Do You Have the Right Attitude?

December 30, 2013

Have you ever had a great day, where everything was going right and one success just seemed to lead into the next one?  Conversely, have you ever had a bad day, where you started off in a poor mood, and all you could see was the bad in everything?  Did those good or bad days sometimes extend into weeks?

We’ve experienced stretches of time where things seemed to keep going in the same direction.  But did you ever stop to consider that it might be your attitude that is the driving factor?

Sometimes, your attitude towards a particular project is a productive thing.  For example, if you are a technical editor, you approach each new project with the attitude “what is wrong with this document, and how can I change it to make it better meet the needs of the intended audience?”  You go in looking for things that are wrong, knowing that they are there, and don’t stop looking until you find them and fix them.

If you are an analytical or quality control chemist, the right attitude might be “there is something wrong with this batch, and I am going to find out what it is”.  You run your tests and compare to standards, until you have exhausted the options and proven to yourself that your hypothesis was incorrect, and that particular batch of product meets all specifications.  (Are you now flashing back to disproving the null hypothesis in high school science class?)

While working from the hypothesis that “there’s something wrong and I must find it” works to your advantage in some cases, if you approach every situation that way it can work against you.  For example, if you are in the habit of looking for problems and mismatches, you will be at a decided disadvantage when you are searching or interviewing for a new job.

Instead of focusing on how well you fit with both the position and the company, and how your rich history of professional accomplishments is ideally suited to the requirements of the job, you may continue in your attitude of looking for problems, and the ways you don’t fit.

There is no job that is absolutely perfect for you – there will always be something you don’t like, or don’t know how to do. What you’re looking for is a position where the good outweighs the bad, and where you will enjoy doing the good parts so much that the parts you don’t like are only a minor annoyance.  Or even better, you enjoy learning something new to do the parts of the job you haven’t done before.  When looking for a new job, it is important to force yourself to focus on the positive, looking at the skills and experiences you have that do prepare you for that position, instead of focusing on where you do not fit.

This becomes even more important when you get to the interview stage.  The person interviewer is expecting you to convince them not only that you can do the job, but that you really want to do the job.  They expect you to describe in detail how perfectly suited you are for the job, and how your prior accomplishments have prepared you to do exactly what they need to have done.  In order to sell the interviewers, you first have to sell yourself. You have to approach each position with the attitude “I am the perfect person for this job, and here’s why.”

After all, if you can’t convince yourself that you’re perfect for the job, how do you expect to convince your future employer?  So the next time someone tells you to keep a positive attitude about your job search, remember that they are right.  You are positive that there is a job out there that for which you are the perfect candidate – and you will keep looking until you find it.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC.  Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.

What Motivates You?

December 23, 2013

Everyone has their own personal motivators. Identifying what motivates you, both in your career and your personal life, can help you design a more enjoyable, satisfying work-life balance.

The power of personal motivators is that they are personal. They cannot be taught. They cannot be forced by authority. They are simply the intrinsic force that drives an individual’s behavior. Every action, even the most basic task of getting out of bed in the morning, is motivated by some goal you want to achieve. In addition, your personal motivators are dynamic – they can change over time or fluctuate depending on the situation. The one constant is that your personal motivators are the reason why you make choices, take action, or avoid tasks. It makes sense, then, that job satisfaction is maximized when personal motivators are aligned with the goals and outcomes of the job.

Five common personal motivators that relate to job satisfaction are Contribution, Achievement, Security, Money, and Recognition. Those who are strongly motivated by the personal satisfaction that comes from a sense of contributing to a worthwhile cause will enjoy a job that feeds into their Contribution motivator. For these people, it is not the daily tasks that drive action; it is the perceived effect of those tasks that drives action. Note that the key work is “perceived”. Personal motivators are entirely dependent on a person’s perception – there is no right or wrong job for a particular motivation. One can imagine that a medical doctor would perceive a great sense of contribution from helping patients. However, a custodian could perceive the same satisfaction by contributing to a clean work environment.

Those with a strong Achievement drive will enjoy a job with measurable, quantitative goals that clearly track performance relative to a target. Students who thrived on the goal of achieving high test scores or a 4.00 GPA likely have a strong sense of Achievement motivation. For these people, a position with a performance quota, such as sales, may be a good fit.

