Career Coach takes your questions

Nov 14, 2012

With an unemployment rate of 7.9 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.

Dear Readers:

Welcome to our November online chat. I welcome your questions about careers and jobs. I also appreciate any insights you would like to share with others and their concerns.


J Russell

I am in my 60s working a part-time job but need full-time work. I have a MS in computer science and recently did a certification program to upgrade my computer skills. I have send out tons of resumes but have not heard anything. What do I need to do?  I see the same jobs that I applied for 6 months ago are still posted on Craigslist . I hear that there is a need for IT people but I think companies only want to hire young H1-B people.

Great question. Sounds like you have done a lot of things to continually update your skills. While it is great that you sent out resumes, it would also help to get connected on social media sites like Linked In. This would enable you to reach out to others directly online. Also, are you restricted in terms of where you work? If so, this could limit your options. But, it might help to get more involved in networking events either with your industry or certain key companies that you would like to work for. You might want to identify those firms and then reach back out to them to see if they got your resume, if they have questions, etc. You need to be more proactive and follow up with the resumes you have sent. Best of luck!

For the past few years, I have maintained a full-time day job and done additional work on the side. I get paid more per hour for the side work, but due to my day job, I am limited in the amount of time I can spend. I am mainly available weekends and evenings. At some point, I would love to make the switch to only working the side jobs. I know that initially, I wouldn't have enough work to keep me busy full-time, but hopefully, that would change. In the mean time, how do I maintain the balance of the two jobs and grow the amount of side jobs in the pipeline?

This is a tricky issue as you have discovered. Most people have to eventually make a choice because they have trouble balancing both. I think you have to set a goal regarding financial issues and when you can move to the side jobs. It would help if some of them were more stable so you could count on some consistent income (assuming that is important to you). So, try to get a few of them to be more consistent and longer-term so that enables you to feel more safe in leaving your day job.

Good luck!

Do you know of career opportunities that will be created created by implementing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and how to tap into them? I know that between October 2013 and January 2014  there will be a massive registration of people for the health exchanges. Surely, this will create at least some temporary employment with the federal government. Thanks.

Great question. Readers? Any tips for this person for the health-care area? You would think IT and healthcare might be one of those growing fields. Other ideas, readers?

I had a phone interview with a recruiter for a large organization who asked me to forward her some additional information for the hiring manager and that she would then be in touch with me the following week. It's been two weeks. Is it ok to follow up?

Yes, definitely you can follow up. I would phone her to make sure she received all of your information, and ask whether she needs any additional information.  Then, you can reiterate your interest in the position.

I am planning a move out to the West Coast to live with my fiance. I have a great job here, and I'm worried about giving it up. How do dual-income households minimize the risk in a cross-country move? We'll be keeping our expenses down to one income to live, but I'm worried that I'm throwing away a great job and won't be able to find one there, and then be unemployed for a long time, thereby making my employment prospects even worse as time goes on. I love my fiance, so I'm definitely making the move (and my field is more transferrable/transportable) but I'm just trying to figure out the best way to do it.

If possible, it would help if you could first see about jobs there. That would make you feel better about the move. You have not said whether you have already looked for jobs out there, but if not, you should do this now. Also, sometimes you might need to go out there to personally meet with people. Often, it is tough to job search from another state. If you can set up some contacts in advance, you could then plan a trip to have some itnerviews. Can your fiance's firm also help you out?

I'm sending out resumes and custom cover letters for jobs that I feel that I am qualified for but usually hear nothing back (or get a thanks, but no thanks). How do I know if it is me or the market?

This is a good question. You never know unless you ask. Maybe you can follow up with some of the firms you are most interested in (and have sent a resume to) to let them know you sent a resume and ask for some feedback. The other possibility is to have others (career professionals) review your resume to make sure it best reflects you and is as professional as possible.

I think resumes can only do so much. Today, you have to follow up with the key firms you are most interested in working for, and you really need to try to connect (via personally or social media) with individuals from those firms. But, first get someone to look over your resume to make sure it is set up the best way possible.

Hi Joyce,

I've been in a career for 12 years. I would like to change. People say I'm crazy to start over. I'm trying to get into the federal government, which people say takes years unless you know someone. My future looks bleak.  Should I settle or give it a shot?

If you are still currently employed, there is nothing wrong with looking for a new career field while you are already employed. I tell people to stay in your current job and not to leave until you have a new job in place. This enables you to see what is out there while you are still secure in your job. I don't think you are crazy to want to start in another area. In fact, that is actually the norm today. People have on average about 6-8 different jobs over the course of their careers. So, your future does not look bleak! Keep your current job, yet explore the possibilities!

I want to work part time. But I am a project manager, and nobody wants a part-time, or even a flex schedule project manager.  Aside from going freelance, do you have any thoughts on finding a part-time project management job?

Actually, why do you say no one wants someone part-time for this work? They might if it is a definite project that they are looking for help on. Did you ever think about assisting any universities or colleges? They might be able to hire part-timers for specific projects in this area. Also, you could connect with faculty who teach in this area to see if they have leads for you.

