Negotiate, Proactively

August 26, 2013

You may have seen the quote “In business, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate”. The question is how do you negotiate? There are endless resources to train people in the art of negotiation. Still, for most people, it can be an uncomfortable and awkward conversation.

The truth is, in business, your salary and benefits aren’t presented as a negotiation. They are presented as facts – here it is, now sign the acceptance form. Many of my coworkers have accepted that they cannot negotiate their salaries because they don’t believe they are given the opportunity to do so. I disagree. I do agree, however, that raises are presented in a way that discourages negotiation by making people feel that they have to reject their raise in order to discuss it. No one wants to put their job in jeopardy, especially in a slow economy. And many people will choose to avoid the anxiety of negotiation. My approach is to negotiate, proactively.

I use the current annual review as a time to negotiate for my next raise. I like this approach because negotiation is most effective when you really believe what you are saying. I know that I’m not going to walk into a review and quit on the spot if I can’t get the raise I want. But what I can discuss honestly is how I feel about my current salary and where I expect it to be in the next one or two years. The first year I implemented this approach, my manager spoke to HR about promoting me within three months after my annual review. As with any negotiation, there are a few things you need to know before you engage in a proactive negotiation.

Know what you’re worth

Do your research. Find out what you could and should be making. This needs to be based on specifics – job sector, degree, performance, years of experience, geography, etc. The ACS Salary Survey is a great resource for those in chemistry-related positions.

Know what you want

This is not necessarily the same as knowing what you’re worth. For example, if research shows that you could be making 30% more than your current salary, you have to decide whether you can confidently look your manger in the eye and ask for that salary. Knowing what you want means knowing what you want to ask for.

Know what you can expect

What you’re worth and what you want may be far beyond what you can actually get at your company. If you intend to keep your current job, you should at least have a rough idea of what the company would be willing pay you. This may not be easy information to get. Search for your company on to see if people with a similar job title have posted their salaries. You can also search for your job title and see what people are earning at similar companies. It won’t benefit you to ask for a salary that is far beyond what your manager could realistically offer you. Alternatively, you could ask for more vacation time in lieu of a higher raise or have the organization pay for your travel to an ACS national meeting.

Decide what you will accept

At the end of the day, chances are you won’t get exactly what you asked for, at least not every time. You need to decide what you will accept and at what point you will look for a new position. The advantage of a proactive negotiation is that both you and your manager have a year to think about it. If you let your manager know that you know what you’re worth and what you want, then s/he can spend that year considering your value, and you can spend that year demonstrating how valuable you are.

There will always be the few who thrive on the rush of a heated debate or enjoy sweating through an intense negotiation. But for most people, including employees and managers, negotiation is not embraced so fondly. Rather than choking on an awkward attempt at rebutting your raise or avoiding the conversation altogether, try negotiating proactively.

This article was written by Sherrie Elzey, Ph.D., a chemical engineer and freelance technical writer/editor. Sherrie has a background in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, with experience in academia, government, and industry positions.


Scientists at home: Pros and Cons of Working from Home

August 19, 2013

Working from home sounds like a great idea: no commute, no dress code!  Many people are spending part or all of their day working out of the office. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of 2012, over 38% of workers with at least a bachelor’s degree worked at home on an average day. Chemists do not generally perform lab experiments at home but many lab scientists will choose to work from home to catch up on paperwork now and then. Scientists who work outside of the lab, report writers and quality assurance analysts for example, are able to complete much of their work at home.

Employees find benefits to working from home. Commuting down the hall to your home office can save time, remove work place distractions, and lend you flexibility.

Commuting to work is often several hours a week for many employees and this time can be better spent catching up on work projects that have been pushed to the backburner, finishing up household tasks, or just relaxing.

At home, you can concentrate on your task at hand and avoid being pulled into co-workers vacation stories or sitting next to a coworker listening to their voicemail on speaker phone.

Working from home also allows you run errands close to home during lunch-going to the dentist or registering children at school can become much easier.

You may also be able to avoid taking off work when a project is at a critical phase and something comes up at home. Working from home lets you be there when a sick child cannot go to school or when the furnace repairmen’s service window is during work hours and you cannot miss a day of work.

There are some downsides to working at home. Working from home can end up being code to your co-workers that you are unavailable. It can be nice to miss a few meetings and focus on the to-do list for your project but it’s important for you to be heard in your department.

After deciding to work from home to avoid a loud cubicle, you may find it’s still hard to focus. Home can be a distracting place: pets may wander into your work space and bark at you, children will demand your attention, your DVR will be full of your favorites, and laundry is just sitting there waiting to be washed. Most people will do household chores, and spend some time watching TV or playing games. Women with children under six will spend a few hours taking care of them on an average work day.

Here are some tips to make sure you take advantage of the pros and avoid some of the cons of working from home:

  • Have an official start to your work day and stay focused in your work space. If you need a mid-morning snack, get it ready beforehand.
  • Do not let yourself be distracted by housework or use mopping the floors as a way to procrastinate finishing a report. The floor will still be dirty when your report is done.
  • Have a separate work space. This will help you keep your mind on work after you start for the day. You do not need a dedicated room-although it can be nice to close a door to the rest of your home-but keep a section of your home dedicated to work so you are not easily distracted.
  • Arrange for child care. It’s pretty difficult to fit a day’s worth of work into naptime and most children will be interested in what you are doing especially if you want them to do something else.
  • Stay in contact with your supervisor and co-workers. Make sure to telecommute to meetings, respond promptly to emails, and utilize instant messaging tools. Your presence should be felt even if you are not in the building.
  • Plan to take a break or two during the day but do not settle down to stream an all day marathon of your favorite TV show.

