Career Coach takes your questions

Mar 21, 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 the Career Coach Online Chat. I look forward to addressing all those great questions you are sending in.


Thanks also to our readers who are offering their own insights regarding some of the questions. We can all learn from one another so thank you!


Many of you have gotten great advice over the years for getting jobs. This might be helpful for some of our readers to hear as they continue to search for jobs. So, today, (in addition to other questions you may have), feel free to send in any "Best Advice Tips" you have for job hunting. This would help all of our readers.



J Russell

Long story short: boyfriend has been subject to a terrible supervisor for the last year and a half. He has been in the federal government for almost 11 and is truly a hard worker. The supervisor has not only been doing micromanagement but belittles the work of many people he uses a diminishing tone when talking to some of them and interferes a lot with the everyday tasks making really difficult to get work properly accomplished. His last appraisal was a disaster, the first time he is evaluated in this way. My boyfriend has talk not only with his supervisor but with the people that is above him in a very respectfully manner but nothing has change and little by little the other employees are leaving to other offices except him because somehow his supervisor says that he can't go since they need them. BF had enough and he is about to resign. He talked to the Union but their suggestion is not working. He has been looking for other jobs and applying but nothing yet has come and I understand that the level of stress is so high for him that asking him to stay while he gets another job is almost impossible. Fortunately his only debt is his house and he has no problem in renting/selling it, but, is there any other thing that he needs to think before taking this step? I assume this may look bad in his resume but he can't deal with this anymore. Any suggestion?

I can understand your boyfriend's frustration with this situation. He is fortunate that you are concerned for him and seeking some counsel. It is not clear how long he has worked in this job. I would not worry about how his resume looks if he has worked there for a year or so (or even 6 months). It only seems confusing to recruiters if he has worked there less than 6 months - then they might ask questions about why he left, etc.  


I do recommend staying in a job while looking for another since it makes a person more marketable to the public, however, I also tell people that they need to look at their financial situation and how much stress they are under. Sometimes, it is best for them to leave a very stressful job in order to look for another one. If he can financially afford to do this (not be working for several months or longer) then, maybe that is the best thing for his overall health. It really depends on the field his is in and how marketable that field is. I also think he needs to be actively job hunting (meeting with contacts, networking, etc) - if he is just sending resumes out or answering adds, that is a very slow way of job hunting. Can he attend some professional associations? Can he take part-time employment someplace (more interesting) while he is looking for more fulltime work? I wish you both the best!

Good afternoon. I've lived and worked in the mid atlantic region my entire life, and am ready for a change while I'm young enough to have some fun with it. Is there a good resource for finding jobs abroad that aren't teaching english? If I can't move abroad, I'm going to try to stay with my major contracting company and move across country. Any advice for how to convince someone in California or Texas to hire this Marylander?

Sure. Your best bet is to actually pick the areas you might like to live in and then visit those areas. It is often tough to look for jobs without actually being there. It can be done, but if you can physically go out there, and set up some informational interviews in advance it will help. Also, check with your professional associations (depending on your work area) to see about listings in those geographic areas. Good luck!

I am not the original poster from last month, but I think that it is not difficult to program online applications that don't accept several zeros or alphabetic characters as a response. Why not just list the total of your salary and benefits for the requested salary amount?

Of course, you can list your total compensation when asked about this in online applications. The downside to listing anything is that sometimes it is used to screen you out of a job (you list too much) when you might have really wanted that job opportunity (maybe you are switching career fields). It can also be used to try to offer you a lower salary (if you did not make much in a previous job), when you would like to receive a higher salary. This is why I recommend trying to wait to answer the question until AFTER you have a job offer and are in the stages of job negotiations.

I've heard to only go back ten years on a resume. If so, applications usually ask for graduation dates, so doesn't an employer wonder why someone graduated in 1990 and started their resume employment history in 2001? Also, if I had a far more demanding career further back, do I include that (I'm transitioning from being a part-time professional while kids were growing up to wanting full time work, and my current job just doesn't have enough workload)

I don't think you have to follow a 10 year rule for resumes. You raise a good question that employers would have if they looked at your resume and wondered about gaps in what you record. I think the length really depends on your particular situation. I think what is most important is to list professional work (responsibilities, roles, accomplishments, awards), education, etc. In your case, with more years of experience, I would make sure to start your resume with a short summary with several points about your key attributes or qualifications. I would definitely list that demanding career that you had in the past. You need to make sure you are doing everything you can on your resume to sell yourself!

