Did you ever think that cover letters and
interviewing were similar in some ways to
An interesting piece on Morning Edition repeated
what I have heard in the past about the use of
certain words in conversations. The piece pointed
out that when each of a pair in a conversation
matches each others rate of use of articles,
pronouns, and functional words, they would
result more in a date.
In studying “power dynamics” in a pair James
Pennebaker has analyzed the language use and
correlated it to the relative social status. The person
who holds a position of relatively higher status speaks
“I” less frequently.
Pennebaker has shown similar things in writing
samples, too. He also believes that a person cannot
change him or herself by changing their language.
He does believe individuals change their language by
When you work as a “knowledge worker“, like many
scientists and engineers, you do not receive requests
to be a reference for others. When you move
into “management” ranks, whether of a department,
group or in a staff position, requests become more
common and for people who work for you, inside and
outside your organization.
It should be this way. This is true in the pre-LinkedIn
days, at least. [Linkedin offers many opportunities to
seek and provide “recommendations”.]
When you move into academe, it is common to receive
requests for recommendations (filling out forms and
free form) and job application references fairly frequently.
Is it a good practice for an academic to post
recommendations for students in LinkedIn?
I have my own answer. While it is a nice compliment to be
asked to write supporting letters, it is hard work to compose
strong letters. Experience and writing skills stand the
test of time. Some helpful rules of thumb are:
LIST OF REFERENCES
- Avoid “references available on request” on your CV
(should be a listing of references in CVs) or in your resume.
COROLLARY: include a List of References page in your
- if there is only casual, infrequent or not recent contact
with a possible reference, don’t ask
PREPARATION IS KEY
- help the reference compose a strong letter by offering
your recent resume, your achievements, attributes,
interpersonal skills and motivations
IS LINKEDIN SAME AS REFERENCE?
- is the LinkedIn recommendation the same as a
reference conversation or letter?
Resume reviewers will seek references outside your
list of names and in a wide array of places, especially
from their own network of contacts.
It seems that most resume reviewers and recruiters will
have their own tactics to screen promising candidates with
all the appropriate Internet tools.
A potpourri is a collection of miscellaneous items.
Several interesting situations and resulting questions
are reported from members.
One member received an attractive post-doctoral
offer after a telephone and on-site interviews in
which she met the person she would replace and
many of the staff.
The offer letter indicated it was a one year position,
renewable for up to five years, depending upon
attaining funding and successful completion of
responsibilities. It curiously had two dates when
the offer letter was to be signed and returned. One,
clearly a misprint was past, probably the date of
The offer letter indicated a full time position, but
did not indicate anything about formally assisting
the newly minted Ph.D. with working papers.
Reference to employee handbook covered
insurances, holidays and vacations was provided.
It is important to match how these meet your
To complicate matters, this scientist received a
telephone interview from her choice institution
on the day the offer letter came. It was an exciting
conversation involving 2 professionals, arranged
by the admin via email.
What should she do about the offer? What should
she do about the possible position from her top
1. Some items were missing in the cover letter.
Some dates were not clear. Conversation with the
PI covered the critical need that the offering university
would help her obtain H1B visa. This should be
written into the offer letter.
2. Although starting and ending date and salary
are in the letter, it would be good to clarify any
items in the handbook about vacations, holidays,
memberships, relocation and critical items for her
family and move.
3. A letter of receipt of offer should be sent. It
should be done both via hard copy and phone and
express thanks and appreciation for an attractive
offer. It should state offer details as best as you
- Find out when insurances kick in.
- Are you eligible for 403b savings plan?
- No restrictions for where you work after this
position are stated or implied. Nonetheless, it
is not a bad idea to have a legal representative
review what is in the document and what is not.
(I recommend A. Sklover.)
4. Evaluate your family’s near term and medium
term needs. Like short term housing and security
deposits. Transportation requirements, parking
and public transport options.
5. Develop a negotiation priority and practice
with a consultant. Look for win-win options.
6. Now revert to the second institution. Consider
contacting the admin and asking for help. This is
her number one choice where she wishes to work.
Describe briefly the time crunch for making a
decision. Ask if it is possible to learn if she is
seriously being considered to fill the opening.
