Career Coach: How to handle a bad boss

December 23, 2012

Career coach Joyce E.A. Russell recently fielded questions from readers. Here are some excerpts:

Join the club?

Q.: What do you think of joining an exclusive country club to mingle, socialize and network to get a job? It really is who you know, and so this may be worth the investment.

Joyce E.A. Russell: It may be worth it depending on your career field and who you have access to (who are members of that club). But, I would definitely scope out a plan for how you will use your time with the membership. Otherwise you may spend a lot of money and not really use it wisely.

Credit history

Q.: My soon-to-be ex-husband ran up considerable debt in my name during our marriage. I am slowly but surely finding the accounts (sometimes it is bill collectors who are finding me) and paying them as I am able. I am in search of a new job, but I am concerned that during a background investigation the credit issues will appear. I am not in finance nor will I handle money in my positions. Do you have any suggestions for how to explain this? Would you proactively do it in the interview?

Joyce E.A. Russell: This is a tough issue. Not all jobs will do a background investigation, although many do. I would probably not bring it up unless you knew they were doing a background check and it was a job you really wanted. Most firms don’t need to know all about your personal life story (or past). If you do bring it up, it should just be under the context of being able to manage things and that you are organized. If it is brought up, you do need to be able to explain this was a situation that you have been working on improving.

Career advancement

Q.: I have been with my organization for a few years and I am looking to move into a different position as soon as possible. I feel stuck in my current role and do not believe it allows me to show my best work. My question: What is the best way to let my boss know that I would like a new challenge? I want to move on, and quickly, but would prefer not to burn bridges in the process.

Joyce E.A. Russell: Give your current boss a chance by sharing some of your interest in learning and growing more on the job. You should also ask your boss for feedback on how you are currently doing on the job — listen to his/her assessment of your strengths and areas to improve. You might get some valuable feedback that can help you to better target specific growth areas.

Bad boss

Q.: What do you do when you have had a bad boss (abusive) when it comes to a reference check?

Joyce E.A. Russell: You have to make sure you have additional references from other jobs or maybe even other higher-level managers from that job who can speak to your positive attributes. Some people have threatened to sue for defamation of character, but I am not necessarily pushing that idea. I think it would be helpful if you could get other positive references and then you can talk to the potential firm about the good attributes you bring to the job.

Socially awkward

Q.: The company I work for is a small nonprofit so I know there is no opportunity for advancement or more hours. One problem is that I am extremely introverted and socially awkward. It makes the networking process hard. I do have skills, just not social ones. I need to work, but I know I am not what society wants.

Joyce E.A. Russell: Given what you have said about your social skills, why not try to come up with a plan to enhance those skills by taking communications courses (such as Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie courses)? Or, read the book “The Introverted Leader” or “Self-promotion for Introverts.” These books might give you some ideas.

Master’s degree?

Q.: I work in PR for a nonprofit organization and have worked there 10 years (but in a different capacity before 2010). I am considering a M.A. in this field (which my job wouldn’t help pay for), but I am not guaranteed a rise in salary here. I do feel I would be more marketable in this career field, though, in Washington. Would you recommend doing it?

Joyce E.A. Russell: A master’s degree would definitely help in marketability, but I would check first on which exact field you are thinking about. There is plenty of data out there about salaries and opportunities based on whether you have a bachelor or master’s degree. So, before you get the degree, I would do some research as well as talk to others in the field with advanced degrees to learn how this actually impacts career choices and compensation.

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