Career Coach takes your questions

May 15, 2013

With an unemployment rate of 7.5 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 May online chat. I am looking forward to addressing  your career-related questions! Feel free to also share your insights regarding the posted questions. 



Hello, I am currently employed as an EA (been with employer for 10 years) and am looking for a new job. I have vacations planned for the last two weeks of March and the last week of April. I recently interviewed for a position and they were dismayed at my vacation schedule, which I understand. They also offered me the job, and an April 1 start date. I explained that I wouldn't be able to accommodate that, given that I needed to give two-weeks notice to my current employer and that those two weeks couldn't be when I was on vacation (I thought it was a bad thing to do to my current employer). The offer was rescinded. What should I have done in this situation?

This is really a tough situation. You did the right thing to job hunt while employed (since you always look more marketable to a potential employer if you are currently employed). Would they have been willing to start a week later? Did you ask about that? That would have given you more of a chance to give notice and less time for them to wait to hire. How desperate were they to bring someone on board? It seems like they really needed someone soon, and while you had th qualifications, you could not meet their timeline. If you wanted to keep your vacation (assuming the plans were already set), I am not sure you could have done much else. What is your status now?

I am in a job where I am underutilized -- a lot of down time. It's a chronic problem at this workplace, and I've had lots of discussions with managers about it over the decade+ I've worked here. I'm now within a decade of retirement age, and I'm at a point where I would like to pursue other interests to try to develop a more fulfilling career. I have plans and projects in that direction, but lack of time is hampering me. Finances are not a problem at the moment. However, I'm not ready to quit altogether -- at least, not yet. What is the best way to frame and manage a discussion with my manager about switching to a part-time schedule? I was going to suggest a trial period (3 or 6 months). Is there anything else I should bring up? Thanks.

I think it is a good idea to have the conversation with your boss. Prior to doing that, you might want to think about what aspects of the job you want to keep doing (i.e., what tasks and job functions). You might also want to  think about what other job tasks are left (if you only work part time) so you can prepare your boss for what is left to do. You should also think about your time period of working. The idea of a transition to work part time is a good one, whether 3 or 6 months. If you also have someone else in mind who could do the rest of the work, that could also be helpful for your boss. Job sharing is an interesting idea and can work well, whereby two people each work part time and share the responsibilities for the work. That is another option you could consider. The most important thing is that you really think about what you want to do (how many hours you want to work, how long you want to work part time, what tasks you want to be responsible for) before you have the conversation with your boss.

Best of luck!

My husband has also been actively seeking employment for several months. Fortunately I am at a stable company with secure employment for the foreseeable future, but we still need a second income. My company does have several openings that I know he would be a good fit for based on prior work experience. However, he does not have a degree and it seems like all of these openings require one, even though it's not necessary to do the job. Why is it that experience no longer seems to be as valuable as a degree? BTW, he is on LinkedIn and other several networking Web sites.

I understand what you are saying and have known others who are in a similar boat (without having a degree and finding it hard to get a job). A college degree is often used as an initial screening for a job, even if it is not really necessary.

You should try to make sure his resume is up-to-date and really highlights his work experiences. Make sure there is a summary at the top that lists his professional qualifications. Also, you could try to use your contacts to see if they can at least interview him. You never know unless you ask your contacts. Often, people are willing to interview based on referrals, especially from someone who works there. So, you could try this.

For him in the future -- does he have any courses from an undergraduate program? Could he look into getting additional certifications that might help? What about an online program that might move him in the direction of getting his degree. Just some things to think about for his future.

I will be flying out-of-state for a job interview this weekend. The law firm has a main office, but I will be working from home remotely and handling litigation in my location's courthouses. There are other attorneys in other states who currently do the same. I do not have practical experience with this type of set-up. I have a [decentish] job right now, where I work out of a physical office with other attorneys and my supervisor. The position sounds promising and exciting and gives me a lot of autonomy, but I am a little nervous. Not about my abilities -- about the firm and job stability. I already asked if I would be an employee or independent contractor and was told employee (which is what I want). I have also requested (and was given) contact info for some of the attorneys already doing this so I can ask them about their experience (but I wonder how helpful/honest they will be). Are there any other question you would advise asking?