I'm a new federal employee, and Combined Federal Campaign requests and reminders are coming fast and furious. I have received multiple signup sheets (including one that was clipped to my timecard), brochures and email reminders. The CFC coordinator for our office makes over twice what I do and is much higher up on the ladder than I am, which makes me feel like contributing is an edict from On High, instead of a choice. I donate heavily and fundraise for causes I believe in, and do significant research regarding those causes, all on my personal time. I do not wish to route my money through my employer, as I think this is an uncomfortable overlap between my personal and professional lives. I have done research on the CFC administration, and it appears to be wasteful and disorganized. I also do not wish to be "reminded," i.e., coerced at my workplace. Is it possible to be a CFC conscientious objector while keeping my professional reputation intact? Or do I suck it up and kick in a nominal amount so my office gets a plaque?




We can all probably understand your concern. Clearly, you should follow your own conscience about this. Could you ask someone in the firm (maybe someone in HR) to describe the benefits of employees' contributions to the employer? It may be that the firm is measuring its participation rates, and that this helps the firm in acquiring resources that will help all employees. But, you would need to check this out. I think getting  a little more information might help here. Then, do what YOU think is right for you.



I've read tips for interviewees doing calls via Skype, but what about for the interviewer? I've spoken to one candidate via Skype and felt like I was the one who botched the interview, not her.

It is great that you are concerned about this. Yes, there are definitely tips for interviewers for how to conduct structured interviews based on the major job duties. You did not say how you felt you "botched" the interview. Was it that you did not know what questions to ask, how to ask them, or how to handle their questions? Having a structured format often helps keep interviewers focused and less likely to ask the wrong or illegal questions, etc. If you check with you will see plenty of advice for conducting interviews. Good luck!

My boss and current company are well-known in the industry. As I am interviewing for other jobs, I keep getting asked by potential employers how my boss would react to them hiring me away from him. The truth is, my current boss never reacts well when anyone leaves - she believes we should all work for her and her company forever. I am never sure what the "right" answer to this question is.

This is a rather unusual question in the sense that any boss should react in a sad way if someone leaves their firm. Of course, there are some bosses who are very supportive of their employees enhancing their skills and getting better jobs or promotions. I think you can say something like "well, I'm sure my boss would be like any other boss who would be sad to see a good employee go", and then I would immediately get them back to talking about the job. In other words, do not spend much time on this topic, and refocus them on the topic of your work.

Not true. Employers are required to pay H1-B employees minimum level wages that are the same (or higher) as those employees that do not require a visa. Additionally, many companies (like mine) do not want younger employees who need to be trained on basic office skills and etiquette. If you are not getting responses to your resume, perhaps the issue is that you are sending out "tons of resumes" rather than targeting jobs that are a good fit for you and your skills. Also, many of the jobs on Craig's List are there for HR to collect resumes not for currently available positions. Try looking at job boards for specific fields/areas of expertise.

Great tips from this reader and I totally agree. Thanks reader!

Also do the calculations for how much extra you'd need to account for paying for your own health insurance, self-employment taxes, any insurance you would need, etc., that may be under your current full-time employer. My brother went from full-time employment to working for himself because he made more money with his side jobs on a per hour basis, but didn't do all the bottom line calculating and it really hurt him.

Really great point from this reader and often the case. Definitely do all the calculations! Thanks reader!

I have a different variation of the "stay/go" conundrum. I left a job earlier this year that I really liked, primarily because (a) I was a subcontractor and therefore (b) paid far less for doing the same things that some of my colleagues who worked for the prime were doing. Overworked and underpaid, I guess, would be a good description. Flash forward to today and find myself in something of the opposite situation. I am working for the prime and compensated at what I feel I am worth, but frankly am far less busy than I really should be. This could of course change based on projects and the fact that one of my co-workers has some serious health issues. But I am agonizing over whether I could just hang on and deal with my under-use, or just cut bait and start looking all over again? One factor in this is that I feel like the next step in my career (I work in technology) necessitates me moving into a more senior/lead/manager position; another is that my wife only works part-time and may be doing a job search herself soon. I would talk to my PM about this, but as a relatively new person in this team, I am concerned that if I brought up the whole topic of feeling underworked, there would be negative backlash.



I think you really should talk to your PM. Not necessarily by saying you are not working enough, but instead by talking about your career progression and the fact that you are interested in taking on more projects and gaining more expertise. Pitch it along the lines of wanting to stay at the firm for a while and growing in the firm. I would not just leave (never a good idea to leave a job without already securing a new one) without first talking to your PM. Too many people leave jobs without first talking to their boss, and in many cases, the boss would have done something to give you a chance to grow and develop.



My husband has decided that he wants to make a complete career change. He was in the federal government as a GS employeee when he decided to leave his position for family reasons (death in family etc.). Since he's been unemployed he's decided to make the career change. His resume, though, is geared towards the work he did as a GS employee. We've tried to have it re-written with professional help, but it's not cutting it. He's applying for jobs now that only need 0-1 yrs experience so he can get his foot in the door, but every company is saying he's overqualified for what they want. Others are saying he's underqualified. Do you have any suggestions or hints we can try? He's not even able to get an interview.

