Career Coach takes your questions

Sep 18, 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! I look forward to taking your career-related, negotiations, and other job questions. 


J Russell

I interviewed for a job this week and am waiting to hear if I made it past the first round. This would be for my first supervisory job in my career. In the interview, I got the sense that they are looking for someone to shake things up, and possibly rearrange (or remove!) staff. Is it a good idea to take on this kind of job as a first-time supervisor? If they offer the job to me, is it appropriate to first ask to meet the staff I would be supervising to get a sense of their personalities? Are there questions I should ask in the next round?

You certainly want to get a better sense from them about what your goals are to be for this job. It is definitely important for you to meet with all of your staff before making any organizational changes. You can set up 1-1 meetings with each of them for 30-45 minutes to learn more about what they enjoy doing in their jobs, what their major challenges seem to be, how they want to grow in the firm, etc. This would be a great way for you to better understand your staff before making any changes. Remember that those first decisions you make (if you fire, transfer, demote, promote, etc people) will tell others a lot about your leadership style. So, it is better to first collect information from your bosses as well as your staff. Then, you can go back to your bosses to share your insights before making any changes. Best of luck!

I am at a crossroads in my government career. I am a young GS-14 and am in no hurry to get to the top, but am being courted to go in two different directions. One is to manage people in my field at a different agency. The other is to change fields within my current agency. I've weighed pros and cons and just can't decide whether management or a new career path is more appealing. Will going into management at a young age likely box me into management for good?

There is no "best" answer to this one. But, you should not worry about being "boxed in". I have known people who have moved from the technical side to managerial side and vice versa. It really depends on whether you stay current with your field. I think you might want to think about your longer range goals. Where do you see yourself in 5 -10 years? You may not even know this right now (most people don't). But, if you have some thoughts about it, that would help guide you now. 

You should be fine either way. You did not say how much of a change in fields the one offer is. Is it a growing field?

You might want to seek mentoring from several people at higher levels (not necessarily a direct boss) to get their insights on how these different career choices might impact you. Generally, if you can gain visibility or work on important projects, then that is one way to go (take that career choice). 

I really don't think you can make a wrong decision here. If you are being courted for these jobs, then you are obviously a strong performer who will succeed in either direction. Get the mentoring and this can really guide you. Good luck!

Hello. I work in a federal agency. Several leaders in another part of my agency have been courting me for the past 6 months, trying to find a job opening that would convince me to work for them. Here's my problem: I'm a new mom, planning to try to have a second child within the next year. While part of me wants to take on new challenges, I feel like I need to wait until I get past child #2 before taking on a totally new career (while I'm qualified and think I can do these new jobs, they would be in a career I have not directly worked in before). Is it okay to tell them that? That I need a couple years to get through early child raising before I'll be ready to take on a new challenge?

If this is what you are going to do - then yes, it is okay to tell them that. You should still stay in contact with them though. You may drop off their radar so it will be important for you to keep connected to them. 

What are the possibilities of going to work for them now and learning the ropes? You did not say what your current job is like - is it interesting? Do you find it rewarding? If not, then making the move now (despite more challenges) can also be more rewarding for you and less stressful. So, you have to think about the new jobs as they relate to the job you have now. 

Also, you are thinking of having another child within the next year - so that is almost 2 years away right? If so, could you still take the new job and get past the "new learning stage" before leaving to have your next child? Given the fact that others are courting you, you must be a strong performer so you will probably continue in that way. If so, they should allow for some leeway once you do have to leave to have that next child.

Bottom line - think about the rewards/stresses of your current job vs. what you may gain from the new job. As I mentioned, it may be less stressful to take a new job if it is significantly more rewarding.

Hi Joyce, I feel stuck. I'm in a job where the hours are long, the stress is high, the morale is low, and some management practices are questionable. I recently lost a co-worker and am now doing the bulk of two jobs while I train her replacement. What keeps me here: good benefits, decent pay, and all the leave I've built up over my years with the company. But, even under the best of circumstances, this would not be a dream job. I have no dream job. I tried career counseling last year, which didn't work at all. I don't need to be told what my strong interests are, I need to learn how to apply my actual skills to something new, something I have some real capacity for. Compounding the problem is that my husband's job has become unstable and we recently bought a house in an area we love, but that isn't exactly rich in jobs. Right now, my commute is fairly long, almost two hours a day. We'd like to have kids, but not while our work lives are the way they are. This is completely unsustainable. Where can I find good, practical help with making strategic changes and moving on?

It seems like you are staying with your current job primarily for what we call "continuance commitment". You have financial reasons for staying with it (salary, benefits, etc.) without the "affective comitment" (really enjoying what you are doing). You did not say what field you are in. It seems you will need to spend some time letting others know you are looking for new opportunities, and spend some job time hunting. It also sounds like you need to keep your current job while you are job hunting. 

Why didn't career counseling work last year? Sometimes these programs do not work if it is not a good personal fit. It sounds like you have an idea of what you want to do, you just need to find those jobs? If that is the case, then networking and job hunting are where you should be spending your time. Have you told friends about what you really want to do? Gotten any leads from them? If you are restricted to a geographic area, then what are the firms in that area? Have you reached out to friends who may be working in those areas? What about reaching out to your previous college for networking opportunities? Joining professional associations in your area? You really have to make the most use of the geographic area you are in if you are restricted to it. Sounds like your husband needs to do the same thing.

Best of luck.

What do you do when you get bored at work? I get assigned to work on projects, but sometimes, there is some downtime between when one project ends and the next one is ready to begin. I am still expected to show up to work even though I don't have a project. There is only so much time I can spend reading industry related blogs and checking out new technologies on the internet before I get bored. I need a task to work on to keep my focus but my team leads don't have any.