7. If she is, ask if it is possible to have a follow-up
conference call to describe the situation and ask
for the chance to meet in person. Be prepared
for a quick decision and need to make flight
8. Pursue the formal offer as if it is the only
consideration. Yet, pin down all necessary and
priority details. Leave nothing to chance and
request a revised offer letter stating things clearly.
A member was invited to participate in a video
telecon interview with a PI and an associate using
Skype. She did not feel optimistic about her
performance and had some questions regarding
learning from the experience.
Q: Are you expected to know answers to all
A: When you are being considered for positions,
it is good to know all about what you will do. Yet,
is it quite optimistic. It is not a bad thing not to
know specific details. You can learn these things.
Being honest and showing interest in learning new
things to make a contribution is probably what you
did. You could also show your critical thinking skills
by asking questions to understand and clarify.
Q: My camera displayed me to them, Their camera
did not display them to me. Should I have turned off
A: I believe it is important to cooperate with the
interviewer, even if it does not seem fair or even.
Display your confidence and look directly into the
camera, smiling and acting natural, showing interest.
This takes practice.
Q: Is it common to have an interview where the
interviewer screen is not projected?
A: No it does not seem to be a common thing. Could
be a technical glitch.
Q: They were 20 minutes late on their call. Should I
call or email them to tell them I am ready and available?
A: It is common in business to offer some leeway in
time. I often wait 15 minutes to indicate I am ready and
reiterate my contact information. This can sometimes
be incorrectly copied or lost.
Some tips for video telephone interviews are listed
in the comments.
More than a half dozen, very strong candidates with
technical accomplishments and distinctive interpersonal
skills have come to me asking for help in crafting
business focused resumes recently. In our very
competitive tight market they seek alternate career
Business focused resumes are one of three subsets
of resumes that technically skilled knowledge workers
prepare to apply for interviews. The other two,
chronological, the most common, and used for R&D
and manufacturing positions, and functional, the least
common, and reserved mostly for unique situations,
like change of fields.
Seven notable distinctions separate business focused
1. Most business focused resumes employ Applicant
Tracking Systems ATS to screen, search for ‘keywords
in context matching the job description’ and rank incoming
A good video is displayed in the Proptel web-site.
2. Keywords that are contained in a specific job
description, including inferred information, score
higher in ATS rankings. Thus, information such as “at
least 4 years experience” might be better stated explicitly
in a business focused resume, rather than listing positions
that clearly show more than 4 years without the specific
statement. So, both explicit and implicit indication is
Don’t just include what you think is a common keyword,
look for specific keywords in the job description.
This also means you need to craft specific resumes for
each company application.
3. Format- heading information should be in the normal
text of the document, rather than in headers or footers.
Typical business section headings should be used, such
as Summary [note the difference between knowledge
worker chronological resumes– Objective, Highlights,
and Qualifications], Experience, Education, Honors and
Awards, Affiliations. Unique section headings may not
be recognized, like career highlights.
Avoid pasting your resume sections into fields, if
possible. Upload the full document to retain organization.
4. Keyword listing- Found it interesting to learn of
the recommendation to include a keyword listing at the
end of the Education section.
5. Responsibilities- Found it interesting that business
focused resumes using ATS will sometimes look for
not only accomplishments, but also management
6. Cover letter- Included in the uploaded file, there
is value in the ranking system to indicate where you
learned about the position opening.
7. Suggestions are that the length of the resume is less
of a concern than aligning your document and supporting
your credentials sufficiently. Although recent graduates
are expected to produce something closer to one page.
Last week the privilege of moderating an exceptional
careers discussion panel was offered to me. The panel
included a senior manager for Lockheed-Martin Space
Systems (Susan Ermer), a senior technical staff member
at Sandia NL (Peter Hotchkiss), a professor at an elite
PUI (Brian Lawrence), a professor at an research
intensive top flight university (Tobin Marks) and
a patent agent, manager of proprietary information and
patent portfolios (Tim Parker).
The audience was captivated by what each person
had to say. I tried to capture some of the “thought hooks”
that each spoke with conviction about, including:
- flexibility (change will happen– anticipate and accept
it), communication skills (and enthusiasm to pursue what
is important) and seeking different perspectives (even if
it does not fit your initial impressions)
- “you cannot predict what will happen in our futures”
yet make the best out of what happens as situations outside
our control will factor into what each will do
- “make yourself necessary”
- having and listening to mentors and taking the initiative
can only benefit you.