You should definitely ask other attorneys who are doing this type of work what they see as the benefits and challenges to working remotely. Essentially, they are telecommuting which has many benefits and some disadvantages. You did not say what life stage you are in, but for some people, the idea of telecommuting (often done in IT and consulting jobs) is highly appealing. You might want to go online to look at the pros and cons of telecommuting. I wrote an article for the Washington Post, recently about this.

I think the current attorneys will be honest with you about what they see as the pros and cons. If there are also any employees on site, you could ask them as well. Sometimes the perspective of the on-site and off-site employees may be different. The other thing I would do is make sure you establish (in advance) the structure of the working relationship with your own manager. When you telecommute, you really need clarity on how you will be managed and how a boss will evaulate your performance.  I am not sure why you are concerned about the firm's stability, unless there are financial issues there. But, just because they allow telecommuting does not mean they necessarily have stability problems. Good luck!

I'm nearing retirement (next couple of years) and will be fortunate to have a good pension. I'd like to do something else but don't know how to go about figuring out which direction to go or how to get there once I know the direction. Any suggestions on how to determine what the next stage should be? Thanks.

By something else, I assume you are referring to doing another type of job? If so, there are great resources online regarding jobs and companies that hire retirees. You might want to check them out since there are firms that specifically target retirees.  It also sounds like you are trying to decide what other options you may go after (e.g., career fields). So, there are books that refer to "planning for the next part of your life" that may help you figure out what else you want to do, how much you really want to work, etc. You might also want to talk with others about all this -- sometimes having friends or colleagues to talk with might be a good idea.

I recently received a promotion and a raise which is great. The problem is that new hires with a lower title and less experience are getting paid comparably to myself. It appears as though there is a different standard for new hires relative to those of us that are stuck on the corporate track. What is the best way to address the fairness of what to me is a complete disconnect between performance, tenure, and compensation? Do I need to ask for a salary review with HR or is this something I need to address with my boss?

Great question and one that faces many companies. Often, new hires are brought in at pay levels that surpass current employees, particularly given the economy the past few years. Your salary may have been depressed the past few years due to the economy, yet a new hire can now come in at market rate. In one sense, we need new hires to come in at market rate to ensure we can get the best talent. On the other hand, it creates equity problems with those who have been at the firm. One of the only ways to address this is to ensure that your HR/payroll group looks at making equity adjustments to make sure that they are able to raise the salaries of those whose salaries were compressed the past few years. So, you could bring this up to HR or to the managers. Certainly, you should look at what your salary is relative to what the market now pays for your position. You can do some research on various websites such as or among others. Find out what your salary should be based on your field and experience and then it would be good to have a conversation with HR or your manager about this. But, don't have the conversation until you have done the research on this.

What is the best thing to do when there are lay-off rumors at your company? How do I stay proactive with my own career while trying to keep moral alive and kicking for my employees?

So, you said "rumours" about layoffs. Is there any way of learning how truthful these are? Can you go to HR or managers to learn the truth? You could also let them know that employees feel perceived job insecurity, and if they can share something with employees that would help. If there really are not going to be any layoffs and people think there are, this is a problem. They could easily address this with employees. On the other hand, if there will be some layoffs, they could still share something with employees so everyone is not "freaked out". Some companies really handle this well and others make a total mess of it -- losing key employees due to unfounded fears. I would definitely make sure that someone in HR or leadership knows that employees are concerned so that they can take appropriate actions in informing people with whatever they can tell them. In the meantime, you just have to do the best you can in keeping employees' morale up and focused on the jobs at hand. A definite challenge!

My partner is a new hire at an international company and is pretty high up on the food chain. Because of schedules he often has calls at strange times and many calls are set up last-minute. He doesn't seem to see a problem with this but I think it is very unprofessional for coworkers to be so "on-the-fly" and not have any boundaries. But of course, my partner is still new and wants to make a good impression as well as handle things that are truly emergencies. Any tips for this situation?

