Transcript: Wednesday, April 26, Noon ET

Entry-Level Realities

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Michael Ball
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006; 12:00 PM

Author Michael Ball is an authority on entry-level jobs. His recently published book "You're Too Smart for This: Beating the 100 Big Lies About Your First Job," entertainingly chronicles the pitfalls recent graduates should avoid in the workplace. Michael is also the founder and CEO of Career Freshman Co., a training authority for new workers to Fortune 1000 companies.

Visit Ball's Web site at http://www.careerfreshman.com/ to find more career advice for young professionals.

Also check out The Post's Grad Guide 2006 , for tips on how to navigate the working world for all of you soon-to-be college grads.

Find more career-related news and advice in our Jobs section.

The transcript follows below.

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Washington, D.C.: Your website is fascinating and I have already passed the URL to others in my NGO.

Do you explain to the newbies or grunts that just because they wrote a paper on something in college, that does not make them an expert on it? Especially when they may be working with people who actually do develop/make policy? And that nothing makes you look dumber than asserting your non-existent expertise? A million thank yous. I feel much better. Ahhh ...

Michael Ball: Case in point: When I was at Arthur Andersen Business Consulting (R.I.P.), I remember trying to angle my way into a really big engagement. In fact, I was all worked-up about it, and called a meeting with the senior manager (which, in retrospect, I'm amazed she agreed to).

So, in my brilliant little sales pitch, I described -- with some detail -- about how I graduated with a 3.85 GPA, and set the curve in upper-division econ, and was elected treasurer of some club I don't even remember anymore.

I can't even describe the pained look on her face... a mix of frustration, bewilderment, resentment, maybe a little constipation. Needless to say, that was the first and last time.

Moral of the story: Don't do this.

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Arlington, VA: Hello! I enjoyed reading your other book, The Entry Level. It had some great advice!

After graduating, I didn't have very much relevant experience in my field, so I took a job not paying as much as I believe I'm worth, to gain some experience. I've been working at this position for almost two years and I'm ready to find a new position that pays what I'm worth.

Was taking a job at a lower pay level to gain experience a mistake? I would hate for my current salary to make one think that may be all I'm worth. Any advice on negotiating for a higher salary from a new employer would be helpful.

Thank you!

Michael Ball: Thanks very much -- I'm sure you enjoyed reading it much more than I enjoyed writing it; that process sucked! (Note: It's gotten much easier now. Especially now that I get an advance.)

To your question, that wasn't a mistake at all; I'm proud of you! That was a difficult decision to make, but the right one.

The first rule about salary negotiation is NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER (um, six, yeah that's right), give them a number first. If you go too high, you're going to sour the deal. Even if you agree to come down, they're thinking you won't be happy, and will probably start looking for another gig in six months.

If you go too low, you're leaving money on the table. In fact, even accepting their first offer will probably short you by at least $3,000. Play it a little cool here -- just like on a first date ;)

To get around a low salary history, focus on the market: Visit sites like salary.com, and do some homework. Also, compile some stats about the revenue you delivered (directly or indirectly) at your current job, and point to that. If the company wants to low-ball you even after all this, then screw 'em -- you don't want to work there anyway.

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Washington, D.C.: "If I knew back then what I know now."

If only college would have taught me/us the truth about Workplace 101. The first job tends to introduce us to workplace behavior, politics, manipulation, and perceived status (not always work-related) that we're unprepared for at 18-25. My observation of corporate interaction was shocking. I got used to it and grew thereafter.

Do you often hear this?

Michael Ball: Hear it? I built a freakin' business out of it!

You're describing exactly the experience that "You're Too Smart for This" is meant to forestall, or at least give you a leg-up with.

I also have a formal training program called "What College Left Out: A Newbie's Guide to the Entry Level," that goes into much greater depth.

Generally speaking, though, office politics is one of the biggest problem areas for new grads -- yet you don't hear a word about it in any of your college classes (in no small part because most of these professors have never had real jobs to begin with).

