Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

July 7, 2014

Every day, you make the decision as to whether to continue working at the same job, or look for something new. Most days, you don’t even think about it, you just get up and go to work. If you have a really bad day, you may think about seeing what else is out there. But in order to be a good steward of your own professional destiny, you need to stop every once in a while and really consider where you are in your career, and if that is where you want to be. Below are a few questions to help determine if you are on the right path, or if it’s time to start looking for a change.

Have To or Get To

When you wake up in the morning, are you excited about going to work, or do you dread it? Do you find yourself pondering work problems when not at work, and not mind? Do you read books and articles related to work in your spare time? If you truly enjoy what you do, you will look forward to it, and not be bothered when thoughts of work occacionally creep into other parts of your life.

Family and Friends

Does your family think what you do is really cool? Are they proud of you, and anxious to tell others about what you do? Or do they think your job is an endless list of boring chores, and wonder why you do it? Where do they get that opinion, if not from things you have said to them? Your attitude towards your work is reflected in the people who are closest to you.

Meeting Expectations

Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out. You may have tried something different on a lark, or been forced by into a sub-optimal position by circumstances. After you’ve been there for awhile, you need to take a step back and decide if it was as bad as you thought it was going to be, or if it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Are you where you thought this position would take you? Sometimes, taking a chance puts you in a place you never thought you’d be, but it ends up being a perfect fit.


When you look back over your career history, what are the things of which you are most proud? What do you consider your most significant accomplishments? Can you see more exciting accomplishments on your current path? Are you working towards something you will be proud of? If not, it might be time to move on, into a career path with a future you can be exited about.

You should get into the habit of pausing to evaluate your career situation on a regular basis – once a year, or even once every six months. If you find yourself saying “This is okay, for now” too many times in a row, it might not be “now” anymore.

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.



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.



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.


And Today’s Speaker is….

May 5, 2014

Chemical professionals are used to presenting their work at seminars and conferences. They spend hours preparing content and practicing wording, until everything is perfect. But when it comes to introducing other speakers, many people give very little thought to what they will say until they actually step on stage.

As the host, it is your job to get the attention of the audience, build anticipation, and spark interest in what the speaker has to say. You want to prime the audience, to give the speaker the best possible chance of success. Below are some tips to help you do just that.

Do Your Homework

Start well ahead of time, by asking the speaker for their bio and CV or resume. Visit their professional web page, and learn about their work and institution. Ask them to pronounce their name, and repeat it back. Make sure you have the title of their presentation exactly right, it is has not changed, and that you know how to pronounce everything.

Prepare the Content

If the audience is not familiar with you, briefly state your name and your role, then quickly move to your introduction of the speaker, emphasizing

their connection with this organization or event, their credentials, and their topic. Don’t repeat a laundry list of all their awards, accomplishments and education, just enough to intrigue the audience and convince them that this person is uniquely qualified to speak on this topic to this audience. Don’t give an outline of the talk, or set up unrealistic expectations.

Once you have your introduction written, run it by the speaker. They may have newer information to add, or prefer that something be omitted.

Set the Tone

Your introduction should match the formality and length of the main presentation, generally 1-2 minutes for short presentations. If the speaker is giving an hour-long talk, your introduction can be a little longer, and may include your personal connection to the speaker. Humor is occasionally appropriate, but if you’re not sure, omit it.

As your introduction builds to a climax, you should draw attention to the speaker by looking directly at them, end with “and I am pleased to present Dr. David Tennant”, and get off stage immediately. If you are introducing a series of speakers in a symposium, make sure to use the same level of formality for each – don’t call some “Dr. Thomas Baker” and others “Clara”.

Learn the Material

While it’s okay to use notes, there’s nothing more boring to the audience than a speaker reading directly from a piece of paper – unless it’s reading what is already printed in the program. As when you are the presenter, smile, stand up straight, and speak loudly, clearly, and with enthusiasm.

By the end of your introduction, the audience will know that this is the only speaker who could address their need to know about this topic, and they will be anxious to hear what she has to say. An eager audience is the best gift you can give a guest speaker, and mastering this art will go a long way towards enhancing your professional reputation.

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 the ACS Career Navigator.

Where Do You Fall?

April 7, 2014

These days you are probably working with at least one person whose background is very different from yours.  They may act differently, make different assumptions, and maybe even make you uncomfortable. By realizing that there is a range acceptable behaviors, and learning where you prefer to be within that range, you can help yourself manage your expectations and work productively across cultural boundaries.