I'm looking to change jobs right now because I've been at my current company too long, and feel pretty burned out here. Lately I've interviewed at a new company, but feel kind of indifferent towards this opportunity. The main reason I would take it, if offered, is to make the change from my current company (the work would essentially be the same). So I guess my question is, is it worth taking a new job, even if I don't feel as excited about it as I had hoped, just to get away from a job I hate?

What about the possbility of continuing to look for other jobs? It is always worth leaving a job you hate since it burns you out and takes an emotional toil on you (stress, fatigue, etc). But, you need to ask yourself why you feel indifferent towards the new opportunity. Is it the work itself? the people? If it is the work, then maybe it is time to rethink or make some changes (even slight ones) in what you are doing.Is there anyway to make the new job more interesting for yourself in terms of the work or the people you would be working with (on teams), etc? Sounds like you might want to continue to look a little more for other opportunities or do more soul searching about what you now what to do - if you are going to get yourself into a new job. Good luck.

How should I deal with an employer who requires longer and longer working hours - with no end in sight?


My colleagues and I have been working 16, often 18 hour days for months now, with at most one day off per week. We are all "exempt" and aren't paid overtime. With commuting tacked on, this schedule doesn't allow enough time for basic life necessities like sleep and exercise - let alone anything else.


Expressing concerns about the schedule (even from a physical health perspective) gets an employee labeled as lazy, selfish, or not a team player, with a reminder that there are a lot of unemployed people out there who would be happy to have the job. Is there anything you would suggest in terms of trying to improve this situation? I am suffering from severe exhaustion and burnout and don't think I can continue to work more than, say, 60 hours a week, without collapsing (certainly not close to 100 as I've been working).

I can sense your frustration with this grueling schedule. Interesting that many employers feel that working more and more hours are the way to get to enhanced productivity, yet this is not the case. People are not as productive if they are exhausted (physically and mentally). A great book for some at your organization to read is The Power of Full Engagement (by Loehr and Schwartz) or The Way we're working isnt' working (by Schwartz). Maybe you can get a copy, read it and share  it with others in your firm. It offers some great ideas that management should take to heart.

I also think this view that some employers have "you're lucky to have a job" will come back to haunt them as the economy improves. People will be looking to leave firms, and this is an important time for employers to do what they can to retain talented people.

For your situation, I think you need to collect the data - keep records of hours worked on various projects as well as what number of people are working those hours. Then, if you can have a group of you go talk to the most sympathetic person in management, it might help your case to lower hours. Definitely get the books and share them with management! Best of luck!

Joyce, I read your 2/8 chat after the fact and was stunned by the advice concerning salary questions during the job search process.


As someone who interviews and hires, if I ask a direct question I expect an answer, not evasiveness - this isn't a cat and mouse game. I very much understand and appreciate nuanced responses that involve total compensation (benefits, bonus, etc. in addition to salary), and if I ask about an applicant's current salary, I expect that question would be answered. This may sound harsh, though it isn't - why would we waste each other's time if the applicant is expecting far more than the company could pay? If the applicant is currently underpaid, that should be part of the discussion -believe me, the hiring managers out there know the market. Bottom line, you owe direct an honest answers, as a professional.

Thanks for taking the time to offer your perspective. It is always valuable to hear different views. When it comes to salary my primary advice is for the applicant to defer answering questions about salary (previous salary, current salary, desired salary) until AFTER they have received a job offer from the firm.  I encourage applicants to defer these questions until after they have received an offer so that they know the firm really wants them. 


While it may be in the best interest of the employer to learn an applicant's salary history in the early stages of an interview, it is generally not in the best interest of the applicant to divulge their personal information this early in the process. I do agree with your point that if an applicant finds out what the typical salary for  the position is (since the employer shares this information), then the applicant can decide to proceed further or not depending on whether he/she is still interested. So, if the employer is offering something less than what the applicant is currently making or previously made, the applicant can decide whether it is worth continuing on with the process.


Thus, it would be great if the employers were willing to share salary information early in the process, rather than put the burden on applicants to have to divulge all of their salary history.

I also agree with your point that both parties need to be honest when sharing any information. I do not advocate lying or "fudging" any information, and I make this very clear to people.


