Career Coach takes your questions

Nov 13, 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 to our November online chat.  I'm happy to address any career-related questions you may have.



What do you think advance degrees will be worth in the market in 10+ plus years if you have been out of work? I am debating going back to school but am looking down the path and have become hesitant. My partner makes a very good salary and down the line if we start a family I may be the one to stay at home. With a degree, I thought re-entering the workforce after this period may be easier. Though at any rate I'm just trying to make myself as competitive as possible.

Good for you to be thinking about these issues at this point. I do think the advanced degree will enable you to be more marketable no matter when you enter the workplace. Even if you take time off for childcare, having an advanced degree can "level the playing field" so that you are more competitive. Also, with more and more people getting college degrees, having a graduate degree enables you to stand out from the crowd.

I'm a 45-year-old woman who's been living in the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. I am probably going to move back East to the area where I grew up because I'll never be able to afford a home here. I make a good but not great salary, am a smart, reliable, well-liked professional, and have made excellent use of my career network in past job hunts. Am I crazy to think that I can find a job in a "new" city where I don't really have connections? Here in San Francisco, I am a relic at age 45. Please tell me this isn't the case everywhere?

You are definitely not a "relic" at age 45. In the East Coast area, there are many baby boomers (older than you are) working, so I would not worry about being considered "old."

I also think you can network in a new city. It does help to set up meetings in a geographic area in advance of when you move. Maybe you can make a few trips to the area to meet with potential employers - that is very helpful. You can also use LinkedIn and other social media sites to forge connections with people in other geographic areas. If you grew up in the East Coast, do you still have connections with your schools, alumni, etc., that you can re-establish? This would be helpful too. Whatever you can do in advance of actually moving would help. Good luck!

After several years of having my own office, I am now sharing a space with a brand new employee. This is due to some new hires and newly created positions. One of the new positions is my new boss -- this is a good thing, I like her. But old boss (new boss's current boss) made the decisions about the office configurations. I have been here for eight years, and nobody else in my level shares an office. I told the new boss that I feel a little under-appreciated -- the nature of my work sometimes requires writing, which requires concentration, or rehearsing presentations, which I can't do in a shared office. Do I suck it up or become a squeaky wheel?

I can understand your concern if you need some quiet to work. Of course, it is also easy to understand the other side as well - if there are office shortages, they need people to share. Can you think about other solutions to this issue? I ask that since sometimes it is helpful to think of a possible solution to the problem and then share it with your boss when you go in to talk about it. Can anyone newer to the firm share an office with other new employees? What about those who are doing jobs that do not require writing or quiet for concentration?

Think about possible innovative solutions that could be used and then take these to your new boss. I do think you should talk about the issue, but if you have some ideas for what she can do to address the problem, that will help her out.

How do you find one? My 28 year old son has been out of work for quite awhile. He has a bachelor's degree but I think he needs help in becoming "unstuck" and someone that will help him with interviewing skills, resume, etc. Is there a trade association that lists their members?

First, you could see if your son can go back to his college or faculty from his bachelor's degree to see if he can get any help that way.  Some schools provide help for their alumni in resume writing, interviewing, etc.

Another idea is to find a career coach who can look over his resume or help him practice interviewing. They could also talk with him to learn more about his skills and interests. You could go to a few Web sites to get information about coaches that are certified. One is the International Coach Federation (ICF). They list leadership coaches who have gone through certification. Another group is the Professional Association of  Resume Writers and  Career Coaches (PARW/CC). They also have ways of finding certified professional resume writers and career coaches. While both of these groups list certified coaches, there are still certainly coaches out there who are great but not certified. So sometimes asking around to trusted friends will also help you locate someone. Best of luck helping him get "unstuck."

I work for the federal government and want to change positions. I believe I am qualified for the positions I am applying for, but unless I can answer that I am "considered and expert" to all of the assessment questions on my application, I don't seem to move forward. In some cases, I could honestly answer "yes" to 95 percent of the questions, but there were a few things I had never done. Is the only option to moving forward lying?

I agree that you would not want to lie and would only want to answer truthfully. Are you sure this factor (answering that you are not expert)  is the reason you are not able to move forward? Have you had anyone review your resume or cover letter? Have you followed up with any of the jobs you are really interested in to see why they did not push your name forward? Sometimes asking these questions enables you to learn some valuable information about how you are coming across. Can you ask them what type of individuals they are looking for (that are different than you)? How well are you using your network to look at other options? There are many factors that can be important in your search for a new job. I know it can be frustrating, but maybe getting more feedback on your resume from friends and mentors can be helpful.

Also, are you clearly identifying how the current skills and knowledge you have links up to the new jobs? It is critical to show how you have the needed set of skills or expertise. Good luck!

