It was interesting to see the cover letters submitted
by our class this semester. Some were cover letters
accompanying resumes to apply for industrial or
government positions. Others were applying for
faculty or academic post-doc positions; still others
While the form remains nominally the same for
all, the contents need to uniquely address each
specific position with type specific topics
R. Bretz identifies that the cover letter would indicate
the other documents in the application package, usually,
teaching philosophy, CV, teaching portfolio, research
proposals and start-up equipment and funds.
Opening paragraph includes position you are seeking,
where you learned about it and points out why you
are well qualified and a strong candidate to fill the position.
Following paragraphs include information about the
kind of institution it is, what attracts your interest in
being a candidate there, your areas of expertise and
fit into the organization, specific course teaching,
mentoring or research experience. It should also
state recent awards and affiliations with the institution.
Either in the final paragraph or after the signature,
a listing of the documents of the application packages
POST DOCTORAL POSITIONS
While many are at academic institutions, post doc
cover letters are best that show you are familiar with
the PI’s work and have some ideas that could be
exploited in her or his laboratory. B. deBoef has
offered examples of cover letters that point out
connections,meetings or citing the PI’s work.
He indicated a willingness to author research proposals
and seek fellowships. He describes his professional
plans and where the post-doc position fits, a copy
of recent publications and opportunities to meet
INDUSTRIAL AND GOVERNMENT POSITIONS
Careersolvers and Quintcareers do respectable
jobs describing what to not do. I always like Louise
Kursmark and Wendy Enelow’s approach to different
contexts of cover letters to business and technology
positions. Each one is situation dependent and targeted.
The position title considered is in an easy to see
reference line in a letter addressed to a specific person.
A bulleted style allows the writer to minimize the use
of “I” in the letter. The major qualifications sought in
the job description are lined up in one column and how
the candidate fulfills the requirement in an adjacent
column of bullets.
The final paragraph solidifies your interest in being
in the position or organization and your desire for an
interview. Interest in meeting an individual and opportunity
to discuss mutual interest in the company’s success is
good in the last paragraph. Besides mentioning your
appreciation and availability, these days a skype or
facetime telecon can further your case to pass initial
To me internship seeking and industrial post doc
seeking cover letters are similar to the industrial
position cover letter, since the audience is similar.
One of the routes to interviewing candidates for
start up companies uses “case study interviews.“
In class, we used a case study interview on a small
team. One member of the team was an engineer and
capable for visualizing the problem; another member
was confident, but would need preparation to equally
participate in problem-solving. Shortly after they
began this mock interview the second person asked
to leave and end her participation. Frustrated.
So used to studying for the test and textbook answers
in academic training, this new situation where the
answer was not clear, assumptions had to be made
and more data was needed overwhelmed her.
Fortunately she was coached into how to participate
as a facilitator, notetaker and visual thinker.
Entrepreneurial cultures accept failure as part of
the learning process. They tout: Fail quickly and
learn from each one. The WSJ printed an anecdote
that is abstracted to make a point about the origins
of death certificates and its result in forming three
new industries, namely statistics, life insurance and
“the English king in 1665 desired to know why his
tax revenue was decreasing. His collectors reported
that people were dying. So, the king ordered that
each death needed to be certified. And, “each week
why don’t we write down all the reasons each person
died this week…”
“What questions did you ask today?
Finally, an intriguing real life personal care products
entrepreneurial story was reported where Jon Flint
used a scientific approach to develop proprietary
formulations that could not be copied by others
and met their claims. He never thought he would
enter this field but a stroke of good fortune by
collaborating with renown Robert Langer led to a
number of successful formulations.
Long-term care expert Mark Kirby has worked exclusively
in the LTC field for more than 17 years. In his upcoming free
webinar for ACS members he will share the most important
items you should know about planning for long-term care so
you can make an informed decision for your future– instead
of having one made for you.
Although salary is one component of an overall compensation
package, it dominates many people’s thinking and self-worth.
