Career Coach takes your questions

Jul 17, 2013

With an unemployment rate of 7.6 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 our July online chat. I am looking forward to addressing your job and career questions. Best,


I had a number of short term (less than one year) positions since graduating from law school four years ago. I have interesting work experience but am competing against other 4th years with only one prior company, and new graduates. How do I combat the psychology of employers that I am a bad candidate, particularly before the interview stage?

You did not mention why you had these shorter term positions since graduating. Was it the job market or some other reason? Since you think this might be a factor, how does your resume look? You might want to make sure someone reviews it to make sure you are setting yourself up in the best possible (yet honest) light. You could also make sure any cover letter you send addresses the multiple jobs you have had (perhaps explaining how those have given you broader experiences,etc). In other words, if you think employers are looking at your resume and seem confused as to why you have not had a stable job since your graduation, then you need to make sure to address their concerns preemptively.  Your resume could list a Summary statement at the beginning which speaks to your diversity of experiences -so this might help you. In addition, build your network as best as you can since this will help you more thank anything. Make sure you have a strong social media profile that people can review. Would your previous law professors be willing to help you with references and meeting employers? Reach out to them as well.

Best of luck!

My husband has worked at a manufacturing plant for the past 9 months. The first 4 months he worked there he was employed by a temp agency. Then the company directly hired him, to do the exact same job. How does he list this situation on his resume? Does it have to be two completely separate listings? Or does he list ONE job description with two separate employers/dates? He plans to stay there for now, but layoffs could happen at anytime and we want to be prepared. Thank you!

He could do either. He could list the most recent job first with the job title and dates. He could list all the dates (the past 9 months) and the current manufacturing plant that he is working for. Or, he could also just list the current job and indicate the past 5 months with this employer and the previous 4 months with the agency. It really should not matter that much. Future employers will be more interested in the job title and the firm and they are less worried about how he got the job. Certainly, he will want to answer any direct questions about this, but it is unlikely that it will come up much.

I have a very charming, funny boss who jokes around with everyone in the office. He recruited me heavily for a few years, and I finally took a management position with the company a few months ago. My issue is that he routinely (weekly) makes comments about how lazy I am, how surprised he is that I bothered to show up for work, how he isn't sure what I actually do there. I've tried several times (over lunch, in his office, via e-mail) to follow up with him about these comments, asking if he was serious and requesting feedback on my performance. He laughs it off and says he was just joking and that I'm too serious. Yet he never says anything positive about my work and the "jokes" continue. I am definitely not someone who needs constant praise to do my job, but his comments and lack of feedback on my performance leave me feeling unsure of what he really thinks, and I'm considering taking a new job. Any advice for getting him to tell me what he really thinks, or should I just ignore the jokes and continue to do my job well? Or take another job?

If he is your boss, then you are definitely okay to set up a meeting to get some feedback. You may want to just say that you wanted to set up a meeting to gain his perspective about  how things were going. Make sure that an "official" meeting is set up (not just a time when you catch him in his office). Make sure there is at least an hour set aside for this meeting so you know it will be taken seriously. Then, make sure you are prepared for this meeting. Think about (even write down) what you have done so you can share this with him in case he has questions about your performance (assuming he does not see everything). In the meeting, you can tell him you wanted to gain his perspective on how things are going and wanted to hear from him about things you were doing well as well as any areas for improvement. You should also use this as an opportunity to share with him that you wanted to hear his views since he sometimes makes statements which lead you to believe you are not doing what you need to be doing on the job. You did not say whether he makes these comments in front of others, but if he does, you really  need to let him know that this can make your job more difficult (since it lowers your credibility). In any event, definitely have the meeting to learn what he thinks. I would not look for another job at this point. He may think very highly of you, yet is not aware of how he is coming across. You need to let him  know.

I'm leaving my job in a few weeks (have already given notice) and have been asked about doing an exit interview. Here's the thing. My department is RABIDLY dysfunctional. My manager is completely unable to make decisions or respond to staff requests for clarification, so projects are delayed and then staff are written up and blamed for our manager's inability to focus or provide guidance. Morale is terrible. The stress level is so high that we get sick - a third of us have had to take extended medical leave. So I'm not saying it's bad. I'm saying it's the worst department I've ever worked for, and I have plenty of evidence of mismanagement and incompetence. Due to office politics (manager is BFFs with the head boss), it is extremely unlikely that my manager will be removed from her position. But I also feel like someone needs to speak up, and as I will not being using this manager as a reference I am the best person to do so.

