Career Coach takes your questions

Aug 15, 2012

With an unemployment rate of 8.2 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 our August online chat. I look forward to answering your questions about jobs and careers. Feel free to also share your own insights and tips with each other.


J Russell

I am a whistleblower that was terminated without cause. The issue was a professional engineering public safety topic.  Although you will not likely hear about it, and it will not likely make the news, it has made its way into industry discussions. How does one make it back onto the job market when all employers know that you will take the ethical path?

I would think you should be in good position for many ethical firms (which is where you want to work anyway). This may sound naive, yet there are many employers who prefer to hire individuals who will take the ethical path. You might look at their Web sites (and talk to people working there) to see where ethics stack up as one of their core values. If it is not even mentioned, then this may not be the firm for you. On the other hand, if it is one of their core values and employees there agree that they seem to really care about ethics, then this might be a better fit for you. Definitely check this out.

Best of luck!

Over a month and a half ago, I interviewed for a position with a university that I was very interested in. The interview went well but then I never heard from them (even after sending an email to check on the status). I just recently emailed again and received a response that the past month they have been finalizing budgets for the university and, due to other priorities, they no longer have the budget for the position right now. I was told the department is trying to figure out how to meet their needs and will be in contact if and when they are recruiting. This is a high-level staff position (business-related as opposed to anything academic/teaching). My instinct is to thank them anyway (which I did) and let it go. But I am wondering if you think it is possible to persuade them? Higher-ed is not my current industry and I am not sure if the budgeting process is more flexible than private industry? Any advice?

They may really have budget issues - very common at universities right now. Not sure you can persuade them, but you could continue to stay in touch with them just to make sure they remember you, if and when they get the budget they need. 

While currently employed and not wanting anyone within your company to know you are seeking a new job, what is the best way to provide references to a future employer? Most of the time they require references from your current supervisor or peers.

Great question. Most employers understand how this works so they are typically okay waiting to ask for current references until you are pretty far along in the process. So, if you can ask them to wait until you are a final candidate and they are getting ready to make the offer, most employers are willing to do this. At that time, you really will need to ask a few key people that you trust in your current firm to serve as references for you. Of course, you can also ask the new employer to first start with references from a previous job. Then, later ask about your current references. But, it is a good idea to pick some people from your current firm that you will have provide references for you. Good luck!

I've taken the easy road career-wise. Some of my pals still are vying for that star internship at the glitzy world-renowned firm, but I settled for great benefits, low stress, and easy money. In a high-energy workplace I've been highly self-motivated in the past. But here, why bother? I'm clearly not thrilled to be where I am, but the money rocks. Am I in a slump? Is that OK? Is the only way out to rejoin the rat race and work 12-hour days until I get noticed? A friend told me if I can't motivate myself to get what I want now, why bother saying I ever will? It's true I could do a lot more at work and even on my own time career-wise. But I don't.

People go through different phases in their careers. We can't assume that everyone is "in the rat race" for their entire lives. Maybe you feel you need this breather right now so you can relax and enjoy other aspects of your life. It really depends what your values are (e.g., how important having power, achievement, etc. are to you relative to "enjoying life"). I don't think you can compare yourself to others since everyone is different. Maybe they need the 12 hour days to feel energized, yet at this point in your life you don't. 

One question for you will be: Can you be happy in this job for a long period of time? Maybe it is fine for now since you are finding fulfillment in other parts of your life. Or, maybe you can do this job for a short period and then you will feel it is time to move on to do something more challenging for yourself. Think about what you really want in a career as well as in your life in general. This job might be okay at this point in your life.  Then, reevaluate in another 6 months to see how you feel about it.

Any reasons not to be completely honest on a 360 review of my supervisor? I have confidence in the confidentiality of the process, although all written comments will be conveyed verbatim. My answers will include concerns about this person's leadership.

Great question. I think as long as they assure you that the comments will be typed up by another person (not the supervisor), and that no identifying information will be included, then it should be okay. If, however, you are not sure about this, then this could make the process suspect. I have worked with many firms on 360 feedback programs, and often they are done correctly so people providing the feedback feel safe writing their truthful comments. Just be sure not to include any identifying information in your comments (e.g.,  I am the only 35 year old female in the department and I think this supervisor..."). 

If the process is done well, the leader can really get some good feedback to make needed changes. You might also make sure to include some positive comments (if there are things you can compliment them on). Often, leaders only hear the negative things, and not what they are doing well.