My hope is that I can help change this situation, and make that first job a lot less painful... Except for the photocopying, which I don't have the power to stop ;)

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Washington, D.C.: Hello Michael. I have been searching for a new job for the past four months and I have not had any success. I am not a recent grad, but I have been out of school for three years now. What would you suggest to improve my success in getting a new job?

Michael Ball: This is a really common scenario. First thing I'd recommend is moving back home with your parents -- let them bear the cost of your job hunt!

Really, though, I'd recommend really narrowing your job search focus to the one or two fields you're most interested in, and then to the handful of companies in those areas that really attract you.

But you can't just sit behind the computer and send out resumes all day. Doing that alone, you've literally got less than a 1 percent chance of getting the right gig. Instead, you need to get on the phone, go to industry events, start pressing the flesh and getting your name out there. You'll be amazed at how one right relationship can open up so many doors...

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New York, N.Y.: If you've had the experience of going through several unhealthy working relationships straight out of college, are now at your second job but already feel burnt out and don't know exactly what you want to do, do you recommend taking a gap year? Or just sticking it out in the workforce and seeing where opportunities arise?Are you one to encourage "actively managing" your career or do you think it is best to just see where the tide takes you?

Michael Ball: This is a tricky one. Recruiters, on the whole, are pretty unimaginative and unforgiving when it comes to holes in your resume. If you've got some good stuff on there, they may take the time to listen to your backstory... but the odds are kind of poor.

That said, for your own personal health and well-being, I would certainly encourage you to take some time to reflect and get centered. And I don't mean eating Cheetos in your underwear on the couch; at least not the whole time. Rather, make that time really count: do some traveling, go on some informational interviews, read some books (I have one in mind to start with... ;)

Then, when you're in the interview seat, you'll be able to give them a good story about what you did with that time, and where it took you. This sort of thing can actually work to your advantage -- personally and professionally -- if you treat it the right way.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Is it worth accepting a job as an administrative assistant with a company or organization you like, in hopes of eventually gaining more responsibility? Or is it better to seek a position with more responsibility with an organization/company you're not as "into"?

Michael Ball: Great question! In fact, this is one of the most common I get -- and the most important.

Take the job in the industry or field you're really passionate about, whatever that gig is. Because at this point in your career, it's really about the learning and experience -- which is going to come mainly from interacting with smart, motivated people. You can't put a price on that exposure, and it's going to give you the skinny you need to eventually start gaining traction in that business.

At the entry level, you're going to be filing and copying almost no matter where you go. Make these hard, early years count as best you can. Then you get to do the same thing to your own direct reports in five years ;)

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Washington, D.C.: Hello, Michael.

I am a big fan of your books starting with The Entry Level. I look forward to reading your latest.

I find from my personal experience that just getting one's foot in the door, let alone surviving the entry level, can be a challenge. Do you have any advice on job hunting for entry level jobs that you would like to share. In particular, any specific advice to liberal arts majors?

Thanks.

Michael Ball: So you're the one who read it! How nice to finally meet you.

Liberal arts majors, today, are just as readily employable as those with hard science degrees. It's all about how you tell your story.

In other words, instead of talking about the "what," focus more on the "why." Everybody's got a laundry list of good companies and experiences; what YOU'VE got is a unique and compelling story behind your career path.

Just like the best companies do in the marketplace, you've got to differentiate yourself, tell a compelling story. It's your personality and your vision, ultimately, that will get you the position you want.

Best of luck!

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Washington, D.C.: While I appreciate your efforts with your book, I have to ask: Why do we have to educate today's graduates in the obvious? What I mean by that is when I graduated from college five or six years ago, no one would have had to tell me that I'd be doing the grunt work and that I would be given progressively better/more challenging assignments once I've proved myself. Is the inability to grasp this concept among the younger graduates due to some entitlement ideals they have?

