Career Coach takes your questions

Mar 13, 2013

With an unemployment rate of 7.7 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 March online chat. I'm looking forward to answering your career questions. Lot of interesting things going on in the world of work today - especially the recent discussion around the pros and cons of telecommuting. Send in your thoughts on this issue or any other job questions.


I'm currently employed, but searching for employment in different field. It seems that for every job in which I am interested, I am not qualified. As a mid-level employee, how can I make a transition without taking a step back in pay to a position with more "transferable skills" that seem only to be at the entry level?

This is a great question that many people face today as they try to move into a new field. You really have to show that the skills you have are transferable to the new job at that higher level. So, once you get the job description you can try to compare the description details (major tasks, Knowledge, skills and abilities) with the actual tasks you have performed and the skills you have. If you can actually map this out to illustrate this to them, you will have a better case. If you just allow them to try to see the connections on their own, they generally are less willing or able to do this. So, it is in your best interest to be proactive here in making it as easy for them as possible to see the connections. Best of luck!

What is your take on Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg? I must be the village idiot because I really don't know what their messages are to women who are not in positions of authority (secretaries, admin assts, etc.). Women like that, of which I am one, will not be climbing the corporate ladder any time soon. Thanks very much.

You raise a really good point and certainly one that has been in the press a lot lately, with Marissa's statement about banning telecommuting at Yahoo. The issues that face women or even men who are in positions of authority or who make significantly more money  are very different than the issues facing employees at lower levels in an organization who do not have the same income. Those with greater pay and status can more easily pay for help at home (nannies, maids, drivers, etc.) than others. Thus, it is easier for them to build nurseries next to their office (as in Mayer's case) or get help with all the "home" aspects of their lives. Other people at lower levels in organizations may need to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. They may need telecommuting options and other flexible work arrangements. It would help if those at the top periodically took the "pulse" of those at the other levels to see what are their real concerns and issues. Thanks for your comment.

One of my co-workers is that person who doesn't finish anything until 1 minute before it's due (or even after, if she can get away with that). Meanwhile, I'm a planner and work ahead of time in a regimented way to avoid the last minute push. Needless to say, working on projects with her is super stressful and frustrating, although she always produces good results in the end. Would it be appropriate for me to discuss this with our boss? Or how should I discuss with her in a productive way?

This is actually a fairly common problem.  In fact, if you were to both complete the MBTI personality type tool, you may find out you have opposite styles on your preferred orientation to the world. Sounds like you are a "J," which is a person who likes a structured, planned approach to your day, and she may be a "P" - someone who likes a flexible, spontaneous approach to her days. While both styles are highly valuable in the workplace, sometimes working together on projects can be very frustrating for both. One person wants the work done in advance and the other likes to turn it in when its due (or after). One thing to remember is that styles both have value in the workplace. "Js" are great at getting things done and taking action. "Ps" are great at really considering many sides of an issue and being open-minded to new ideas and changes.

So first, you may have to respect the fact that both styles are important in the workplace. I am assuming you have different styles based on the fact that you said when she gets her work done it is good. So, it doesn't sound like she turns it in later just to irritate you, but rather, simply because this is her style.

So, what can you do? Before you go to the boss, I would talk with her to learn what you both do and how she feels about the timeline issue. She might not know this is stressful for you and you can also listen to her perspective on this. Then, you'll need to come up with realistic goals for future projects. You may have to accept the fact that when working with her you will not be able to finish the project too far in advance.  Maybe you can still find a due date that works well for both of you. Maybe she would be willing to set an earlier date (of a few days) to compromise once she knows this is a stressor for you. Usually, this issue only gets resolved when the two of you talk and come up with realistic goals that work for both of you. Best of luck!

I have a BA in English, and am currently a magazine editor. But I'm tired of my line of work, and would like to pursue something different. The trouble is, I just don't know what else to do! I am more than willing to get an advanced degree, but don't want to start a program without knowing for sure that it's the right path. Do you have any good starting places for finding a new career path?

