Career Coach takes your questions

Feb 19, 2014

Whether you work in a cubicle or a corner office, an assembly line or a sales floor, everyone could use a little career advice now and then. Our career coach, Joyce Russell, is here to help you solve your workplace conundrums, from how to ask for a promotion to how to deal with a difficult boss. Ask her your question now!

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

Welcome to our February online chat. Amidst all the snow and crazy weather, there are still lots of questions about jobs, careers, and workplace issues. I'm looking forward to reading your questions and comments today!



I've just started a new job and I've recently discovered that some of my coworkers are taking advantage of my state's lax concealed weapon laws and bring their own personal firearms to the office. As a child I was a victim of gun violence and this makes me very uncomfortable. If I'm seeing red flags like this, is that a sign that perhaps this isn't the work environment for me?

I would certainly check with your Human Resources staff to see what they think and what the policy in the firm is. You could also bring this up to higher-level management. Sometimes, employees get lax on a variety of  issues and need to be reminded of the firm's policies. Understandably, this is important to you and you should raise this with HR. Learning their responses or those of higher-level managers will let you know if this is indeed the firm for you to want to work at.

Thanks for this column ~ much needed! Several years ago I left full-time work due to health reasons and parlayed a hobby into work (or at least tried!). I've been making some money, but not enough, and I've learned that I don't love entrepreneurship. The truth is, I'd like a steady paycheck and to focus my energy on my work, not on looking for work. I'm applying for jobs and sometimes get interviews. Often I'm questioned about why I want to go to work -- wouldn't it be hard to change from working for myself to working for someone else. I know it's the right step. What answers can I provide that will quell fears and inspire trust?

Thanks for your kind words about the column.

About your interviews - I think when people know you have been an entrepreneur, they often do ask questions about how you will make the adjustment back to working for others again. They sometimes mistakenly assume you can not work for others. I think you could proactively come up with a response that you can use. Maybe let them know (before they ask) that you have tried your hand at running your own company, but learned that while you enjoyed all of the challenges, etc, that you also learned that you also really enjoyed and missed the opportunity to be part of a team or work with others. Something to this effect might work. But, you need to be proactive about addressing this, and not just wait for them to ask you. Best of luck.

I haven't been able to find a job in my field. (I hold a Bachelors and Masters degrees in it and have been out of school for 10 years). I've been actively searching for jobs, and all seem to want a minimum of 2-3 years of experience/internships/etc. Within the last year, I had a DUI. How does this now affect my job search? What can I do to let employers know it was a stupid mistake, I've taken the steps to correct my issues, and I've moved on? I feel that once employers look at my background, they'll see that and will make quick judgments and won't even consider me. I thought I was having a tough time before, but now it's even more difficult. Can you share some advice?

Do you also have some good references? Some folks that can call the firms you are interested in to vouch for your work ethic and successful performance? Sometimes this can be very helpful because it shows that others have found your performance to be exemplary. Also, very few individuals often call employers (proactively) to speak on someone's behalf so this might be viewed in a very positive way (i.e., someone would take the time to reach out about you).

You also mentioned that companies want a minimum of 2-3 years of experience and you said you have been out of school for 10 years. So, don't you have at least the 2-3 years they are looking for? Or, did you switch career fields? This is not clear.

I do think having strong references that you can ask to reach out to employers for you will really help in  your case. Best of luck.

I am a financial executive with over 30 years experience, that has been unable to find a job at my level for over a year. How do I market myself to avoid the age discrimination issue? Should I look at other professions at this point?

I wouldn't necessarily look at other professions at this point. Have you had someone review your resume and practice interviewing with you? I have worked with many executives who have been with one firm for a long time and when they have decided to move firms, their resumes were pretty out-of-date (just because they never had to update them). Try to get a professional to look over all your materials (resume, cover letter, social media site, etc.) to make sure it all looks as it should. 

Also, are you up on social media sites like LinkedIn? Are you attending professional conferences and networking events? Having more experience means it is critical for you to use personal contacts and networking to help you find employment opportunities.  