Michael Ball: That's precisely the point -- it's not obvious until after you've made the mistakes! And by then, you've probably already poisoned the well at your first couple companies, and become jaded and disillusioned before 25. Which, of course, shouldn't happen until you're a manager ;)

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Madison, Wis.: Hi, My daughter feels it would be a sign of failure to move home after graduation, although I see from the Grad Guide's "snapshot" that 48 percent of this year's grads plan to. We do not have money to subsidize her living anywhere else, and think it would be wise for her to make some before becoming fully independent, even if it is not The Job that she wants, but working in a mall just like high school kids. Could you please share your thoughts on this? Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: Snapshot: washingtonpost.com:Snapshot:The Class of 2006

Michael Ball: The twenties are the new teens: More than half of all college students move back home after college, and even more than that regularly receive some sort of allowance.

The cost of tuition and housing have risen dramatically over the past 10 years, but real wages haven't kept pace. Pile credit card debt on top that, and most new grads can't keep their head above water.

There's no shame at all in moving back home. In fact, it's often a way for the family to reconnect. To say nothing of the hot meals and free laundry!

The only issue, really, is socially. So try to go easy on her about bringing boys home. You don't even want to know what happened in college...

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Michael, congrats on the new book. As an entry-level employee, how do you know when a job isn't working out? What are the signs that perhaps it is time to look elsewhere?

Michael Ball: Good question. I actually talk about this in the book: My advice is to start looking when you feel like the motivation's gone.

Look for the signs: showing up later, leaving earlier, turning in [poor] work (more than usual, anyway), that sort of thing. (In fact, when it gets to that point, your employer is probably thinking the same thing that you are...).

The one caveat here is do try to stick it out for a year. That's still the benchmark -- like it or not -- and it's much more acceptable, from a recruiter's perspective, when you've given it a solid 12 months.

And, in the meantime, no hitting or name-calling.

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Washington, D.C.: Michael,

I don't know if this is appropriate for this discussion, but I recently started my first job and am having an issue. I have a co-worker and I made a comment that was taken by him as racially offensive. It was not meant as such, in fact, what I thought the term meant had nothing to do with what its actual meaning and I told him so (what I thought it meant), apologized profusely, because I never would have made the comment if I knew what it meant or the effect it would have.

I have nothing but respect for him as an officemate, a worker and a person in general. I feel terrible -- I am just not a racist and didn't appreciate not being given the benefit of the doubt. I guess he really doesn't know me. I have surveyed about eight of my friends, and they all thought the term meant what I (incorrectly) did, and wouldn't think it was offensive either (but after learning what it actually meant, agreed that he had a point).

The thing is, he threatened to report me to management if I made another such comment. I am terrified I am going to make a mistake and say something else unintentional. Do I just not speak to him at all (kind of tough when we work long hours together)? Talk to management about it -- be upfront about what happened and say I made an honest mistake? Help me if you can, thanks. I cried about it for about three hours last night because I felt so bad.

My office has a very harsh policy on racial discrimination, and I am scared.

Thanks.

Michael Ball: Ouch, this is a tough situation. My best advice here, for the time being, is leave it alone. Let some time pass, and allow feelings to cool off.

Should something else happen, be very frank and up-front with management--just as you described here. They're usually savvy enough to tell when someone's racist and when someone's just put their foot in their mouth by accident.

It happens to everyone at some point. Don't beat yourself up over this. Just take the learnings, and do better next time. That's all anyone can ask of you.

Now go get an ice cream!

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Washington, D.C.: As a soon to be grad., I'm debating the pursuit if a very low-paying entry level position at a renowned non-profit, or postponing the requisite administrative stuff in favor for a more "exciting" trial in teaching. Could you speak to the merits that one path might have over the other? Is it more important to get my foot in the door, per se, than it is to remain challenged?

Michael Ball: As with relationships, go with the love. It won't let you down, ultimately. The other gig is really just a sexy "hook-up." And you know how you feel about those the next morning...

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In the real world...: ...as a corporate recruiter who's spoken to over 100 recent grads in the last month, thanks for Reality 101!

But here's something I don't get (I have 10 years of experience, but don't consider myself an old fogey...):

Why are so many people looking to jump after six months? Don't they realize any first job is going to be grunt work? My grunt work may be in a slightly bigger cube, but until you're two years into any job it's grunt work. Why should they trust you with more if you're making moves to jump?