On many job applications, or after a first interview, I am asked to submit references. I comply and request that I be alerted when references will be contacted so that I can let them know. At this stage I still alert my references because I can't be sure that a potential employer will give me advance notice. Many times, however, the employer then decides they don't have funding for the position or puts it on hold or some other lame story. I feel badly and like I'm abusing my references. What can I do?

There is really not much you can do about this. It is important to give names for references, but sometimes employers never contact those references or they call them and the job does not materialize. Most people who serve as references know this might happen and they do not overly worry about this. They know this is part of  the game - sometimes they are called, and sometimes they are not called. They also know that the job market can change. I think you are doing all the right things in this case.

I am 58 and have been with the same branch of state government for 33 years. I am now looking for another job. I have no idea where to begin. Any advice is welcome.

You did not say why you are looking for a new job. What are you hoping to do that is the same or different? Do you want to change your job hours? location? nature of work? This is important to think about so you know what you are looking for.

It might be good to meet with someone to review what you have done in your career and what you hope to do (changes you would like to make). Given your extensive experience, you may want to meet with a career coach to review your new goals and aspirations. They could also help you revise your resume, cover letter, interviewing skills, etc. Of course, this depends on how much you have moved to various different roles over the years (and subsequently updated your resume or participated in interviews, etc). Sometimes, getting an outside perspective can be helpful when making a new change after so many years in one industry.

Do you know any books or resources to help me learn to take more initiative in my work? I'm in a position that's a little above an assistant and I think my boss is looking for me to be more assertive in moving past just supporting him, if that makes sense. I do a lot of data entry into planning software and then run different scenarios for retirement, for example. I'd like to feel more confident in coming up with suggestions/ideas on my own instead of waiting for direction. A lack of confidence has always been an issue with me. I have a hard time visualizing myself as more than an assistant but really want to!

Good for you to be thinking about this - that shows great initiative already! It is important too, since leaders often cite initiative as one of those very valuable attributes that they are looking for in their employees and potential stars.

One thing you can do is to learn more about your field so you can anticipate the kinds of things your boss may want you to do next. Is there a professional association in your field that you can join so that you can attend conferences or events? This would enable you to learn more and to network with others in your field.

Also, are there others at work in your field or the next job higher where you can get some mentoring regarding what other things you can be doing? You did not say if this is a small or large firm, but if you have others you can learn from in your own firm (especially successful fast-tracking employees), that would also help. Sometimes just meeting with them can be inspirational regarding what other things you can do. Good luck!


Once you get several names of career coaches, it is important to review them to see who would make the best fit for you. See what you can learn online or from others about their sucess with clients. Interview several on the phone  to see how you would connect with them. Ask about their rates (which could go anywhere from $50 to over $300 per hour) and about the length of the contract. Some might require a minimum  number of hours, others might  want to set up a contract for a period of months.

When selecting a career coach, it is most important to find someone who best meets YOUR unique needs so keep this in mind.

Get one if you know what you want to do and if it will help you do that. Getting one to 'get one' is NOT helpful. What are you going to tell an employer? I wanted to get a degree to stand out from the crowd...? Why? If you are getting a degree just to put something on your resume - don't waste the time and energy. If and when you are looking at re-entering the workforce, re-enter. See what employers are looking for. Yes it's good to update your skills and keep current in the marketplace. But don't get a degree because generic 'employers' want it on your resume.

Thanks for sharing your ideas. Definitely agree that getting a degree just to get one is not what is advocated. It is assumed that you have some idea of what you want to study. Then a degree can really help you stand out more.

However, some people entering college or even graduate schools  may not exactly know what they want to do - so exploring various options can be helpful. In fact, large numbers of people entering colleges are not exactly sure what they want to major in or they change their minds while in their programs. This is fine since they are trying to use that time to learn about various fields and narrow down their choices to areas they would be most interested in learning about.  That is actually okay.

I know that I have a promotion coming up in 3 months. Do you have any tips for assuring the highest bump in salary feasible? I like my company, and this is a rare opportunity to get the salary bump that's often only achieved when you job hop. I want to fight for every last penny!

Good question. Yes, this is a good time to try to see what you can do in terms of a raise. You should make sure you have documented your performance so that you can illustrate what you have accomplished. Often a boss will not know all of the things you are working on and how successful you have been on all those initiatives.

Also, you should look at salary data to see what your job would be worth in the external market. You can review sites such as career, glassdoor,com, The goal is to see what you are worth on the market so that you have some research regarding what you should be making.

Another important thing to think about is your BATNA - your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. In other words, what will you do if you do not get the raise you desire? Think about your BATNA. Is it attractive? Have you looked at other opportunities just to see what you are worth on the market? Even if you like your company, sometimes having other offers from competing firms enables you to get a larger increase (raise). Of course, it is best not to threaten your employer with this. It is just important for you to at least know what you are worth in the market. Best of luck!

Thank you readers for your great questions today. I look forward to seeing your questions at our next online chat on December 11th from noon to 1:00 p.m. In the meantime, good luck with your jobs!



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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