This is a tough issue and I can see you have tried various things. I think he really will need to use personal networking to try to get someone to "give him a chance". He will always be considered "overqualified" for some jobs, and in those cases he would have to convince someone he is a career switcher and really wants to work in a new area.

I think it is great that he redid his resume, but I think it is unlikely he will get a job with 0-1 years experience. They will most likely continue to see him as overqualified for those jobs.

What about trying to see how his previous experiences gave him "transferable skills" that can be used in other fields? Sometimes taking a job description and highlighting how your skills "map" onto those requirements sells the case for you. But, most importantly, can he use his previous federal employment contacts to open doors in totally different fields? Maybe they know people in the areas he is choosing? He really needs to be connected via social media as well as using his previous contacts. Good luck!

Nobody who rejected you for a job is going to do this. They don't have time and they don't want any liability issues.

Actually, sometimes someone will be willing to share feedback. I agree that it is not often, but it does occur. It never hurts to at least ask, if you do it in a constructive "help me learn" perspective.

Hello. I'm going to be laid off next year because I don't want to move to another state to keep my job. I feel there is still a stigma against those who have been laid off and am wondering if it's in my best interest to find a job (any job) right now, before the lay-off. Or if I should wait for the lay-off and take the severance package, then look for a job? What is your feeling about the stigma of being laid off?

I don't think the stigma of being laid-off is as bad as it was in the past since this is much more common today. I do, however, strongly agree that you should try to find a new job before being laid-off. It will be far better for you to find a job while you are employed than once you are unemployed. You still look more attractive to potential employers if you are employed.

I have an opportunity to do some consulting projects. However, I also have a full-time job that I am not that happy in and I would love to have a change. These projects are ones that I am really interested in but not sure exactly how to position it to the prospective clients, etc. I know I would have to do all this on my own time, but my boss would be unhappy even so. Any particular thoughts about this situation? I want to be totally upfront to to the clients but not sure if this is feasible, will make sense to the clients, etc. Thanks for your feedback.

You say your boss would be unhappy if you did these projects even if you did them on your own time. Why is this? Is there a conflict of interest? Would you be doing consulting in the same area you currently work in (at your firm)? If so, does your company have a policy on "conflict of interest"? Some firms have one and it clearly stipulates that you can not provide services to competitors that is similar to the work you do for the firm. So, first, check this out.

Next, you say you are not sure how to position it with clients. Are you talking about the work or the fact that you have a full-time job?

It sounds like you feel a sense of discomfort here, so there is a reason for this - maybe it is related to a potential conflict of interest. If this is the case, then you need to make sure your consulting is NOT a potential conflict for you or the firm.

I'm lucky to have held the same great job the past 5.5 years. I've increased my responsibilities, expanded my skill set, received good/great reviews, bonuses and salary increases each year. My organization and department are not very hierarchical, so there's not necessarily a place for me to be “promoted" to, but I would like to ask for a title change that reflects my years of service and expanded role, etc. (e.g., perhaps going from “program manager" to “director"). I think it would be an asset on my resume, showing increased/expanded responsibilities at this organization and also be received well internally by those that I work with. Any advice for having this discussion with my boss?

Great question and an important one. Yes, you can have this discussion with your boss. I would first do some market research to see if you can find other "director" titles that reflect what your expanded job entails. If so, you can go to your boss with this request, and it is also backed up with how others are described in the  marketplace. It is also important to view this from your boss's perspective. Why might he/she disagree with this? Are there other employees that would also need a title change? In other words, what are the implications, internally? It is important to think about this issue from your perspective, but more importantly, from your boss's perspective too. What are the pros and cons of this for your boss? Outline some ideas here.
Also, you should outline and be prepared to talk about exactly how your job scope has changed over time (what are you now doing that is different than before). If you have information you can share about your increased responsibilities and the market research, and you have considered your boss's views in advance, this should help. Good luck!

I have been submitting a ton of resumes online for management/director level positions but have received very few call backs. Submitting my resume online feels like a very empty way to apply for a job since there is no follow-up that I can make after submitting my resume. I have 10 years of solid experience in my field and what I think is a solid resume. But I am trying to figure out my next step. I know networking is key, but outside of networking, should I get a recruiter? What other next steps can I take to get my foot in the door for some interviews? And can you recommend a recruiter?

Great question. First, I would get feedback from someone about how your resume looks. Next, I would definitely work on networking and trying to find contacts at specific firms that you are interested in joining. You could use an executive search firm since you have 10 years of experience and are looking for a managerial job. You might want to see how they are paid - by the employer or you. That could be important for you.  There are good and poor firms out there. Let's see if readers have any tips on these. Readers?

Thanks readers for so many great questions this month. Thanks also to our readers who also offered their insights and expertise to help out fellow readers. We all greatly appreciate that!

I look forward to our next online chat on Wednesday, December 12th from noon to 1pm. Until then, good luck in your job searches and careers. Keep those questions coming!


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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