Michael Ball: You must've gone through one of those Costco-sized bottles of Tylenol...

No, they don't get it -- because nobody (until now) has told them. I devote a lot of time to this in "You're Too Smart for This," because it really is such a big issue.

The key is to get on board with the idea that it's going to suck for a while, and use what you can to get as much learning and experience as possible.

There's not a report you Xerox, after all, that you can't learn something from if you stopped bitching and actually read it...

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Michael, your site reads, "Studies show that 80 to 90 percent of early problems at the office stem from carryover college habits." What do you recommend as being the first step in trying to fix bad habits left over from school days?

Michael Ball: Easy: buy 30 -- no, wait, 50 -- copies of my book ;)

Seriously, though, the first step is realizing that all the rules have changed, and you've got to start over (that's where the name "Career Freshman" came from).

All the little tricks and backdoors you used in college just won't work anymore. Plus you've got to show up, like, EVERYDAY.

Approach it fresh, and with a very, very open mind (i.e., open to doing work that's far below your talents). In time, you'll master the game again, and start working the system to your advantage.

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Baltimore, Md.: How do you suggest a recent grad go about finding their true career passion? I'm on job number two after graduation but not very interested in the field I am in now. I have a general idea of the kind of jobs I am interested in, but that is a VERY general idea.

Any advice would be great!

Michael Ball: Stick your pinky toe in the water: Go on some informational interviews, and get a first-hand sense of what these companies are like.

Also join the big trade associations, and attend some mixers and functions, to get a feel for what the people are like, what they talk about, where the industry is going.

You're never going to know for sure until you just get out and do it. Like sex ;)

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Arlington, Va.: Michael,

When choosing a job in your first years out of school, what do you think is more important: a job that pays more or a job that is an a collegial environment with people your age (if both are in the field you are interested in)?

Michael Ball: My stock answer is never go with the money. At this point in your career, you're barely going to squeeze over the poverty line almost no matter where you go. A few extra thousand bucks, much as it may help, won't appreciably change your quality of life.

But a job that you're learning from and having a good time with -- there's no price on that.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Michael, I don't know if you're familiar enough with D.C. to answer this question, but is it really possible to let by on a $28,000 starting salary in this city, or other top cities (NYC, Boston, Chicago, etc.)? I'm worried about the high cost of living in the cities where I'm looking to find my first job.

Michael Ball: Probably not. The reality is that most new workers get help from their parents, grandparents, other family, whatever. They also tend to have a lot of roommates. (Sometimes the kind who gave birth to them).

It's not going to be much different in any major metro where you're looking. Do what you've got to do (including pretty much keeping the destitute way of life you got good at in college), but don't pass on a good opportunity because you're going to be broke.

Besides, the right person will go out with you no matter how poor and raggedy you are. And that's a definition of success we can all come away feeling good about.

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Washington, D.C.: As a manager, I'm baffled when to see many otherwise-smart newbies in our workplace who just don't seem to grasp the importance of working hard. They let assignments drift. Don't they know everyone is watching to see whether they can be counted on? We expect and tolerate honest mistakes. What we don't tolerate for long is what looks like laziness. How does one get that message across to new grads?

Michael Ball: With a hammer.

Seriously, give it to them straight -- just as they should to you. The whole basis for my company, in fact, is based on telling the truth to each other.

There's no reason you can't phrase it to them exactly as you did here. The candor, in fact, will often have the opposite effect you're expecting, and really light that fire under both of your butts to start working together better.

It's when people mince words and dance around the issues that problems really arise. Your turnover rate will thank your for it!

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Washington, D.C.: Do you have any advice for recent grads in committed relationships where career paths don't always match up? I got married young and don't regret it, but I know I have limited my career prospects because I have to consider my husband and therefore can't be so flexible as, say, to pick up and move to wherever a great job is. How can both of us get the most out of our careers without having to leave each other behind?

