired as a Project Manager at Jordi Labs. The company is a two-fold business where one side deals with products including GPC columns and solid phase extraction cartridges and the other side provides analytical services that address failure analysis of all types of products, polymer analysis, product deformulation, comparative qual. and quant. studies, etc. My job will entail speaking with clients to determine their problem and needs, writing proposals that prescribe techniques to address them, and managing the analytical project from start to finish. The job will require me to learn and know about all of the 40+ analytical techniques that Jordi Labs offers as well as how different products are suited for different applications so that I can best prescribe the most likely to succeed techniques or products. In short, I like to think of myself as a problem solver for those with analytical problems with a focus in the realm of polymer science. I’m excited because the learning curve will be pretty steep for me.
Thanks, Chau, for these helpful insights into the job search process, which can sometimes be pretty intimidating. Best of luck in your new job!