Career Coach takes your questions

Feb 13, 2013

With an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent, a little career advice never hurt anyone.

Career coach Joyce Russell discussed jobs, negotiations and salary issues. Ask questions and get advice now!

Want more? Read Joyce Russell's Career Coach columns.

Welcome readers to the February online chat. I look forward to taking your professional and career-related questions! Also, feel free to share your own expertise and insights with our readers!

J. Russell

Hi Joyce-- After taking some time off to travel, I'm looking to revamp my resume and thinking I could use professional help. Do you have any suggestions for a resume coach in the D.C. area?

Great that you are going to revamp your resume. Not sure you really need a coach just for this, although they can be helpful. There are plenty of great Web sites that give you tips on creating resumes that I think would help (careerbuilder.com, monster.com, etc.). You can also see some great examples in Knock 'em Dead Resumes, which you can find at most any book store.

Make sure it is concise, clear, that you proofread for spelling and grammatical errors (most people forget to do this and it really turns off employers), and that your information is 100% accurate. Often, employers will do verifications on resumes to make sure the information is truthful and accurate. So that is very important.

Best of luck!

I'm currently looking for a new job for multiple reasons. Our organization has management issues and we're not being very successful reaching our goals. Until I get a new job, I'm having a problem finding a balance between doing more than my responsibilities because these items need to be done and no one else is doing them and doing only my job as best I can and being okay with that. I'm not being rewarded or acknowledged in any way for the additional work I am doing. In fact, I feel taken for granted. I get stressed out taking on more work, but I also get stressed out watching things slide that should be done. I worry about the stability of the organization until I can land a new job. Any advice on how I should approach the situation until I can make a move?

First, it is great that you are bringing so much to the organization in terms of initiative and citizenship! I am sure your colleagues appreciate it, even if they don't tell you!

You mentioned management issues, but are you able to talk with your own boss about your work responsibilities? If not, is there an HR person or another manager you can speak with?  Not necessarily to complain, but to share your concerns about the organization and perhaps the structure of work? If so, perhaps you can get your job reclassifed to ensure that you are compensated or at least recognized for the additional work you are doing. Or, at least see what others think about the future of the firm. Often, other managers might know more about the firm's future and can let you know this.

You say you are job hunting and that sounds like a good thing for you to be doing, especially if you feel that the organization may not survive. You did  not mention if this is a small or large organization so it is hard to tell, but depending on the likelihood that the organization will not make it, it is important for you to ensure your own marketability. So, make sure your resume and networks are up to date, especially social networks.

But, first see if there is anyone within the firm you can talk with to gain their perspective. Good luck!

A relative is in town for a month to job search and says that if she doesn't get a job, she'll go back to her previous state. How do I convince her that a month is not that long to look for a job?

You are right - a month is really not very long at all to be looking for a job. Even students (whether undergrads or graduate) may spend several months job hunting. Also, it often takes longer when you go to a new state since you may not have as many personal contacts. Patience is key here, but so is quickly forming as many contacts and networks as possible. It also depends on the field in which she is looking for a job since this can impact how long it may take, and how important contacts are. You can research on various Web sites (e.g., glassdoor.com) to see what the market looks like for various employers, salaries in an area, etc. Maybe you can share this information with your relative.

So the obvious question has to be: What does the job market look like given the latest round of sequestration discussiond? While I am a contractor at a federal agency, I am seriously thinking about testing the waters right now because of the continued banter.

Great question. For some employers, I have heard they are really not that affected by the threat of sequestration and they say it is business as usual. For others in the government, they are hedging on hiring due to possible cuts. But many groups have already set up contingency plans for possible cuts or changes in jobs. I think it is always a good idea to have your resume ready and make sure you are marketable, so why not see what the market looks like? Of course, it depends on the industry you are in (i.e., is it a small world where everyone will know you have applied someplace else?). This is something you have to consider before applying. But, you can at least let people in the market know you are receptive to new opportunities. Sometimes, that gets the ball rolling for you.