It sounds like you need to spend some time rethinking career options. What about taking a tool such as Career Leader to learn more about your career interests and possible options?  This might give you some ideas of other possible career fields. Also, the book "What Color is My Parachute" gives some good practical tips as well.

Don't worry about whether it will be the "right" job since you may still change jobs multiple times again in the future. That is just today's marketplace and what is typically being done. The good news is that with strong writing skills, you will be in a good position to do many things. Good luck.

Please give me some advice on the following turn of events. Over the past year my work in the office has been given much praise. At annual performance reviews I was once again told how great I had done and what an asset I was to the company. HOWEVER, I was then told the raises this year were really bad. The company's dividend is roughly 4% my raise after getting a promotion was 2%. How do I find motivation to work hard when the company clearly doesn't value those that are bringing added value to the company?

This is a tough issue for you as I can see. Have you had the talk with your immediate boss to see what else can be done - to see if they can bump you anymore? What about other perks the company can provide you with, such as sending you to conferences or training, equipment, bonuses, etc. Even if they can't give you more salary, they might be able to give you "soft money" such as perks to help you feel more valued at work. 

The other thing I would do is some market research on what you should be paid. You can check any wesbite such as or  to learn what you should be making relative to the market. Then, you could present this data to your boss to see his/her thoughts about this. Sometimes helping managers see how far off you are from the market sends a stronger message to them about how concerned you are about salary.

Also, are you even interested in looking at alternative jobs and trying to get other offers? If so, this might also let them know you are pretty serious about this issue. I would not suggest threatening them with this, but you could look at the market to see if  you do get other offers. 

Good luck with this.

Thanks for taking my question. I have to fill out my own evaluation for my annual review. This has not been my best year at work. I'm recovering from postpartum depression, which took a huge toll on my productivity. I want to be honest in my evaluation and say that I know that I have not been doing my best, as well as saying how I plan to fix it. Is it appropriate to explain that I have postpartum depression to explain why I haven't been doing well? I don't want to come off as making excuses, but I do want to be honest.

This is a really delicate issue. On the one hand I understand why you would want to share your health with them to let them understand your performance. On the other hand, they may get more concerned about your future performance (even though they really shouldn't). If your relationship with your boss is a good, trusting relationship, you could point out that you had some health issues and that you have come up with strategies for addressing them, and expect to see stronger performance in the future (assuming this is the case). If this is the situation, then I would try to focus as much as possible on your future direction and goals as possible. So, I am not sure it is critical that you give them the exact reason for your performance dip (the depression). You  could leave that part vague while focusing on your future goals and strategies for performance. Hope this is a better year for you.

I have a question that I never thought I'd have to ask, and that's whether the alma mater listed on my resume is now a liability rather than a valuable asset. Specifically, I went to Penn State, and up until November 2011, interviewers viewed my degree from that school with admiration and respect. Now I can't help but wonder if they view it with great reservation, given the successful mischaracterization of the school, its students, and alumni that has gone on since the arrest of Jerry Sandusky (i.e., the guilt by association on a massive scale).

Penn State still has a great reputation academically, so I would not worry about that. Plus, there is nothing you can really do about it anyway. You already graduated from there. I really don't think they will view the academic programs in a bad light. You could check with your alumni association to see if they have some tips for how you might handle questions about the school, etc. My sense is that they must be doing everything they can to promote the positive aspects of the school. Thus, they may have some tips for you about how to market yourself or answer any questions. You could also look at publications (Business Week, US News) to see how the school is currently ranked. That might help you be able to feel better about this issue. But, really, I don't think the academic programs will be hurt.

I've worked for nonprofits for over 20 years. Eight years ago, I decided to pursue my own business as an artist. It is now financially necessary to go back to work. How show I cast my 8 year "unemployed" stint? On a different note, do you have any suggestions for people over 50 who looking for work?

As far as suggestions for those over 50 looking for work, I did a Washington Post, Capital Business article on Jan 28th addressing that very topic. (Here's a link.)  I listed numerous Web sites and offices that are specifically set up to help workers over 50 in their job searches. There are some great resources out there for this issue.

