Career Coach takes your questions

Jan 09, 2013

With an unemployment rate of 7.8 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 January online chat. I hope the New Year is starting out great for you in terms of your professional and personal lives.

I look forward to receiving your questions, and to seeing your insights and ideas to help each other with job and career-related concerns.


J. Russell

I work at a university as a staff member on a research study. My fiance and I are planning a move to another city in the next 6 months. As I start updating my resume and getting in touch with contacts about positions in our new city, is there anything I should keep in mind about how to gracefully leave my current position? I do great work and have always had stellar reviews and I know my office will be in a bind when I leave until they can replace me. This is my first job and so I want to make sure I do everything I can to make the tranisition as smooth as possible for myself and as easy as possible for my team. We have a great relationship and I want to preserve it after I'm gone. Thanks!

What a thoughtful question! I am sure your employers will appreciate anything you can do to ease their transition. Once you get that next job, you should make sure to let your employers know (hopefully with advanced notice) about your needing to move. Generally, their biggest concerns are how to handle the transition from one person to the next. Maybe you can map out a plan for how you can continue to work until the next person is up and running. This would mean letting them know with enough advanced notice so that they can hire someone new (maybe you can help to recommend people or interview folks), and help to train the new person. You are not required to do any of these things, but they do show that you value the firm and are trying to ease their concerns about the transition. Good luck!

Here is a situation in which my immediate manager is doing something that's not effective. I tried talking with her about it to no avail. I went to her supervisor in confidence and her supervisor felt that she would be micro-mangaging, something she will not do. What my supervisor is doing is not illegal or anything like that, but just ineffective in reaching our goals. So how do I convince her supervisor that she wouldn't be micro-managing, but leading, by stepping in? There seems to be these relationships among managers in that they don't want to step on each other's toes for fear of violating another manager's pride. What can an employee do?

Great question, and you are right - often higher-level managers don't want to get involved for fears of being seen as micromanagers. Yet, sometimes they need to be involved to share feedback or insights on what one of their direct reports needs to do. You did not mention if the higher-level boss sees the issue as a problem like you do. They would have to really see the issue as important to step in. Do they see it as that important or as a minor issue? 

Are there other peers of yours who feel the same way as you do? If so, sharing this with the higher-level manager (having several of you talk to her) might be helpful in getting her to understand that she needs to take action. Or, could several of you directly talk to your supervisor and share your thoughts? Not just the problems, but some solutions or suggested ideas and strategies for what could be done differently? Sometimes it takes several people's feedback for a person to change what they are doing. Best of luck.

I've recently earned a doctorate in a one of the liberal arts, and I am having a rough time finding a job. While an academic job would be ideal, it's unlikely to happen for a variety of reasons. I know that most businesses have little use for a professional historian, but I've got research, writing, analytic, and teaching skills that can be put to use in almost any field. The trouble is, I am having no luck on the job market. Most people see Ph.D. on the application and stop there, assuming I'll be too expensive or overqualified. Any suggestions, beyond leaving the degree off my resume?

Congratulations on getting your doctorate! That is a great accomplishment. After all that work, I would not start out by leaving the degree off of  your resume. Not just yet.

You did not explain why you went to school to get a doctorate. What type of job were  you hoping to do? Was it an academic job? Teaching job? Research job?  What were your initial thoughts? Usually people do not go on for a doctorate without a plan for why they want it. Why is a career in academia out of the question? 

If an academic career is unlikely, what is it that you specifically like to do? Is it the teaching? Research and publishing? Mentoring others? Think about this and this will help you determine what types of careers to follow.

Also, I am assuming your degree was in history.  If so, what about research positions for the government or various research labs or institutions? There are plenty of research firms. Or, some history majors work as historians for various governmental agencies. Have you looked into this?

What about teaching? Now that you have your doctorate, were you interested in teaching at a research school or a teaching school? Schools vary in terms of their focus on research and teaching. Depending on your interest and skills, you could look at research universities or 2-year colleges, etc. There are numerous types of academic institutions out there.