Now I am only one person and everyone has his or her own
opinion about salary discussion openness. So, I will pull together
some information on this “hot button” topic. This topic probably
will not easily go away in our competitive, capitalist system.
Lauren Weber co-authored a WSJ article in which she drew
up four recommendations about speaking with co-workers:
- speak only with people you trust
- define and communicate your true motivation
- carefully use this information when speaking with others,
“once the information is out, misplaced feelings and unintended
consequences can and do occur.” [my words]
- be prepared for unexpected findings.
Carlos Portocarrero offered that “life is not fair.”
comparing salaries will only bring tense moments.
Catey Hill wrote a meaningful piece saying there are few times
when she recommends speaking with co-workers–
reciprocal sharing when you are certain you are underpaid,
when you have data to support everyone is underpaid and you
compare it to a benchmark or competitor, or
when someone leaves a comparable position (leaving the firm
It is not just an objective data sharing discussion. I recently
mentored an entrepreneur who shared her earnings with her
employees in a small firm. Upon learning about how much she
cleared, they, to a person, all wanted significant raises. This is
despite the fact they were very well paid and had choices about
how much they had to work and how much income they would
be compensated. Their demands kept escalating, even when
their salary was increased.
Point: We never seem satisfied for long with a pay raise.
Companies may try to establish a policy that it is improper
to share salary information but the NLRA prohibits preventing
the sharing of salary information.
I do believe it is right for someone to be properly compensated
in meeting their objectives. It is hard then in a competitive environment
when research does not lead to profits or problems are not fixed
or some combination of circumstances leads to failure and people
are richly compensated. (It seems to happen all the time for
highly paid individuals, but they probably have legally enforceable
Consider submitting your pay information honestly and truthfully
into professional databases about salary.
Be careful about job titles so that they reflect comparable positions.
Insist that the models reflect current conditions [no older data],
employ accepted statistical methods [understand objective
comparisons require more information that means] and are
transparent [how are outliers identified, does salary include
bonuses, when was the last raise, and many more].
Ask what the shape of the distribution is and sample size.
Ask what the checks for validity and comparison are (mean, median,
When someone asks about salary say you meet the ACS salary
expectation, for example.
As Michele Royalty said in the WSJ comments: “… we all compared
salary, despite all the corporate restrictions and practices. Some
people move on, for pay or other reasons. The most ambitious
make the most money, but they have to work harder, move around,
get additional exposure, etc. Frankly a 20% difference in pay does
not make that much difference. If it does, they can find another job.”
In our class, we requested each team to split up
responses to the question often posed in interviews:
What is a weakness of yours?
What is a strength that you possess?
Then, asked each team to divide up the assignment,
expecting a 50/50 division of weaknesses and strengths.
Interesting results came back that revealed something
about this challenge.
(1) More than half (2/3) elected to share a weakness.
(2) Perfectionism was posed as a weakness, which I
suggested is too often used and perceived as a “pat”
answer, for it could be a strength for all of us ’strive
for perfection,’ but obsessing about it by dotting all
the “i’s” and crossing all “t’s” on all things can be done
to an extreme. Perhaps, I coached them, it could be said
that you worry excessively about what others think and
are self conscious about making decisions. To help
yourself you have decided to develop a mentor relationship
with someone you trust to confirm urgent and important
things that deserve attention.
Keep the description of the weakness brief and honest.
Consider developing a direction out of the weakness
that shows insight to the root cause. Practice describing
it [writing a draft, thinking, speaking].
(3) Procrastination came up most often as a weakness.
It strikes me that we put things off for a variety of
interpreted reasons. In the extreme, it is a problem. I
coached the procrastinators, to modify this “habit” by building
on Frank Partnoy’s recognition that procrastination is all about
trade-offs, Their solution approach involves recognizing
that “structured procrastination,” where we establish priorities
and manage our time is a professional skill.
It is not avoiding things.
It is allowing more thought, obtaining more information,
seeking more alternatives in delaying intentionally to be
deliberate when the judgement calls for it.
