Career Coach takes your questions

Aug 14, 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 August online chat. Summer is almost over, which means lots of people are gearing up for school and back to looking for jobs. I look forward to addressing any career-related questions or negotiation issues you may have. Feel free to also send in your own insights and ideas as well.



Hi, Joyce. I'm temping at a corporation that's making noises about hiring me. Trouble is, the office culture is to stay pretty late, and I have community obligations in the evening. Some employees have confided that they were told such activities wouldn't be a problem, then once they were on board, they got chastised for leaving "early" after all. I always get in early because of the bus, so I'm certainly putting in enough hours. How can I get both the job and a normal schedule?

You are doing the right thing to learn what is said and what is really done. I think you have to hold this conversation with your new boss - letting them know that you will be arriving early, but will need to leave by a certain time due to other obligations. If you arrive early, that may make it okay. Or, maybe you can stay later 1-2 times a week(??) as a compromise. I do think it is critical to get this discussed and clarified in advance. Then, stick to what your boss and you agree on. Sometimes people have a plan for their working hours but they decide to stay later and of course, most bosses are not going to tell them to go home. So, have the discussion with your boss, mutually agree on what would work for both of you, then stick to it. Good luck!

What are some good methods or tools to improve engagement, motivation,etc. when employees have a direct supervisor where once they had only a distant program manager? This is essentially a newly formed team and there seem to be issues with perceived violation of "the power dead even rule" between women. Thanks!

Great question. When you bring in a manager where none previously existed (or one who was distant geographically), there may be some concerns or questions about how things will be operating now. The manager should make a good effort to really talk to each employee on the team, to learn what they do, what their areas of expertise are, what they like about their jobs, how the manager can best help them, etc. Spend the time getting to know them as people. If it is a small team, take them to lunch individually to learn more about them. Set up some activities to build the team - maybe a social event - lunch, happy hour, some fun activity. It will be important for the manager to connect with each of them individually and to work on building espirit de corps.  Not only will people need to build a connection with the manager, but they will need to build trust. A great book to review is Dysfunctions of Teams by Patrick Lencioni. It offers great ideas for factors to consider when building teams. Best of luck.

I am a 52-year-old woman and I have a difficult career situation. I have an advanced degree in chemistry and have worked in chemistry for more than 10 years. Many years ago, my company cut off R&D and I made a short-sighted decision which I now regret. At that time, I saw I might have no job for a while, or need to relocate, and the chemistry field was outsourcing. So I made a decision to have my own business, and I switched to financial field as a financial services representative. After years in the financial service field, I've realized that this is not a career for me.  My strong points are that I'm detail-oriented, excellent in research and analysis, organizing, reporting and presenting, although also good in planning, consulting and communicating. But sale is my weak point, and financial sales income depends on commission, very unstable.  But now, I have been out of chemistry for too long, and I think there's no hope to get back there. I have no education nor experience in other fields. What can I do for my career? What kind of job or field would be suitable for me? Or what minor changes I could make to get myself in a better "career shape"? At this age, it seems I am too old for any completely new start. I think I should consider something that would use my skills and experience developed during the years of financial sales. But what are they? I'd appreciate very much your opinions and suggestions. Thank you for your help.

It seems that you have a great background in the sciences and with financial skills -both of which could be very marketable in related fields - healthcare, pharma, etc. You say you have an advanced degree in chemistry, but what about a business background? Have you considered getting more business skills and background? Then you might be able to use your science and financial skills to benefit yourself in other types of jobs. You would be able to "speak the language" of scientists (which is very valuable),but also with business skills. I don't think you are too old to go into a business field. I have known many people who have moved into completely new fields in their 50s -  knowing they may work for another 20 years or so. First, get someone to look over your resume and also you  might look at resources for employees over 50. There are plenty of Web sites specifically designed for workers over 50 and also books on this topic. This is a large part of the workforce. If you can get someone to review your resume and talk through your skill set, that would also help. Best of luck!

