Career Coach takes your questions

Feb 08, 2012

With an unemployment rate of 8.3 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 to another edition of our online Career Coach chat. Feel free to send questions about career issues, negotiations, or other job-related concerns you may have. I look forward to seeing your questions!


J. Russell

I recently interviewed with another agency in another city. Any idea how long it takes to transfer from one Federal agency to another? Is downgrade advisable?

It really depends on the agency. It could take a while or be done quickly depending on their needs for a replacement. If you can avoid a downgrade it is in your best interest since your future employment will be based on your current salary and position title, etc.

I started a job six months ago that is a long distance from my home. The commute is over an hour. When I interviewed with the company, they told me they have a variety of flex schedule and telecommute options, so the distance would not be an issue. I made it clear in the interview that I could only make the position work if I could telecommute at least three days per week. They said this was not an issue, and even showed me, in the employee policy manual, that such schedules were permitted.


When I accepted the position, I reiterated, via email, that I planned to telecommute three days per week. They said I would need to complete a six month probationary period before that would be permitted. I said that was fine. Now that my six months have been completed they have denied my request for telecommute. The issue is not my performance--my six month review put me in the "high performer" category. They said they reviewed my request and have decided I don't "need" to telecommute. (They also implied that perhaps if I had children they would feel differently.) Obviously, I am furious, but that is not my question. My question is, I have no intention of staying with this company if they will not let me telecommute as agreed.


So, should I quietly start looking for a new position, or do you think it is worth revisiting this issue with HR and explicitly saying that I will plan to leave the company if this is not resolved? I don't want to make myself vulnerable to any potential layoffs and I really would be willing to stay on if they honored our original agreement.

Great question. I am sure you are upset about this since you took the job under one set of circumstances and now they have changed those with you. It sounds like you worked the past 6 month probationary period full time right? If so, they now probably feel like you can do this (since you already demonstrated that you could do it without telecommuting). I would definitely revisit this issue with HR.


First, you should look at your options if they don't agree with you. Think about (and have a plan) for what you will do if they don't allow you to telecommute. For example, maybe you will stay there, but also look for other employment. Remember that it is always easier to find a new job while you have a current job.


Once you have figured out your options I would set up a meeting with them to discuss this issue. Find out from their perspective why it is difficult to allow you to telecommute. Maybe ask "can you help me understand why telecommuting would be difficult to do". Listen to their views about this since it is important for you to know what they are thinking before you can get them to change their mind. Then, depending on what they tell you, you will need to be firm about reminding them about your previous agreement. Regardless of what happens in that meeting, don't make a decision at that point. See what your other options are. Best of luck!

Hi! thanks for taking my question. I am part of a 1.5 year training program where I rotate through different divisions before being permanently placed in one of them. It is designed just as much to help entry-level people gain skills (the benefit to me) as it is to encourage cross-pollination across divisions.


The problem: I've learned that I don't really like this company. The people are very nice, but the management is disfunctional and, quite frankly, the kind of work I've been doing isn't anywhere near what I thought it'd be. I know I don't want to stay here, and the longer I do, the harder it will be to get back to the kind of work I want to do. With the market being what it is, I don't want to tip my hand that I'd probably take the first job in my desired field, but I also feel guilty about having certain divisions lobby to have me placed there (which they will do because hiring is tight and I wouldn't add any money to the budget).


Is there a way to manage my desire to leave (and soon) with the knowledge that people are investing in me and putting their necks out for me? If I let slip that I want to leave, news will spread fast and could make it very difficult for me to finish the program and stay until I have another job.

This is really a tough situation to be in. You did not say how far along you are in the 1.5 years of the program. I think it would be great for you to stay the full time in the program - it gives you great experience and shows loyalty to a firm (for at least this long). In the meantime, I would also be looking at other possibilities since you said you don't think you want to stay in this firm. You really don't have much choice at this point about whether people refer to their particular job areas. I would NOT tell them you are planning to leave at this point, unless of course you are almost done your 1.5 year term. If you just started, then it might be okay to just let them know you are open to any possibilities. Remember, stay employed to get employed! Good luck.

