Managing Your Day

June 23, 2014

Going from emergency to emergency putting out fires at work is no way to spend your day. Some days there is a crisis or things keeping coming up that do not let you manage your time effectively. Most days, though, you should be able to arrange your work day so you can work efficiently. This will leave you fresher for the inevitable out of control days.


Make your first task of the day to review what needs to happen and when. Prioritize all the tasks you have to do so that you make sure to accomplish the most important things and do not waste time with things that can wait until later.

Schedule time with yourself

Set aside time to think and work on complex problems. Meetings and collaborations will be written in on your schedule but do not neglect solo work or fit it in late in the day. The end of the day is when you are tired and not at your best. Make sure to protect your time to think. It can easily be chipped away by co-worker requests and last minute changes.

Plan on interruptions

Take into account how often you are interrupted throughout the day when planning your schedule. If possible schedule ‘office hours’ when people are welcome to ask you questions and discuss projects. Do not pretend interruptions do not exist when making your schedule; you will still have to deal with problems and issues that come up. Your plan for the day will fall by the apart if you do not anticipate this happening. Try to leave a little extra time in your schedule, knowing it will be eaten up by people dropping by and problems popping up throughout the day.

Block similar tasks together

Make blocks of time to handle the same type of tasks. Make all your phone calls at one time. Take a chunk of time to read and respond to emails. It’s easier on you to be efficient and do tasks that require the same software or equipment at the same time rather than jumping around.


Email, phone calls, and social media are increasingly intrusive and distracting. Disconnect from your electronics for big chunks of the day and stick to your schedule rather than being pulled in multiple directions when possible. Reply to messages when it is convenient for you unless there is an emergency.


Do not multi-task. Give your attention to whatever you are currently working on; stopping and starting projects will slow you down and not let you do your best work. Complete one task before switching to the next one. Logging out of email and turning your phone off will help with this.

Managing your work day will let you be more productive and feel less stressed while working. Prioritizing, scheduling time to think, allowing for interruptions, efficiently grouping tasks, disconnecting from electronics, and focusing on the task at hand are some ways to organize your time. It’s not possible to always stick to a plan but effectively managing your work day will allow you to be more efficient and should make your time more enjoyable.
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.

When Is It Time To Leave?

June 16, 2014

 Sometimes it’s easy to know when to leave your current job: your manager is a complete jerk, you are being asked to do unethical or illegal things, or you just plain hate what you are doing. Job situations are usually not that extreme, making the decision to leave or stay in your current job complicated. You may not love your job but you do not hate it, your boss can be unpleasant sometimes but isn’t a terrible person, you may not find your career karmically rewarding but you certainly aren’t harming anyone or committing questionable acts. When is dissatisfaction enough to leave and find a new job?


In a perfect world, our jobs would be financially rewarding, intellectually challenging, changing the world for the better, and bring us into contact with interesting kind people. What imperfections are we willing to accept and what ones should push us to leave? What changes can you make to yourself or in your current job before deciding leaving is the best option?


If you find yourself not doing your best work, consider leaving. Some days you do not enough have the time or resources to do your best work. However, if you are consistently not doing good work that you are capable of doing, you need to examine your reasons. Performing poorly when you could be doing well is a sign that you are not engaging in your work. Start looking for ways to invest yourself in your job. Think about what things you enjoy in your job or what you like accomplishing in this field. If you cannot find a way to engage in your work, start looking for a new job or even a new career that you can be passionate about.


Needing some peace and quiet to get things done is understandable. Having to hide out from co-workers to be productive should not be a regular occurrence. Your co-workers may not be harassing you but if they are constantly preventing any real work from getting done, you should change your work environment. Work on time management strategies and try to find ways to manage your co-workers’ intrusions. If after trying different tactics, your co-workers are still a problem consider making a change and start job hunting.


You may not always completely agree with your company’s strategy but if you do not understand how or why decisions are being made, you may not fit into the corporate culture. You should not be left feeling decisions are being made at random, consider making changes if that happens. Look to work in different department or under a different manager if its a problem with management immediately above you. If its your company’s overall strategy, look to make a bigger change.
Job hunting, preparing and submitting resumes, going on interviews, and starting a new job can be a stressful process. You may not want to start it unless you are really ready to leave your current job. Think about your day to day experience at work and how much you are able to engage in what you are doing. If you are not able to, because of yourself, your co workers, or just overall company strategy, let go of this job and start looking for where you should really be.
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.