My current job hasn't provided me the experience or level or responsibility I desire or expected when I accepted it earlier this year. (short story, I'm bored 90% of the day each day). I'm going to be applying for new jobs in the very near future. How do I address this situation when it inevitably comes up in a future interview? The lack of responsibility is by no fault of my own, I spent the majority of the first few months here begging for more work. Previous jobs held a high level of responsibility.

I think when they ask you what you are looking for in a new position, and why you want to leave your current firm, you can explain that in your previous jobs you have had a fair amount of responsibility and that you are hoping to get that in a new job as well. Be sure to have specific examples of the types of responsibilities you are looking for. Try to focus on what you want, rather than telling them "complaining" stories about what you had (or didn't have) in your current job. Stay positive and focus on the future and what you believe you can contribute to the firm. That should help you. Good luck!

Coach - I'm 63, almost 64. 10 years ago I started transitioning myself out of the independent consultant for hire business into being an adjunct faculty member for a university that offers online MBAs. My rationale at that time was that I teach while I accompanied my husband in a series of overseas assignments. That has worked out well for me. I've enjoyed the work more than I thought I would and I think the students have benefited, as well. And, given the work restrictions where we were posted, it is unlikely I would have found other work in my field. Now, the university has indicated those of us without PHDs will likely find fewer offers to teach in the future. I happen to be somewhere where I could enter one of several PHD programs...the question is, should I? At the earliest, I would be 68 by the time I finished. I don't want to sit around and do nothing, waiting for offers that aren't going to come. But, on the other hand, I'm not ready for retirement. I can seek out local teaching opportunities and that might pan out. My 'Plan B' is try to go back to fiction writing - something I've started and stopped twice before because I kept telling myself I wasn't good enough. Your thoughts?

Great on your part to find work as you have been traveling with your husband. Sounds like you really enjoy teaching. At that university it might be true about hiring more PhDs, but that is not the case everywhere. If you enjoy the teaching, I would look at other options at this point. There are plenty of community colleges and other 2-year schools that are looking for good teachers. If you have a good record of teaching (and can show good teaching evaluations and experiences), you should be able to land other jobs. There are also more schools offering online programs so you might continue to have those opportunities there. I would also talk to others at the school where you are now. If you are a good teacher and have consistently gotten good evaluations from students, and can teach a variety and breadth of courses, I would think you would still be in demand there. 

Of course, you can still look into the PhD program if that is what  you want to do. There are some that are full-time programs, others that are part-time programs. You need to figure out the focus of your degree (major) and where you need to be located.

Seems to me you could explore more teaching opportunities, especially if you have taught a variety of courses, and this would also allow you to do your fiction writing. Best of luck!

I'm kind of stuck in neutral career wise and not even sure what advice I am seeking. I work for a government contractor. I work on site and rarely interact with my administrative reporting chain. I also don't care much if I do. I am happy doing my technical work and have no desire to rise in the company - rising in the company means shooting for partner, bringing in business and working ~60 hours. I'd rather spend time coaching my kids' little league team and going to their swim meets and taking an occasional Friday to go camping with the family. What can I do to achieve the balance I seek? I feel a little out of place and slacker-ish in the D.C. area, despite having a 6-figure salary....

Not sure you should feel like you have to rise to partner level. In some firms, there are dual career ladders where people can rise in the firm either on the technical side OR on the managerial side. Sounds like you prefer the technical side. If that is the case, then you should really try to do these types of activities rather than having direct reports. If you do have direct reports then you really should spend time with them, otherwise this is really not fair to their development either. Maybe you should have a heart-to-heart with your own boss to figure out the best place for you in the firm. There is nothing wrong with your own goals and wanting to spend time with your family. Sounds like you just need a job that enables you to do this. They do exist. But, I do think you need to make sure to look at your current firm to see if those types of jobs are available. Could you work on the technical side only? Check all this out. It will be better for both you and your current direct reports. Best of luck!

Last year I got a new manager who is young. He seems to dislike the women in their 60's who work for him. I think he wants to get rid of me. Is it better to quit or wait to be fired?

