Career Coach offers advice for interns and new college graduates

Jun 18, 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 the June online chat. I look forward to receiving your job-related questions. Also, does your company have great vacation policies that you can share with readers? Or questions you may have about vacation practices. Send those ideas in as well.



Can you give some strategies for dealing with a new boss who lacks the skills and experience needed to be the boss? Obviously, having a positive attitude is important but that can only go so far when you're dealing with continued incompetence. It's not like the boss is a bad employee, just not qualified to be the head of a department.

So, why is this person the boss? Do they have the expertise or background? I ask since someone must have felt that they were the best choice for the job. If you are saying they have the technical skills but not the managerial skills, that can be a real problem that sometimes occurs when individuals are promoted yet do not have the managerial skills. Can you offer suggestions to the person regarding leadership types of situations? Would they take those in a good way? Some bosses are okay with others giving them advice. For example, I have known bosses who are fine if someone tells them how to conduct performance reviews since they know they have never done these before. Other bosses don't want the advice from an employee, but may take advice from a peer or their own boss. What is your situation with your boss? Would he/she take advice from you or another peer or can you make some suggestions to his/her boss? This might be a good strategy.

Hi, Joyce – Just an offer of hope for those looking for a job. I just went through a frustrating job search. (Aren’t they all!) I had walked away from a toxic situation – still believe it was the right decision – but bo,y is it true that it’s easier to look while you’re employed! I could not believe how many ‘nibbles’ I got that led to nothing and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was because I’d left a job. I also suspected ‘ageism’ at work. One recruiter told me that we’d be going forward and that his security person would call me to start the clearance process. A few minutes later the security person called and the first question she asked was my DoB. I know that’s required for a clearance, so I gave it. She hemmed and hawed about foreign relatives for a few minutes, then said they’d get back to me with next steps. I left a voicemail for the recruiter a few days later, but heard nothing. So, after 10 months of this kind of behavior I found myself talking with a company that put me through four phone screens and four in-person interviews (8 different people). Each person assured me I was ‘the best fit’ for this job, but the decision guy would not pull the trigger. Then I got a call from a company who set an interview after a brief phone screen. They called me back a few days later to meet the CEO and they called that evening to offer me the job. It’s the best work/life balance I’ve had in years. It’s a hectic pace each day, but with no evenings or weekends. And the company dynamic is great – generally friendly and upbeat. Things truly do work out for the best – it usually just takes longer than we would like.

Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences! Great points you made as well. It is important to look for a job while you are employed since future employers really do not know if you are miserable in your current job or you are just looking for more opportunities. So, staying employed if possible makes you look more attractive to future employers who sometimes feel like they are now trying to "woo" you away. Also, you mentioned another good point about being careful about giving information on your age. It is best to try to avoid this (if you are over 50) if possible because sadly, some employers or individuals are biased against hiring older people. If you can take off the dates of your graduations,etc., off of your resume, this would be best.

Glad things are working out for you. Sounds like your patience and persistence really paid off! Best of luck!

Any book or article suggestions for a first-time supervisor? I've worked for a lot of people who I don't want to emulate.

Great question and good for you to realize you want to get additional training to be the best possible supervisor. There are plenty of books on this topic. I really like a number of books by Kouzes and Posner (The Leadership Challenge, Truths about Leadership, etc) since they use lots of practical examples to share key tips and strategies.  Also, reading books about the value of creating a motivational environment and using recognition and appreciation in the workplace (The Carrot Principle, The Orange Revolution) are also important for your success in building a highly engaged workplace.  Another idea would be to ensure that you collect data when you start your job (from employees). Listen to them and ask them "How can I best serve you as your supervisor - what kinds of things can I do to help you be successful in your job?" These types of questions really let them know that you are there to support and serve them and that really is the role of an effective supervisor. Best of luck!

Add to that list for the first time manager - Anything by Allison Green of She's brilliant.

Great. Thanks for sharing!

Hi Joyce, I'm fishing up my master's in Health Science/Community Health next month. This is a career change for me from editing, which I have been doing for the past 15 years (working freelance for the past three). Most job listings want experience in the field. Other than an internship last summer, I have none, but do have 12 years of experience in office settings. Any suggestions on how to approach these applications? Also, in terms of references, I have my adviser (who is head of the grad program) and someone from my internship. For the third, is it better to have another professor (within the field) or a former supervisor (not in the field)? Thanks!