You partner may just have a very different style of managing or working with others. Some people are very spontaneous with calls, meetings, etc. while others are very organized and set things up in advance. So, it is hard to say if he has a different style of personality or if he really is just trying to make a good impression. You say your "partner" so I assume you are of similar rank to each other. If this is the case, you might want to talk with him to clarify the work style that has seemed to work best in your firm (that is, setting up appointments in advance, etc). Perhaps a candid conversation will alleviate the issue. If,  instead, it is a personality difference, then you will need to figure out how to compromise so everyone can work more effectively together. But, first, you need to have a conversation to learn about his normal working style to even see if he understands this is an issue. He may not be aware of it.

I just completed the coursework for an advanced legal degree. My job as a federal agency attorney is soul crushing. No real work, poor managers, and an underfunded office. Should I wait until I complete my final requirements for my degree to start looking for a job or should I just go ahead now?

You did not say how long you have been at your current job or how much more time you have before you finish your degree. The best advice I can give you is to make sure you are employed while looking for a new job (if you can handle your current job). To the market, you look more attractive if you are currently employed. Also, if you are almost finished your degree, you could just wait to start looking. If, on the other hand, you have years left of schoolwork, then you should probably start looking now. Given your current level of frustration with your job, it doesn't sound like you would want to stay at it for years and years. Then, once you do finish your degree, you can still look again for jobs to maximize the new degree in the marketplace (in terms of salary).

My husband had back-to-back illnesses that unfortunately caused him to miss a few months from work. As soon as he was cleared with the doctor to return to work they let him go, citing the absences as the main reason. He was with them three years and did a very good job. It's been two years now of unemployment. He has had many interviews and been called back again for many of them, but has yet to get an offer. Unfortunately (like another writer) he doesn't have a degree, but has been in his field for over 10 years. He thinks that his old company is "black balling" him. We have tried to get feedback from interviews just so we know what he might be doing wrong but the feedback is always really good. He is at his wits end as to why he isn't getting hired and a little depressed about it. Unfortunately we aren't in a position for him to go to school to try for a degree. I have a good job -- but we are barely making it. He even isn't getting callbacks on jobs just to earn a paycheck (big box stores, etc.). Can old employers say anything negative to someone getting a job reference? If they are telling them he had attendance issues -- that wasn't his fault.

Yes, employers can say anything they want about someone that worked for them. Often times they don't for fear of being sued for false representation. Instead, usually they simply say that the person worked there and give the dates. It is hard to say what is happening in your husband's case. He might want to get someone to review his resume, as well as practice interviewing with him. Maybe he can get some advice about how his resume looks or how he is coming across in interviews. Also, what about his network? If he worked for his firm for three years, he must have established some other contacts in his field. Can he talk to them for some career advice, mentoring, or help with his resume or interviewing? What about professional networks he may be part of? Also, is he using social media (e.g., LinkedIn) to look for jobs? Now it is critical to have very credible social media sites regarding his skills. He can also use LinkedIn to apply for jobs as well. I would look at as many personal connections as possible. Best of luck!




My boss/supervisor is extremely aloof. I have more work than Superman could handle. I have been doing editorial work at a nonprofit a couple of years and really like my job. How can I get my workload reduced and get a pay increase if I can't effectively communicate with my boss?

This is very tricky for sure. If your boss is aloof, then your boss may like seeing things in print more than via face-to-face. Just a guess on my part. But, if this is the case, you might want to document everything you do and then think about what you most want to do (which tasks) and what tasks you would like someone else to do. Also, think about it from your boss's perspective -- what would it take to reduce your workload? Would he or she need to hire another person part-time or full-time? Think about (and script out) what parts of your job you most want to do and what parts someone else (either currently there or not) can do, and how much that might cost him or her. In order to "solve" your issue, you may need to also solve his or her issue which is getting all the work done. So, be prepared, do the research, and then set up a meeting with your boss to discuss all this. Then, you will need to stay focused in the conversation. So, you may need to practice what you will say, how you will say it, etc. Be prepared and be firm, yet think about things from your boss's perspective too.