To answer your question directly - generally, it is better for you to leave a firm on your own terms, rather than be fired. But, I wonder if you can try to work on connecting with this new manager. Just because there is an age gap does not mean that he and you can not connect. With the gender and generational differences between the two of you, it may seem too hard to bridge the gap, but that doesn't have to be the case. Can you find some time individually to connect with your manager? What are his hobbies  or interests? Can you try to spend some time trying to connect based on common interests (books you like, movies, music, sports, other leisure activities)? It might seem on the surface that you are worlds apart, but not necessarily. It is probably just as hard for him to figure out how to relate to you as it is for you to figure out how to relate to him. If you have been in the firm longer, maybe you can offer to introduce him to key players in the firm or special ways of doing the work, etc. If you can look at him as an individual, you might be able to break through this "stereotype" you think exists.

Of course, it is possible that he doesn't like the women in their 60s who work for him. But, still I think it is helpful to make that attempt to connect individually with him. Good luck!

My new manager (who is a first-time manager) is in her 30s, and she clearly prefers working with the younger workers in our division. They are picked for plum assignments and offered professional training and travel that older workers (50s and 60s) are not. In my case, I've been left off of e-mails and not invited to meetings on projects to which I am assigned (I'm in my late 50s and always get outstanding reviews). I don't think that talking to HR will be much help, since they seem to rubber-stamp whatever managers want do. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle this?

See my comments to "quit or be fired" since the issue is very similar. While you might be accurate about what is going on, I would really try to reach out to your manager to see how you personally can connect to her. You also might meet with her to let her know about your interest in traveling and training opportunities. Sometimes managers make assumptions that some people are more likely to be interested than others (which could be faulty assumptions). Of course, it is a manager's responsibility to reach out to his/her employees to learn about their interests, but if the manager does not do this, then you can be proactive and reach out to your manager to let them know of your interests. Also, set up a time to meet with them and share your insights on things you see that are going well (some positive information) as well as let her know about your interests in traveling, training, and being connected to what is going on in the firm (e-mails). I think having the conversation is really important. Sometimes, they just don't know what is happening or how it affects others in the firm.

I need advice and maybe a pep talk. I'm in a situation I no longer want to be in: working in a dead-end job and living far from family and close friends. I've been proactive in making a change, but have hit a wall. My job search has been a merry-go-round of searching, applying and interviewing for two years. I'm grateful to have a job, but am ready to move on and do something different. I'm doing a strategic job search because I want to relocate home to Virginia. I've applied for other jobs at my current company as well as other organizations. My resume has stood out with recruiters because the interviews have been in Virginia. Overall, I'm in a constant state of unhappiness. I often think about throwing in the towel, quitting my job, moving to Virginia, regrouping and restarting job search. I know it's best to have a job while searching, but I'm in a rut and it's hard to see a way out. I really don't know what to do anymore. Any advice?

Sorry about your frustration. You don't say where you currently live, but I am assuming it is not in Virginia, yet you want to move back. If this is the case, you probably need to have as many interviews as possible in the state in which you want to live. This might mean coming back to VA every few weeks for interviews in order to find a job. Generally, you are right - it is better to look for a new job when you have one already.

If, however, you have the financial means to be unemployed while looking, then it makes sense to move to the area you eventually want to work in (VA in your case), and start looking earnestly. Reach out to all your networks, friends, etc., and attend as many professional events as possible.  You might also want to get someone to look over your resume, cover letter, and help with your interviews. If there is a particular place where you lose employers (e.g., at the interview stage or resume stage), then getting some feedback on that part of the process (and how you are doing) will be a good thing to do. Good luck!




After 3 years of woking as an assistant, I've decided to move on. My current position is a 1099 so I have no benefits such as paid time off. It's just me and my boss and I'm feeling very guilty about looking for something full-time with benefits. She just doesn't have the work for me to move to full-time and while I like her, she's a micro-manager and that has eroded my confidence over the years. How do I phrase it when I leave so she doesn't think it's personal when it is?

It is great that you have this compassion for your boss regarding her views. Sounds like you can just let her know that financially you really need the benefits in a job, and more work hours. I think most people will understand this. That is the part I would focus on. If you really want to let her know that you also need to feel more reponsibilities on your job (since you said she micromanages), you could. But, it really sounds to me like you want more hours and benefits and that is the primary reason why you would be leaving. 

I am an accomplished 55 year old female financial services executive.  I lost my job due to restructuring at a Wall Street firm and have been looking for work for 18 months. I have been consulting for this period and looking for a full-time job. Most of the time, I am being rejected as "over-qualified" or for not "having a full-time job."  I want to change the way I am looking for a job. I will appreciate any advice you may give me.

