Career Coach takes your questions

Oct 16, 2013

With an unemployment rate of 7.3 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 October online chat. So much going on in the world, and U.S. these days. I look forward to hearing  your job-related questions.



I am mid-career and have been working for the same company for close to 20 years. I recently found out that when my current project funding is up in 2-6 months, my services willl not longer be needed. Unfortunately, because of government cuts, my whole industry is in retrenchment. To further complicate matters, I have some serious health issues that make it difficult for me to search for a new position (advanced cancer). On the plus side, I may qualify for long-term disability. But I feel like I have more to offer. I am trying to figure out if there is more that I can do. I am actively networking, I am talking to potential customers (if I switch jobs), and talking to other branches of the company.

So sorry to hear about your health issues. I would imagine that dealing with these issues is certainly stressful enough, without having to worry about job issues.

You sound like you are still very interested in working. Full or part-time? Of course, some of this may depend on your health, I am sure.  One thing to think about if you have to leave your firm -  Are there competitor firms that you might apply to given your extensive experience in your industry? Can you see if any of them are hiring, even for part-time or consulting work (if appropriate given your background)?

Is this a time to also think about what else you might do? Maybe consulting work, teaching, etc.? It might be a good time to meet with a career coach to see what other options you might have, especially if you decide you need to work part-time.  A coach should be able to work with you on seeing how your skills translate to other areas or talk with you about what else you can do. Does your current firm have someone with this background who might be willing to talk with you?

Take good care.

Dear readers:

We have all been watching or hearing about the strategies used in recent weeks by members of the House and Senate with the government shutdown and financial default. What we know from negotiations is that these are called "hard ball" or distributive tactics, whereby one party hopes to win at the expense of the other party (who would lose). Generally, these strategies can be effective at getting what you want, but they are also very risky strategies that can further harm the relationships, causing irreparable damage. We may be witnessing this up close.

So, what should be done instead? Readers - any thoughts?

Compromise is the most commonly accepted form of negotiations, worldwide, especially among peers or those of similar power.  With multiple parties, it is critical that both parties recognize that they will not get everything they want. Sometimes, it takes a while for this to sink in since parties still fight hard to get everything. Yet, they need to think about what are the 1-2 MOST critical things they need.  This is what they have to be willing to live with, rather than trying to get everything.

Also, with multiple issues and multiple parties (as in the current situation in U.S. politics), it is important to enable both sides to look for common areas of agreement (no matter how small they may seem). It is also important for them to think about their constituents - who are they representing. Perhaps this part has been lost in the recent discussions - thinking about the larger picture and who they are representing.

Using compromise - where parties each gain 1-2 top things that are important to their side is about the best they may be able to do. Only if they spend considerable time understanding each others' interests (not positions) can they use a more collaborative approach.

Of course, this is a tough time for all the furloughed workers as well as all those firms impacted by the closed businesses. This shutdown further reinforces the notion that employees need to think about themselves as "free agents". This means that while they can remain engaged with their firms and jobs, they should always be making sure that they have an updated resume, they are connected on social media sites (like Linked In), and that they are keeping their networks up-to-date and active.

What do you do when someone tries to boldly take credit for your work at a meeting and you are sitting there too?

Great question. There are different approaches you can use successfully. It really depends on your style and comfort level (confidence) in using these approaches. Once the person makes the comment, you could say, "Thanks, Mike, for making that point about my work, which I have just completed." You can try this type of statement, which I have seen some folks do really well. Of course, you have to be confident yet not whin" when you make the point. Very matter-of-fact.

Not everyone feels comfortable making this type of statement, so the other possibility is to talk to the person offline (in private) after the meeting to bring this up. Or, another possibility is to bring it up to your boss (in private after the meeting, assuming he/she was there).

A third thing you can do is if you know someone has the tendency to do this to you, you can make sure someone else chimes in to reinforce that you did a great job getting that project done. Of course, you would need to chat with this person in advance of the meeting to ensure they do this.

While a difficult and awkward situation, at some point it needs to be addressed with the person or it will continue. Best of luck with this!

I am a federal contractor and have been for the past 10+ years. I wish I was in another field as the current uncertainty with the federal government is too much. Even the current deal that might be passed by the Senate is only short term. We could be back in this exact position at the end of January, with a government shutdown and debt ceiling approaching. I am sure I am not alone and that makes the thought of finding a new job even harder.

Absolutely. There are many people in your situation, which is very tough. I think this does suggest that you may want to evaluate what your options are at this point and in the future. Given your skills and 10+ years experience, there are probably many things you can do for the private sector. Have you considered working at other firms? Can you work with a career coach or someone to help you figure out how to translate your skills? This is the time to do that. While we hope this type of shutdown does not occur again in the future, it is important to be prepared and to identify what other types of firms can you work with, whether it is a time to go back to school, and so on.

Many people have recently asked me how they should position themselves during this market. I have suggested that they should always be thinking about the area they live in, who the firms are that they most want to work with, and who the competitors are for those firms. Use this time now (if unemployed) to do more research on your industry and the financial state of the firms you are interested in working with.  This will help you make the transition to them once the market picks back up.

My partner has been building his own business for the past year after being laid off. Unfortunately, it is not bringing in enough for us to meet the bills. He is considering taking any job to get us by, instead of waiting for a job in his specialized field. (I am also working full time) Would it hurt his career to take a job in a completely unrelated retail-type job?

Good question. Given the state of the job market, I don't think it would hurt his career if he does this for a short period of time - less than a year. If he does this for much longer, with no evidence of job hunting or growing his business, this could be harder to sell to future employers. But, most employers recognize that the job market has been tougher and they are more forgiving of these "unrelated jobs".  Could he take courses or get certified in his specialized field at the same time as working in the unrelated field?  In other words, can he show he is doing something connected to stay current with the knowledge in his field? This would help the perception by future employers that he is still interested and current in his field.

It is better that he at least do some type of work than doing nothing for some period of time. That, at least, shows he has a stronger work ethic.

You often recommend utilizing a career coach when job hunting (or when reevaluating your career). Could you give some specific resources for finding a career coach? What should you look for when considering working with a career coach? Thank you.

There are a variety of coaches out there that can assist you. Some are executive or leadership coaches who really focus on one-on-one coaching to help a person enhance their leadership skills. These coaches may have a person complete a number of self-assessments (personality tests, critical thinking assessments, conflict measures, creativity tools, etc). But, the focus is on improving their leadership skills.

There are also career coaches who focus more on enhancing a person's career skills. They may also use some career tools (e.g., Career Leader, MBTI, Strong Interest Inventory, Gallup Strengths Finder, among others) to identify the person's strengths and similarities to others in certain careers. They should also review the person's resume, cover letters and interview skills. This is important to do  in order to figure out what career areas the person is interested in exploring, and what his/her strengths in the selection process. (For example, some people have a great resume, but are not that great at phone interviews; Others have poorly prepared resumes or cover letters; Others have a confusing social media presence). A career coach can also suggest ways to network and explore career options within your firm or at other firms. So, they can be helpful for both novices and career-switchers.

Finding a career coach is more difficult. It would be good to make sure they have the credentials to provide the services you need. What is their background? How long have they practiced as a career coach? Do they have any certifications or licenses? These are all important questions to ask since there is not one body that approves all career coaches. You can also start at universities (maybe where you graduated from college if you attended college). Often, they will be willing to help or offer advice.


Thanks for your questions today. Our next online chat is Wednesday, November 13th from 12-1pm. I look forward to your job and career questions at that time.



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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