You did not say who you would be doing the exit interview with. This might make a difference in how you approach this. If you decide to do an exit interview, I would stick to facts - things that people can see. For instance, if many people have taken sick leave, then you can speak to this issue as a symptom of morale issues. If  there are delays in projects, then you can share insights on why those delays occur. I don't think you have to let them know this is the "worst department you have ever worked for" (you could if you felt you had total confidentiality with the person you are meeting with), or bring a lot of emotion into the discussion. If you have the conversation, make it as  factual and objective as possible. Then, it will be more believable and maybe they will do something about it. Also, you did not say whether you have another job at this point. You certainly don't want to jeopardize that job (which is why I asked WHO would be doing the exit interview). Hope you are able to give them some feedback that they use to improve.

Hi, Joyce! Thanks for taking my question. I have been a stay at home mother for 6 years. During my time at home, I've done volunteer work related to the field I left and am halfway through a Masters. My husband is applying for jobs and I'd like to start working when we move. Despite the Masters and the volunteer work, I'm still concerned about my prospects for employment--I'm in my early 30s and will be competing against people who have had more years of consistent experience than I. Any tips for how to handle this and really make myself shine? I am so ready to go back to work!

Great for you!

I think your resume really needs to be written to highlight how you have consistently stayed connected to your field. Plus, the fact that you are working on a Masters degree will help. You will be competing with some people with more work experience, but then others with a similar Masters' degree as well as some with more experience yet no Master's degree so you are not in a bad position in the marketplace.

You did not say what your Master's degree is in, and yet that will have a bearing on your job prospects. Plus, when will you be finished the degree? Can you wait to apply for jobs until you are almost finished the degree to make good use of having the degree in the marketplace? That would be most optimal, unless you need to be working now. Either way, you will want to make good use of having the degree either now or later in the marketplace. Make sure your resume really shows your continued connection to your field. Also, what about internships or part-time jobs while you are finishing your Master's degree? Can you do that and then apply for full-time jobs once you are done? This would show more work experience in your field before applying for the full-time jobs.

As a military spouse, I did as many others have done and sacrificed my career for my spouse's service. Now that my spouse is retire,d I am trying to reenter the wor force. What are some suggestions for sprucing up my resume? I have worked odd jobs mostly sporadically, and not for many years now. I did go back to college and obtained a bachelors degree in IT. I have been looking for two years now, with no success, due to a lack of employment and experience in the field. Thank you, Frustrated

Can you try to get into part-time jobs in the IT field? What about your network of IT professionals? Can you join any professional associations? How is your social media (e.g., LinkedIn) profile? Is it up-to-date? I think trying to work through personal connections or taking some part-time opportunities might be a good way to ease back into this field. When did you get your bachelor's degree? Can you ask some of your IT faculty for contacts or introductions to various firms? How does your resume look? Has anyone looked it over? Have you had any interviews? If you have had initial interviews, but no follow-up interviews, then you may need to get some feedback on how you are coming across in the interviews. Is there any help you can get as a military spouse? Any connections there that can help you? Best of luck!

My boyfriend (we are in our 40's) was recently deployed to Hawaii and I am beginning my job search there. How can I address my reason for relocating in cover letters without saying "my boyfriend relocated?" It just sounds so unprofessional and well, young. Partner, family, significant other, due to govt. orders? I want to convey to the reader that this isn't a "dream of mine" and that moving from the East Coast is reality.

Why can't you just say that you are relocating to Hawaii for family reasons and will be available for work on xxx date? Target specific firms and jobs that you are most interested in and spend your time on those firms.

You may  need to actually be there (Hawaii) in order to gain any traction on the job search process since sometimes it is easier to find a job once you have moved to an area. But, you could still try to learn what professional groups and networks you can join in advance. And you could still try to reach out to various companies to set up interviews via Skype or phone now. Does your boyfriend have other connections that are willing to help you out as well? Good luck.

What is the best way to apply for a job that is in your field, but located in another city? I've sometimes included in my cover letter that I'm willing to move, but I'm not sure if that calls attention away from my qualifications. I work in such a global industry (scientific publishing) that sometimes I'm shocked by people's inability to see past where I currently live when considering me for a position! This happens both within my company and with competitors as well. Thanks!