About going back to work, you should first make sure to get your resume written and reviewed by someone who can give you some good tips for how to showcase what you have done. Clearly you were not "unemployed" as an artist - you just need to think of ways to highlight the skills you did get during this time (which I am sure you did). Also, get someone to practice interviewing with you as well as help show you how to market yourself on social media sites such as LinkedIn. You will also need to look at professional associations to join in your future field - to get the word out that you are looking. This will be the best way to let people know you are back on the market. Good luck!

Ms. Sandberg or Ms. Mayer got where they are? they just magically got a 'position of authority'? They never did anything that wasn't? That's a little disingenuous. Now, to say that maybe they don't really understand the issues TODAY facing others who aren't in their positions - that might be fair. But to think they were just born where they are - that isn't fair. (and well, when you're CEO you get the perks that come with it. You also work about 24 hours a day. It's not a piece of cake).

You are absolutely right - getting to the top of an organization takes an enormous amount of work, and they certainly deserve any perks that come with that. They do have to be "on" 24/7 so they are putting in lots of hours with lots of stress. The other point is that we need to make sure that once you "get to the top", you still remember all those people in the trenches who might have different issues and struggles. To be a successul CEO, you can never forget your staff who work for you and with you. Thanks for your comments.

I just came back to work after maternity leave. I was able to negotiate a 10-4 schedule for the month of February because I had leave to cover the hours I was not in the office. Now that it is March, I have been told that I need to come back to a regular 8-5 schedule, which I negotiated to 8-4 with no lunch break. But I am having a hard time getting everything going in the morning to get here by 8. Because of my husband's work schedule I am left to get myself, two infants and a toddler ready to go. I am finding it a real challenge to get back to the 8-5 schedule, I am trying to negotiate going back to 10-4 in the office and making up the other hours at home. But my direct supervisor won't even listen to my plan, she just says it won't work. There are definitely things I can do from home, and it would actually make a lot of sense for me to do those things from home, since I can be more available for the in-person tasks required of me while I am in the office. I would like to try once more to see if I can make this work, but I am not sure how to approach it. Also, I hate to go over her head, but would it ever be appropriate to go to our overall director and make my request to her directly?

Great questions. Sounds like you are really juggling a lot and I totally understand trying to get 2 infants and a toddler ready to go before 8am - that requires a lot on your part. Sounds like your husband has to go in to work even earlier than you so that does not help.

First, I would not go over your boss to the overall director since that just creates more stress in the office. You could, however, let her know that this is a real concern for you and ask if it would it be possible to have the three of you meet - you, your boss, and the overall director to discuss strategies. That might help. But, before doing that, I would talk to your boss again.

You need to figure out why the 8-10 a.m. time is so critical from her perspective. What is being done at that time? You did not say what your job is, but does it involve having to be in the office to meet with people, man the phones, etc.? There must be a reason why this time is so important. Or, is she worried about setting one set of standards with you and a different one with other employees?  If you can talk to her to better understand her perspective (just hear her out), then it might give you some ideas for what can be done. Maybe you can start at 8am on some days and at 9am on other days? Think about creative options here rather than just ALL 8-4 or ALL 10-4. There must be some options in between that can work.

Do you have any other options if you need to keep the 8-4 time? Family or neighbors that you can trust to help you in the morning to get the kids ready or to watch them for a few hours? 

The most important thing is to talk with your boss and listen to her views first. Once you understand why the 8-10am time is so important, you  might be able to figure out some creative solutions. If not, you may have to look at other alternatives that work better for your family. Good luck.


My department got a new head three months ago. He is from outside the industry, so we expected a learning curve. However, he is not getting up to speed and is delegating all his responsibilities to his team. We were already swamped, so taking on his responsibilities in addition to our existing ones is not sustainable. Uppper management and HR have acknowledged that there are issues with his performance, but have yet to do anything. What can his subordinates do to establish boundaries? I have tried asking him to help me prioritize the projects that he gives me with my existing workload, but he says he is new and doesn't have enough knowledge to advise. Thank you.