We are aware of major inroads of LinkedIn 1 2 3 and
Big Data in finding jobs and finding out about
ourselves and the companies we may wish to become
part of. Online submissions are often screened using
Applicant Tracking Software ATS to search keyword
terms for sorting out the many resumes that hit their
Three tactics have been reported that I had not
seen before. Please let me know if these are
beyond the idea stage, have some merit and are
COMPLETING ONLINE FORMS
Recently, the Economist contained a piece about
how big data and computers explored applicants’
responses, response times and consistency for
sorting candidates. One anecdote cited a company
that asked: Are you proficient with computers?
Y or N.
Later is asked: What doe Cntl-Z mean ?
While not everyone agrees or uses Twitter, Silverman
and Weber believe some job seekers and employers
see this as an avenue in their job search and
recruitment. The last line of the article may have some
merit for the cutting edge computer marketplace, as a
an “elevator pitch.”
PSYCHOMETRIC TESTS FOR LEADERS
Another Economist article cited the emergence
of talent-measurement-divisions of firms to
create psychometric tests for finding that
“needle in the haystack leader” from the pile
of applications. One firm assesses the
“four leadership styles” [task-oriented,
participatory, socially engaging and ideal
engaging] of current leaders and matches
new candidates to their profiles. The article
points out the negative of being able to
study for the test or “game the system.”
We might not find too many articles in the WSJ on
this topic of sustainability, as it may not coincide with
the free enterprise mantra of growth.
Last week I enjoyed attending Paul Anastas’ presentation
at the Saul G. Cohen Award “Designing a Sustainable
Tomorrow,” where he told stories in a hour presentation
of how the old paradigm that if-we-build-it-they-will-
come chemistry, regardless of unintended
consequences has seen better days. A new paradigm
is needed with increased population and populations
densities and higher living conditions and expectations.
Are we doing the right thing in biofuels, disinfecting
water, and increasing crop yields with chemistry, without
seriously considering the unintended consequences.
Paul Anastas has spearheaded and inspired a 21st
century doctrine going beyond Green Chemistry that
should motivate how we innovate and develop. It is
happening in leading companies and institutions, like
SNNI, Oregon State and Yale.
He talked about biomimicry (geckotape), removing
excess packaging, and deeper understanding of the
cascading problems in the effort to produce things of
long term value, that are renewable, degradable and
If you were not able to attend the NOLA meeting, and you
seek your next position or you want to be prepared for
whatever may happen next in your career, did you think
to attend the “Virtual Career Fair” over the last two days?
Out of a job, need help? VCF is one of the services the
ACS provides— free…In fact one of the people JC I
spoke with yesterday via telecon [more about this later]
had let her membership lapse. She informed the ACS of
her situation and requested a waiver-membership extension
so she could attend.
RESULTS: We video-teleconned, via Skype, for 90 minutes,
where we not only reviewed her current resume and a cover
letter, but also prepared her for a video screening interview.
What to wear [she was professionally attired],
background set-up [we removed glare and unattractive
background items, placed her in the center of the screen, had
her sit back to we simulated being in the same room, and
suggested that she use a microphone for voice clarity.
Look into the camera[, as if, right above my eyes.]
Manage non-verbal behaviors.
Then I suggested JC to contact a recruiter who seemed to be
well suited to her quest who was also attending the VCF,
ZyomicJobs . Earlier, I had a warm conversation with Alan
Meyer who has a genuinely unique and helpful approach for
laboratory scientist careers.
There were four kinds of people who I observed in the VCF.
Browsers: less than 30 minutes to spend, what is it about?
Curious: Had one or more Specific questions and sought
People who wanted a resume or CV reviewed or a consultants
insights into the job market today and what they might do.
They were often willing to spend some time to engage a
consultant. Most did not wish to Skype.
These three groups were not quite ready to do a video-telecon.
The 4th group wanted to full experience of a virtual video-telecon
review and mock interview practice. They were ready to
Skype and got the most, by far, from the VCF.