I'm currently employed, but looking for a new job-- mostly because I find it unpleasant to work with a couple of my coworkers, despite my love for the work itself. (Short version: they have difficult personalities.) My experience demonstrates that it's sometimes difficult to figure out something like this during the interview process when everyone's on their best behavior. Do you have any suggestions for questions to ask, steps to take, to prevent landing somewhere else where I won't be happy?

Great question, and a tough one. Interviews are not the best predictors of some of these difficult personality issues. Often, it helps to ask questions specifically about your areas of concern. For example, "what are some of the challenges people here have working with each other or on various projects"?  Ask lots of people the same questions and look for consistency. Observe them in social exchanges - such as lunches and happy hours to see how they seem to get along.

The other thing to think about is what type of individuals do you have more difficulties working with? Are they people who push too hard, micromanagers, slackers,  manipulators? What specifically? It helps to know your own personality (e.g. take the Myers Briggs Type Inventory as one example to learn more), because often people who are very different from us in terms of personality are the ones we have the most trouble dealing with at work. So, if you learn that you are a very structured person who likes to follow a detailed plan and you are surrounded by people who like flexibility and no details, that might help you in understanding why you have these conflicts with them. It might also help you in learning how to better work with people who are very different from you. Just a thought.

But, what is most important is understanding your own style and the types of individuals you have the most difficulty working with. Spend some time to think about this so that in future employment situations you might have a better idea of what you are looking for (to avoid). Best of luck.

Hi Joyce! Earlier this month, I was offered a great job opportunity, but I turned it down because I just couldn't make the (awful, even by D.C. standards) commute work and I wasn't willing to relocate. (When I applied for the job, I thought that a train commute or a relocation would be in the cards, but in the end, neither was a viable option for me.) I proposed the idea of telecommuting (2 days in the office, 3 days from home), and while the hiring manager said he was OK with it, it was not something that the organization's culture allowed for. The hiring manager also said that if I changed my mind in the next few weeks before they hired someone else, the offer was still on the table. Do you think it's worth meeting with the hiring manager one more time and making a pitch for telecommuting? (If so, it would be great if you could recommend some resources on how to ask for this successfully.) Or is that weird and pushy? Do I just have to let this one be the one that got away, or is it worth a Hail Mary pass?

Great question. You have nothing to lose by bringing this up with the hiring manager again. You said that he said he was okay about this. So, what makes you think you can not do it? You said the organizational culture does not support it. What do you mean by this? If the hiring manager is okay with it, then what problems will you face by doing it? Also, can you make more of a compromise by suggesting only 2 days from home or maybe alternative work hours to avoid some of the traffic? It might also help if you had some data indicating that telecommuting is common in the industry or field or data  showing that competitor companies also have telecommuting. There is a lot of evidence on the use of telecommuting in organizations so you should be able to see this data, especially from some of the Best Companies. Check out and for some of that data. Best of luck!

Is this a good time to be looking for a job? For most of my career, I have worked for companies that were government contractors. I took my current job three years ago knowing that the 25 mile commute would be tough. I have stayed hoping the economy would get better. With the lack of government funding the the furlough, it never seemed like it would be a good idea to be the newest employee on a team. But, to tell you the truth, I am bored, the commute is killing me, and I think it is time to find something new. However, having a paycheck is better than the risk of not having one.

While you are employed, it is a good time to be looking. It is always better to be employed while looking than to quit your job and then look. You are more attractive to potential employers if you are already employed. You did not say what field you are in so that would make a difference in whether this is a good time to be looking. You could passively look at this time (i.e., tell your friends you are looking, tell your network, update your social media sites). This way, recruiters could reach out to you. Then, you can decide if you want to more actively look by sending resumes, calling employers, and so on.