I have often heard this complaint from interns or those working in project-based industries (e.g., consulting) since you may be waiting for projects to be assigned to. Are there managers there who can give you some guidance on the hot or more visible areas for the firm - the strategic directions of the firm? If so, this might give you some ideas of which areas to be "studying" in your downtime at work. Are there committees at work that you can sign up for that would give you more visibility? Or organizational teams (sports, community activities) that could enable you to extend your network at work to meet other colleagues in other departments? Sometimes getting on other types of committees, task forces, orcommunity projects sponsored by the firm can help you to better connect with others in the company. This can lead to new opportunities as well as others learning who you are (to eventually put you on projects in their groups). Can you talk to an HR person about some of the company's new initiatives or how else you might get involved? Even joining the firm's sports teams or nonprofit ventures can build relationships and make your job more rewarding. I would reach out to an HR person or other higher-level manager to seek some guidance here.

Hi Joyce- Thanks for taking my question. I graduated from college in 2004 and worked an administrative job for 2.5-ish years. Then I quit that to do contract work, which I did steadily until I went back to school for an MBA in 2009, graduating in 2011. After I graduated, I was unable to get a full-time job until February 2012, and I got fired from that job (not the right job for me) in September 2012. After that, I was unemployed until March 2013, at which time I took a job at early stage startup that fizzled out after a few months.  Now I am back to the same type of contract work that I did before my MBA, which is incredibly frustrating. Though I do have a couple of weak leads, I'm worried about my employability. How do I get my career on track? I have redone my resume countless times, talked ad nauseum with counselors. I am really at a loss here. I have a mortgage to pay, a kid in pre-school, and another on the way. I am thinking about going back to school for a computer science degree. I appreciate any help/guidance you can give.

Well, you got your MBA so this should help you with your job search. You did not say what area you really focused on with your MBA (marketing, finance, management, etc). Given all the job changes, you really need to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as what type of work you enjoy. Why did you go back to school to get your MBA? Was it to work in a specific field? You say you got fired from a job. So, from that experience, you know which area you are not well suited to. 

What areas of work are you best suited to? It is not clear from your question. This is really important. That is why I said you should take stock and really think about your strengths and areas to improve. It doesn't make sense to go back for more schooling unless you really think about how you will use that education. Computer science is a great area, but is this something you are passionate about? Are quantitative skills one of your strengths?

Think about all the jobs you have held. When did you have a job that you really enjoyed? What were you doing? Were you conducting data analyses? Interacting with people? Working on projects? Consulting? These are the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself.

The market is better now than it was when you first finished your MBA. Thus, it should be easier for you to gain employment. I just think you have to really think about what you bring to the table. Also, how do you fare in interviews?  What references will you be able to use for your next job? You really need to think about all these aspects to get a full picture of yourself and your future direction. Good luck.

I work in a department of "Chatty Cathies." Only three people on the team are making the quota on a daily basis. Our supervisor recognizes which people are doing their job, but is not punishing those who do not. In full honesty, I am the newest addition to the staff, and exceeding the quota daily. I know what my co-workers' responsibilities are, so I have no clue how they are not doing their job. While I am quitting soon, is there anything I can do?

You did not say why you are quitting your job and when that would be. What is it you want to do before you quit? Sounds like you want to inform someone about the problems with people not doing their jobs. If that is the case, is there a procedure in your firm for exit interviews with people who are quitting? Usually if it is a larger firm, this is done, and you can talk to someone in HR about why you are leaving or what you think about the firm. If you feel this information will be kept confidential, then you can be honest about your concerns about people not meeting their goals and no action being taken for this. This is a valid concern. If, however, you feel that the exit interview will NOT be kept in confidence and you don't have a manager you feel comfortable sharing this information with, then I would suggest not saying anything. 

It seems that some employers get a reputation for underutilizing their talent, whether that is interns or those assigned to projects. There have been so many young people, especially, who have confided in me that they have felt the jobs they were given were just not using their potential. This is not a case of Gen Yers complaining about wanting to be the CEO of the firm. Rather, it is a case of them just not being asked to do enough. I would suggest that HR or managers reach out to your staff to really try to learn if they feel they are being challenged in their jobs. If you underutilize your talent, you will lose them possibly to a competitor. So, make sure with your intern programs or project management teams that you periodically collect feedback from employees to learn what type of experience they had. It might just help you retain some talent!

The poster stated that he/she "got the sense" from one interview that they wanted to make drastic changes and also that he/she had never been a supervisor before. I recommend caution about jumping to a conclusion about what they want based on "a sense." Why not just come right out and ask? Just say, "I'm getting a sense that you want to make changes. Could you elaborate on what those prospective changes are?" A friend in the same situation erroneously inferred the same thing and yammered on about how she would "turn around" and "shake up" the place if they hired her for her very first supervisory job during an interview at a different company from her current employer. I heard from the interviewers that they were just exploring what she would do if hired. They gave her a rope and let her hang herself. She never ASKED THEM what they wanted their new hire to accomplish. They did not want any major changes. They did not hire her.

I totally agree. Great insights. It is always important to verify what you have heard. That is why I would suggest asking more clarifying questions of management, then meeting with staff, and then going back to management to share what you have learned - all BEFORE making any changes at all. People changes are the most difficult decisions that a manager has to deal with. For a new manager, these decisions can really send a message about his/her style (which may or may not be what you want ot convey in a brand new job). Thanks, reader, for sharing your thoughts!


Thanks for your questions today and your insights. Our next online chat is Wednesday, October 16th from noon to 1pm. Looking forward to receiving those job-related questions. Have a great start to your fall!



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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