So, once again, my view is more about WHEN to share the information, and that I don't think it is in the applicant's best interest to share salary information early in the process.


Again, thanks for offering your perspective on all this!


It's a long probation for the company to see if they what to fast track you; and for you to decide if this is the place for you.

Having a 1.5 year training program, might just be a rotational program, which is very common and popular today. If it is a probationary period, I agree that 1.5 years is rather long. Usually 6 months seems more typical for a probationary period.

Can you recommend ways of dealing with an associate that avoids finishing tasks and avoids asking you (or someone else) questions so that they can finish the tasks, My issue is a lack of reliance since I don't know what the person will do or not do. Thanks.

Do they avoid finishing ALL tasks or only certain ones? It would be important to know. Do they eventually finish the tasks, but not as timely as you would do them? People vary in their "need for closure" on things - some people are "closers" and like to check things off,  while others like starting projects and have great creative ideas but don't like "closing" on things. The Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment is a great tool for helping to identify these differences and in helping people learn to work more effectively with each other since all types bring strengths (albeit different ones) to the workplace.


Or, maybe the issue is something different. Have you talked with your associate to better understand his/her view on this? Might be a good first step to better understand differences in your perspectives.


Good luck! 

Do they avoid finishing ALL tasks or only certain ones? It would be important to know. Do they eventually finish the tasks, but not as timely as you would do them? People vary in their "need for closure" on things - some people are "closers" and like to check things off,  while others like starting projects and have great creative ideas but don't like "closing" on things. The Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment is a great tool for helping to identify these differences and in helping people learn to work more effectively with each other since all types bring strengths (albeit different ones) to the workplace.


Or, maybe the issue is something different. Have you talked with your associate to better understand his/her view on this? Might be a good first step to better understand differences in your perspectives.


Good luck! 

Last month, "Want to quit, but not burn bridges " said "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." Please consider that perhaps it's like this everywhere in the full-time professional real world. You're not in college anymore.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Not sure it is really like this everywhere in the workplace. I think you have to find the job that best suits you and your expectations for work. Perhaps this person just has not found the best type of work or the best employer. There are some great companies out there where employees love working and love their leaders. If you don't have that, then you  need to look around to try to get it. It does exist.

Have employers really asked for Facebook passwords?

Not really sure about this. Readers - any word on this?


I do know that employers look at facebook information when considering applicants for jobs. Just like reviewing resumes, linked-in profiles, etc, if they can find information out there about an applicant, they do use it when making decisions about them. People who use these types of accounts need to be aware that employers are looking at them when reviewing your application.

About 8 months ago I had a compelling job offer from a company that wanted to give me more responsibility (promotion) and an increase in salary (roughly 12%). I considered the offer but after management made a desperate effort for me to stay (8% pay bump and promises) I decided to stay. I was told I'd get a generous review come February and it would make up for the difference. However, when early March came and we finally got our reviews - much to my dismay I did not get the 4% bump. I did not get the promotion. Instead I was told that it wouldn't be good to put me into a position where I could fail. What do I do? I enjoy working with my co-workers and the job isn't all that bad. But how can I expect to give 100% to a company that doesn't respect or value me?

Unfortunately this is all too common. I am assuming you have talked to your boss about this. What does he/she say about why you were not given the raise and promotion you were promised? For them to say "they don't want to put you in a position where you could fail" - what does that mean? I think you need to get more clarity on that and to have a frank discussion with your boss about what your expectations were and why they made the decisions they did. You don't want to be confrontational about this - that will not help your case. But, you do need to ask questions so you can better understand if this is a "done deal" or if that promotion and extra increase will be coming anytime soon. Then, you can figure out what to do next. Your next move depends on what they tell you - whether the promotion and raise are right around the corner (get a commitment as to time) or not at all. In addition, you also need to ask more questions to find out why they think you would fail in the new position. What would you need to do to be successful in the position? Do you need additional training, etc? Ask questions to learn their perspective on all this before you make a decision as to what to do next.

What's the best way to ease the transition back to work after maternity leave? I previously worked long hours and did whatever it took to get the job done. I can no longer work 12 hours with a little one at home. Even though I'm with the government, those hours are expected. I'm not seeking a promotion, but don't want to receive a bad review. Thanks!

Good question. It might help if you look for precedents - are there any examples of other employees, (women or men) who are perceived in a positive light, yet seem to work more manageable hours? If so, spend some time talking to them to see how they set this up or how they are coping.