It seems you need to talk to more people who have a doctorate in your career field to find out the types of jobs they have, and what possible contacts and networks they can help you with. Good luck!

I am a paralegal. Our practice group has been in managerial disarray for some time and I cannot decide whether to stick it out or leave. I've been here for 10 years and don't lack for things to do; in fact, I'm swamped and have been for a while. One of the problems is that the partners can't manage to agree on what level of person to hire (entry-level assistant or someone more senior). What do you think? Thank you.

I am assuming the issue is what level of person to hire to help with your extra work? Whether this new hire should be an entry-level person or more senior person? What is  your opinion on this issue? I ask because if they are not sure, then perhaps this is a good opportunity for you to show some initiative and offer your ideas on what type of hire they should make. If they hire a new person, would that person report to you? If they hire a more senior person, how would that impact you and your job? Would you report to the new, more senior person? 

Given these questions, I think you should really think about what YOU would want to happen. Do you want managerial responsibilities over someone new and less experienced? You did not say if you already have individuals reporting to you. Do you feel like there are aspects of the job that you do not want to do (more advanced work in terms of office maangement, etc) that a more senior person could handle? I really think this is an opportunity for you to think about the office and what would work best for the office and yourself, and then offer your views. Sometimes higher-level managers appreciate and value the input we give about office management issues.

I also would suggest that if you are thinking of leaving the firm, try to job hunt and get a new job lined up BEFORE you leave the firm (if possible). It is far easier to find a new job while you are currently employed, than if  you are unemployed. Best of luck!

I've begun seeing a trend in recent years where employers will look at an applicant's credit report to verify employment history. I have a slight problem, though--my employment history isn't on my credit report. At all. The reason for that is, I've only ever had one credit card, which I started in college--well before I began accumulating an employment history--and I've had no need to apply for additional lines of credit since then. The upside to that is that I have a credit score most people would kill for; the downside is that my credit report is VERY bare-bones. With all that in mind, is there a way for me to get my employment history on my credit report WITHOUT applying for additional lines of credit? It seems redundant to me to obtain additional credit (which I don't need) just to get my employment history on my report, but at the same time, I want to be able to provide employers a method by which they can verify my employment history. (Calling up old employers isn't really an option, though, because several of those companies have either been liquidated outright or been absorbed by other companies over the last decade.) Thanks!

Great question and an unusual dilemma you are facing. I would agree with you that getting more credit cards is not really the solution here, and you should feel great that you have not had to deal with that problem (too many credit cards, debt, etc.).

You did not say what industry your work is in, although you did mention it might be tough for them to verify where you previously worked. I am assuming your resume details all of your previous jobs. Have you put down the original name of the firm and its current name (if you know it)? Employers today would not be that surprised by firms that have merged or been acquired. If you can indicate both names of the firm (when you worked there and what it is called now) that might help. You can also list previous supervisors for those jobs (if you want). 

Also, do you have any other records substantiating your employment? You did not say how far back you have worked, so maybe you still have old pay stubs or employment letters? Although, if your jobs were a while ago, these might be harder to come by. 

Readers, any other thoughts?

Try looking in other places that you might not originally considered. For example, the National Park Service has historians because a lot of the parks preserve historic sites. Chances are your state has historic sites also. It might just mean thinking out of the box.

I agree. Good suggestion. Historians are needed in so many areas that we don't first think about. Finding out what some history majors did with their degrees (from schools) is also very helpful. It gives you ideas for other careers to consider.

I am a 2007 college graduate with Communications and Marketing B.S. degree (3.69 GPA) looking for advice on obtaining a job in the U.S. Since graduation I have negotiated contracts and competed in professional athletics internationally. How do I parlay this athletic business experience into a career in a "traditional" job role? I fear I may not be granted opportunities due to lack of "transferrable skills".

You did not mention where you graduated from. I am assuming a non-U.S. school since you said you wanted to get a job in the U.S. How does your resume look? What about your LinkedIn profile or other social media profile? Make sure all of these are up-to-date and professional. 