- “I have the greatest job in the world” was echoed by
people and the people and culture they worked in suited
- everything changes but each at different rates and
The audience asked many questions, had chances to
network and speak with the panel. Yet, as outstanding
as it was, they wanted more time and chances to
Special thanks goes to John Podobinski who shared
what he recently learned in Toastmasters International
about moderating a panel discussion. He reverse
mentored me in ‘The art of moderation” written by
Nick Wreden and it was amazingly effective.
At a recent careers presentation, an audience member
asked what a letter of intent was. ‘Let me get back to
you’ was my response. I have heard letter of intents
for high school athletes attending colleges and universities
and for specific instructions for my legal affairs affecting
minor children, and letters of resignation.
So, this is what I have discovered:
Definition: A letter of intent, when referenced in a
job posting, is equivalent to a cover letter. Your letter
of intent explains the reasons for your interest in the
specific organization and identifies your most relevant
skills or experiences. There are other forms of letters
of intent, however.
for Grad School Application Letter …
A letter of intent addressed to each graduate school
you apply to is your opportunity to show your strengths
and that you recognize your weaknesses.
The letter of intent formally ends the recruiting
process and connects players with teams. But
“critics say the LOI is a one-way deal that only
benefits schools; coaches are free to come and
go, but a student that changes his mind for any reason
must be formally released from his commitment.
A letter of intent is a document ‘that will act as a
guideline for the caretakers of your child with
special needs after your death.’ This letter includes
contact information for doctors, teachers and other
professionals. It can contain the likes and dislikes
of your child as well as any other information that
you believe is important for the caretakers to know
about their child. This letter should be updated
on an annual basis and kept with important
A letter of intent to resign informs your employer
that you are resigning. It can either be formal letter
of intent to resign, tpyed, printed and signed, or sent
via email. Note that it is important to let your
employer know when your last day of employment
If it is an email, it is best to include a specific
subject line so your message can be ready in a
Subject Line: Your Name - Resignation - Effective
When you are sending a formal letter of intent to
resign, here’s the format
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Phone Number
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name:
I am writing to announce my resignation from Company Name, effective January 15.
This was not an easy decision for me to make. The past five years have
been very rewarding. I’ve enjoyed working for you and working on a very
successful team dedicated to providing top level customer service.
Thank you for the opportunities that you have provided me during my tenure with the company.
I wish you and the company the very best and hope we can keep in touch in the future.
Your Typed Name
The truth of the matter, in offering a presentation or workshop,
it is not what the presenter presents, but what the audience
members take away and experience that imprints a learning
cycle on their brain neurons.
When they sense a situation in which they face something
they can relate to a previous experience they can react,
respond, initiate, clarify, or pursue.
[Importance of critical thinking over didactic thinking.]
The Northeast Student Chemistry Career Symposium yesterday
in centrally located Holiday Inn in Brookline gave attendees
- perspectives on careers
- discussions on networking and communications
- discussions on resumes and references
- practical experiences in mock interviews
The feedback we sought and received taught us that the audience
received and internalized the messages that
1. the interview does not start with an employer contacting a
person based on being attracted by a well written resume.
It starts much earlier. It lasts well beyond leaving the location
after an on-site interview.
2. interviews are unnerving experiences that can lead to
stressful or pressure-packed feelings. Preparation, practice
and persistence are key in developing interpersonal skills to
3. interviewing continuum as a big picture model shines a
light on different aspects of search, narrowing down,
preparation, performance and improvement cycle that needs
to happen throughout your career.
4. clarifying precisely the documents needed to apply for
specific positions was revealing. Although different presenters
offered reflections on resumes, it almost never satisfies everyone
in the audience, since each person is a different case. Public
relations documents might be best handled individually.
5. some presentations required the audience to be there for
the whole presentation. Other presentations were designed
to deliver at least something of value for those who moved
from one to another presentation. Presentation design (not
overly dependent on power point, highly interactional) makes
Some behind the scenes conversation:
DON’T EXPECT YOUR FIRST POSITION TO BE ONE
YOU HAVE FOR YOUR WHOLE CAREER. CONSTANTLY
- INCREASE AND BROADEN YOUR SKILLS AND
- LOOK OUTWARD AND FORWARD.
WISE SKILLS ARE INCREASINGLY MORE IMPORTANT.