Also, can you set up some opportunities for telecommuting or for part-time work or even flex schedules? Once again, see if anyone has done this before in your firm, and what specifically they have done to be successful.


I would outline what you want your job hours and commitment to be now that you have a child, and what ideas you might have for still being productive. Then, have a frank discussion with your boss about how you can make this work for both of you. Sometimes, bosses are willing to be flexible to keep a valued employee if the person just speaks up and shares their views and ideas. What is important is that you think about your contribution to the firm from your perspective AND ALSO from the employer's perspective. What can you do to help the firm or your boss be successful as well as for yourself?


Best of luck!

I think a way to stay motivated is to constantly apply for other jobs. 2-3 a day is pretty standard. I've had at least one interview a year for the last sixteen years, it really keeps you out there for anything else that comes along.

Thanks for your input. Not sure you need to apply for 2-3 jobs a day, but I do agree that in today's world, it is important for employees to know their own marketability, and keeping current with the job market is one way to do that.

I don't understand why anyone would EVER tell an employer that they are planning on leaving. Until you've got another job - and you don't know how long that will take you - there's no reason to. What if it takes you a few years to find a job? One of my employees confided in me that she is looking for another job. I was shocked she would tell me. My thoughts are, if she's just going to leave I'm not going to invest any more time in her. I feel like she is probably just doing the base minimum and no longer trying. I'm certainly not going to go out of my way to get her a better salary or better assignments. She told me this 1.5 years ago and she's still here.

Thanks for offering your view on this. 

When considering a job offer, is it realistic to expect that the company one is considering joining operates in an ethical fashion?


A recent job offer, offered through a recruiting firm, involved working for a company that routinely violates fair labor, anti-discrimination and truth-in-advertising laws. The CEO also requires that employees contribute money to support his candidates for political office, and his choices always seem to be borderline psychotic...anti-black, anti-hispanic, anti-jew, anti-gay and anti-regulation of any kind. The money offer is good, but the companies ethics are toxic. Should I take the money and hold my nose?

I think you already know the answer to this one. A company's ethics are critical to its future and the future of its employees. In fact, having ethical leaders is considered the #1 most important attribute that people want in their leaders today. 

Companies should adhere to ethical and legal codes so it sounds like this firm fails on both accounts.

Hello - I'm about to head out on maternity leave from a job I love but is far from home. I'm starting to look for jobs closer to home to start upon returning from leave. But, I'm hesitant to do so just b/c I want something closer to home. Is just wanting to be closer to home a good reason to ask to telecommute a few days a week? I feel like it's a bit weak... My current company does have a history of allowing people to keep their jobs and telecommute when they move away from an office, but if you're close to an office, you're expected to come in. I almost feel like I'm punished for living close to an office.

Good question. There is a lot of research on telecommuting that indicates that it is highly valued by employees and valuable for enhancing productivity. I also love the new section of  The Washington Post, Capital Business called Life at Work (by Abha Bhattarai) which highlights benefits that firms are offering their employees.

You need to collect some facts about what your firm has really done in terms of allowing telecommuting. Find out who has been allowed to do this, how many days, where they live. Sometimes we think we know what's going on, but once we collect the facts, we learn some new information. Also, think about your reason for telecommuting? Prepare a case for how you wil continue to be productive while working at home. You don't just want to ask for something without thinking about how it can be a "win-win" (a win for you AND a win for the firm).

Good luck!

I've been in my current job for 6 years doing something that is not totally related to my professional degree. I recently applied to another position other fed agency with a job very associated to my degree that I would love to try. The problem is that If I ever get selected it will be a downgrade for me (about 30k less than what I earned now). I will be able to survive since I'm debt free, have savings and I started with much less than what they are offering, but I still have doubts about other things that may be involve when downgrading. Can you shed some light on this issue?

First, what are your doubts and questions that you have? If it is about how you will be viewed by future employers, then be prepared that you would need to address this issue. It is manageable though since you can talk about how you changed fields.

Also, why are you assuming you will automatically get a 30k drop in salary? I understand the govt system but you can always see what room you have to get them to move on this. Can you be placed at a higher pay grade or at the top of the pay grade for that job? Can they give you an earlier review to reevaluate. While the fed govt is tougher to get movement on salaries, it never hurts to ask and see what can be done.