I think you have to sell your experience and you may need to enter the market at a different level than you were before (especially if you are switching careers). But, the best thing to do is to meet with a career coach or someone to review your materials. Good luck!

I work in a very small office with no current leadership in this country. One staff member uses vulgar and abusive language toward other staff members and outside contractors. Out-of-country (read: not under U.S. rule) superiors say to "just ignore it." The troubled staffer is a political appointee. I am looking for other employment but am wondering how to word my reasons for leaving. Any input greatly appreciated. Also, worth filing an EEOC complaint?

Sorry you are experiencing this. There is more and more being written today about incivility in the workplace, and vulgar language comes in to play here. The standards from years past no longer apply today in terms of this issue. While it used to be more acceptable for bosses or employees to use abusive language, that is not what is considered appropriate today in most firms.

Of course, you would not really file an EEOC complaint unless you could make a charge about harassment in the workplace. I would suggest checking out the  Web site for more details and information to see if you have a case that is worth pursuing.

To your point about how to word your reasons for leaving, you could just meet with HR (if they have HR) to verbally have an "exit" interview. Many firms do this to learn why you are leaving. Rather than put your reasons in writing, you could share them with the HR person. But, I think it depends on where you go next in your job. Would you need some of your current employees or bosses to write or give recommendations for you? This might determine what you will say. Some people prefer not to say much about reasons for leaving so that they won't burn any bridges. 

Sadly, many people are often not truthful in exit interviews or what they give as their reasons for leaving a firm since they are worried about potential backlash. This means the firm does not get the information it really needs to make improvements. Best of luck here.

Hi Dr. Russell. I'm an MBA student currently searching for internships. I have received a very generous--but below market--offers, according to salary Web sites. I wanted to know if it is appropriate to negotiate. I know you should negotiate with a full-time employer, but was unsure of the 'rules' with internships. Any help is appreciated!

Great question! Yes, it is fine to negotiate for higher salaries when negotiating for internships. Many have done this and been successful. Plus, if done nicely (professional tone and style), then the worst thing that can happen is they will say "no". But, at least you would have tried, plus you would have set the stage with them for future conversations (if you get a full-time offer down the road they will know that you will at least ask questions about the offer which is good for you). 

You would want to learn your school's data from the previous year (as to what other MBAs got from their internships in your field), you would want to look at other market data (do you know others who got offers from that same firm and how much their offers were for?), and you also want to think about why YOU should be given more money. Armed with all of this information, I would encourage you to set up a phone call or meeting in person to discuss the offer. I strongly suggest NOT doing a salary negotiation via e-mail. The odds are high in that type of negotiation that they will not do much, if anything, for you.

Script out how you will approach this conversation with them. You might first ask them "how they arrived at their offer" just to learn what factors they took into consideration. If you have other different salary data, you could share that. Or, if you feel that you are different from other students (more work experience, more leadership, higher GPA, etc.), then you could point this out to them. The bottom line is that you need a reason for why you should get more - not just because you want more.

Once you see whether they are able to move on salary, you can then also bring up other factors. If they can't do much on salary, maybe they are willing to look at the start date or location or housing, etc. There are plenty of other things to also look at. But, don't bring those up until you have first addressed the salary issue.

Good luck!

Dr. Russell -- From your position as b-school vice-dean, you're bound to have a strong grasp of current trends in the consulting industry. While I have my own opinions (being a media-vertical IT consultant with a large firm), I'd like to hear your views, and how you think these trends may impact or change entry-level and mid-level hiring -- as such, I'm curious also what the b-school is advising MBA grads w/r/t consulting firms. Thanks in advance & "Fear the Turtle!" John Cartwright, R.H. Smith MBA 2002

Dear John:
Wonderful to hear from you! Thanks for being a great alum! Yes, "fear the turtle" for sure! Our own consulting career coaches are outstanding and could answer this question really well.  Let me also take a stab at it.