I'm lucky enough to finally be getting a promotion! Do you have any tips for negotiating my new salary? I've worked here 6 years, and while I've increased my responsibilities immensely and received great annual reviews, I mostly received average salary increases and bonuses, with 2 exceptions of the max I was eligible for and one exception of no increase (I work for a real estate company, so no one got them that year!). I feel I'm a bit underpaid and this is a huge opportunity to get me back on track.

Congratulations on your new promotion! Great news! Yes, you can negotiate salary or a raise or you can at least make the case. There are plenty of resources out there to give you some good tips about what to do. ,First look at what the market shows are salaries for your position in your industry. There are plenty of sites  with data including,, Once you have this data, you will have a better sense of what the market says is the appropriate pay rate. Also, do you have any information from the internal market (your company) about what others in a similar position make? If so, this also gives you valuable information. So, collecting information is the first step. Then, I would look over all your  notes about what you have contributed to the firm (document your own great performance and increased responsibilities). Then, with all this information you are ready to have the conversation with your boss about the salary you feel is appropriate for this promotion. But, when having the conversation, you could first see what he/she is planning to offer you along with the promotion (hopefully a raise of some sort). Then, you can ask questions of him/her to better understand how they arrived at that number. Then, you can offer the range you were thinking about and why (share your external and internal data and your increasing responsibilities). Then, allow them to digest this information and ask you questions. These are the first steps I would take. Good luck and congrats again!

After almost two decades at my agency, I seem to have plateaued, despite a steady series of outstanding ratings. I can't make that leap to management, but I feel overqualified for the work I'm doing. Frankly, I've worked here so long I've lost sense of how my skills and assets would fit into another organization. Any tips on where to start looking and thinking about a career overhaul?

You did not say whether you had military background since there might be resources that could help you look for other employment. Also, did you progressively move up on the technical ladder side? Do you want to be in management? If so, do you have a business background or can you take additional courses, an EMBA, certificates, that could showcase the business side of your skills to help you move into management? I think having someone look over your resume would help so that you can really highlight the various skills you bring to the workplace. Obviously, you have been very successful to have moved up in rank. Perhaps talking to a career coach to learn more about what you now want to do (whether in management or something else) would be a good idea. Sometimes it helps having someone else to talk with about what you have done and where you want to be going.

Hi Joyce-I'm a manger in a department of about 25. We are gearing up for an internal retreat and I've been charged with leading a managers breakout session. I can take the discussion in any direction. What's the best way to use those 45 minutes? Let people have a forum to vent/identify issues? Talk about what's going well? With no real direction from the higer ups, I'm just not sure how to make the time worthwhile? Thanks!

Great question. It really depends on what the goals are for your session. Are they to get everyone pumped up and motivated? Are they to build a stronger team? Are they to identify issues and resolve problems? You only have 45 minutes so that really is not much time and you don't want to identify problems and leave people in a state of depression about all the terrible issues. 

You could always send a note out in advance to the managers asking two questions: 1) What do you think we are doing well and 2) what is the most important thing we should currently be working on to improve? If you collect this information in advance, you could then come to the meeting and share the strengths that people share (always important to share the positives), and you could identify the top two areas they said should be worked on. Then, you could use the meeting to collect their ideas about how to ensure the firm keeps doing the positive things and what 2-3 ideas they have for making improvements.

What is most important in a short meeting like this is to be realistic about what you can accomplish in 45 minutes. It has to be concise, yet meaningful for participants. Good luck!

I am currently employed in a biological laboratory setting, and have a graduate degree in a field associated with my current position. I am looking for a position outside of the lab but in a science based job (think science policy or consulting). I have hired a career coach to help revamp my resume (I previously had a CV and had no experience with resumes), and I have gone to networking events. I have been applying to a lot of positions. With all this, I have not gotten any interviews and am worried that my resume is not effective, or I'm just missing something to give me a little upper hand. I'm also worried that my current experience on paper will not translate that I can do a "desk" job vs. a "lab bench" job. What do you suggest when revamping resumes? Should every resume be tailored to every position applied for? Any advice for such a big change and getting a foot in the interview door? Thanks!