This article was written by Sara Stellfox. After working in contract and pharmaceutical laboratories, Sara changed her career path and is now a free lance writer and chemistry instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago.

Remember to Ask for Feedback

August 12, 2013

A quick Google search will give you more information than you need about how to prepare for an interview, how to nail the interview, how to send an appropriate thank-you note, and how to continue your job search when you don’t get the offer. What is often lost in the mix is the importance of asking for feedback after an interview. Why didn’t you get the offer? What can you learn from this interview to give you an edge the next time around?

After completing a postdoc position, I applied for a position as a Research Chemist for a filtration company. My education and research history landed me a phone interview, although I did not have any direct filtration experience. After a 45-minute conversation with the hiring manager, I was sure I would get an on-site interview. The hiring manager informed me that he had two more candidates to call but alluded to the fact that he was looking forward to meeting me. I really wanted this job and was excited for the next step. To my surprise and bewilderment, I received the rejection email two days later. Was it something I said?  What went wrong? This is the point where most people shrug their shoulders and move on. But it was different for me this time. I felt a real connection with the hiring manager, and I needed to know why I wasn’t chosen for the on-site interview. I emailed him and asked for feedback.

His response was quick and detailed. He explained that I was a top candidate and listed the reasons why. Then, he told me that I was not chosen because they really needed someone who already had filtration experience and could hit the ground running. He also offered a word of advice: in the future, show more enthusiasm for research when applying for a research position. I re-read the email over and over, mourning the loss of what I thought was my dream job. As I focused on the feedback, three important insights occurred to me.

First, I had managed to get a phone interview, and almost got an on-site interview, even though I had no direct experience. My resume was impressive enough that I was considered a top candidate despite this deficiency. This gave me hope for future opportunities.

Second, I needed to step up my enthusiasm. This is especially important during a phone interview, when facial expressions and body language don’t come into play. I was grateful that the hiring manager had been honest and taken the time to provide advice.

Third, I considered why I wasn’t more enthusiastic. The more I thought about it, I realized that I wasn’t as excited about a research career as I thought I was. It’s what I had done for nearly eight years, and I hadn’t given much thought to what other paths were out there. My lack of enthusiasm during the phone interview was simply my true feelings coming through.

A few months later, I did land my dream job, in applications support instead of research. The lessons I learned were a direct result of the feedback I received, which taught me about myself and what I wanted. Perhaps the most important lesson was this: it only takes a few minutes to send a quick email thanking someone for their time and asking if they can provide feedback – it is well worth the effort.

This article was written by Sherrie Elzey, Ph.D., a chemical engineer and freelance technical writer/editor. Sherrie has a background in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, with experience in academia, government, and industry positions.

It’s on the Internet; It Must be True

August 5, 2013

These days, when you need information, one of the first things you probably do is search the Internet.  No matter what keywords or phrases you use to search, a flood of results is returned – some of which are exactly what you want, and some of which you wonder how on earth they got onto the list.   Suddenly, you’ve gone from not having enough information, to having way too much.  How do you drink from this fire hose, and find the needed, accurate information?  Here are some tips to help you sort the useful from the useless.


Who published the information?  What group is paying to have this information made available?  Do they have an agenda, or a reason to post information that is not objective?  Who is their intended audience, and does that audience have any assumptions that might affect the interpretation? Is the site supported by advertisements, and if so, might the advertiser have had reason to slant the presentation one way or another?  Is the information freely available to everyone, or do you have to pay to access it?  If the latter, what sort of quality control does that fee buy you?



Who is the author?  Did they provide their contact information?  With what institutions or organizations are they associated?  What is their reputation, and what credentials or expertise do they have on the subject?  Is it attributed to a specific individual, group, or is it anonymous? If it is anonymous, is there a reason the author might not want to be associated with it?



Has the article or site been peer-reviewed by other experts in the field?  Does it contain references and links to quality supporting information? Do other sources reference this source?  Has it been carefully edited, or is it full of typographical errors and inconsistencies?   Are competing theories discussed, or ignored?



What is the date that the information was published, and when was it last updated? If the specific article is not dated, is there a date on the site? If the date is old, is the subject matter still relevant? Could there have been more recent developments, and if so, does the site lead you to them?  Are the links current and valid, or dated and broken?  Is the site reliable – if you go back a day or a week later, is the information still there?  Has anything been updated?



No matter how good you the source is, you always want to confirm your answer.  Does the author list their assumptions, and indicate what is fact, and what is opinion?  Does it make sense in light of what else you know about the subject?  Does it agree with other sources?  If they disagree, is the issue addressed?


A wise man once said “Sometimes good people (and content) end up in bad places.  That doesn’t make them bad.”  Now that a whole world of information is available at the click of a mouse, it’s crucial to be able to critically evaluate it, and separate the useful nuggets from the useless nut’s ramblings.

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 (—brought to you by ACS Careers.