Communication Styles

Do you prefer to be loud and direct, or are you more soft-spoken and deferential?  Do you address every member of a team, or only negotiate with the senior person?  Do you consider feelings when making decisions, or only objective facts?  In many cultures, people are loath to say “no”, or sometimes even to use negative language.   For example, you need to know if your boss’ comment that you “think some more about that idea” means you should keep developing it, or that it’s a bad idea and you should move on to something else .  Sometimes this means asking for specific clarification, maybe even pushing for it, other times it means couching your own responses in terms that will make it more palatable for the other person.


How important is punctuality and planning?  In some cultures schedules are inviolate, requiring precise punctuality and significant advance planning.  In others, meeting times are only a suggestion, and arriving hours late is perfectly acceptable.  It’s best to begin in a new are by always being punctual, and relax later as local custom allows.

Timelines also differ. English-speaking people will put the past on the left, Arabic-speaking people on the right, and Mandarin-speakers put it on the bottom.  When you’re creating graphics for a diverse audience, make sure labels are clear so everyone can follow.


When you meet a new group, do you assume the person in charge is the oldest (most experienced), male, most educated, best dressed…..It may be just the opposite.  Don’t make assumptions about relative ranking based on ideas from your own background.  Treat everyone with respect – which includes using their title and surname until invited to do otherwise.

Similarly with clothing – if you’re not sure what to wear, err on the side of formality.

Mixing Business With Pleasure

Do you prefer to get right down to work and keep business relationships professional, or do you want to make friends with your co-workers?  In some cultures negotiations are all about business, in others a significant amount of socializing between the parties is expected before business begins.  And in some cultures, negotiations continue even after the contract is signed. Knowing what is standard, and thus expected, in that culture can help avoid surprises.

In the end, culture is not just geographic.  No matter where you are from or where you are working, your style will differ from your colleagues in many ways, sometimes to the point where one or more people are uncomfortable. Realizing that there are many ways to get to the same endpoint, and asking for clarification when needed, can help you reach a middle ground where both parties are comfortable, and you can then focus on the work at hand.


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.

Career Preparation for Conferences

March 3, 2014

Attending professional conferences is both a benefit and a duty for most scientists.  You get to catch up on the latest developments in your field, seek input from your colleagues on your own professional projects, and get a break from the daily routine of the lab.  However, with a little preparation, conferences can also be a great place to advance your professional career and increase your standing in the scientific community.   Here are a few things you should do before leave for the airport, to make sure you get the take advantage of every opportunity the event has to offer.

Study the Program – Technical and Social

Read through the conference program before your leave, and determine which technical sessions, and which social events, you want to attend.  Some may require early registration and payment, but others will be more flexible.  Add the drop-in sessions to your calendar, so you will have the information handy when the time comes to choose what you are going to do for the evening.

Set Your Schedule

Search your address book for friends who live in the area of the conference, or other colleagues who might be attending.  Contact them in advance and arrange to get together for dinner, drinks or coffee.  While you want to leave some free time for spontaneous activities, you also want to take advantage of temporary geographic proximity to catch up with old friends and reconnect.  A few minutes spent chatting with a colleague in person can provide more information, and a stronger connection, than many months of emails or phone calls.

Update Your Social Media Profiles

You will be meeting and connecting electronically with many new people at the conference, so you want to make a good first impression.  Freshen up your social media profiles on and the ACS Network.  Read them as if you knew nothing about yourself, and see if they describe the professional you currently are, including your technical and nontechnical skills and interests.

Prepare Business Cards

When you meet those new people, you want to give them a quality business card, so they have your contact information in a tangible form.  Make sure you have enough cards to last through the entire meeting, and make sure the content is still accurate and complete.  In addition to addresses, many business cards now include bullet points listing areas of expertise, and they often include information on both sides.

Practice Your Elevator Speech

When you meet someone new, one of the first questions they probably ask is “Who are you?” or “Tell me about yourself”.  While your nametag will display your name and institution, you need to prepare an answer that goes beyond your job title, to sum up who you are and what you can do and a couple of sentences.  It should be both succinct and memorable.

Conferences are a great way to not only learn about the latest scientific developments, but also to strengthen connections with existing colleagues and make new connections.  By preparing ahead of time, and actively seeking opportunities, you can greatly enhance your personal and professional outcomes.

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.