Great questions. Congratulations on finishing up your master's degree! First, I would definitely use your professors as your references since they are in your new field. Do they have connections to employers that can hire you? I would spend time with as many of your professors as you can to build stronger networks and connections - even if it is with people to talk to and get career advice from. You just need all your professors to give you names and introductions to people in the field, and then it is good to contact those folks not to ask for a job, but to ask for career advice. Most people are happy to provide advice and if they can then send your resume to other folks or connect you to others that can help. Make sure to give your professors a recent copy of your resume and identify for them your key attributes that you want mentioned to others.  Also, you can talk with them about how you can show the translation of your previous experience to your new field. Some of your skills will probably translate - you just have to help them see what you did before and how it can be relevant. This is  important so that you can identify these aspects and then use this to gain  interviews with employers. Look at what the new jobs are requesting in terms of skills and try to make the connection to your previous jobs (e.g., leadership skills, oral communication, customer or client service, etc). Building your network through your school contacts and the Health field will be the best way for you to gain entry into this field. Best of luck!

It's vacation season.  Any tips for making sure workers can truly enjoy their time off without feeling like they have to check their e-mail every hour? How can you leave your colleagues well-equipped to hold down the fort while you're out?

Preparation is key. What can you do in advance so that you can really be "off" when you are off? In addition, setting expectations with others you work for is also really important. Let them know if you will be available, and if so, when. This will make it cleaner for you and for them.

It really is important to try to take a "real" break so that you can come back to work refreshed and ready to give it your all again. Many of us have trouble with this because we stay connected even while on break. If you can't go "cold turkey" with technology (or your boss wants you to be accessible and you can't negotiate that), then at least set parameters around your availability (i.e., you will be available from 10-12 each morning or available on certain days or something like that) so that you can have some time when you are "off the grid". Having long breaks when you are off  (a whole day or half a day or several days) is really important for our brains and peace of  mind (plus our families will appreciate it!) My recent column in Capital Business on Monday June 16th offered additional tips on how to "go off the grid" and have a true vacation.

I always get lots of questions from readers about moving into a new supervisory role. Here are some tips that might help you out:

1. Start out by meeting with all of your direct reports, and if possible, the entire team (even their direct reports). Set up team meetings or one-on-one meetings with each of them to spend some time learning what they love about their jobs and challenges they face. You might even ask "what can I do in my role to enable you to be even more successful".

2. Listen to what they have to say. Ask question to learn.

3. Acknowledge their previous contributions to thank them for being part of the organization and for all they have contributed. Before doing this, try to learn more about what they actually have contributed so you can refer to those things.

4. Find someone you can trust to provide advice and counsel for you. It is always important to have a trusted adviser who can give you feedback, and serve as a sounding board.

5. Find out what they think about meetings and be sure to make any needed changes so that the meetings are more productive, fun, and value-added. Lencioni wrote a great book called "Death by Meetings" which offers some great tips here.

6. Review what is done for recognition and appreciation. This is often a valuable way to make sure your employees are getting the visibility they need, and are motivated and energized at work.

7. Make sure you have gotten training on conducting performance feedback sessions. This is often one of the most difficult parts of a supervisor's job, yet very critical for helping employees.

8. Make sure you are being inclusive. Are you spending time with employees of all backgrounds - whether differences in generations, race, gender, ability, etc. All individuals want and need to feel valued at work. Are you setting the right tone for how individuals are treated by others in terms of respect, civility and fairness.

9. Be transparent about communications. Employees want to understand what is going on. Often, they feel like they don't know what decisions supervisors are making and why.

10. Remember that employees watch everything you do and say. Be the most ethical role model you can be. Your integrity and credibility are the foundation for building a strong trusting successful team.

Thanks for taking on the role of a new leader. We need strong leaders in our companies today!


Thanks for your questions and insight! Really appreciate it. I am looking forward to our next online chat on Wednesday, July 16 from 1:00-2:00pm. Until then, enjoy your summer and take some time off to refresh and renew!



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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