Those motivated by Security are likely to be drawn toward jobs that are not perceived as high risk, but instead provide a sense of long-term stability. The Security motivator is often highly correlated with one’s personal life. Financial responsibilities or being the sole provider for the family can contribute to the need for a sense of security. This motivator may be stronger during certain stages of life than others.

Money is a common motivator. It applies to almost everyone who has a paying job, but the level of Money motivation varies. For some, the financial compensation itself is highly motivating. It’s about more than just getting a paycheck or achieving an appropriate salary. For those with a strong Money drive, there is great satisfaction from the perceived success of high earnings.

Recognition is another common motivator. For these people, it’s about more than performing or achieving work-related goals. They derive satisfaction from having others recognize their work. Recognition-motivated people enjoy awards, certificates, and public announcements of their achievements. Jobs for which the results are highly visible are a good fit.

Personal motivators can be highly related. For example, it is easy to imagine that a person with a strong Achievement drive might also have a strong Recognition drive. Security and Money motivators can also go hand-in-hand. For most people, there are specific motivators that are more highly related to personal satisfaction than other motivators. Understanding what motivates you can help you recognize why you like or dislike your job and guide you in finding the best fit for your needs. The next time you are considering a job, remember to analyze yourself in addition to evaluating the job.


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.

A Tale of Two Transitions

December 16, 2013

It was the best of times, it was the worse of times…….

Dave knew it was time to leave his current company.  He wanted to move closer to his extended family, and was ready for a new and bigger challenge.  He planned his job search, obtained an offer for his ideal position in his preferred location, and gave his notice at his current company.  He agreed to stay on for a month, through the launch of a major new product, but spent most of that time packing his office.  When the appointed date came, he picked up his boxes of personal items from his office, said goodbye to his co-workers, and moved on.

Jane, on the other hand, had no time to prepare for her departure.  She had been with the company for seven years, and was deeply involved in the final stages of the release of a new major, international product.  She knew the company was in the process of being sold, but was taken by surprise on when it was finalized.  The very next day she was called into the human resources office, told she was no longer needed, had her badge and building keys confiscated, and then was escorted by security personnel to her former office to collect her few personal belongings then out of the building.  As the door slammed behind her, she thought about all the tasks she had left uncompleted, and wondered what would happen – to the project, and to herself.

In the short term, it looks like Dave managed his transition better, since he knows where he is going.  But if we look a little further down the road…..

Dave’s move is not working out as well as he had hoped.  While he enjoys being near his family, he finds the small town boring after years in a large city.  At his new company there are a lot of political games and hidden agendas, and he’s having a hard time getting anything accomplished.  He’s getting more and more frustrated, and beginning to rethink his options.  He misses his good friends at his former company, but when he contacts them asking for advice, they don’t seem to have time to talk to him.

Jane, however, is getting lots of support from her former co-workers.  She has been enthusiastically pursuing new career options, has developed several good leads, including a couple of scheduled interviews.  Most helpfully, her former colleagues have been contacting her on a regular basis, passing along leads and offering to serve as enthusiastic references.

Why the difference?

Both Dave and Jane’s colleagues are treating them the same way they were treated.  Dave, always a solo worker, had mentally checked out of the company long before he physically left.  His projects and colleagues were left dangling, with no one knowing their status or even the location of important files.  Since his departure had been his choice and time, his colleagues left behind were even more resentful that he did not turn over his responsibilities in a more organized fashion.  Even though they had enjoyed working with him, the way he left the position noticeably lowered their opinion of him, and their willingness to help him in the future.

Jane, on the other hand, had always been more of a team player.  She made sure that important documents and reports were on the shared drive, and labeled in a way that would make sense to other people.   She sent regular, detailed status reports to her team members, so everyone knew exactly where each aspect of the project stood, and those taking over could move forward without her.  While her colleagues miss working with her, they appreciate the way she left things, and are more than willing to do whatever they can to help her out.  In her case, the way she left things actually increased her reputation with her colleagues.

You know you only have one chance to make a first impression, but did you realize that you also only have one chance to make a final impression?   If you leave a job on bad terms, through your own choice or someone else’s, the impression you leave behind will color any future interactions you have with your former co-workers.

If you had to leave your current position tomorrow, what would be the final impression your co-workers would have of you?  If it’s not what you would like it to be, maybe now is the time to do something about that – while you still can.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC.  Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.