Good luck in your new endeavor!

for Fed burnout, it's always darkest before the dawn, as whenever i go to the point he's come to, something would change and it'll be bright skies again. I would not suggest a grievance, as that will simply bring it to a head sooner. Concentrate on any good qualities of the job, even if you have to make them up.

Feedback from a reader.

After 10 years of teaching high school, I'm ready to leave the classroom. It's been less and less satisfying to do a job that used to be fun and is now nothing but a gut-wrenching slog. My problem is how do I parlay all the great skills I have as a teacher into my resume? I have a BA in English, and never thought i'd even be asking this question. What other jobs might fit my skill set (writing, organization, communication, etc).

First, think about attracted you to the teaching profession in the first place, and see if you can find a job where you will be able to use those same talents. Perhaps you wanted to make a difference in the lives of others or wanted to share your expertise or mentor others, etc. Think about this. In the training or consulting field, many of those same skills are used. You  might join professional associations such as or which are training and HR organizations. Your oral presentation, writing and organization skills would be highly valued in the training field. 

Also, think about what you now dislike about the teaching profession (e.g., administration, grading, pay) and make sure to avoid those same problems in the next job. I have known people who have transitioned from teaching to consulting or other "helping" professions and been very successful. You might need to consider what additional job knowledge you would need to make this happen - such as an MBA (if you went into consulting) or other degree. Good luck and thanks for all of your hard work teaching high school. It is appreciated!

Hi, I'm a mid-level manager in an actually pretty functional federal agency. We have suffered budget cutbacks and have reduced hiring and very limited funds for things like training and travel. We also have bigger workloads than I have ever experienced, and a new sense of urgency about the pace of our work. I am trying very hard to be humane to the staff that I manage in this environment, knowing that when I was in their shoes, I was lavished with travel opportunities (even international travel) and had more resources and fewer constraints. I try to compensate by offering other opportunities as I can, especially leadership opportunities or even local travel or inexpensive training or other events. Is there anything else I can do to keep them motivated? I have heard many grumblings that new staff are looking to flee the agency because it is not as good as it used to be.

It is great that you are concerned about these issues. You are already ahead of the game just by this fact alone. What you might want to do is talk to your staff to get their views on what else can be done. Often, we think money is the only solution, when other forms of recognition are often critical, especially if you don't have money to give them. There are two great books you might want to read to give you more tips. Look at The Carrot Principle and The Orange Revolution by Gostick and Elton. Both offer great ideas for other things you can do to recognize the efforts of your staff and keep them engaged. Good luck!

My husband quit his job without anything else lined up. Even though I didn't agree with it, I understand his stress level was through the roof. He's been unemployed now since December.


The problem is he wants to make a complete career change. He's been appling to jobs but getting the same response about experience. Even companies that only want a bachelors degree (in related field which he has), and 0 years experience are saying not enough experience. The resume was rewritten several times but how do you convenience a company to take a chance? At this point of unemployment would it be better if he got a part time job say in retail even though that's not what he wants (desireability??)

It really depends on what he wants to do and also how much you need him to take a job for financial reasons. Obviously, if he needs to take a job soon for financial reasons, then he will have to do this while looking. It would be better if he could take a part-time job in a related field since this would offer him more networking opportunities, but I understand if this might be tough. 


You mentioned that his resume has been rewritten several times. Does he have a summary statement at the topic which highlights his qualifications or contributions? Somehow his resume must not be selling him enough. Or, he needs to spend more time networking with people and professional associations to make contacts. What about hobbies - sometimes spending some time with hobbies (golf, etc) are good ways to interact with others and spread the word that he is looking. The goal of networking is to build contacts, not necessarily to automatically find a job. So, maybe he needs a plan with a list of the possible employers he is interested in working out along with anyone you know at those firms. He could ask to meet them for lunch or coffee to get their advice on career fields (rather than directly asking for jobs).


Does he belong to any professional associations? This is another way he can build contacts. Is he a member on Linked-in and other social media sites? 


I know it is a lot to do - making those personal connections is the most valuable thing he can do when switching careers or looking for a job today. 



Thanks for all of your great questions today. Thanks also to many of our readers for offering their advice to readers. I look forward to our next online chat on Wednesday April 11th at noon. Until then, good luck with all of your career endeavors!


J. Russell

Thanks for joining today's chat. Submit questions for next month's chat here.

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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