Great question. The best thing that can happen is that you may need to take a very proactive role and define your own priorities (since  you have done the job for some time, you probably are quite capable of doing this anyway). While it seems that you should be able to get direction from your boss, if this is not happening, you may have to set it yourself and share your list with him and upper management. In fact, you could even define the list of priorities for yourself and for him. While this may seem strange to do (and you should not have to do this since it's not your job), sometimes this is the best thing to do.

I would also make sure you keep connected to HR and upper management so that there is some pressure they feel to talk to this manager and give him the training he needs or place him in a job that better fits his skills. 

Hi Joyce, thanks so much for taking my question! I have a second interview coming up this week and I may be asked the classic "why do you want to work here?" I am sure this question has a place in certain industries, but I am interviewing for an executive position at a national bank, which is really no different from any of the other national banks. During the initial interview, I responded to the question by referring to the bank's commitment to diversity and community service, which I have no evidence of beyond what is on their Web site. I want to work at a bank because the salaries are generally higher than other industries, which is clearly not an acceptable answer. So, any suggestions on how to respond to the question? I understand that companies are trying to determine if you have done any research, but there is little research that can I do beyond the Web site because I don't know anyone that works for the bank.

Good question. You are right - employers want to know that you researched their particular firm and that you really want to work for THEM. So, any research you can do (via their Web site,, etc.) will be good to bring to the discussion. You could use LinkedIn to see if there is anyone who has worked there or currently works there and would be willing to chat with you about the firm. But, as long as you have done some research and can talk about what you saw, this should be fine. While you may not feel comfortable telling them you want to work there due to salary, you could say it seems they provide good opportunities for advancement (if you see evidence of this). Make sure you have thoroughly researched their Web site - look at their vision, goals, strategy, top leadership team, etc. Also, can you go to any of their locations to go in the banks and maybe that will also give you some tips about their culture that you could talk about? Good luck. Great that you are trying to do as much research as you can before this next interview.

I'm unhappy with my current position. I feel like I'm stuck in this job and that I'm unhappy with the working environment, which is really bringing me down. I really dread going to work each day. With the economy not doing so well and with sequestration underway, what should I do? I have two job interviews lined up.

Sounds like you are doing what you need to be doing by interviewing at new firms. The best ways out of an unhappy work situation are: either talking with your boss to make some job changes, looking at other jobs, or going back to school to try to enhance  your skills or move into a new career field. Make sure in your interviews that you do NOT point out how unhappy you are in your current job - rather, just highlight how you are looking for new opportunities. It is best if they think you have a positive perspective on the future opportunities and challenges. Good luck.

I've never had a two-week vacation and started planning one for this fall. It's actually a trip I've been wanting to take for over a decade, so I'd rather not put it off any longer. The problem is that I now have an interview for my dream job. Should I mention that I have a vacation planned? No money has been put into it yet, so I could postpone if absolutely necessary. Going before I start the new job isn't possible.

I would not say anything at this point. First, you have to get a job offer - preferably written. It is important to do this before you bring up any other issues. Once you get the offer, then you can bring up questions about starting date, vacation, etc. 

I don't think that anyone would not hire you because of your affiliation with the school, but I can absolutely see someone asking an awkward question or making a joke during an interview about it. ("Gee, tough times at Penn State. What do you think of that whole situation?" or "Heh, you were in the pep band? What does THAT mean at Penn State, hahaha, know what I'm saying?") It's probably worth thinking out a pat answer that steers the conversation back to your credentials. ("Yeah, it's been a tough to see the institution take such a beating, especially when I found it to be such a great place, where I learned so much about [Your Subject Area Here].")

A reader's take on how the Penn State alum should prepare for an interview.

This guy needs to get a grip. Unless he was personally involved in that tragic incident, people are generally rational. I don't think this guy is. How high on the food chain was he? Was he merely enrolled as a student at the time? Would he consider himself an obnoxious alumni? How often did he drop the Penn State name in conversation? Utlimately, he knows, but this question just seems odd.

Another reader's take.

Thanks for the lively discussion and questions raised today. Our next online chat is scheduled for April 17th from 12 noon  to 1pm. I look forward to hearing from you then. In the  meantime, good luck with your job searches and negotiations. 



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: