Why Coworkers May Dislike You

March 25, 2013

Your behavior in the workplace can make coworkers dislike you. Often you are unaware that what you say or do might annoy other people. Managers often avoid discussing these behaviors with you because they find it uncomfortable. Irritating behaviors can be like a bad habit and bad habits are hard to break. However, the first step in breaking bad habits is to be aware of them. So let’s review some bad workplace habits that result in people potentially disliking you.

You’re condescending

As a manager or highly experienced co-worker, you may come across as patronizing to people reporting to you or your less experienced peers. You don’t mean to be patronizing, rather you are trying to help others do a good job. Your colleagues may feel you are denigrating their efforts. There are few things more upsetting to people than some know-it-all implying you or others are stupid.

Arrogance is unattractive. Before you tell someone the work they did isn’t as good as the way you would have done it, make sure you have context. For instance, don’t just say, “When starting this project you should have discussed Factor X with the customer.” Maybe your coworker did discuss Factor X with the customer. Perhaps the customer did not share vital information with your coworker. Maybe you neglected to share vital information with your coworker. Treat your coworker with respect. Offer up something instead, “Did either you or the customer bring up Factor X?” By spending less than a minute to treat your colleague with respect, you are building a relationship rather than tearing one down. You have created a “teachable moment” that will allow your coworker do his/her job better.

You talk before you listen

Outstanding employees are often guilty of this. Bright, creative, passionate people are often brimming with great ideas they can’t wait to share. They talk over the people around them – people who often have some great ideas of their own. By doing so, people may become angry with you as the tactic is counterproductive.

I admit it; I have this bad habit and struggle to control it. I never had this problem until I finished my post-doc and entered the workplace. I became aware of this during employment interviews. I was so eager to impress interviewers that sometimes I would interrupt them before they even finished asking their question.

Everyone’s perspective has value in the workplace. You have to give coworkers and customers a chance to express their perspective on workplace problems and issues. If you don’t give others a chance to express their views or be creative, they won’t want to work with you. Coworkers won’t want to collaborate with you; they’ll want to throw you out the window. Ironically you are less likely to get your ideas accepted if you don’t listen to theirs.

You set coworkers up to fail

You can do this by setting deadlines and standards that are impossible to meet. Another way that managers do this is by not giving coworkers resources they need to do the job. Often as a colleague or supervisor, you may have to make commitments in other people’s names which they must live up to. For example, a team leader or sales representative who accepts a goal or deadline that is impossible for you or your team to meet. There is no excuse for doing this unless you know your coworkers have the resources to meet these requirements.

Customers and managers need to understand the implications of decisions. For example, resources are limited. So accepting a project completion deadline may require diverting resources to this project and accepting delays on completing other projects.

Wasting coworkers’ time

According to the Harvard Business Review, the most important way to keep employees motivated is to create an ongoing sense of progress. Conversely, a sense of minimal progress can be very demotivating. Imagine you work hard on a project and it turns out that all your hard work was a complete waste of time because one of your coworkers or boss did not do their job well by being irresponsible, careless or lazy. You’re going to dislike that individual.

The flip side of the coin is that you have to have your coworkers’ back. This may require you to take some risks. For example, once I developed a new product at a time when my employer sorely needed a new revenue stream. However, my supervisor refused to take the steps needed to manufacture field test quantities of the product and take it to customers for testing. Instead he repeatedly requested additional laboratory testing. However, field engineers had seen my laboratory results in company reports and began complaining to their managers that they couldn’t get the chemical for their customers. Finally they complained to a company division Vice-President. He approved the product was approved for manufacture and released it to the field for a highly successful series of field tests that resulted in a new product when additional sales were sorely needed.

You don’t say please or thank you

People have a sense of dignity and self-worth and want to have this recognized by their managers, coworkers, and customers. Treating coworkers with respect and being polite can go a long way to make people feel respected. The word “please” is one of the strongest words in the business world. Common courtesy also includes explaining why some work results are needed as soon as possible. This often will persuade coworkers and suppliers to provide the information you need on a timely basis. You need to be particularly diplomatic when trying to get customers to share test results.

John Borchardt was a chemist, freelance writer and devoted ACS career consultant for over 15 years, until his sudden passing in January 2013. He was the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” and had more than 1500 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he held 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents, and was the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. John’s advice, insights and articles helped hundreds of scientists improve their professional lives, and he will be truly missed.

Launching Your Own Company: Entering a Business Plan Competition

March 18, 2013

Entering business plan competitions can help fledgling entrepreneurs grow their new companies. A new study of 354 startups who participated in the annual Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC) shows these entrepreneurs have a much higher rate of success than typical new ventures. Thus, chemists starting their own companies could benefit from entering the RBPC or similar business plan competitions. The RBPC is the world’s largest and richest business plan competition. The longitudinal study covers the 11-year (2001 – 2011) life span of the RBPC. It provides insights into the experiential factors that can help entrepreneurs launch a successful business. Whether or not you enter your fledgling chemical business in one of these business plan competitions, the complete report on the RPBC could provide useful suggestions on how to increase the prospects of success for your startup chemical business.  That report can be found at:


Details of the RBPC

Teams that compete at the RBPC present their ventures to more than 250 venture capitalists, angel investors, corporate investors, mentors, successful entrepreneurs and other leaders from the business community, where they have a chance to get mentoring, feedback, start-up capital and connections.

