How to Maximize Your Membership in a Professional Society

November 20, 2018

There are hundreds of professional associations and these organizations are typically not-for-profit groups with the mission of furthering the advancement of a particular profession as well as the general interests of people within that career field. Most associations require an application and an annual membership fee; however, they help connect you to like-minded professionals and a slew of resources. Many organizations also offer discounted rates for students/trainees or new graduates. Some examples of science-specific organizations include: American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), American Chemical Society, American Association of BioAnalysts, American Society for Microbiology, and the list goes on and on.

You might have an idea of the right professional association for you to join, but perhaps you are unsure how exactly this membership can be of benefit. Professional societies can provide many direct and indirect benefits for scientists in their career, including: awards and honors that you can apply to (travel grants), publishing opportunities, leadership experiences (if you serve on a committee or volunteer to help plan local or national meetings), knowledge and key articles about issues within your field and new hiring trends. Last, but not least, most associations also have job boards which will likely only post positions that are truly relevant to you.

However, the most important benefit from your association in a professional organization is the networking opportunities. There are two main ways to network within a professional association – online or in-person.

Attend In-Person Events

Most professional organizations have an annual conference. Some even have smaller, regionally-focused meetings or dinners for local chapters. These events can be key to building your network and your credibility within your field. At the very least, you should attend, but as time goes by, you might also want to think about presenting on topics at conferences or panels. Hopefully, over time, your affiliation with the group will grow and you can consider seeking a leadership position within the group. Pursuing leadership positions will help elevate your brand and your reputation within your field.

Access Online Membership Directories

Once you have membership to the organization, you are granted access to a member directory where you can learn about other members in the group including where they work. This can be hugely beneficial if you are looking for collaborators on projects or if you are trying to network for your own professional purposes. Not only is there a membership directory on the organization’s website, but most groups also have active LinkedIn groups that you can join. Try not to be a passive observer. Instead, comment on discussion threads within the group or start a new conversation of your own. The more you engage and increase your visibility, the most people will begin to recognize you as a trusted peer professional.

Many professionals are actively engaged in multiple organizations/associations. If you are just starting out in your career, we recommend joining one. When in doubt, ask for recommendations from your mentors/network in order to choose the best option for you.

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Five Most Common Networking Excuses

October 22, 2018

rawpixel-653769-unsplashSome people really enjoy networking; after all, at its essence, it is just talking to others. According to Merriam-Webster, it is simply “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions.” It sounds pretty innocuous, so why then do so many dread and even fear this activity? At OITE, we hear a lot of reasons why individuals avoid networking. Here are the most common:

1. I am an introvert/shy.
Firstly, introversion and shyness are not the same! Both introverts and extraverts can be shy. Introversion means that you feel energized by time alone. Shy, on the other hand, is a feeling of apprehension, awkwardness, or discomfort when around others, especially those you don’t know well. If you feel shy about networking, try starting with people you know well or somewhat well to “practice”. Also, if you need to attend a networking event, try to arrive early as it may feel less overwhelming to you than arriving at a full and busy event.

2.  Networking feels sleazy/selfish.
Networking is a normal part of the professional world. Job seekers do it in order to find new opportunities; however, institutions and labs network as well. Oftentimes, the result can be a great new collaboration on a project. Remember that networking is a mutual endeavor and reframe your thinking about it. It is often about what you have to offer as well and not just what you hope to gain.

3.  It doesn’t work.
“I’ve been networking like crazy for a month and nothing has changed.” Networking is about building relationships, an activity that often requires not only energy but concerted effort over time. Your network of contacts can take years to build and cultivate.  It is often the case that a contact you meet for one particular purpose can play a role in your career months or even years later. You never quite know when that connection may pay off. Keep this in mind when you feel like it isn’t worth the effort.

4.  My work can speak for itself.
Your wonderful experiences, unique skills sets, and awesome publication record are all things to be very proud of; however, securing a new position often requires more than this. Most new hires are brought on to a team not only because they are qualified on paper, but because the hiring manager feels they will be a good fit with the team in real life. Networking is your opportunity to learn more about your cultural fit with an organization and it can be your chance to sell yourself. Don’t underestimate that power and simply rely on your resume or CV to do all the talking for you.