"What Color is Your Parachute" is a helpful tool in getting you to think about your interests/strengths.

Absolutely, thanks for sharing! It is updated every year and has great tips.

I have been working in my profession for almost 15 years now. Over the years, I've heard of my peers (both those in my profession and in other ones) talk about hearing from headhunters and recruiters, or hearing about job openings. I have to admit that I have never been contacted by a headhunter/recruiter, and have never heard a former colleague/business acquaintance let me know of job openings. I'm pretty successful in my career (and my position is mostly stable), but all my jobs are the result of my efforts (looking for job openings in the paper and professional journals, etc.). Does that sound unusual? Part of me is concerned that if my job ever were to be in jeopardy (or if I wanted to change jobs or careers), I'd have a limited network to draw on for something comparable to my current position.

Your situation is not that strange, and in fact, is very common. Depending on what you do, not that many employees are contacted by headhunters. If you are in a higher-level managerial position, then this would be more commonplace. I do think it is a good idea to establish a relationship and network with a recruiter or headhunter. You might ask some of your colleagues for names of headhunters that they feel really did a great job of representing them. Not all recruiters work for YOU -- some work more for the firm. So, when asking colleagues, ask for names of recruiters who really were advocates for them. But, again, what you are describing is not that unusual -- not everyone works closely with headhunters.

I'm 49. About 10 years ago I had some health issues which meant leaving office work (instructional design). I was able to do some telecommuting and started a side business related to my health. The side business does not generate much income and when the economy tanked, so did jobs in my previous career. I've been living off savings, mostly, and need to start having paying work. Sitting in an office 40 hours a week is still not physically possible for me. I really enjoyed my old career but cannot seem to find many telecommuting or PT jobs. I am at a loss for what to do next. I cannot envision (or afford) going back to school. I hope to only have another 20 years to to work......what can I do?

The world of telecommuting has really expanded. If you just search for telecommuting jobs, you will see there are lots more firms that offer telecommuting jobs and in many more industries. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management ( just noted that of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to work for, that 85 offer telecommuting. So, I would investigate which firms allow telecommuting to see what options you might have. You might also contact universities and colleges since the online world has been growing quickly and instructional designers are in great demand in those school systems. Most higher-education institutions do not have enough people in place to help with their efforts to move some courses online or even in blended formats so definitely consider this area as a place to look. Good luck!

I have been at my current position for 17 years (most of my career) and I'm now thinking of moving on to (hopefully) bigger and better things. Will my longevity at my current job look good to future employers? Or will it look like my ambition took a vacation? I have climbed the ladder at my current gig -- although, it was a small one.

I would not worry about this. Decades ago, your longevity would have looked perfect since staying at a firm was very common (and highly regarded). Today, people move jobs more frequently, but the fact that you have stayed at the firm still speaks to your organizational loyalty which most firms value. You could make sure your resume highlights the growth in your career (i.e., taking jobs with increasingly more responsibilities, etc).

Hi Joyce, I stopped looking for work in my field and went back to an unrelated service job after learning that my husband would likely be relocating. My only experience in my new field is internships during my program. I'd rather leave the internships first on the resume, but I worry about having it appear that I have a long "gap" in my employment. Which is the lesser of two evils here?

Either way, you will need to address these issues - the long gap or the experience factor. I would usually list the most recent job first on the resume. You could use a cover letter to clarify what you have done. Mentioning that your husband was relocating makes sense to people, so they understand that aspect. In fact, with so many dual-career couples, they do "get" the fact that sometimes there are gaps in employment. But, the way you present this in a cover letter or on a phone call, etc. will be important.

Thank you, readers, for your great questions and for also sharing your insights to other readers. I look forward to seeing your future questions at our next online chat on Wednesday, June 5 from 12-1pm.



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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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