I don't think every job should require you to revamp your resume, although it definitely needs to be altered depending on jobs. It is great you hired a career coach to help you out. I was just talking to several executives in science fields who told me they got their new jobs 100 percent through networking. They talked to family members, their children's friends' parents, other relatives, neighbors, etc.  These informal contacts were what led to their new jobs. I think you have to look at the networking events you are attending. Are they more related to lab jobs or also your aspirational jobs -  in consulting and science policy? This could be important. It could take 6 months or more. Patience and talking to as many people as possible is important. Best of luck!

I've been in my current position as a government attorney for three years. For various reasons, including the position being term and an awful toxic work environment, I am trying to get a new position. I apply to jobs all the time, have reviewed/edited my resume umpteenth times, network, etc. Is there any advice you can give for other ways to search for jobs? Should I hire a headhunter?

A headhunter could be helpful. Talk to friends to find the name of someone they trust who has really helped them out. What type of networking have you done? This might matter. It is critical to really use all your friends, relatives, etc., as well as professional colleagues when networking. Also, do you have ideas of what you might like to do next? If you have some specific ideas, share those with your network. Make sure they all have your resume. Be persistent with them. Sometimes, persistence really pays off since your name is top of mind for them when something comes up. It is time consuming - but if you can keep your current job while you are looking, that will help you out. You will look much more attractive to potential employers if you are still working. Good luck!

I just received a new job about 6 months ago for a company that I enjoy working for. However, I am overqualified for the position and it is not in my field; I took the job out of necessity. I see there is an opening for a position within the same company for a job within my field and that would be a mix of my passion and background and one that would be challenging and exciting for me. My current boss and the whole team have been really welcoming to me, planning a party for my bridal shower at work while I hadn't been here that long and buying gifts for my new husband and me. How can I apply for the new job and, if I accept it, tell my current boss that I will be leaving so soon? It may be all in my head, but I'd like some advice for leaving without working at least a year at this job. Thank you!!

This is tough, especially since your coworkers have been so nice to you. Is it possible to hold off for a little while or are they quickly trying to fill the new position?

It is always tricky to  move jobs within the same firm. Everyone talks - so you have to assume that if you apply for the new position, people in your current position will hear of this.

You could reach out to the boss of the other position to learn more about the job, and express interest in it. Of course, you will then need to quickly talk with your boss to let him/her know what your work passions are and that you love the firm and might be interested in applying for the other position.

If you are going to apply for the new position, you will have to talk with your current boss. The sooner, the better since he/she will hear about this. Maybe given what you said about your work environment, your boss will be supportive of your move. Sometimes good managers are just happy that good employees stay in the firm. Do you have any  ideas of anyone else who might be interested in your current job? If so, that might help them out since they would be worried about who would cover the current job. This is tricky, but honesty will be very important here in keeping your reputation.

I am a accountant in the federal government and early in my career (2 years out of college/on the job). Is there anything you could suggest or resources (books, sites) aimed at people like me? My reviews are good but I feel as though my time management, organization and following up with people could be better. Thanks.

You titled your note "how to be a better listener" but then asked about working on time management, organization and following up with people. So, it seems like you are looking for more management skills. You said your job is in accounting. I am assuming this is your background and you have less background in general business or leadership? If so, you might want to take some leadership courses  on how to work more effectively with people. You could take online courses, certificate courses, in person courses at schools. There are plenty of them. Taking courses or reading books would help - there are plenty of resources out there to help you (check out or, but you would also need to be able to get feedback and practice skills. Leadership involves skill areas that require practice and feedback so make sure to take courses or enroll in programs that build those skills practice in. Great that you recognize you want to work on these areas. That is half the battle. Good luck!


Thanks for the great questions. Good luck with your job searches, negotiations, and networking! I look forward to seeing your questions again next month on Sept. 18th from 12-1pm.



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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