You also did not say what type of job you were looking for or in what industry. I would imagine PR firms, communications firms, the sports apparel industry, etc., would all be natural fits for you. In this case, your previous expertise as an athlete would come in handy. What about contacts you may have from your professional sports days? Can you use them for networks and job hunting? Generally, many in sports have contacts that can help them in other disciplines. Make sure all of these contacts know what you are looking for and by when. 

If you are looking for a career in a totally different field, then it might be tougher to show transferability. But, you can still do it. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor has a site called Career OneStop where you can see career fields relevant and training needed for those careers. The National Business Services Alliance also has a job match survey that you can take (Job Match) to help you figure out how your work interests relate to various jobs (where the best fit is). Take advantage of these resources so that you can show potential employers that your skills are transferable. Good luck!

Hi Joyce, I am currently starting my own business, but will need to maintain my full-time job until I'm generating enough income to make the leap. Any tips on maintaining focus at my current job while moving the new venture along? I'm good at my job and have great relationships here, so I"m not concerned about being a lackluster employee, I just don't want to get sidetracked and short change my current employer. Thanks!

This is something that has become much more commonplace among employees - wanting to start their own businesses while still employed. I agree that you want to stay employed until you can financially make the new move. Do you have any potential partners or others who will be working with you? If so, it would be good to determine how to split the work on the "new business" up so that you can all maintain your current jobs. If you do not have others you are working with, you might consider this, even if it is just one person. It can make a difference in terms of your workload.

Of course, whether you have partners or not, it is tough to stay focused when you are excited about a new venture. You really have to be disciplined regarding how you will use your time. Some people only work on their new firms at night or weekends, so that they can maintain focus on their jobs during the day. It also depends on how busy you are at your current job. Obviously, if you are really busy at work, you would not be tempted to do anything on your new business while at work. 

Develop a timeline for what needs to be done in the new business (there are plenty of books detailing starting new businesses). Then, make sure an experienced person has looked it over to give you some realistic feedback on your plan. Having a plan and timeline and sticking to it is what is critical here. Also, get some feedback from other entrepreneurs as to a timeline and how they handled this issue. Generally, they have great ideas about balancing the current job and new venture. At some point, you will have to make the break in order to spend more time building your new business. Best of luck.

I was in a similar situation as the recent PhD a few years ago. I was applying for jobs that didn't require a PhD, but certainly required a lot of the skills I developed while getting my PhD. One tip that someone gave me is to include a section titled 'skill summary' at the top of my resume before my work history. Mine consisted of a bullet list of very specific job-related skills. This highlights all the great skills you have and demonstrates that PhD skills overlap with job skills. The point is so that the employer has this in mind before he/she starts reading about the mundane details of your work history.

Great tip from this reader. Having a summary of qualifications at the top of the resume is a great idea for people with more work experience. Thanks for sharing!

What actions can you recommend taking for a federal employee who could, potentially, be facing losing their job because of the sequestration? What should they be doing now vs (if it happens) when laid off?

Good question. I always suggest that everyone should have an updated resume so that they are marketable at all times. It's not that we want to leave our firms, but we need to be prepared and realistic about how we are viewed in today's marketplace. So, first I would make sure your resume has been recently updated. I would also check your online identity based on your social media site (e.g., LinkedIn). What do your network or connections look like?  You will want to have a presence in social media so you can more quickly call out to your network. Attend professional meetings or conferences if you are not already doing this, just so you can connect with individuals in your field.

If  you have worked for your employer for a while, make sure that others (from other firms or agencies) know who you are. Attending meetings builds your presence and network. Spend a little time each week looking at new opportunities for jobs just to see what is out there. Make sure your skills are current (do you need to take any additional training or certification courses to get up to date?). There are so many ways of enhancing skills these days (from regular courses in colleges to online opportunities for continuing education), that it would be good to have relevant skills.

All of these strategies are things you can do to better position yourself for reentering the market and for knowing what else is out there. This is important whether you lose your job or not. It  is always important to be marketable and current with your skills and expertise. It also gives you good insight about what you want to do in your career. Sometimes doing this research helps people see that they may want to consider a new career path or that they really enjoy the type of work they currently have.