This is a good question and one that is often raised. I think you have to make it really clear that you are willing and interested to consider multiple locations. You could put your high interest and flexibility in moving  in a cover letter to a firm or at the top of your resume in a summary statement. Maybe your statement about this just needs to be a little stronger.

Generally, it is easier to apply for a job in another city by traveling to that city and meeting with people. So, you could set up interviews in advance and then go to the city to meet face-to-face. You did not say where the other cities are located and how much travel is involved, but if you can go there, it helps. It should not matter, but people often like to meet others face to face since they rely heavily on the in-person interview for hiring. Good luck.

Hi, I'm resigning from my position today, to take a new dream job. Two tricky parts: a) I'm leaving to go to a consulting firm that my current company has a few ongoing projects with, and b) I really want to handle telling my coworkers myself (after I tell my boss, of course.) Any tips? I feel like I should tell them where I'm going, to avoid any appearance of impropriety, but are there other elements I should watch for? Thanks!

It is best if you can manage the information yourself. Of course, this is tricky. But, clearly you need to tell your boss first. You could then ask your boss for some advice, and let them know you want to tell colleagues yourself. You did not say if there was a noncompete agreement that you signed. I am assuming you did not sign one saying that you would not work for a company you have business with. But, make sure about this before you do anything.

You also did not say how long you worked for your current firm and boss. That might also dictate how you approach this situation. In general, you are best to handle this yourself since it will "get out" and it is better if it comes from you than the grapevine. You should think about when to tell your boss and colleagues as well as what exactly you will say (you still want to be positive with your current firm about having worked there). Also, are you giving them notice and will plan to be there for a few more weeks after you tell them? What is your transition plan? You need to think about this, and how you can best help them transition from your loss since it sounds like you will have future dealings with them.

In my current position, I feel as if my skill sets are stagnating and that without drastic changes in higher levels of the organization, I will not be able to climb the ranks. Nevertheless, this job pays well and it's very comfortable. That said, I've been approached by another company; I interviewed and shortly thereafter was offered a job. However, the numbers they gave me just aren't high enough to justify the jump into the great unknown. What's the best way to make a strong counteroffer without insulting the company making the offer? I feel the number I've been given should be about 8% higher, minimum. Do I counter with a number that's 10% higher and hope they come down to 8%? Or do I just shoot for the 8 and hope for the best?

Do you have any market research to back up your request for another 10 percent? You should make sure to look at the salaries for the job you are considering (look at,, or other web sites). Generally, it is best to have market data when making a salary request.

But, assuming you have the market data, it is also a typical rule to ask for a little more than you want to try to get what you really want. So, asking for 10 percent to get the 8 percent is generally a better strategy. Also, you can make the case that they need to offer you more to make the move from your current position. Most employers understand that people do not want to move jobs and make the same amount of money or just a little more.

Your best strategy though is doing some market research and sharing that data with them.

I have given notice at my job. No, I have nothing else lined up. Yes, I know I might have to look for a while. The job has become unsustainable. It's wrecking my health. When I interviewed, they said all the right things, answered all my questions, and assured me that work-life balance was important and respected here. That turned out not to be true. I need to find a job where work-life balance exists. Where I can have a compressed schedule, where I can USE my leave time. I am not willing to sacrifice my life to a job. So, any thoughts on where to look for these? (I look at jobs on the Post, Craig's List, Idealist, USA jobs, and various career specific sites) Also, any thoughts on how to get the truth about how an organization really runs?

To respond to your last question - the best way to really learn about a company is to talk to the people (employees) who work there. Spend some time with them, observe them if you can, try to meet them to ask those questions about how much they work, how receptive the firm is to work-life balance, etc. Of course, this assumes you already have an offer with them or you are interviewing with them. Generally, these questions are best asked once you have a written job offer. Then, you can really try to learn from the employees what it is really like working there. Going beyond what is printed in the brochures or on the Web sites to learn how things work there.

About the jobs - looks like you are looking in the right places. What about your friends and other connections? You did not say what field you are in, so that might matter, but can you go through some of your friends and professional connections to apply for jobs? This is generally the best way to get a foot in the door, especially at those firms that you are interested in working for. You could look at the list of the Best Companies to Work For since those are often rated in terms of work-life balance. This might give you some ideas for firms you had not considered before. Good luck!


Thanks for your great questions today. I look forward to responding to more of your job-related questions at our next online chat on Wednesday, August 14th from noon to 1pm. In the meantime, enjoy your summer days!



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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