Adapting to Corporate Culture

December 9, 2013

It can be tough to adapt to a new corporate culture after starting a new job or even changing departments at the same company. Corporate culture includes the company’s official policies and what day to day interactions are like for an employee. Your company could have a mission statement that defines the value system, a story that embodies the corporate outlook, or a symbol that shows what its ideals are. The official policies and tone set a pattern for how things are handled on a smaller scale and inform your office culture. Try to match what you think is important to what a company identifies with itself and then figure out how to navigate the office culture. Learning to successfully communicate within a specific corporate structure is one of the difficult but important ways to adapt your environment.

Read up on your company’s official policies. Companies often publish their corporate philosophies on their website and will give employees protocols on how to handle different issues. Make sure to also observe how they are actually put into practice and talk to your co-workers about how things have been handled in the past. The official outlook may not quite match what is actually happening on the ground and you want to be aware of what actually takes place. Keep in mind that the day to day office culture may vary from department to department within the same company.

Communicating effectively within your co-workers is important. Observe how communication is handled company-wide and within your department and understand how and when to speak up.

Notice how meetings are run and who is talking. Some companies have a flat hierarchy where junior employees are welcome and expected to speak up and contribute. This may be intimidating at first, but reviewing the topics of a meeting ahead of time can help you start to prepare yourself to contribute at meetings. At other places, management might prefer to see your performance before adding weight to your assessments and you might want hang back during meetings until you get your feet wet.

It’s important to know how your company handles potential problems. Prevention may be highly valued and managers are open to criticism of approaches early on. In these situations, it can be best to bring up a variety of possible scenarios early on and brainstorm on different ways to deal with them. On the other hand, management may not want imagine possible problems until there is more evidence. Observe how your manager handles input and develop a rapport so that you can complete projects successfully.

Successful communication requires you to think about what you will say and also how it will sound to the listener. Put yourself in the listener’s shoes and think about how the topics are generally handled by your company.

Pay attention to what your co-workers are telling you. Communication is not just about what you are saying but listening to others. Pay attention to the ideas your coworkers generate in meetings and what feedback they are giving you. Some of the feedback may be informal-a coworker comments on a plan you present at a meeting. Or it may involve a formal review. Make sure to notice both kinds and evaluate what you are being told.

Once you are communicating well, you are well on your way to adapting to your company. Learning to communicate effectively is a big part of fitting into the corporate and office culture.

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.

Are You A Professional?

December 2, 2013

A local group was putting together a career development workshop, and wanted to include a section on professionals.  When asked for a definition, the first thing that came to mind is that a professional is someone who gets paid to do something.  While that may be true, it’s not always.  I have worked with some very professional volunteers, and some very amateur employees. 

What they really wanted to talk about was professionalism.  Professionalism is more a state of mind.  It’s a collection of attitudes and actions that over time demonstrate respect for and dedication to a specific goal, and usually that inspire respect and admiration from their colleagues and coworkers.



A true professional respects their colleagues, responds to them in a timely manner, and has reasonable expectations.  They judge others by the quality of their work and by their actions, with no preconceptions or irrelevant biases.


A true professional knows a lot.  They already know what is needed to do their job, but are always willing, and even eager, to learn more.  They have probably been doing the job for some time, and have a wealth of experience.  However, they realize that technology and circumstances change, so they are constantly evolving and looking for ways to improve both themselves and the way they do things.


A professional is one who is willing to share their knowledge, expertise and experience with others.  They are happy to mentor students and others new to the field, and take pleasure in sharing what they have learned through hard work.  They go out of their way to look for opportunities to help other professionals.


A true professional says what they are going to do, and does what they say they will.  They meet deadlines and quotas, once they have determined that they are reasonable.  If circumstances arise that make that impossible, they will let others know as soon as possible, and have a plan for how to mitigate any damages from the delay.  They look for the best in their coworkers, and do not gossip about the faults of others.


A true professional does whatever is needed to achieve the goal, whether or not it is part of their official job description.  They will come in early or stay late when required, and often find themselves thinking about work issues during their “off” time.  They understand what is needed now, and what can be delayed by a bit, and are committed to ensuring success. This does not mean they work around the clock.  Everyone needs time off and mental breaks, but a professional will make sure their work responsibilities are addressed before they take a break.

There are many other characteristics that could be described as professional.  What characteristics do you admire in the people you work with?  Are there other things that are not on this list?  And even more importantly, how well do your actions compare to what you think a true professional should be?   You can’t change your personality overnight, you can make a conscious effort to make your actions match your attitudes.


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.