I am debating moving into independent consulting. I'm confident that the number of potential clients I have lined up would make me able to have work for at least 12-15 days per month. However, I'm struggling to figure out how to set my daily rate. I'm single so would need to get my own health insurance but don't know how much that might cost (I'm healthy). I'm not sure what additional taxes I'd be paying when self-employed. Can you direct me to resources to help determine what "hidden" costs I will need to consider as well as how to calculate them? I'm cautious about taking this plunge but think it may be what I need in terms of career development. Thanks!

Great question. There are lots of resources out there to help individuals start their own businesses. They can help you figure all this out. Looking at resources provided by the U.S. Small Business Association or www.entrepreneur.com can be helpful. They actually provide step-by-step instructions for what you can do and what you need to think about. You might also want to join a consulting network to help you get the word out. You did not say what type of consulting work you would be doing, so that would be important in terms of which networks to join. I would also suggest spending some time talking to other independent consultants in your career field to learn their views of the "dos and don'ts" and "hidden" costs, etc. You'd be surprised at how willing others when it comes to sharing information. Good luck on your new venture!

I work for a small company and our president recently decided to change staff titles to better align with those of our clients. I was hired as a director (two years ago), but now I'm an associate. I have 14 years of experence and a master's degree. In my last job, I was assistant director, and I took this job as a step up. I do marketing, while others in my office do project work, so I feel like the president doesn't value my experience or degree in the same way he does the others (who manage billable projects). I am torn on whether to say anything because I don't think it will make any difference, and then he'll just see me as not a whiner. There are other issues (my job has also turned into a research position more than actual marketing) so I should probably start looking for something else anyway, but what do I do in the meantime? I do not plan on changing my title on LinkedIn or my resume, so hopefully this will not affect future employment applications. Any advice would be appreciated!

This is important to you and to the marketplace. It is not clear why the president felt it was necessary to change your title from director to associate director to appease clients. Usually, you would want higher-level titles to better match the hierarchy in the marketplace.

I would definitely have this conversation with your president since it is important to you and how valued you feel at your job. It also seems important to see how the president sees your job now, since it sounds like the scope has changed. This is important for you to clarify since you may decide you like the new changes or you don't. But, it is best to be clear. Don't feel bad about asking. If you say in a professional manner, "I wanted to meet with you to better understand what you see as the new scope and responsibilities of my job since it seems to have changed,"  this can be viewed positively. 

Before you have that conversation, you could do some market research to see what others in similar jobs are called and what their responsibilities are. Most Web sites on jobs (careerbuilder.com, glassdoor.com) can share that information with you and it would be helpful for you to know all this before you meet with your president.

Definitely have the conversation, but think it through first!

I went for an interview two weeks ago and the application asked for my Social Security number as well as the years I attended high school and college. As I am 60 years old, I refused to put the years down and explained to the interviewer that legally, he cannot ask for that or my Social Security number without offering me the job. He agreed that the social security number was not necessary, but claimed that since his company has less than 10 employees, he is allowed to ask my age. True?

If the company has fewer than 15 employees, then they are not covered by the EEOC.  So, technically, he is right about this. But, the real question is why would he even care about asking you this? And would you want to work at a firm that is pressing you on this topic?

I tell  applicants that when you get some of these "questionable" requests, that you might want to nicely deflect by asking them a question.  For example, if they ask you to put down your age or years of graduations, you can say" If you are asking me to verify that I completed school and got my degrees, I am happy to get the schools to send my transcripts or to let you know I completed the programs." Likewise, if they ask about your parental status, you could say "If you are asking if I can travel or work on weekends or nights, I am able to do that." The reason I suggest this is that many applicants feel worried about confronting potential employers (since they want a job), yet by redirecting the question, they feel better about saying something.

You are right to be concerned. Generally, we would not advocate that an employer ask about your graduation dates or age, regardless of the size of the firm. I also agree with your attempt to leave that material blank on the form since it is really not relevant to the job, unless, of course, it is a job where there is an age mandate (e.g., flying, driving, etc.), and they have a legitimate reason for asking. Sadly, some smaller sized firms ask all sorts of things because they can get away with it, and this turns off potential employees who could bring a lot of value to the firm.

I am a disabled man. Permanently disabled. I am able to work 20-30 hour a week in spite of severe pain. I want to work even though I do get a disablilty check. Do you know of any programs with companies for hiring disabled people? I have a spinal cord injury and am unable to walk. I have a great background, 20 years experience, and worked in corporate jobs before I was injured. I was to start a new job the day after I was hit by a car.

Wow - what great motivation and dedication you bring to the workplace!

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability employment (ODEP) has a great Web site that offers lots of great tips, advice and information about employers for those with disabilities. Check it out for more information on the best places to work. Good luck!

I work for a health-care provider that runs numerous campaigns throughout the year (employee benevolent fund, United Way, bake sales for nursing scholarships, etc.). While it is stated that employees are not required to participate in these various campaigns, departments are recognized for 100 percent participation. The certificates are framed and proudly displayed in my department. Not only can I not afford to support every endeavor, I already support other charitable organizations outside the workplace. But since I am on a team of three people, my lack of participation will mean the department does not get a 100% participation recognition. I am feeling pressured to take part. How should I handle this?

This is a tough issue. What if you talked with the manager or HR person to see which of the charities are most critical for the firm to support? This might help you narrow it down.

The other thing to remember is that the dollar amount often is not important, but what is important is the 100% participation. So, if possible, you might be able to just give $1.00 to show that you contributed and the team still gets the 100 percent. While that may seem strange, sometimes outsiders measure a firm by the percent of employees who contribute, not the actual dollar amount. The firms that have higher percentage participations can sometimes get more money from outside agencies, etc., so there is some benefit to your firm. But, I would definitely see what you can learn from an HR person about the various charities. Maybe the firm needs to also look at all the events it sponsors to see how to streamline them so it's not such a burden on employees, especially during tough financial times.

I'm in a bit of a pickle and am having a hard time explaining why I want to leave a terrible job (in a professional manner) that I recently started. Normally, I'm great at interviews, but I can hear myself sounding whiny and unprepared. Are there professional interview coaches out there? Any good resources?

Yes, there are. What is most important is to script out your thoughts and to have someone practice with you. Even if you don't use a professional coach, you can still have a friend ask you questions. You can also videotape yourself when they are asking questions to see how you come across. This is a really good idea so that you can see how you come across (eye contact, tone of voice, positivity, etc.). I would check resources on conducting good interviews (there are plenty of Web sites that address what questions you might be asked, how you can answer. And really practice answering those questions with taping. This will be a great first step to see how you come across. Good luck!

I am attorney who left my job last year because it was making me miserable. I am now looking for an in-house position (I was previously an associate at a law firm). I have worked with my professional contacts to no avail. So, I am now simply applying to positions I have found online. I am trying not to be discouraged, but the rejections are tough. I am open to moving and I thought that would help my job search, but I wonder if potential employers would bother interviewing someone that lives in another state. Any suggestions for reinvigorating my job search?

What about networks you belong to? Both professional associations and social networks? You really need to reach out to people directly to let them know you are looking. Searching online can be very slow and frustrating. Can you join any other clubs or organizations to meet more people in your field? What about reaching out to friends or colleagues via Linked In or some other format like that? Looking in another state does give you more flexibility, but you almost need to be there to meet with people. Try to make some connections in that state so you can meet with employers there. Good luck!

Thank you readers! Great questions today. I look foward to hearing more of your career and professional questions in our next online chat on Wednesday March 13th starting at noon. Have a great month!

In This Chat
Joyce E.A. Russell
Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist.
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