5.  I don’t have time.
Networking can start small. It doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment in order for it to be effective. Start carving out small chunks of time to reach out to people for informational interviews. Or you can start even smaller and have coffee with that new person in your branch. Even striking up conversation with peers at an event is a form of networking. Don’t put it off because you feel it will be too time-consuming.

 


‘Tis the Season for Your Career Development

December 17, 2014

The holiday season is a time when many of us are trying to finalize year end work projects on top of managing personal obligations.   While trying to handle holiday stress, it is easy to lose sight of your own professional goals during this time of year.

Many job seekers protest, “No one’s hiring right now, anyway!” or “I’ll just start job searching in the New Year.” Whatever the excuse, the holiday season is actually a great time to focus on your own career development.  Here are a few reasons why:

Holiday Networking
Your inclination may be to wait until sometime after the holidays to dedicate time to your search; however, the holidays are actually a great time to begin networking. The increase in holiday parties allows for you to cross paths with people you haven’t seen in a while as well as connect with new individuals. Take advantage of December and the increased association with family, friends, and other groups.

The other advantage during this time of the year is that you have a reason to reconnect. Whether through holiday greeting cards or emails, it is the perfect chance to help sustain professional relationships. Just be sure to personalize these greetings and don’t fall back on a general mass email.

Holiday Vacation
More free time and a lighter work load can allow you to accomplish a lot more than you normally would. Use the holiday season’s lull to get caught up on a few things. Fine tune your resume, cover letters and LinkedIn profile.  Research new companies to target or make a list of potential contacts.  Or maybe, you’ll want to use this slower time to pause and reflect on the past year and what you are hoping to accomplish in the upcoming year.

Holiday Traffic
No, not that traffic! The traffic on the roads might be horrendous as you travel during the holiday season, but the website traffic to job search sites decreases dramatically in November and December.  While your competition is sitting around a fire sipping eggnog, you can be submitting your application now.  This often means that you are looked at within a smaller pool of candidates. You also have the added benefit of getting in before the peak application times of January and February.

The holidays can be a special time of the year and it can be a great time to relax and rejuvenate. It doesn’t mean that you have to put your search on hold though. Using this time wisely can help prepare you for career success in the New Year.  However you celebrate the holidays, the OITE wishes you the best!


Soft Skills = Today’s Critical Competencies

August 20, 2014

Image of a person surrounded by eight different bubbles. Each bubble represents a different soft skill, such as "presenting" or "being on time."Traditionally, soft skills were viewed as a secondary bonus to an applicant’s technical skill set; however, in today’s extremely competitive job market, employers are looking for proof of a mix of both hard and soft skills. In fact, recruiters will view a lack of demonstrated leadership or extracurricular activities on your resume as a potential red flag. Illuminating this fact is a study which shows that 60% of managers agreed that soft skills are the most important factor when evaluating an employee’s performance.

Recognizing the extreme importance of soft skills, The Department of Labor (DOL) developed an entire curriculum on the subject entitled, “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success.” Targeted toward teens and young adults, this program was created as an introduction to workplace interpersonal and professional skills.

The DOL’s list of key soft skills is very similar to OITE’s core competencies; it includes:

  1. Communication
    Permeating almost every aspect of a job, this skill is often ranked first among employers. It includes your ability to speak, write and present.
  2. Enthusiasm & Attitude
    Employers get frustrated with employees who are resistant to change or unable to adapt to new directions. Having an open and upbeat attitude will help your group generate good energy and move forward on projects.
  3. Teamwork
    There will be aspects of teamwork within every job. Leaders and project managers often lament that most of their jobs are spent trying to get colleagues to work effectively together. Therefore, it is essential to your career to work cooperatively and be able to participate in group decision-making.
  4. Networking
    Like teamwork, networking is about building relationships. It also involves critical elements of communication and the ability to represent yourself effectively to others.
  5. Problem Solving & Critical Thinking
    There is no shortage of challenges and issues that can arise on the job. Employers want employees who will be able to face these problems critically and creatively by gathering enough information in order to develop a solution.
  6. Professionalism
    No matter the job or the industry, professionalism is a critical key to your success. Professionalism isn’t one trait – it is a combination of characteristics. It often means conducting yourself with a high level of responsibility, integrity and accountability. Part of professionalism is having a strong work ethic and being willing to go that extra mile. Another integral component is being dependable, trustworthy, and always following through on your projects.