Generally, many MBA programs focus on strategy consulting, HR consulting and IT consulting. These will probably continue to be popular. I would agree that you are in a good area - the focus on IT is still strong, especially those able to handle Big Data and analytics. Fields in IT security for businesses are also hot areas given all the emphasis on cybersecurity now for private employers (and not just government agencies). Health care consulting and really understanding aspects of health care are also important for employers today, and often very confusing with so much legislation. Areas of marketing such as e-commerce and analytics are also very important for consultants. More and more students want to get background or specialized degrees in marketing analytics.

Also, given the aging of the workplace, there is more focus on life management consulting, although I don't see many business schools focusing on this area (which is often studied more in schools with executive coaching or life coaching prorams).  Another idea would be for consultants to focus on niche markets - learning how to meet the needs of small and mid-sized businesses which are growing and could use assistance (since they may not be able to hire full-time employees).

Again, good to hear from you. Hope you are doing well!

I'm giving serious thought to changing careers (my current career has long, unpredictable hours, and I'm just tired of it), but I'm not sure how to go about doing it. Do you have any advice?

Do you want to change careers or just the hours in your current career or are those interwoven? This is important to know since maybe staying in the same field is fine, but with more flexibility in your schedule. You might want to see what you can first learn about people in your career area who have a more manageable schedule. Do those people exist? You did not say what your field is so I don't know.

If you decide that indeed you do want to change careers, then you need to think about what type of career to switch to. This is where a career coach or assessments might help. The tool "career leader" is very helpful in helping you to figure out what else you might do. A career coach can help you to take this tool and can also interpret it for you to help you learn what other possibilities exist for you. I have worked with individuals who have used this tool to realize that there were other fields that also made sense for them to consider, they made the moves to those careers, and have been successful. But, I would suggest you work with a career coach to help with this transition.

Good luck!

I think it depends partly on what the legal outcome of your DUI charge was. I had one 10 years ago in MD, got probation before judgment, and served my probation with no problems. So I was actually convicted of it (due to the PBJ), though I had to plead guilty to get it. It depends on how a job application is worded then--some just care if you were convicted of a felony. I applied one place where it asked if I had to plead guilty to something other than a minor traffic violation, so I said yes. The HR recruiter called to ask me about it, I was very worried, but explained about the PBJ and said I'd been to alcohol counseling program (true), and the recruiter acted like it wasn't a big deal, and I ended up getting the job. Now, if you were in fact convicted of felony DUI, then you'd have to disclose that--and you might want to disclose it anyway even if not, just to be safe. But as long as the job doesn't involve driving or operating machinery, it's probably not as big a deal as you think. Not that I'm saying a DUI isn't a big deal--quite the contrary--but that it's not necessarily a big deal to employers, in my experience. Good luck!

Thanks for sharing your insights with our reader. Really appreciate it!

I was first hired by my current employer 10 years ago. The team leader who I worked under then is still my team leader today. Most of the other team members are also the same, although, his boss did change. Since the team is more or less the same as it was 10 years ago, the roles and responsibilities haven't changed and I am getting bored. The fact that 10 years has passed with little change, I don't really see reason to expect anything to change in the future. While there are some good things about my current position, I think the only way to bring about change is to move on to another position. I know that finding a job is a slow process, so how can I stay motivated in my current position?

You did not mention if the nature of the work has changed. It is hard to imagine a job where the work itself has not changed at all, but perhaps that is the case here. Before leaving the firm, are there other places or areas in the firm where you could work? That might depend on how large the firm is and if they have other branches, departments or geographic regions where you could stay with the company but move jobs. Often, in larger firms, employees make thest types of moves in order to stay with a firm they like, but feel the need for a change.

If, however, the firm is too small to make this type of move, have you talked to your boss about taking on additional responsibilities or changing the scope of your work? Could you attend training programs to expand your skill set so you could take on different job responsibilities? Have you talked to an HR person to see what other options exist?

I would encourage you to look at all possible options in your own firm first since it is easier to stay in one firm and add or switch responsibilities than to change companies. If there is nothing new internally, then look outside for other options. Good luck!

Dear readers:

Thanks for your questions and insights today. Really appreciate them! Our next online chat is Wednesday, March 19th from 12noon -1pm. Until then, best of luck and keep those questions coming!



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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