Entry into the Rice competition has become more competitive each year. In 2012, less than 3% of the 1,600 applicants were accepted. The states with the largest number of competitors during the first 11 years were Texas, California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Georgia.

The universities with the largest number of teams accepted to compete at the RBPC include Rice University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Texas at Austin, University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins University, University of Arkansas, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Chicago, Southern Methodist University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Georgia Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Duke University and Stanford University.

Results of the RBPC

Using data on the 354 RBPC graduate-student competition teams from 2001 to 2011, the study found:

  • 199 of the entrepreneurs (56%) went on to launch their companies after competing at the Rice competition.
  • 128 of those (64%) are successful and still in business today. In comparison, only 20% to 50% of startups survive to their fifth anniversary.
  • Past competitions have raised more than $460 million in early stage funding.
  • A conservative estimate of jobs created tops 1,000.

According to the Kauffman Foundation, in the past 30 years, all net job creation in the U.S. has taken place in firms less than five years old. (The Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that works to harness the power of entrepreneurship and innovation to grow economies and improve human welfare.)

“The study shows that university business plan competitions can go beyond simply being an academic exercise or educational experience,” said Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance. “They can serve as a vehicle for building a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem and as a launching pad for new businesses, especially high-tech, high-growth startups.”

“The Rice Business Plan Competition’s track record is unparalleled in creating new, successful high-tech startups,” said Kauffman Foundation Vice President Lesa Mitchell. “The competition provides access to venture capital and other early stage investors, strategic partners, mentors and service providers – not to mention more than $1 million in seed funding and other prizes – all critical resources for successfully launching a new company and creating jobs.”

One-quarter of the successful startups from the competition have raised venture capital funding. This compares to less than 1% percent of startups that typically get venture capital funding. Of the total $460 million in funding raised, 62% came from venture funding, 13% from angel investors and 13% from government grants. (Angel investors are usually found among an entrepreneur’s family and friends. The capital they provide can be a one-time injection of seed money or ongoing support to carry the company through difficult times.)

The RBPC results have shown to be a good predictor of a company’s success, based on the winners and teams that reached the finals. All of the winners in the RBPC from 2004 to 2011 have been successful, are still in business and have raised more than $107 million in funding. Of all the teams that reached the finals from 2001 to 2011, 56% have been successful and have raised more than $269 million in funding.

John Borchardt was a chemist, freelance writer and devoted ACS career consultant for over 15 years, until his sudden passing in January 2013. He was the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” and had more than 1500 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he held 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents, and was the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. John’s advice, insights and articles helped hundreds of scientists improve their professional lives, and he will be truly missed.

Boomer Job Interview Issues

March 11, 2013

Those of the baby boomer generation, job hunters aged 50-plus, face major job hunting challenges. One is a culture gap between themselves and Generation X hiring managers who are in their thirties or forties. Highly seasoned job hunters often give younger hiring managers the perception they are interviewing their parents. How can baby boomer job hunters overcome stereotypes and see their employment interviews result in job offers?

Overcoming stereotypes

According to Mary Ellen Williams, author of “Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50,” the most common stereotypes younger interviewers have about older candidates are:

  • Over-qualified
  • Settling for the job and will soon leave when they find a better one
  • Lack some of the skills of their younger competition
  • Lack energy and enthusiasm
  • Not flexible enough for today’s workplace

How can you effectively deal with these stereotypes?


Hiring managers may or may not ask you directly if you don’t think you are over-qualified for the available position. If you are asked, come up with anecdotes that indicate how you would find ways to enrich your job, make it more challenging and increase the value of your contributions.

This question may be worded in a more complex way. For instance, the interviewer may ask why you are applying for a staff position when you had been a manager for several years. You could reply that you previously found great satisfaction in being an individual contributor and would like to return to this role. You might explain that you are looking to do more hands-on technical or project work. This is what former sales manager Dr. John Trebillas did when he began working for Tomah Products, a specialty chemicals firm. Instead of supervising a group of sales representatives, he worked with Tomah researchers as a consultant to develop products for new markets.

Hiring managers have additional concerns that you could be bored or unmotivated. Alternatively, they may have their own insecurities and worry that you may try to steal their job. During your interviews you need to avoid sounding patronizing or think you have all the answers. Ask job-related questions and show the interviewer respect.

