Friday, December 16, 2011

Behave According to Culture!

By Joe Z. Sostaric, Ph.D., Manager
ACS Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Office

Hi all! I hope you enjoyed the December issue of the Bulletin and the feature article. I’ve tried to expand on some ideas below. It is important to note that the article generalizes between academic and industry cultures. It would be wise to recognize that different companies will themselves have differing cultures (the same is true for different academic institutions too!) Although not as extreme as the differences between academia and
industry, you need to be able to research and understand cultural differences at different companies as you start your job search and launch your career. You can gain some insights from annual reports and experience. But investing more time in career preparation and networking NOW should be high on your agenda. The time you spend doing these types of activities can really pale in significance to the years you might spend in endless postdoctoral positions, or in a directionless career.

So, back to the December 2011 feature article, what does it look like when someone behaves appropriately in an industry culture? Take a closer look at three scenarios where the way you behave in academia might lead you to modify your approach in an industrial workplace.

•Would potential industry employers be looking at your ability to work independently? Yes! You have a Ph.D. But distinguish this kind of independent work from pushing your own independent research agenda without informing anyone. If you consider the accountability chain discussed in the article, you can see why that tactic would not get you far.

If the soccer analogy in the article was difficult to follow, maybe listening to a moment of music will clarify the importance of the way each individual works to a successful team in industry:


•Are industry employers interested in your leadership qualities? Sure! Maybe they need to build a pool of scientists to fill future supervision and management roles. Here again, distinguish that scenario from improving the qualities of a new compound on your own, then sending out a memo to the team, and doing it all without discussing any of it with your project manager or the senior scientist that you report to. That could seriously disrupt the research agenda for which your superiors are answerable.

•Is a company interested in your ability to collaborate with other researchers and company units? Of course. Yet once again, distinguish the type of collaboration a company is looking for. For instance, you would be well-advised not to pressure your manager to start collaborating with units on projects and in directions that you personally feel would bring the best scientific outcomes. Remember, there are several senior-level people higher up the chain of command who are paid to make research decisions in a context where the company’s goals might outweigh pure scientific research!

In considering the differences between academic and company culture, how much weight should you give to preparing to respond to behavioral questions when interviewing for industrial positions? I vividly recall the interviews I had for industrial positions: meetings with Marketing, Product Development, and Human Resource managers. Questions commonly included:

• “Can you give me an example of when you communicated research to a nonscientist?”
• “Would one pound of crude compound that sold for $10 or one ounce of high-quality compound that sold for $5 give us a bigger profit margin?”
• “Tell me about a time when you faced a difficult situation with a colleague. How did you deal with it?”

To be honest, I did my homework, and I had expected and trained myself to respond to these types of questions. However, I didn’t feel as prepared to answer questions from the scientific staff at these companies. They asked:

• “Define the word ‘collaboration.’”
• “Give examples of when you were innovative.”
• “Explain how you would work in a lab with all of these junior scientists in your way.”

Clearly, when industry people talk about the type of “fit” that a candidate is for a position, they are not just referring to scientific knowledge, and research and presentation skills!

Have you interviewed for industry jobs? Please share your experiences and tell us the following:

•What types of questions were you asked by the different people you met at the company?
•Was it a big, mid-sized, small or start-up company?


CYIAM said...

Love the 'Organ fail' example... I wish I had read these type of articles before my first interview. There is also a much older article in Science I also found to be useful at ... this article stresses the importance of giving honest answers as opposed to trying to give the answers you think the interviewer wants to hear. Thoughtful consideration of these behavioral questions prior to the job interview seems like the best way to go.

IH122 said...

How do you (the blogger) recommend we prepare for these behavioral questions? Do we just think about and plan our answers beforehand or do we reshape our thinking based on the culture of the company? And how do we learn about the culture of the company?

Chemistry Grad Blog said...

@IH122, they are great questions. I'll answer your last question, first. Regarding researching the specific culture at a particular company, I'm probably about to tell you something that you might have heard before, but might not yet have put the pieces of the puzzle together to complete the picture.

Get this information from your NETWORK!

If you feel that you don't have a network that could answer such questions, try asking! You never know. Further more, start building a network that can help with your interests now, and one that you can contribute to as well. Meet people, build relationships, and use these relationships to your benefit, and to the benefit of the other individuals in your network. As a chemistry graduate student or postdoc, you should seriously consider becoming a member of ACS, and joining your ACS Division and ACS Local Section. Can't attend ACS National Meetings? Well, look into what local section meetings might be coming up. For example, the Local Section for Washington DC regularly hosts dinners/lectures at very reasonable prices and these offer great opportunities to meet new people. Get involved with your local section - see what they have to offer. This is where the people with the information that you are interested in are. You need to consider being part of these groups as your networking base from which to build a stronger network. You also really need to consider this as part of your longer-term career development goals. This is, believe it or not, going to be the most efficient way for you get information on all aspects of your work (and probably your life too), and not just on company culture. However, building a network takes time, and if you are not in a situation to tap into a good network, then look at the company's website, annual report (if available) and job descriptions. All of these can give clues as to the company's culture. For example, have you ever read a job description that starts off: "At company A, we pride ourselves in delivering the best blah, blah, blah..." and before you finish reading the "..blah, blah, blah.." part, you've skipped over to the core of the job descrption? Well, stop doing that! It's really not "blah"! That is where the company is making a statement on who they are, and therefore, on the type of people that are more likely to enjoy, and be successful working at their comapny. Look carefully at the website. Look for mission and vision statements. Can you access the companies annual report? That will have clues too.

How do you prepare for the behavioural questions? Well, you do need to recognize and appreciate the differences between academic and industry culture. Once you've done this, you will be able to give honest answers to questions. You might, for example, recognise and admit that you've never really worked in a team environment before. But you would then go ahead and explain what your understanding of that is in an industry setting, and how you would be able to change the way you work because of other past experiences that have allowed you to gain an appreciation for the value of working in a team. You would give examples of those experiences. That would be much more powerful than memorizing "the right answer", and the power of that stems from the honest nature with which the question is answered.

I'd love here your views on the above.

Unknown said...

Consider looking at B-D-A Interviewing-- the interviewing continuum.

Interviewing is not a one time deal.