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From Now On, Issues for All Ages

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By Mary Ellen Slayter
Sunday, September 23, 2007

Career Track is growing up. No longer limited to "advice for 20-somethings," the biweekly column will now address issues we all encounter at work, whether we're starting our first job or retooling for our third career. The name also evolves to reflect this broader purpose.

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To kick things off, here are some questions you have asked recently.

Q My industry (mortgage) is pretty much on the downside right now. If this is all I am good at and have knowledge in, what do I need to do at this point in my life, at 44, to get ready to start a new career in a different and stable industry?

-- Woodbridge

A Think about what you are good at; don't dwell on what you aren't. To some degree, all sales jobs are interchangeable. Before, you sold mortgages. Now you can sell software. Or advertising. Or the services of a major defense contractor. Before you know it, you'll probably be back in the mortgage business. These things tend to cycle. I can't promise any particular industry will be stable, but I can tell you this: Good salespeople are always in demand.

I am in my first job out of college at a nonprofit organization; after two years on the job, I am looking to move on. My problem is that I have done some extensive volunteer work that gave me, in some cases, more responsibilities than in my paid position. For example, I supervised 50 people as a volunteer, compared with no supervising duties at my job. This is also the case for some positions I held in student organizations in college. For example, I was in charge of a $50,000 budget in college, compared with $12,000 at my job. How should I address these experiences, especially the collegiate ones? -- Washington

By putting them on your r¿sum¿! Those volunteer experiences will be especially valuable if you are staying in the nonprofit sector. You can either put them at the top of the page, using what's called a functional r¿sum¿, or you can include them in a separate section at the bottom. Most recruiters prefer the latter, which is more traditional.

My wife is re-entering the get-paid-to-work world after spending nine years raising our children. As a mom, she no doubt developed skills in time-management, nutrition, discipline, education, etc., but she is having difficulty reincorporating into the paid-to-work world. Do you have any suggestions that would help her to find a job? -- Annapolis

Two things, both of which may not pay off right away but will in the medium to long term: First, network like crazy. Your wife needs to tell everyone she knows that she's looking to go back to work. That means other parents in the kids' play groups, places she has volunteered regularly, former co-workers, even fellow church members. Second, she should sign up for some sort of class in the field she's trying to enter or re-enter. She will add to her skills and expand that ever-important network. And have patience. After nine years out of the workforce, it will take time for her to catch up.

And if the family's financial situation doesn't allow for that kind of patience -- i.e., Mom needs to be making money pronto -- she should call a temp agency.

I've been in a professional career for six years. This is my second job. When I came here, I did not negotiate my salary very well, and I am not where I believe I should be. I am up for a raise and have done enough to justify getting one, but our hierarchy is being shifted exactly as my raise is due. I have a meeting with my former/current/who-knows-what-to-call-it boss soon and would like to broach the subject of a raise. How should I handle this? I feel insecure and uncomfortable and want as much confidence as possible before going in there.

Take the emphasis off whom you are negotiating with and place it on what you are negotiating for. You say you've done your research. Put it in writing. Give that memo to your boss-of-the-moment. Then, let that memo guide your conversation. As a bonus, it can be passed along to whoever has the authority to decide your pay.

Rivals in the Workplace

Have you ever had a rival at work? Did you feel that it helped or hurt you? If you're willing to share your story for a column on this topic, e-mail me at slayterme@ washpost.com. Please include your full name and a daytime phone number. No attachments.


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