Leaving it blank was not an option. Much harder to leave info blank when almost everyone requires you to apply online. The form would not let you advance to the next field withouth filling something in and it had to be using numerals only...So given that, how is it best to respond?

With salary, the first choice is to leave blank what you currently are making since it rarely is to your advantage to answer this question. If you can't leave it blank due to the online form, then you might be able to type in zeros or XXs to just be able to get to the next part of the application. They may still ask you about this later, but at least they would not initially screen you out.

I saw a movie last night: checked out from the library. The Company Men. Have you seen it? Corporate downsizing; massive layoffs; readjustments; outplacement services; grief; depression; foreclosure; garage sales; et al.


One good scene is Phil [played by very good actor, Chris Cooper, who is 3 months older than me]. Tried to hang on; goes into the outplacement office every day spending the depressing hours cold calling folks who now think he's a leper; moves onto drinking at bars during the day; denouement. Chris Cooper, Ben Afflect, Kevin Costner, Craig Nelson, Tommy Lee Jones. They bring it home. Worth a look to folks who can relate.

Yes, thanks for sharing. Definitely worth seeing since many can relate to it!

Bait-and-switch said, "They also implied that perhaps if I had children they would feel differently." Why oh why is telecommuting so frequently considered the God-given right of parents and denied to non-parents? I have decades of experience and have seen this repeatedly at different employers.

I understand - and there is plenty of research showing that telecommuting can be very advantageous for employers in keeping top talent, regardless of whether they have children or not. It shouldn't be related to parental status at all. In fact, legally those types of comments are very problematic.


Sometimes, sharing some of the research on the benefits of telecommuting can help move employers who are a little slower to make these changes. If you look at the SHRM or ASTD websites, you should gain some information on this. Best of luck!

I've been a self-employed consultant for over ten years. Over the past couple of years, I have gotten so busy that my work/life balance is way off kilter. I hire help when I can, but still find myself saying yes to projects and deadlines that I know will continue this trend of overworking. There's always a new client I want to please, or an old one I don't want to damage. And I always think "just wait until X month. Then I can breathe." But when X month gets here, so do more projects. Do you have any advice or resources on how to better manage my workload and deadlines as a self employed person?

This is understandable and unfortunately common for those who are self-employed. There are several things you can do. 1. make sure you have good project managment or time management skills. If not, get some training in this area. 2. Make sure you have the energy you need to fully tackle what you are doing. If you read the book "The Power of Full Engagement", you will see that it is not just about "time", but more about "energy". This means you need to be getting enough sleep, eating right, preserving your mental energy, etc. 3. I would also continue what you are doing in terms of delegation and empowering others to help you out. What about even getting someone to help with bookkeeping or filing or some of the administrative aspects of your job? Think about the parts of your job "that only YOU can do" and try to find others to do the rest. Maybe you are great at selling, but not so good at filing. Good luck!

I disagree. Most HR staff are so overwhelmed with resumes that they will use any excuse to weed folks out. Incomplete application? O. U. T.

I appreciate your comments, but it really depends on the employer. If the applicant is really strong, most HR people will not screen someone out for using XXs to indicate current salary. But, remember, the stronger the applicant, the more you can do this.

Hi Joyce, I have around 8 years experience in the IT field and I am not US citizen. I am a working Mom and interested in expanding my skill as a database developer. Could you please suggest a good online colleges to obtain a Masters degree in Database technologies?

Great for you that you are going back to school to expand your skills. What you might want to first do is give some thought to where you might want to work - which companies. Then, you might look to see where many of their current employees got their degrees. There are numerous online programs and plenty of good ones. I am assuming you want an online degree since this is the easiest way for you to manage your multiple roles (working, mother, etc). Do you have any connections to colleges or universities near you? Sometimes, you can ask career counselors or faculty in those schools about their specific recommendations for good online schools. But, definitely look to see what firms you would be most interested in working for. You would hate to get this degree and then learn that the 3 firms you most wanted to work for think lowly of where you got your degree. Best of luck!

