Conducting a Job Search: An Interview with the American Cancer Society’s Esmeralda Buchanan

Scanning the job bank on CSE’s Web site, you spot the American Cancer Society (ACS) job opening. With the click of a mouse, your standard cover letter and résumé are sent. You pack your bags and wait for the call for an interview.


Not so fast, says Esmeralda Buchanan, ACS journals director. In fact, you probably won’t make it past the first screening.

She’s recently seen a dizzying array of résumés and cover letters for ACS positions. One common theme, Buchanan said, is that applicants don’t always care what they are applying for; they just apply. “We are starting to want to speak to them a few times before we bring them in”, she said, even local candidates. “You’re trying to decide if they definitely want that specific job”.

What’s more disturbing to Buchanan is the applicants’ lack of research about the journal for which they presumably want to work. The ACS journals are mentioned in the job advertisements, and all are available online with their goals, mission statements, and lists of board members, she added, but applicants, “especially the younger people, they don’t do enough specific research on [our] journals”. Some would-be applicants haven’t even read the job descriptions. “They think they’re going to write for us and they’re not”, Buchanan said, noting that most peer-reviewed journals do not require their managing editors and editorial assistants to write articles.

But it isn’t only poor researching of jobs that concerns Buchanan. She also receives cover letters and résumés that have grammatical and spelling mistakes. “At a minimum, the cover letter should not have any errors in it and the résumé should not either”, Buchanan said.

“We’ve actually been having our HR (human resources personnel) do an initial phone screening”, she said. A 30-minute telephone call touches on the candidate’s work ethic and why the candidate is leaving his or her current job. If that discussion is successful, they may move on to a phone interview, and the applicant may be invited to Atlanta for an in-person interview with ACS journal team members. Buchanan said that involving potential co-workers in the interview can provide insight into how the candidate will relate to others. “I have eliminated candidates based on how they treated or talked to other staff members”, she said, adding that applicants should remember that they are “on” the moment they arrive at the place of potential employment.

“We are going to be making a big decision about bringing someone in”, Buchanan said. She likened the interview to being on a “reality TV show” for employment. The interview is a chance for applicants to shine. “Try to distinguish yourself from the multiple faces that are just like you”, she said. It’s a chance for candidates to show that they are different, more mature, and more engaged, she continued.

For some, changing employers isn’t always the answer. Instead, a promotion or new position in the same company may be the key. “If there’s a gap and there’s a need … show you can do the job and do an excellent job at it”, Buchanan said. Other strategies include asking your supervisor what else needs to be done or suggesting that you handle some specific aspects of the workload. “You’ve got to make it happen for yourself. Write a job description”, she said, and show your manager how you can fulfill the needs. “Build your case.” That was the route that Buchanan took. “I recognized I was already doing that job”, she said. “I got exactly what I wanted.”

“You have to take these sorts of things into your own hands”, she continued, adding that it may take time, especially if there are budget constraints. “Continue to ask”, Buchanan said, adding that managers will recognize that if they do not fulfill your requests they eventually will lose you. The more valuable you are, she said, the more likely you are to get what you want. However, Buchanan noted, if you “hit a wall” in your organization, you may have to look elsewhere. That is when the connections you make in a group like CSE are invaluable. “As you climb the ladder…it’s going to be the connections that help you”, she said.

TERESA M MELCHER is editor of SelfPublishing Press.