You might want to have someone look over your resume and cover letter. It might be the way in which you are "selling yourself" that leads people to think you are "overqualified." In today's times, they really should be less concerned about the fact that you have not had a full-time position (due to the economy this is less of a "bad thing" than in the past). If you explain  the restructuring to them, they should understand that. I think you could also make sure they understand what exactly you are looking for - maybe they need to hear that you really want to be working full time. Sometimes, it is important for them to hear what your future goals are. Good luck!

I have been at my company for close to three years with very little upward movement in my career path. I am frustrated and it's having a negative impact on my motivation, which only makes the problem worse. I have realized that moving up is all about who you know and learning about job opportunities before they're announced. Most positions are filled either without notice, or the notice is merely ceremonial. How do you suggest one network in the office? And do you have any tips for effective networking?

Great question. Yes, you are right - networking is important. People have to know you are actually interested in moving to a different position. You have to send out signals that you want to move up or take on more responsibilities. Sometimes, you can have those conversations with your own boss, other times you need to talk to other higher-level managers to let them know you are interested in more opportunities.

You did not mention whether your firm actually has many upward opportunities available. Is it that others at your level have been moved up and you haven't? If so, you might want to examine why this is the case? Is it because your manager does not think you are interested? Is it because your performance and work has not been as high as you think? It might be important to share your career aspirations with your boss and other possible mentors, and then seek honest feedback on your current performance and what you might need to do to be ready for that next move. Good luck!

Hi. Thank you for taking my question. I've been stuck in a rut in many ways for a couple of years, and now that I have a chance to move in with a friend on the other coast I'm jumping on it. I know that overall this is the right choice, however, I'm concerned that I don't have a job waiting for me. I am 26, with a Bachelors degree. I've had the same office job for a few years, but it's not a career and I wouldn't mind branching out and trying different things. Any advice for starting in a new place? I was thinking about starting with temping, but I've never done anything like this, and don't know how best to start. Please help! Thank you.

Great for you. Sounds like you are very excited to try something new! I would definitely have your friend help you make as many connections as possible - to just talk with people about what they do. You have to at least start with possible ideas about what  you might be interested in - any thoughts about this? What did you major in at college? Will this help you with your career choices? 

I think it would be best to narrow down some possible career fields that you think you might like to explore, then talk to people in those fields to ask questions to learn more from them about what they do, what they like about their jobs, what they don't like about their jobs, etc. Give yourself some time to collect information from them. Depending on your financial situation, you might need to take a part-time job while you are doing this. If you don't need to take a part-time job, then use a few weeks to network and collect as much information as you can. Then, you will be better prepared to move into a different career field.

Good luck!

How do I get my resume to have personality? I've been trying to show my personality through my cover letter, but I recently got feedback that my resume is boring. While I do agree that my resume is boring, I think practically every resume I have seen is boring and doesn't really show any personality.

You could check out "Knock 'em dead resumes" as one resource. This book publishes all different types of resumes and definitely shows you ways to make them stand out. There are also great Web sites today that illustrate how to prepare better looking resumes - check out some of these. 

It really depends on the types of jobs you are looking for. Each type of job really has different resumes that they are looking for. For example, applying to a scientific job might mean one type of resume, while applying to a marketing firm (looking for someone with creativity) might be hoping for a different type of resume. So, tailor your resume to the type of firm you are looking to join. 

I'm losing employers during the interview phase. The resume has gotten a great response and I make it through several rounds of phone interviews with recruiters and hiring managers. I had two second-round interviews. The first was a structured interview with a panel followed by a writing and editing test. I didn't get the job. The second interview was more casual where I met with several members from the department. This was two weeks ago and I'm still waiting to hear back from the company. Should I consider professional help to improve my interviewing?

Sounds like these are different types of interviews you are having so it is hard to tell what the pattern is here. You could practice interviewing with someone (and really take it seriously with the dress code, etc.) to get feedback. Maybe it is something about your style, appearance, oral skills, etc. You could also have someone interview  you and also get videotaped to see how you come across. It definitely is a good idea so that you can rule out what the issues might be. You can start there and then get additional professional assistance to see what would be suggested. Great that you are proactive about this. Best of luck!


What great questions today! Thanks for being a part of my online chat. I look forward to hearing more of your questions next month on Wednesday, September 12th at noon. Best of luck in all your career searches and job moves!

J Russell

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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