Soft skills are no longer undervalued by employers. Make sure you are practicing these skills in your current position and/or seeking out opportunities to develop these skill sets. You will not only be helping your professional development, but you will be especially thankful the next time you are in an interview and they ask you a common behavioral question like “Tell me about a time when you had to utilize effective communication skills within a group setting,” and you have a stellar anecdote to share.


You Need to Write Better Emails

May 12, 2014

Image of a blue envelope with a slip of paper denoting an "@" symbolEmails are a huge part of everyday life. Look at your own inbox and I am sure you will agree. In today’s world of constant digital communication, strong writing and effective communication skills are more important than ever. Especially if you are job searching, remember that all of your correspondence throughout that process is being critiqued. You only have once chance to make a good virtual impression, so pay careful attention to detail!

Here are some of the most common email mistakes to avoid:

1. Misspelling the recipient’s name.
Many people have uniquely spelled names or a name that is difficult for you to type correctly. Autocorrect can be your worst nightmare in this regard. Compound this with the fact that people generally focus on their name within a document and can immediately spot an incorrect spelling. So, whatever you do, double check your typing and make sure you are spelling the person’s name correctly.

2. Using an incorrect title.
If you are not sure whether you should use Mr. Ms. or Dr. then do a bit more research. Look around online and within LinkedIn to find the most appropriate title. When in doubt, address someone more formally to avoid offending them.

3. Stop defaulting to Dear Sir/Madam.
The best email communication is personalized and this is a generic catch all that often goes awry. Too many female colleagues complain about the number of “Dear Sir” emails they receive daily.

4. Skipping the salutation and valediction.
General pleasantries might seem like unnecessary filler to you, but they can help warm up the tone of your email. They are especially important when you don’t know the person you are emailing very well. Simply starting with your text and no greeting and ending without some sort of closing can come across as curt. Take the time to properly address your recipient (“Dear Dr. Smith,” or Hello Ms. Jones,”) and to close your email effectively (Best regards, Your Name or Thank you, Your Name).

5. Using a vague subject line.
Give your reader a heads up before they even open your message. By using a descriptive subject line, you are helping to get to your point quickly. Your reader will probably thank you for cutting to the chase and saving a bit of their time.

6. Don’t resend an unanswered email!
Forwarding an unanswered note to the same recipient with no new message can be perceived as annoying at best and rude at worst. Try to include a note saying, “I know you are busy, but did you get a chance to look at the message I sent about X?”

7. Don’t spam an entire office/department with the same question.
The problem with sending the same email to multiple individuals is that you often forget to tailor for each individual. So Mr. Jones may get Ms. Smith’s message and quickly realize the spammed message upon receipt. Don’t assume that co-workers aren’t conferring and making notes.

8. Avoid textspeak.
Abbreviations, non-governmental acronyms and emoticons are way too casual to include within a professional email. Always err on the side of formality.

Following these tips will help you avoid some of the most common email faux pas. Effective emailing can help you network, job search, and perform well in your current job. For even more tips on writing effective emails, check out a past blog post here.

What mistakes have we missed? What are some of your email pet peeves? Let us know in the comments!


Making the Most of a Career Fair

April 21, 2014

Image of silhouettes holding briefcases behind the words "CAREER FAIR"Ahhh, career fairs. It seems they are a rite of passage in a career search. Career fairs are a good idea to research companies and network. Career fairs are a bad idea if you think you will walk away with a job (statistics show that less than 2% of attendees get a job directly from a job fair).

So, how do you navigate a career fair? Here are some tips:

1. Before going to the Career Fair:
* Develop a strategy to maximize your time at the event.
* Identify target organizations by reviewing the list of participating employers (for the upcoming Montgomery County Career Fair, that list can be found here).  If someone has a job posted that interests you, bring that job ad with you.
* Practice your elevator pitch – be ready to talk about your work experiences, skills and abilities.
* Prepare specific questions for each recruiter/organization.
* Review and revise your resume and print copies that you will have on hand the day of the fair.

2. When first arriving at the Career Fair:
* Make a name tag and place it on your right side, so that when you shake hands with recruiters, they can easily glance up your arm to your name tag.
* Review the employer list for any last-minute attendees.
* Take a deep breath, calm your nerves, and scan a map of the venue.  Pay special attention to your priority organizations. You will want to go to these first.