Michael Ball: This is a really important question -- thanks for bring it up!

When you said "I do," you made the biggest commitment you'll ever make in your life. (Until the next time you say it, of course). Stop it, I'm playing!

Really, your family has to come first. Jobs and careers ebb and flow, but the love in your life is the only real constant. Which isn't to say your career shouldn't be a hugely important and rewarding part of your life; it just can't be first.

As always, it's about compromise. Sometimes your job will be the big thing, and he'll shape what he's doing around that. Sometimes it'll be his career, and you'll make the switch. And sometimes it'll be your children, and then everybody suffers ;)

Husbands before managers, always.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Michael. I'm a semi-newbie (I've got two-plus years of work experience) who's in the midst of a job hunt and am also changing career paths. I've got some informational interviews coming up. How do I not come off sounding like I'm hurting for a job?

Michael Ball: Yeah, you've got to ooze confidence as best you can (just like guys try to do when attempting to impress a girl).

I don't mean come off as an a-hole or like you know more than they do, but just be very secure in your position as a career-changer. You're there to gain knowledge and insight, nothing more.

Be appreciative, be honest, but be solid with where you are. If they really like you, they'll decide where to take the conversation from there...

And, by the way, great job on getting the informational interviews! Most people only talk about them, but never actually follow through.

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Arlington, Va.: What are your thoughts on postponing the entry level stuff and racking up tons of student loans for grad. school? Should the school wait until after a few years of grunt work's under the belt?

Michael Ball: Great question. The line to get back into grad school is longer than ever--mostly because people get out of school, realize that this first job sucks, and they don't know what else to do with themselves. School is that abusive relationship, but without the CODA meetings.

If you're talking about an MBA, don't do it. Not yet, anyway. Even hold off, I'd say, on law school. The best way to see if you want to go do this thing you're considering is to actually go do it for a while, see what you think.

If it blows your hair back, and you feel like a graduate degree will get you where you're going, then, sure, you've done your due diligence at that point. Otherwise, tough it out in the beginning, and try to pay down your undergrad debt in the meantime.

VISA and MasterCard will be pissed, but whatever ;)

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Washington, D.C.: Hello. I graduated from college last May and began my first "real" job this past Fall. I am not very satisfied with my position, but I feel bad about leaving so soon due to the amount of time spent training me and the fact that it may look unfavorable to future employers that I left a job so soon. How soon is too soon to leave my first job, and will this look bad to prospective employers?

Michael Ball: Again, try to stick it out a year. (That's Lie no. 90 in my book: "Quit When it Gets Bad.")

As far as the training goes, that's their problem. They hired you with an "at-will" employment contract, which means both of you are free to terminate it at any time. Whatever money they invested in you, now, is a sunk cost. You're just one of many who they're going to eat it with, and they budget for this sort of thing. (Which isn't to say that you try to take advantage of the situation; it's just the fact of the matter).

A lot of times, it takes a while to settle and really get a sense for what's going on. Then, after you're ready to doze off, things can pick back up later on.

Don't be too hasty. You never know what's coming on the second date ;)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Michael,

Great web site! What's the best way to let your boss know that you're interested in advancing and gaining skills, but not come off as nagging or impatient? I'm two years out and have had trouble hitting that balance. Thanks!

Michael Ball: Compliments will get you everywhere.

Be frank, but be patient as far as training goes. At bigger companies, they've got training budgets for each salary grade, and a certain portion is already earmarked for requisite courses.

There's usually some leftovers, though, and it's your job to take advantage of it. Do the research: figure out what course/program you really want, and build a business case for it--tie it to how it'll help you do your job better.

Then go pitch it on its merits to your manager. Generally, you should be able to wrangle at least one program of personal interest per year.

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Michael,

I graduated from college last year and have been down about future job prospects, and so have toyed with the idea of going back to school. What, in your opinion, would be the value of a Masters degree in the job market versus the same amount of work experience?

Michael Ball: Again, always take the experience over the degree. You'll learn so much more by actually doing it (as opposed to what's often fluffy theory that typically isn't read by anyone but people in academia).