Why Should I Hire You?

June 9, 2014

Common interview questions are googled, anticipated, and feared by many an interviewee. People try to prepare for questions as strange as what type of animal best describes you, or what type of ice cream would you be. Answers are carefully thought through and even practiced in mock interviews or in front of the mirror. In all this preparation, people can overlook the question behind every other question during an interview: Why should I hire you?

The interview usually includes multiple rounds with panels of interviewers. It can be conducted over the phone, face-to-face in a conference room, or as all-day event including a presentation or sample work. You can count on all the usual questions, such as those related to your skills and previous experience. There are also the questions regarding “soft skills”, such as how you get along with others or how you handle conflict at the work place. Often, you will even be directly asked “Why should I hire you?” It is important to keep in mind that every question is really an attempt to answer the last one. The hiring manager doesn’t really want to listen to you recite a list of all the techniques you have used since your first lab class in college. That question is asked in order to learn whether you can hone in on your relevant skills for the current position and whether you can speak about those skills in a way that convinces others that you should be hired. Before you answer any interview question, take a second and think about your answer in terms of the real question – why should I hire you?

What type of ice cream would you be? Obviously, there’s a question behind that question. No one cares what you think about ice cream during an interview. Why would such an odd question be asked? It might be to see how well you can formulate spontaneous answers, or how well you perform under pressure. Again, what you really need to focus on with any answer to any question is why should this company hire me for this position? When you realize that is the underlying question, you can use almost every other question as a means of saying what you want to say during the interview.

What kind of ice cream would I be? If I wanted to focus on my broad skill set, I might go with Neapolitan and explain my choice in terms of the variety of experience I have. If I wanted to demonstrate that I am a reliable, consistent worker, I might choose vanilla. The point is that you can take almost any question and formulate the answer in terms of what you want to say about why they should hire you. Instead of practicing answers to questions, plan to turn their questions into opportunities for you to say what you want to say about why you are the best choice for this job.

Undoubtedly, you will never be able to anticipate every question that will be asked, especially as strange interview questions become more popular. Realize that all the hours of questioning are really just an attempt to get an answer to one question. And make sure that every answer you give to every question is ultimately answering that question behind all questions: Why should I hire you?

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. 

Do You Have Any Questions for Me?

June 2, 2014

Job interviews are stressful. You’re worried about making a good impression, selling your skills and abilities, and not spilling food on yourself. At the same time, you’re trying to learn all about the company, determine what the job will really be like, and decide if you like your potential future co-workers. However, the last question can be the most stressful – when the interviewer asks if you have any questions for them. You not only need to have questions prepared, but you should tailor them to the person of whom you are doing the asking.


“No, not really” or “What does your company make?”

These are probably the worst things you can ask. It indicates not only lack of preparation, but a lack of real interest in the company or the job. Other than giving a bad seminar, asking no questions is probably the easiest way to make sure you don’t get an offer.


“Why is this position open?”

The answer to this will most likely be short, but very telling. It could be due to a promotion, a new direction for the company, or something else. They probably won’t tell you the previous person quit because the department was dysfunctional (they may not know). However, seeing how open they are to answering the question can be more telling than the answer itself.


“What is the biggest problem I will face in this position?”

Phrasing the question this way makes the hiring manager think of you as already in that postion. It shows you are involved and planning how best to do the job.


“What do you like best/worst about working for this company?”

This will give you some insight into both the culture of the company, and the values of the specific person who is answering it. This makes it especially useful to ask of your potential future boss.


“How will I be evaluated?” or “In your opinion, what is valued at this company?”

Some companies have a formal review process, others not so much. In some companies technical expertise is rewarded and promoted, in others managerial aptitude is needed to get ahead. This question shows your interest growing with the company, and will help you prioritize your activities once you start work.


“What is the next step?”

Your last question will be a version of this, directed to the human resources person. It shows your continued interest in the process. What you really want to find out is where they are in the hiring process, where you stand relative to the other candidates, and when a decision will be made. This will allow you to know when to contact them again, showing interest and enthusiasm without appearing desperate.


Preparing for questions you know you will be asked is a great way to manage the stress associated with the job interview process. By preparing insightful, probing questions that show you are excited about working for this company and this role, you will end the interview on a positive note, with every chance of a successful outcome.



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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.