3. While meeting with the recruiter*:
* Note, we said recruiter. The staff at a career fair will not be a hiring manager. It will be someone from HR who is knowledgeable about the company. This is your time to see if this company fits your interests, and to gain more information about the hiring process at this particular organization.

* Make a positive first impression by remembering all the keys to successful interviewing including a firm handshake, warm smile, eye contact and a confident voice.
* If you have a job ad, bring it to their attention. See if you can gain any more information about how to position yourself.
* Take advantage of the opportunity to try to build a rapport with the recruiter, but don’t monopolize their time.
* Ask about the hiring process for the company but don’t ask questions about salaries, vacation time and other benefits.
* Get a business card (or at least contact information) from each recruiter.

4. After leaving the recruiter:
* Immediately jot down any notes on the back of his/her business card that will help you remember the conversation or key points to follow up on.
* Network with other job-seekers! Some of the attendees are your competition of course, but sharing information and resources can be quite beneficial.

5. After leaving the Career Fair:
* Follow up and thank each recruiter you spoke to at the fair.
* Organize your notes and contacts. Then, devise a timeline for making sure you sustain your new connections.
* Manage your expectations. A Career Fair can be a great way to get face to face with a company; however, like any networking activity, the payoff is not always immediately apparent, so
make sure you continue your other job searching activities.

 


How I Used LinkedIn to Get a Hiring Manager’s Attention

April 2, 2014

Part one of a two-part series written by guest blogger Dr. Phil Ryan, Director of Student Services at the Office of Intramural Training and Education.

I am in an enviable position because I love my job. Regardless, we should all be looking forward in our career and thinking about what the next step entails. While I am not actively pursuing new positions, every now and then a job posting comes to my attention and piques my interest. I am sure many of you have had a similar experience. Usually the scenario goes like this: you see the job title and it sounds like something that really interests you. Next, you click on the posting and read the job description and you really love what you are reading. Then, you scroll down to the qualifications section and your heart sinks a little bit. The degree and field in the education section does not match your own. The position description lists years of experience that you don’t have on your resume and the wording they use does not match any of the official titles you can list on your resume.

The truth is if you submitted your resume through the normal channels, it would not get forwarded on to the hiring manager for them to review. But, you feel certain you can do that job, do it well and really enjoy it. This experience recently happened to me and I want to share how I used LinkedIn to overcome some of these barriers in order to grab the attention of the hiring manager before I ever submitted my application.

Step 1: Get Prepared

The first thing I did was find the Web page for the department in which this position was located. In many job postings it will list the title of the person that position reports to. Sometimes, it just lists the department the position will be in. Either way, with a little searching online you can often find the director of that office or department. After I found the director of the office in which this position was located, I looked him up on LinkedIn and searched the Internet for other information on him. I found a couple articles he had written and I read them.

Then, I changed and updated my LinkedIn profile. This is one of the benefits of LinkedIn. On a resume it is hard to stray from your official titles for a position. But in the experience section of your LinkedIn profile you can highlight the activities you are involved in even if they aren’t a part of your official job. You can also include links to your projects available online, or to Web pages of organizations or events you have been a part of. You can highlight whatever projects you want to highlight in the Projects section. Most importantly, your summary can be used to clearly communicate what it is you are passionate about.

Step 2: Reach Out

Once my profile was updated and organized to make me look like a great candidate, I sent the director a request to connect. It read something like this:

“Dear Mr. Director, I am interested in the position of [position title] in your office. I have read a couple pieces you have published and really like your take on [field]. I hope we can link in to share resources and network.”

Notice that I offered up another reason for him to accept my invitation other than to discuss the position. It’s important to realize that my offer of sharing resources and networking was sincere. Even if we were not able to discuss the position, I was making a connection in a field of interest to me professionally.

Within three days we were talking on the phone about the position, the field in general, and our respective career paths. I had not even submitted my application and I was basically having a pre-interview! At the end of our conversation, he encouraged me to submit my application. Within a week of my LinkedIn request, I was on Skype interviewing with the entire hiring committee and was later flown out for an in-person interview. As a career development professional, I had to ask if my application would have made it to his desk had I not contacted him through LinkedIn. He would not go so far as to say “no,” but he certainly did not say “yes.”

The end result was I was offered the position. After careful consideration, I respectfully declined to accept the job. Why? Well, that is to be continued in another blog post….