I've been working hard at trying to improve my "personal brand" via LinkedIn and Twitter (using a separate, public profile to discuss my industry). I've also reached out to people via LinkedIn to talk with them about the field (and hopefully making some connections that would lead to a job). Some people have been very receptive, others not so much. Despite the fact that I write, in the request to connect, about myself, why I'm looking to connect, etc. How can I get more people to be willing to connect and talk to me?

Great start. Maybe our readers can also offer some additional tips regarding how they have learned to connect with others.


In addition to using Linked in, I would also think about joining professional associations for your area of specialization. Go to conferences and meetings to learn more about the area and to meet more people. This is a great forum for making connections. You can also look at events being held in colleges and universities since often they sponsor opportunities for individuals to network, etc. Good luck!

My husband left his government job after 7 years because he just got too stressed, unhappy, unmotivated and just didn't want to do that anymore. He's starting to worry that noone is going to hire him because what he did is only specific to that sector of the government and law firms (he doesn't want). His resume reads that way also. The problem is he's not sure what he wants to do, how do you suggest he go about finding something he'd love? He's read books based on his personality and talked to a career adviser once and both the adviser and books told him to be in the field he just quit. Suggestions on where to go next? We're well aware he'll be starting in a low level salary and that's fine but none of the companies will even look at his resume. This would be a full career change and we're not even sure of which companies to look at.

So, it sounds like he really needs to retool himself. If the books and career advisor sent him back to the career he was in (which he did not like), there must be certain aspects of that job that do agree with him. He needs to prepare a list of what he liked and disliked about that job. Maybe he actually liked the work, but not the company or those particular people. By really examining his past experience this will help prepare him for the future. Also, have him think about what he most enjoyed doing in his life (any job, even as far back as his younger days). Get him to think about what aspects he enjoyed - was it working outside, working with people, working with money, building a team, etc. He needs to think about those issues and make sure those become a part of any new job he gets. I think reading Bolles' book " What Color is your parachute?" might also help. He also needs to repackage his resume to list the skills he has. He will not be able to find a job in a new area (as a career switcher) if he keeps writing his resume in the old way. Maybe he needs to also ask other colleagues or people he has worked with what they think about areas he might go into.

So, you see, there are a number of things he can do to learn more about himself and repackage himself. Good luck!

I've reached out to a few of my dream companies to ask for informational interviews. I was successful in getting two for this week! Ultimately, I'd love for these to lead to a job opportunity, but I know that shouldn't really be my angle from the get-go. What kinds of questions should I be asking? How should I frame my desire to learn more about the company? How can I make myself appealing as a potential candidate for new opportunities?

Great job on your part! I would do as much research as possible on the firm before actually meeting with them. One of the biggest complaints employers have is that people don't know much about them. They get irritated about this since it is not that difficult to do. You can get on their website to learn more about who the key executives are, what their strategy and vision is, what businesses they are in, how their company is doing financially, etc. If you share some of this information with them, they will know you took the time to learn more about them, and will be impressed. But, don't just be superficial about this. Make sure you examine it carefully. Also, make sure you have specific questions you can ask them about the job, colleagues, etc. A lot of times applicants never ask any questions which looks odd to employers. Ask about their vision for the future. Ask about what they really love about their jobs. Show interest in what THEY are doing on their jobs. This goes a long way. Good luck in these interviews! a very good medium for exchange of ideas, job offers, et al. I get some of my engineering business proposals through it. And I'm the 60 year old engineer in private practice - who is 3 months younger than actor, Chris Cooper. Thanks much. HLB

Some feedback from a reader.

How do I start a conversation with my boss about how bad work is right now? We are completely overloaded with work with no end in sight. I'm working 60 to 70 hour weeks and don't see any chance for advancement? I don't mind doing the work if there is a light (or reward) at the end of the tunnel.

Good question and definitely a concern for you. I would first look at how hard your boss is working. You might start the conversation by pointing this out "looks like you are really working lots of hours, do you see this trend continuing?". Tone is really important here. You want to express concern and an attempt to really understand what is going on.


Then, you need to empathesize and indicate that these long hours are also true for you as well. You might try to learn why it is like this and if your boss sees any end in site. LISTEN to what your boss says. This will give you an idea of what is going on. Do you have any idea about how morale is at the firm? If it is not so good, you can point that out (due to the long hours) and even brainstorm with your boss about strategies for dealing with this.