Advisers expect certain things out of grad students to
get their positions– get publishable results, publish them,
have good relationships with your P.I. and interview
to find out what you will do next.
Real life experience says one thing is missing– the grad
student must be proactive, develop skills, set goals and
learn how to be assertive and make decisions.
The adviser will not do this. It is the grad student’s
In this week’s class another series of questions were
asked. One was: “Once we have our Ph.D., what
are some tips for combating “impostor syndrome?“
The question went on: “i.e. still feeling out of place
because we’re not used to being the expert in the room.“
Impostor syndrome, as I perceive it, is a feeling that
people perceive when their accomplishments are not
connected to their efforts, insights or intelligence in
their own minds. Individuals are not convinced that
they deserve the credit they have achieved.
FIRST: THIS IS MORE COMMON THAN YOU THINK
When I first began work at the largest company in
the world at the time, it kind of felt like that. I tried
to feel my way around and probably made a few
blunders as I felt like I was blindfolded, while everyone
else worked with full sight.
Later I found out that my boss’s boss felt the same way.
He contacted me and asked me for inside information
about how things were when he wasn’t present in the
labs, in small office gatherings and group meetings.
I will never forget the dinner he and I had to talk about
SECOND: MEN AND WOMEN FACE IT
It is not, as my boss’s boss example portrays,
a phenomenon mostly in women. The difference
between men and women seems to me to be that
women admit it and men’s egos erase it.
Certain educational systems may have something to
do with not employing critical thinking and falling back
to more traditional “didactic” thinking, where students
are taught what to think, not how to think.
There are certain helpful strategies that help us
manage the strange feeling of being expected to know
One is applying the concept of “critical thinking.“
Richard W Paul’s book, “Critical
Thinking: What every
person needs to
survive in a rapidly changing world,”
points out people seeking, asking questions and
learning for themselves.
So, tips for overcoming the impostor syndrome might
involve applying critical thinking and, secondly,
understanding limitations associated with
disabilities of systems thinking, which often
constrain us. Focus more on perceiving situations
as more complex and less linear.
This week’s WSJ had a gaggle of
terrific, helpful articles. One provided
commentary on tax issues of investments.
Another offered travel tips that I have
put into my idea notebook. A third
gives a bigger picture of long term
Each of these seem compelling to me.
Hope they are for you.
TAX IMPLICATIONS OF MUTUAL FUNDS
SOURCE: R. L. Ensign, WSJ 4-5-12 Tax
Pitfalls for Fund investors
While most of our long term funds are in
tax deferred or tax free accounts, short
term funds need to be thoughtfully deployed.
This article reminds us of those. More
helpful are two other pointers concerning
new reporting regulations on purchases
after 1-1-12 and that we need to pay
attention to how tax regulations are
changing, before Congress now.
MINIMIZE HASSLES WHEN TRAVELING
SOURCE: S. McCartney, WSJ 4-5-12, Travel
Tips from readers
Several powerful travel tips listed–
use your cellphone to take a picture of
your hotel room number and parking location,
bring an insulated, soft cooler bag with a
power strip to power all your devices,
pack wet wipes in your carry on and
your home key ring inside our carry
wear a front-zip hoodie for “red
Premiums, Kelly writes, are influenced by
age, health, the daily benefit, length of
coverage and inflation protection. The
article says: get what is affordable, but
rates increase, insurers are picky and there
are other alternatives.
I liked the hybrid alternative discussion.
Now, I researched advanced batteries development
some years ago and I was intrigued by the title
of Don Sadoway’s TED talk, The missing link
to renewable energy. The battery.
Don is right on. To me, it has always been
a strong interest and a compelling problem.
The way he tells the story alone is worth viewing.
While I have many questions about his design
and how he manages material of construction
and electrical problems, I love the “shot glass”
and “hockey puck” and “bistro table”.
In our class this week, we had occasion to simulate
a cell phone call in the middle of an interview with
a senior manager.
This led to a discussion about what we should do
with cell phones during interviews and then more
widely cell phone etiquette.
Interview Cell phone Etiquette: Everyone has
cellphones with them all the time.
1. Place key numbers for your interview in phone
memory, before the interview
2. Silence your ringtone before the interview
3. Resist the temptation to text, read emails or
Internet items or call when on-site, unless important.