- Specific questions asked and answered
- resume reviewed on the spot [They emailed me their resume,
I worked with them line by line to point out pros and cons and
what reviewers seek.
- mock video-telecon interviews on the spot.
Other specific examples included:
Career advice for recent mothers telecon from home taking
care of a newborn.
Where and how to find keywords for a dad waiting for his
teenagers to come home from school for his resume…job
descriptions and information interviews
…considerations about attending a regional ACS meeting
vs. a national meeting.
These kinds of things are much better to handle with a
RECOMMENDATIONS: This VCF approach is incredibly valuable
for members who cannot attend a national meeting. Preparation
is very important.
1. Have your goals established, questions prepared and your
2. Have back-up plans ready to go. Cell phone handy to call
in case of computer interruptions. [In fact most people’s
computer systems could not be integrated with the VCF
system to do a video/audio interaction. Many reduced themselves
to keyboarding which is a FAIL in my view.]
3. Dress professionally.
So many times in our careers we are part of organizations
and observe their leaders. Some are good organizations
that meet their goals.
Far more often than we like, as knowledge workers,
we feel stifled. We feel limited to doing just busy work
or following a specific script or approach when other
ways may achieve the desired objective. Or, that approach
does not work, as it has been tried before. [Expecting
to get a different result by doing exactly the same thing
over and over??]
LEADERSHIP in 21st CENTURY is different than
in the 20th century, as the forward in a book, I just
read, describes. Covey writes that today’s leaders need
to enable knowledge workers to make orders of magnitude
improvements and productivity and idea enhancements.
We have seen it in so many ways in just 13 years.
Liz Wiseman’s book Multipliers is highly recommended
reading. She outlines what we should be looking for in
organizations we join and what we should design our
organizations to behave like to make everyone smarter.
Over two decades she has explored in hundreds of
organizations their practices and resulting outcomes and
outlines two prototypes– diminsher types and multiplier
types for five challenge situations
Challenge Diminisher Multiplier
Manage talent Use people Develop people
Deal with mistakes Blame Explore, learn from
Set direction Tell, Follow me Challenge, Engage
Make decisions Decide unilaterally Consult, advise, Steward
Get things done Control Consult, collaborateThroughout the book, specific real time examples are described
Hoards resources attracts resources, asks for highest
contribution and offers others new
(Gatekeeper) ways to contribute
Tense; suppresses thinking tense, urges collaboration and
Showcases own expertise Extends challenges, causes people
to reach higher
Abrupt decisions w/o joint decisions; compromise, through
counsel of stakeholders rigorous debate, allows challenges
Personal involvement in instills accountability; shares ownership
in all aspects invests in others success
For those thinking about working in a start up or
looking to go out on their own, Desh Deshpande
of MIT and Department of Commerce circulated
informative reference material. See:
Proof of concept centers 2 3
We are all busy, or at least we say we are.
I am amazed with a group of 18 scientists and engineers
that a set of them consistently turn in assignments late
or never, and always indicate they have too many conflicts
at the time. It is true, it can happen occasionally, and we
allow for it.
They should know many times in advance that they will
need more time and give notice rather than just submitting
Earlier we posted some suggestions:
[ rules of thumb for time management ] :
80/20 rule- plan, evaluate, prioritize, and organize
2-minute rule- short time tasks (2min or less), do when
assigned, waiting only makes them longer
5-second rule- visual information needs proper easy
to understand design, ie, 1-7-7 rule
[1 topic, 7 words/line, 7 lines/page]
Despite knowing these, several remain tardy.
A recent post by E. Garbugli identified 26 time management
tips, of which three strike me as leading steps we can take–
-separate important, urgent and strategic tasks and allocate
sufficient time to meet goals
-be aware more time devoted does not mean higher productivity
-separate emotional from thinking elements; create
checklists, and make budgets and deadlines work for you.
While we cannot force people to see the advantages of
disciplined thinking, we can provide assignments with
checklists, strategic redundancies and deadlines to
model the behavior and practice professionally.