I've been a freelance editor and writer for about ten years. Because I work alone I don't really have a career path, per se. But I still want to keep current in my field (online education); I think that attending a conference might be a good idea. Any other suggestions on how to manage the freelance career so that you don't stall out?

Great question. Do you regularly meet with other people in your field? This might be a good idea, whether by person or online - just to see what they are doing and to make more connections. You might also try to find a mentor in your field. Is there someone you look up to that you might be able to follow up with to periodically ask their advice and suggestions? Often, this is a good way to gain advice in your own field. Or, you can also see what good role models are out there in your field (well-known editors) and do some research to find out how they stay current. Education and professional meetings are certainly one way, but there may be others. 

Hi, thanks for taking my question! I pursued a PhD because I wanted to be a history professor. So, ideally, I want an academic job. Now, a variety of factors make it unlikely: The job market is terrible. There were 6 or 8 tenure-track job openings in my field this year nationwide, and each one gets hundreds of applicants. My husband has an excellent career in an area with very few universities (we're not quite in the boonies, but it sure seems like it), and I do not want to uproot my children unless I get a comparable job (see reason 1). I like both teaching and research, and I've been teaching part-time at community colleges, but even those adjunct jobs are sparse around here. I don't live in the D.C. area, unfortunately, so government work is unlikely, although I would love to work in a think tank. I think my biggest problem right now is location, and unfortunately, I'm not in a position to do much about that right now.

I understand. What about research jobs that do not require that you be "on site"? This might be a possibility. I would reach out to firms you are really interested in (even if they are in different locations from where you live) to see about this possibility.

Also, it is good that you have been teaching part-time at local colleges. Have you thought about also teaching for online schools (just to gain more experience)? While none of this is ideal relative to a tenure track academic position, it would be better to do work related to your future than to do unrelated work. At least you can show how you gained relevant work experience.

Also, what about doing research with faculty at a nearby university? You did not say if you live near the school you got your degree from. If so, you could try to volunteer (or do part-time research work) with some of those professors. If you hope to move into academia someday, having teaching and research experience will both be important to have. Plus, you would have references - people who can speak to your work ethic and contributions.

Also, when teaching part-time, you can be persistent about trying to turn those part-time opportunities into a more full-time position, even if it is as a lecturer. This might also gain you benefits if you work full-time. Good luck!



Do you have any advice for how to approach planning my career for the next 5 years or so? I've always had some sort of plan in mind, but for the first time I don't, and I'm starting to feel that I could spend the next decade spinning my wheels in place. I'm in my early-30s, masters degree, and have been with my company for over six years and in my current position for two. While I love my company and the work, I have some concerns about my long-term future here (little potential for advancement, long hours but low pay, burnout), but that's as far as I get in my though process! Can you recommend any guides or books that could help me think this through?

This is something we can all use help with since we get in a pattern and wonder sometimes where we are going. It really goes back to purpose and your mission. There are several books that you can look at to help with this. One is "The Power of Purpose," which helps you to define your purpose and whether what you are doing is lining up with it. Another popular career book is "What Color is your Parachute?" It is published every year and offers practical ideas for figuring out what you want to do next. There are also plenty of Web sites devoted to examining your career choices, although these can be overwhelming since there is so much information out there. See for some tips.

You could also see if there is someone at your firm or a related firm that can provide mentoring for you. Find someone with more experience who is open to talking with you and listening to your thoughts (with using this at your job). Most mentors, if they are good, really help to develop someone and give them things to think about with their careers. Start by identifying someone at your firm who is successful and who you feel would offer constructive ideas. Then, approach them and let them know you hold them in high regard and were wondering if you might be able to periodically chat with them about careers in order to gain their insights. Most people are flattered by this and are willing to help. Best of luck!

Thank you readers for your great questions and for also sharing your own insights to assist each other. I know we all really appreciate this. Keep those questions coming since our next online career chat is Wednesday February 13, 2013. Also, follow my career tips each Monday in the Capital Business Section of the Washington Post. 


J. Russell

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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