Mention length of time in a job and the various duties of your job assignments.  However, this is looking backwards. Also look forward by developing a sentence that tells people who you are, what your greatest strengths are, and the biggest benefit you will bring to your next employer. This sentence is often called your personal brand. Its focus is informing the employer “what’s in it for them” if they hire you. Hiring managers will sit up and take notice. Your personal brand statement can stimulate your interviewers to ask you questions.  This sentence can go in your summary section of your résumé. Discuss this in your interview as well.

Settling for the job?

Hiring managers may worry you will soon leave for another position. Perhaps they think the salary will be too low for you or the duties are beneath your skill set. Find an opportunity to say you would like to focus on actually doing a job than looking for one. You might make a commitment by saying that you are ready to make at least a two-year commitment to the company. This is what Dr. Trebillas did when he accepted a position with Tomah Products.

Lacking skills?

Sometimes the hiring manager may worry that your skills are out of date compared to younger chemists. Keep your skills up to date. You can do this by reading research journals in your field and attending technical conferences. Also study the employer and use this knowledge to ask questions during your interviews.

Show enthusiasm

Some hiring manager’s worry older job candidates may lack energy and enthusiasm. Get a good night’s sleep before your interview. Show interest in the job opening and its requirements. Also show interest in the employer’s industry and relevant trade associations.

Lean forward slightly in your chair while having discussions. This projects interest and high energy. If you are presenting an employment interview seminar, try to schedule it at the time of day when your energy level is highest. Find professional and even personal interests you share with the hiring manager. These shared interests will stimulate your discussions and help to form a bond with the hiring manager.

Develop some anecdotes that you tell during your interviews that indicate flexibility in different workplace cultures. For example, I spent much of my industrial chemistry career developing new products for various oil industry and paper industry applications. I find ways to insert these into the employment interviews noting how different these workplaces are than chemistry laboratories.

Employers increasingly focus on their short-term needs. They want new employees who can “hit the ground running” and quickly make solid contributions. Sell yourself as an expert who can fix immediate problems quickly and efficiently. Focus on clear, results-oriented achievements for short-range problems. Your goal is to become the “go-to” person for their short-term revenue or productivity problems. Therefore, come to the interview armed with specific examples of how you can solve their money or productivity problems. Your past accomplishments are examples of how to tackle similar problems they face today.

John Borchardt was a chemist, freelance writer and devoted ACS career consultant for over 15 years, until his sudden passing in January 2013. He was the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” and had more than 1500 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he held 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents, and was the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. John’s advice, insights and articles helped hundreds of scientists improve their professional lives, and he will be truly missed.

Five Tricks For Finding Employment Opportunities

March 4, 2013

No matter what your career stage, it’s always a good idea to know what the job market is like.  While you probably have a list of companies that you follow, there are many other companies out there.  How do you find other companies that are similar in some way, and might be in need of your expertise?  There are several ways that you can use what you already know to identify relevant companies.

Google Maps

Many people would welcome a new challenge, but don’t want to move to a new location. If you are geographically constrained, find companies nearby using the “Search Nearby” function in GoogleMaps.   Go to http://maps.google.com, enter a location, and when the map is displayed click “Search Nearby” and put in a keyword such as “chem” (which will match both “chemistry” and “chemical”).  A map showing companies with that keyword in their description will appear.  By varying the specificity of the keyword, and using the zoom function on the map, you can identify almost as many companies as you want.


If you are flexible about location, but want a particular kind of company, North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) codes are an ideal tool.  NAICS is a standard system used to classify businesses (which replaced the older Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system).  Search on a company name and the keyword “NAICS”, and find the code(s) that describe that company.  Then, use ReferenceUSA, WebsterOnline or another service to find similar companies.  For example, SigmaAldrich is in category 325199 (among others), which translates to “All Other Basic Organic Chemical Manufacturing”.

LinkedIn’s Advanced Search Tools

LinkedIn (linkedin.com) is not only a great way to maintain connections with fellow professionals, but it can also be used to find companies.  The Advanced Tools in the “Companies Search” function allow you to filter searches by location, industry, and company size.  Once you find a company, you can not only read the corporate description, but also see how you are connected to people at that company.  Often you will know someone who knows someone who works there, and can use those connections to find inside information on hiring plans.

Craig’s List

Craig’s List (craigslist.org) is increasing in popularity as a place for small companies to post job openings, and often ads are posted there and not anywhere else.  With specific categories for biotech/science, medical/health, business/management and other types of jobs, and local versions for most major cities, it’s easy to identify the categories that will have openings of interest to you.  Keep your search broad – skimming through multiple categories on a regular basis can turn up interesting opportunities not found any other way.

Discussion Groups

Join relevant email lists and discussion groups on LinkedIn or the ACS Network.  Check out past postings and discussions, and find companies that have been hiring. Look at the signature files and email addresses of other participants, and research the companies they work for.

Whether or not you are currently looking for a new position, knowing the market is always a good idea.  The tools listed above can go a long way towards helping you uncover hidden gems.

Get involved in the discussion

The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (https://communities.acs.org/community/profession/career_development )._—brought to you by ACS Careers.