In that way, you're actually getting paid to learn, instead of the other way around.

Nice change, huh?

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Alexandria, Va.: To the person considering grad school first -- don't think having more letters after your name means you get to skip the grunt work. I interview tons of candidates for entry level positions, and I always find that candidates with some work experience do much better than those that went straight into their post-graduate work. As a result, I'm far more likely to hire them.

Michael Ball: Read this.

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Rhode Island: Michael,

I have been out of school for three years and working in at a non-profit for 2.5. Due to some staffing changes, I was given a lot of responsibility very early and I have grown to love and excel at my job. I will be moving in the fall to a different area and I would like to move to a different career track within the non-profit sector, say development rather than programming, which I have some experience with, but not much. I guess my question is, is it wise to change positions when I know I am good at one thing, but much more interested in another? Do you think this will be a hindrance in finding a new job?

Thanks!

Michael Ball: Make the change if it's in the direction of your dreams. I realize that sounds a little "woo-woo-woo," but it's the truth.

It gets so much harder as you move forward in your career to change: mortgage, family, responsibilities, arthritis.

Do it now, before it gets any harder...

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Bethesda, Md.: What about those of us that are more like "career sophomores" and could have used your advice a long time ago? We've already left the first job -- and may be on our second or third. Any advice on getting a promotion and being able to stick around one place for awhile?

Michael Ball: Actually, even in your second and third jobs, you can still be a "career freshman." It's about your experience, ultimately.

As far as sticking around one place for a while... do it as soon as you get the chance!

The thing with promotions isn't always that they're so hard to come by; it's that you often don't want it any more than the job you've already got. Except for the paycheck. (And even then, it's a sock-in-the-jock deal: much smaller after you pull out all the taxes).

If you feel like you've hit your stride somewhere -- and management recognizes the value you're adding -- then stick around for as long as you're learning and being challenged.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Let's say you work at a PR agency and you have this nagging desire to act, but not sure if it's a full-blown passion... yet. Do you agree that it is best to just stay at your job which is exhausting but pays the bills, or find a job that allows you more flexibility to pursue your "dream" but doesn't really lead to a "career" (ie: working at as a waitress while auditioning and taking classes, no offense to waitressing)? Am I trying to have my cake and eat it too?

Michael Ball: Super question -- and common, especially out here in LA.

Having known many actors and actresses, I can tell you that it's a brutal, brutal business. So much rejection and pain. Kind of like, um...my dating history ;)

Even if it's a different profession, I'm a big fan of these in-between jobs to make ends meet. The thing, though, is that you've really got to be going after the dream, and not just using that as an excuse for not moving forward with your career.

There's no shame in it. I've had several of these myself!

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Courthouse, Va.: Is there one particular city that you think is a great melting pot for fun and worthwhile entry level spots?

Michael Ball: Any major metro should do it. All of them have big concentrations of young, very in-debt graduates.

But don't forget about family and friends: You often don't appreciate how much you rely on them until they're not a car/subway ride away...

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Washington, D.C.: Haven't read your book yet, but from all the good reviews I'm going to now. I had a question though.

I changed majors halfway through college and came out not really knowing what I wanted to do. I took a job at a young sales organization and the job doesn't pay great, it's stressful, and requires long hours. I was looking to move up in the company at the end of last year I went through an informal process and right before I was to get an offer, they pulled it from the table citing some "policy issues." This seemed like an excuse and when I tried to inquire about it, I got general answers asking me to be patient and try again in six months.

What would you have done at this point?I decided to stick it out and try my luck the second time, even though I thought about looking outside the company but several places I wanted to go were on hiring freezes. I just hope I'm making the best decision for my professional development. What do you think?

Michael Ball: If a company is jerking you around, don't wait long before you call them on it, or make a move.

You can't be too hasty, of course -- a lot of times the rationales they give you are perfectly legitimate -- but do set out a clear timetable for what should be decided when.

If they're missing deadlines, start looking. (Same for relationships!)