4. Place your cell phone in a secure location where
you know where it is
5. Despite the host taking out cell phone in their
office or at dinner, resist doing the same
General Cell phone etiquette:
- lower your voice when talking in public
- avoid personal topics when others can hear you
- avoid talking in elevators, libraries, museums,
restaurants, cemeteries, theaters, dentist or doctor
waiting rooms, places of worship, auditoriums or
other enclosed public spaces
- avoid taking calls when you are already engaged
in face-to-face interactions.
If you do take a call, ask for permission of the
people you are with
- never talk in hospital emergency rooms or buses.
- Don’t have emotional conversations in public
- avoid texting during face-to-face conversations
- silent mode in meetings, theaters and restaurants
- don’t light up in dark theater
- hang up and drive; avoid multi-tasking
- acknowledge a delay in cell phone transmission
- don’t blame the other person for a dropped call
- avoid looking up things during a conversation
- observe a 10 foot proximity rule from the
nearest person when talking
- phone tag—ok to stop at 4th call
- choose wisely ringtones, please and thank you
In the world of perceptions how we put ourselves
in the public eye makes a huge difference for our
businesses, our careers and our global enterprises.
The ACS office of public affairs is the cornerstone
for what the public’s view of our profession. At
the San Diego meeting I had the opportunity and
privilege to be invited in, meet and share with the
staff and participate in a press conference.
Why would I do this? Well the selfish reason was
that a student was presenting her work both in a
session and in a press conference. I attended both.
My role was to help her prepare.
Nicely organized and professionally maintained, I
viewed several press conferences that were scheduled
on the half hour and hour.
- Bassam’s 2012 initiatives sesquicentenial of
grant colleges, graduate education and climate
- Craig Venter’s exciting genomics based projects.
- Another approach for converting nuclear
generation of energy by producing non polluting
hydrogen by Khamis.
- New approaches to regenerative medicines by
- Wang and Lei’s TNT and other explosive
detecting test strips.
So, one place I would encourage members to visit
at the meeting is the press room if you like to
see chemical news in the making.
If you get invited to present in one of these
events, it is like getting an interview in front
of the whole country and on tape! Good exposure
if you are prepared.
During the career fair program organized by ACS
Careers I met several undergraduates who sought
advice on their public relations documents and
practice on interviewing. This is an ideal setting
for members to do this.
While most of the resumes that I reviewed are kept
by the member, several that were used in mock
interviews lead me to reflect on some areas for
APPEARANCE: SPACE AND FONT
Half of the resumes for industrial or government
positions try to squeeze as much on the page as
they can. This means there is less than one-inch
boarder on the page and font size is usually small,
9-10. Please consider having a wider margin and
using font size 11 or greater.
CONTENT: RESUME “RED ZONE“
All resumes typically are reviewed in three stages.
The first stage seeks to look on page 1 for key
skills, experiences or representations that relate
to the position they seek to fill. Is this a person
whose skills match our needs? This should be in
the middle third of the first page in an easy to
read format. Things should be stated clearly,
concisely and specifically.
While half of resumes have some of this information
in the vicinity, it is often not clearly organized. It
is observe in sections below Education or below
Experience or parts of those sections.
Consider listing the areas of strength and experience
in either a Qualifications or Highlights section before
the Education section, as:
- Experienced in ….
- Proficient in …
- Skilled in …
- Track record in …
- Expertise in …
Match the keywords used in the job description. It
is the job seekers responsibility to find the terms and
keywords. If you don’t your competition will.
LISTING GRADES IN EDUCATION SECTION
Grades in Undergraduate school can be a measure
of a person’s competence and proficiency. From
place to place the meaning of grades differs.
When a resume reviewer sees grades for undergraduate
courses less than 3.5 (out of 4.0), it is often viewed
less favorable for attaining an interview.
Consider not including GPAs less than 3.5.
INCLUDING YOUR INTERNET PRESENCE:
Just as nearly everyone has a cellphone, the
same holds for email addresses and some kind
of Internet Presence.
Most recruiters and resume reviewers will “google”
you to learn a bit about you and confirm information
on your resume. It is a good practice to help the
reviewer out and avoid any confusion with similar
names by listing either your LinkedIn.com profile
link or your web-page in the heading of your
Make sure your Linkedin.com profile is up to