Working in the cosmetic industry as a scientist means you will have to do more than just know the right raw materials to use for any given application and the methods for putting those together. To be successful in a cosmetic science career you’ll have to also develop a general knowledge of the business aspects of creating cosmetics and some good people skills. Here are seven of the most useful skills you can’t find in a chemistry book but that will be critical for success in your career as a formulating chemist.
Skill 1 – Learn to get along with people
As far as job and career success goes, there is nothing more important than learning how to get along with other people. In truth, the people who succeed best at any given job (even formulating cosmetics) are the ones who know how to get along with as many different people as possible. This means you do everything in your power to avoid making enemies with anyone at your company.
There will be plenty of people you may not like, but never let that be known. And if you offend someone or inadvertently harm them, apologize. Even if you don’t think it’s your fault, apologize. The more people you get along with, the more likely you will be to succeed at your job. It only takes one enemy at a company to hamper or ruin your career. This is not the kind of thing you learn in science classes, but it is a lesson that you should take to heart. The classic book How To Win Friends and Influence People is an excellent primer on how to do this.
Skill 2 – Learn to motivate people to do things you need done
No matter how good you are at your job, there is no way you can be good enough to do everything by yourself. Even if you could, working with other people will allow you to get even more done than you can by yourself. That’s why learning to work with other people in your company to make things happen is a crucial skill. And this means you have to learn how to motivate people to do things for you. Often, you will not be in a position to give them any kind of reward as motivation either. The book I mentioned above has some great information about motivating people. Basically, you have to learn what other people want and give that to them before you ask them to give you what you want.
Skill 3 – Become an efficient writer
As a formulator, you will have to communicate experimental findings, the status of your projects, and hundreds of other things that will pop up daily. While the phone used to be the primary way to communicate, it has been largely replaced by email and text messaging. It’s crucial to learn how to craft a useful email that gets right to the point. Make emails as long as they need to be but no longer! People probably won’t read them all the way through, so get the most important stuff up front. I like the MADE strategy for emails and memos.
M – Message – a short description of what you want to tell someone
A – Action – write exactly what you want the person reading your memo / email to do
D – Details – here’s where you can get more specific about a situation
E – Enclosures – attach anything that is relevant to your message
Skill 4 – Develop a knowledge of the cosmetic industry
While formulating knowledge is great, it’s not much use if you don’t know anything else about the cosmetic industry. In addition to raw material knowledge, you should become an expert in the different brands, products and markets in which your company competes. You should be looked to as an expert on the cosmetic industry not just the science. Pay attention to the advertising campaigns of your competitors. Become familiar with the top cosmetic companies and the products they make. The Internet and social media make this easier to do than ever.
Skill 5 – Learn how to network
Since you can’t do everything alone, it’s helpful to gather a group of contacts with expertise in things that you don’t know. Building a network can make you more productive and successful. It can also ensure that you are never without work. One thing you need to learn quickly is that you work for yourself. Your current company may give you a paycheck, but a cosmetic chemist should not rely on that company to always be around.
In fact, the company where I worked for 16+ years disappeared almost over night. They sold out to Unilever and the facility was shut down a couple years later. While the management insisted that the likelihood of a sale was low, it happened. It happens a lot. To ensure that you aren’t caught scrambling for a new job, build a network of individuals in the industry to help you out. Joining groups like the ACS or the SCC are great for meeting other people in the industry and building a profile on a website like LinkedIn.com is also helpful.
Skill 6 – Learn how to generate new ideas
Companies value creative people. To increase your value to your company and the industry, learn to generate ideas for anything. This includes things like new products, cost savings, and other novel things that other people at your company haven’t thought of. You want to become known as an idea person. It’s even more helpful if you can make those ideas happen, but as long as you have ideas you communicate to other people, you’ll benefit.
Get a notebook or a computer file and practice weekly or daily brainstorming sessions. Spend 10 or 15 minutes just going through brainstorming exercises and stretch the limits of your creativity. If you don’t think you are creative, forget that nonsense. Everyone is creative. Creativity is a skill that can be developed by anyone. You just have to work at it. An excellent book on this subject is How to Think Like DaVinci.
Skill 7 – Develop some non-formulating expertise
Finally, make it a point to develop some expertise beyond cosmetic chemistry, and be sure that everyone knows about it. Don’t brag, but remember if you don’t toot your own horn who will? The skill can be anything from graphic design, cooking, playing ping pong, juggling, or anything you can think of. You never know when those skills will be needed at a company and when your department is looking for someone, you want them to think of you. You need to become as valuable as you can, so find some way to stand out. This can lead to numerous opportunities that you would not otherwise have. Developing some non-formulation expertise will set you apart.
In today’s world, being an excellent formulator is not enough. Develop these skills and you’ll be on your way to a much more successful and satisfying career.
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