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College Park, Md.: I really want to go to grad school for social work because I cannot get into the field w/o a degree in social work. Right now I am an administrative assistant for a town so that's related to my undergraduate degree, but not what I want to do with my life. Should I go to grad school or hold off? Thanks very much.

Michael Ball: This is the flipside of that grad school coin: When you simply can't do what you want to do without the degree, then you go get the degree.

This is the case for a lot of social fields like counseling or law, which require state/federal licensure.

Just be sure it's what you really want before you plunk so many more years/so much more money into it...

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Washington, D.C.: Hey. I have been at my first job for about six months and I am looking for a change. I sent out my resumes to a couple of entry-level positions that I think I would be perfect for but have received no response and unfortunately, the firms do not want to be contacted with hiring questions.

My question is, would it be okay if I rewrote my cover letter and resume and sent it in again? Or would this be too much?

Thanks.

Michael Ball: Too much. Let these go for now.

In the meantime, go join some trade associations and start developing relationships.

Pull is always better than push...

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Washington, D.C.: I have been at this job for the past six months. It's an administrative assistant job, and while the grunt work is a pain, I know I can deal with it. The problem is I have found I don't like the company that I work for -- I agreed to the job because I was tired of looking and what my company does is loosely related to what I want. I have already found a new job for the summer, and plan on putting in my 2-3 weeks. I feel bad that things didn't work out, but there's really nowhere I want to go upwards in with this company. What's the best way to go about telling my boss, especially since we're in the middle of an office move?

Michael Ball: Funny, I just got this question this morning from one of my own friends... And I'll give you the same advice: be honest.

When you give them the "it's not you, it's me" line, they don't always accept it, obviously. But if you're really genuine and sincere about your interests -- that this new gig really feels right for you, and it's not a decision to "quit" as much as it's a decision to pursue a passion, how can you have a problem with that?

Although they might still find a way ;)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Michael,

I've been a paralegal in D.C. for about a year and a half. It was a great first job, but I don't plan on being a lawyer or career paralegal. Any advice for those of us with a year or two's experience trying to gain entry level experience (or higher) in another field of interest?

Thanks!

Michael Ball: Be prepared to start back at the bottom -- doing the gruntwork all over again. This is almost always the case when career changing (except at the executive level), and you've got to be prepared for the trip back down.

But if you're really excited about this new field/gig, it shouldn't hurt that badly. Plus if you've got game, you should also move up that much more quickly.

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Potomac, Md.: My daughter has almost completed her first year with a defense contractor. She is received an excellent review but is totally turned off by the macho culture and wants to leave the company. Any suggestions or advice on what she should do?

Michael Ball: Go, when the time's right.

She's already made the decision that this place doesn't fit with her values--so now it's on her to milk them for all of the experience and knowledge she can get, and move on when it's time.

Which isn't a crass or mercenary thing, because whatever's good for her is even better for the company (usually by at least a 25 percent profit margin).

Bottom line, you've got to like the people you work with. After all, you'll end up spending more time with them than friends or family...

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Washington, D.C.: One thing that I notice more and more is this new generation of college grads. I graduated 12 years ago, and have been managing young staff for the past eight years. I will officially admit to hitting a generation gap (despite still being single and having a good working relationship with the junior staff). Reminds me of when I was starting out, and all my managers scoffing at "Gen-X" expectations. Now I'm one of the grumps, saying "These kids think they're hot stuff!" LOL.

Michael Ball: That's always the way it goes! But at least you're self-aware enough to realize what's going on.

School all of the other "grumps" in the company, huh?!

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Michael Ball: Thank you so much to everyone for all of your thoughtful and poignant questions! I had a blast doing this, and do hope you found this helpful. (Because my fingers SERIOUSLY hurt from all this typing)!

And for even more good, hilarious advice -- brace yourself for the sales pitch -- pick up my new book: You're Too Smart for This: Beating the 100 Big Lies about Your First Job.

Thanks again, and I hope to hear from you again soon!

Cheers,

Michael

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