Just some thoughts - but the key thing is to understand from your boss's view why things are like they are, when they might change, and if there is anything that can be done about it (e.g., getting additional help, etc). Use an understanding tone and spend a lot of time listening. What you learn can help in the next conversation you have with your boss.


I left DC to begin working for a federal agency with the idea that a later transfer to the DC metro region would be simple. However, in the last year, our department newsletter has occasionally announced that new hires would begin soon. However, I have not seen these jobs posted on or the internal website. Supposedly they hire through local schools and bar associations. How does an outsider get in the loop?

Can you find out who is writing this newsletter and ask them for more details? Or, ask dept. heads about what they know. You need to make sure you have a broad enough network through various departments to learn about these openings early. Often, they are not communicated easily so it is difficult to learn of openings. I would definitely first start with the person who wrote the articles. Good luck!

What's your advice for someone who is told that it's mandatory for her and the other female bartenders to wear short skirts and low-cut tops, otherwise they essentially lose their jobs? It's a supposedly family-friendly chain restaurant too (not Hooters).

Is there a written dress code that says women have to wear these outfits? If not, they really can't enforce this. In fact, if you are a good bartender (customers like you, ask for you by name when they arrive, sit near your section, etc), it won't matter what they say about your dress code since you are bringing in money. You might want to be able to point this out to them.  I would also chat with the other women bartenders and try to have a plan for all of you - if you all dress a certain way (the way YOU want to dress), then they will have less ability to press you about this. You can even try to get the male bartenders to support you on this. Usually, bartenders stick together.  As mentioned, if there is no explicit dress code, they can't enforce this and they are just trying to pressure you. Don't let them.

I've been a freelancer for almost ten years, so I feel your pain. I recently took on too much work for a period of several months. It was awful--I didn't see my husband or toddler and after the crunch ended, I had to take a week off because my hands hurt from so much typing. One thing you can do to get some work/life balance is make sure you leave the house every single day to exercise--getting out of your office is really important and so is the exercise.


Also, make sure to schedule time off and buy the tickets/make reservations immediately so that you're locked into going. Also, I've worked on many vacations, but make sure that at least one trip per year is technology-free so that you can really unplug.


As far as disappointing clients goes, as a freelancer, sometimes it's good to be unavailable. Hope this helps; good luck.

Great advice from this reader! Thanks. This is all part of the book "The Power of Full Engagement". I totally agree -  block out time for yourself -  especially sleep and exercise. It makes a HUGE difference!

I took quite a tumble salary wise in the last two years, but thankfully remained employed throughout. I am pursuing a potential new position and do not want to reveal my current salary, but something nearer what I used to earn. How best to handle?

I would try to avoid answering the question about your current salary. I know it is tough, but if you can avoid it, it helps. You can nicely let them know that it really isn't relevant since the work was different (if it was). What is most important is to look at market research for what you should be making now in the job you are looking at. There are numerous websites to help with this - check out,, among others.

Could you explain what you mean by this and your resoning?

If you currently have a job (yet want a new job), it is often better to stay in that job while you are looking for another job. Employers find you more attractive if someone else already has you. If you quit the job and start looking, there may be a gap in your resume and employers wonder about that. Plus, your negotiating leverage is much higher if you are currently employed as long as you don't tell them you are miserable at yur current job. Hope this helps.

I would love to contract with a government agency helping to develop online training and education (I've got over ten years in the field). Is there any place I can go to find such positions listed?

Sure. Check out the and websites as well as Department of Labor websites to look for those jobs. ASTD has lots of great information about the field of training and development. Good luck!


Thanks for all of your great questions today, and for sharing your ideas with each other. Our next online Career Coach chat will be Wednesday March 21st from 12-1. I look forward to hearing from you then!


J. Russell

Thanks so much for joining us today!


There were many leftover questions today that Joyce will answer next month, so tune in on March 21 for more career advice.


Submit questions for next month's chat here.


In the meantime, you can read Joyce's weekly column at

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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: