Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, August 1, 2006; 11:00 AM

Washington Post columnist Amy Joyce writes Life at Work on Sundays in the Business section and appears online every Tuesday to offer advice about managing interpersonal issues on the job.

An archive of Amy's Life at Work columns is available online.

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

The transcript follows below.


Amy Joyce: Good morning, folks. It's Tuesday, which means it's time to chat about your life at work. As always, join in with your own advice and stories to share with your fellow workers and workers-to-be.

And managers? We want to hear from you. What do you want to see in your employees? What does it take to get hired? Shed some light...

Lastly, for a holiday story (hey, we have early deadlines): I'm wanting to hear from you if you have a funny/interesting/good story of something that happened to you at your office holiday party. Tell it to me at


Seattle, Wash.: Hello, Amy. Thanks in advance to taking my questions.

Statistics show most people get job through networking. However, for a recent graduate like me (who would like to relocate to the D.C. area), it seems impossible to network in a new area where I don't know anyone. I am hoping to secure some from of employments before the actual moving. I applied with the federal government and several employers in this area (online of course) and so far no response. I know my chances of getting a job by going online is really slim. Hence my dilemma.

Any thoughts, suggestions?

Amy Joyce: Networking is important no matter what, Seattle. Try this: Contact all your family and friends and tell them you want to move to D.C. Ask if they have any contacts there, or know anyone who might. Tell them you're just hoping to make some connections. Attach your resume. Then get in touch with your school's alumni center. Ask for a list of former students who are based in the D.C. area and might be willing to chat with you. Most schools will gladly hook you up. Do the same thing as you did with your fam and friends. Tell these alums what you're hoping to do and ask if they have any thoughts for you. Talk to you career center and ask for any job listings they might have in this area. And if worse comes to worse, get yourself over here. It is a city full of new grads who are all trying to find a gig. Being here, even temporarily jobless, will help you find a job sooner than if you stay there and hope. Just make sure you can afford it. (Group houses are a great way to afford it and to make more connections.)

Anyone else? Let's hear it.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi, there. I'd like to hear your advice along with those who work in the Federal government. I'd like to get a job in DHHS but feel like I'm just another number when I apply online (mandated) and can't follow up.

Do people think it would be valuable to meet with some people who work where I'd like to work, just to become more known? Or is that not something that's done? I would be looking at a level 13 type job -- not sure if that makes a difference.

I need some help! Thanks to everyone for your ideas and opinions.

Amy Joyce: I will throw this one out there. C'mon fed workers: What's your advice?

(Personally, I'm all for meeting as many people as possible. Not only so you get to be more well known, but so you also get to research what you might be getting in to. The more you know, the better.)


For Jobless in Seattle: As difficult or expensive as this may be when I was looking for a job here in D.C. via Chicagoland, I had sent resumes but wasn't getting any bites. I decided to come out here for a visit, and made calls to those who I had given resumes. Once they heard I would be here in the area, my two days here was quickly filled with four interviews. Coming here, even for a visit, will tell them you're serious about relocating.

Amy Joyce: Thanks....


Maryland: for the person trying to secure a job before moving, consider signing on with a professional temp agency in your area which is nationwide -- they might be able to find you a position in the DC area.

I did this years ago with one and was able to secure a position in London (I had a work permit via other avenues -- this wouldn't work for everyone).

Amy Joyce: Ah, yes. The temp agency is another option and definitely a good way to get in. Lots of agencies have openings that are temporary, but can turn into full-time. (Called temp to perm.)


Rockville, Md.: Amy:

When I was in Laredo, Texas it took three years to get a federal job and I had several interviews in the process, some by telephone and one in person. I turned in about 15 applications. Federal jobs did take a lot of patience. Since I am a librarian, it took longer for a specialized position to open. If you have more general skills, it should be faster.

Amy Joyce: Thanks, Rockville.


Washington, D.C.: What is your take on explaining in an interview that the last job didn't work out because of it "not being a good fit?"

Amy Joyce: Well, how was it not a good fit? Think beyond personality disputes. It wasn't a good fit because I think my skills are better used [THIS WAY]. That's why I'm looking forward to working here. My background will fit in here because [GET SPECIFIC HERE ABOUT THE POSITION FOR WHICH YOU'RE APPLYING]. Doing it that way then turns the conversation back to you and why they should hire you.


Washington, D.C.: Amy,

I'm thinking about switching careers. I'm so nervous about it though because what I do now and what I think I want to do are extremely unrelated. How do I get over my fears and go for it? I'm so worried I'll hate it and have to go slinking back to my old career path in a few months.


Amy Joyce: It's incredibly difficult to move out of that comfort job. Sometimes it helps writing it all down. And I mean all. Write a list of the reasons why you're not thrilled with your current career. Write a list of things that excite you about this new, different career. Figure out what your life will look like 10 years from now in the new career, what it might look like 10 years from now in the current career. Which appeals to you more? And when you feel like you might slink on back to comfort-world, go back over those same lists and thoughts. And remember that you only have this one life, so you really have to take a chance at doing it right. Going back into a position where you're comfortable is... comfortable. But is it what you want from yourself and out of your life? Thinking about that might keep you plastered to your new adventure. Good luck.

_______________________ Raising the Raise Issue (Post, July 30)

Amy Joyce: By the way, this was Sunday's column.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Hello, Amy. I will be relocating back to California from D.C. in a couple of weeks to be closer to my family. I've given notice and will be leaving on good terms with my current company. I am about two weeks shy of my annual review where I would have anticipated a small raise. My question is, if asked what my previous salary was when I am applying for new jobs, can I say that it was slightly higher than it actually was and take into consideration the potential raise from a review? I don't want to lie, but I feel if I don't mention I was up for review close to when I left I'll lose out on a year's worth of a raise for negotiation purposes. Thanks.

Amy Joyce: How about you say what your current salary is, but you were due to get a $X raise when you decided to move back, so you know you're worth at least $X. Remember that the new employer can check back with HR at your former employer to see what your salary was. You don't want to be caught in a lie. Or a truth-stretch.


Washington, D.C.: The person looking for a federal job needs to understand that it can take a long, long time to get a federal job. I know where I am in the govt they put out announcements and then they just don't have time to go through the resumes so it takes, on average, a year for something to happen. I would only approach people to talk to them if you know someone there or you were referred through someone they know. Most feds really don't have time to talk to job seekers and really when you get a minimum of 500 applicants (no exaggeration in my agency) for every slot there's no way you can.

Amy Joyce: More advice for fed-job seeker... Thanks.


Re: Fed Jobs: As a current fed, I can tell you that you pretty much are a number until you're hired (I know, it sucks). At least in my agency, when you apply online, you're rated (and therefore given a number), and then the hiring managers interview the top-rated candidates. The one piece of advice that might be useful is to find the contact info on the job announcement. Then contact that person. He or she might be in HR so you need to ask them for the contact info for the hiring manager of that position. Then talk to that person so that they remember your name when they're given the list of candidates. Good luck!

Amy Joyce: Even more. I knew you all would be a help. Thanks.


I've got a job!: Just wanted to share a success story and back up your advice about networking. I've been looking for a job for months. Finding postings, sending in my stuff, even getting quite a few interviews, but nothing was working out.

Then, I got a call from a professional acquaintance who thought I might be looking, who knew a great person that was hiring, and wanted my permission to give my name. A week later, I've got my dream job!

So, everyone who is looking, keep your chins up, and don't hesitate to let people know you're looking. It doesn't have to be forced or formal, just normal conversations between normal people. You never know what might lead to something great.

Just wish me luck on making it through my last month at the present job!

Amy Joyce: Congrats! And thanks for that check-back. Great advice for us all. Good luck...


Alexandria, Va.: I saw the question on networking and felt compelled to respond. I am the executive chef for a high-level government facility and can tell your poster that networking is essential. Look into any trade organizations for your field first and foremost, as they have helped me immensely. Your comment on friends and family are invaluable as well. It's nice to already have someone in your "circle" that can help out. Post your resume everywhere; that's how I got my current job because the employer saw my resume online. You have to keep throwing darts, and sooner or later you'll hit the bullseye. Good luck!

Amy Joyce: Thanks, chef. It's true: You can't get a job (usually) through just one avenue. You have to get out there and try it all.


asking for a raise: Hi Amy and chatters --

I am going to ask my boss for fair compensation as I am doing the work of a colleague who left three months ago and, although they filled her position with someone new, they gave her new projects and I retain the old ones. The projects also make me a member of two separate departments, instead of just one, and I am expected to go to twice as many meetings on top of everything, so there is no question I am doing more than for which I was initially hired.

I could use some advice on wording and to whom in addition to my boss to take the issue (e-mail, in-person, cc to HR?) I thought I would write "as it seems I am working out in the additional capacity, I am asking for fair compensation."

also -- what is a reasonable amount to ask? 5%, 7%? This comes on the tail of the whole department getting a 2% increase for 2006-07 -- not even an extra $1000 before taxes.

Amy Joyce: Check out my Sunday column. My advice to you is to do what the woman in the article did: Talk to your boss in person. Explain that you believe you have earned a raise and mention that you have taken on many additional things and done them well. Then give your boss a memo explaining what you have done and what you plan to do.

Go through a few months of work and list for yourself everything you have done that is new, important. List the good work you've done. Then take the list and make a memo highlighting your best things that you think will show why you have earned a hike in pay. Give that to your boss when you meet.

As for how much? You can ask for a specific amount. But more likely, your boss will tell you how much you'll get. There are a lot of good salary calculators online. Check out (Bureau of Labor Statistics) for some guidance.


Seattle, Wash.: There are TONS of people who transplanted from DC to Seattle, including myself. Definitely let people you know in Seattle know you want to relocate; you'll be surprised how many of folks from DC are now in Emerald City!

Amy Joyce: A good idea. Thanks.


For Seattle: I've been on both sides. When moving from Florida to NYC, I found I was not getting any bites on my resume. So I contacted a friend in NY and started using my address PLUS his address on my resume. That way hiring managers think you're serious and have already secured housing. On the other side, I've been in a position to receive resumes for several positions, the one from out of state rarely get my attention because you just never know if someone is testing the waters, will actually make the move, etc.

Amy Joyce: Good to hear from both sides. I've heard that same thing from lots of hiring managers: The out of towners are put at the bottom of the pile unless their resume is amazing.


Raising the Bar: Great column about approaches to get a raise in your current job, or at least with your current employer, when you don't really want to consider walking out. As someone who is both a manager and gets managed, I think you highlighted the value of the written memo with accomplishments and especially client-related achievements and specific performance above and beyond job duties. It is a good tip for everyone to keep track of these highlights regularly, since they get lost come review time, and communicate them clearly, as a matter of managing your career. When it is clear you are not merely touting yourself, but also communicating your accomplishments, you will be respected more, not less, for your efforts.

Amy Joyce: Well put. Thanks.

The funny thing about writing this stuff down: It reminds YOU what you have accomplished. Talk about a good confidence boost. (Unless you realize you haven't done much of anything. Then it's a good reality check.)


Washington, D.C.: While I agree that networking can be helpful, don't think that it is the only way to get a job. My first three jobs came by looking at want-ads and by applying on-line. What made the difference was really finding the right fit and making sure my experience (including volunteer and out of office activities in the causes/nonprofits where I was applying for a job) made my resume rise to the top.

I am now at the top level of my field so make those contacts but also recognize that to get the job you want, you need to prepare, be clear about what kind of job you want and put in the effort to get some experience, even if it is only volunteer.

Amy Joyce: You're absolutely right. It isn't the only way. It's important to do it all.

And even more important to work toward that next job, rather than just hope something will come along. Volunteering is a great way to build up new experiences.


Alexandria, Va.: I just submitted a post about using my network to help find a job when I was unemployed. I just wanted to add that I'm always maintaining and increasing my network. I've moved from Maryland to Virginia, so I'm adding VA people to my network. Also, my husband and I are considering relocating to another part of the country, and I'm already contacting old friends and acquaintances with connections there to start building a network, even though we probably won't move for at least another year.

It takes work, but it's vital.

Amy Joyce: Right on all counts. Thanks and good luck.


Alexandria, Va.: When I was looking for a job, I used my network of contacts from volunteer positions, community organizations, etc.

I basically sent everyone an e-mail (some bulk, some personal) saying "Hey, I'm moving on and looking for a position doing xyz. Here's some of my experience. You know from working with me on abc that I really enjoy these things. If you hear of anything, please let me know -- I'd appreciate it."

I got so many leads from that. I actually ended up taking a job that didn't come from those leads, but I sent out thank yous to everyone who helped.

Amy Joyce: More good advice from someone who's been through it. Thanks.


re: I've got a job!: But that phone call was good luck. So much of networking is good luck. My friend met someone on a stoop and that person connected them for all their internships and first real job. Just a random person. You could meet thousands of people on stoops and never find that though.

I just think the networking thing is inherently pretty classist. If you come from a working class, blue collar background and none of your family and few of your friends have college degrees they are unlikely to have connections in the offices you are applying to. It is possible to network through professional organizations, but then you are a peon with a business card. The best way is as you say, friends, family, personal connections. But, I think it's very important to point out that not everyone has "friends in high places," or even any place. It's hard enough to make friends, nevermind ask them for favors.

I just don't know what people with limited, non professional, social circles are supposed to do with networking.

Amy Joyce: Those circles still can lead to jobs or contacts. You don't have to come from a high class family to get into a professional job. You meet people on a stoop. At church. Volunteering. In line at the grocery store. As you're waiting tables. Everyone knows someone. And as for the professional networking events? Hello? You're a peon with a card--just like everyone else there, but at a place where people are WANTING to meet you and network. Really can't get much better than that.

You don't need friends in high places to make connections and hear about jobs that might be right for you. You just need to get out there.


Omaha, Neb.: I am the newest, most junior employee at my company. I am frequently the messenger on different projects (person A will make a decision about a particular project, and then I communicate to person B what those changes are). Well, person B isn't always happy to hear the changes/suggestions. I feel uncomfortable being firm because I am the most junior person in the office, but I feel like a complete wimp if I stammer "well, person A said to do it like this..." any advice on how to maintain my integrity and a proper amount of humility? Thanks for doing this chat!

Amy Joyce: Is this person uncomfortable? Or do they actually say to you that you won't do it. If they express discomfort, then I'd say it's not your job to reiterate what Person A said. Let A and B fight it out. If you agree with Person A and it's necessary that you make that clear (as in it's your job to get this done and you're on the team just like anyone else) then speak up. "Well, what we're hoping to do here is X."


Denver, Colo.: Just started looking for a new job but I have a week-long family vacation planned at the end of August. Setting aside the issue of whether or not I should've booked it, when and how do I bring this up with prospective employers? During an interview? (I suspect not.) After an offer?


Amy Joyce: This happens all the time. And most employers I speak with say they don't even bat an eye. You tell your interviewers when they give you an offer.

Tell the interviewers when they give you an offer. "One last thing: I have a vacation planned. I can take unpaid leave since I'm new, if that's what you'd like."

It happens. A lot. And it's only a week. Don't let yourself sweat over this one too much.


Government Job Seekers Unite!: I sympathize with the post about the now ubiquitous requirement of applying online. There seems to be little way to differentiate yourself or highlight what's important when you're forced to fit everything into pre-determined categories. (For example, one application I recently completed asked for GPA but didn't accept letter grades or class rank.) You can't even include a cover letter.

That said, the experience is probably good training for actually -working- in the government...

Amy Joyce: I was thinking the same thing...


Ballston, Va.: Was there a column about raising your confidence at work? I feel like I'm not doing good enough. While I am sure I can improve, my work product cannot be as bad as I make it out to be. Thanks.

Amy Joyce: Not recently, but I know it's a big issue. Perhaps a perfect opportunity to add it to the list of upcoming columns. Why do we do this to ourselves, huh?

E-mail me if you want to chat about your situation for a column:

Anyone have confidence boosting techniques?


Horrible cover letters: My department is hiring for an entry level position and I've been really surprised at the cover letters and resumes we've received. Can you pass along a bit of advice?

Aside from being shocked at the spelling errors, poor grammar, failure to indicate the position being applied for, obvious lack of knowledge of what my company does, way too casual writing, referring to yourself in the third person, starting off with negative statements ("my resume is going to look weird") and including no cover letter at all - here's what's really bugging me. PLEASE, stop telling me what this job is going to do for you. I already know this is a great opportunity for you, and that it will open doors for you. Tell me what YOU CAN DO for my company. That's what I really need to know. If I can see that your skills will benefit my company, you've got a good shot at an interview. Honestly Amy, I get resume after resume with statements that concentrate only on what we can do for the applicant. It's truly amazing.

PS: I also don't need to know that your nickname is "Bulldog," and find a better way to say you're "all about hard work" or that you're looking forward to using your skills "professional style." A couple more gems I received recently.

Amy Joyce: GLADLY passing this bit of advice along. Thanks. (And thanks for the chuckles.)


State Clubs: Several years ago The Post did an article on clubs/social groups in DC that are based on their home state, college football team, etc. Google it and you should find many transplants thriving well in DC humidity!

Amy Joyce: Google away, folks. D.C. is the city of transplants, so it is naturally a good way to find your network.


Seattle to DC: a little "guerrilla marketing" tip I learned while working in a career center and used when I wanted to move from DC to Boston.

Get postcards from Seattle and send them to the person you have contacted in DC, just reiterating that you are looking forward to your meeting on such and such date and time. By the time you arrive, everyone in the office knows you're the person who came all the way from Seattle to meet with them and are looking forward to it too.

Amy Joyce: Interesting. I'm sure this would work well for lots of organizations, but not all. Use this trick wisely. (Personally, I love it.)


Sydney, New South Wales, Australia: Just wondering if you have any advice for dealing with colleagues who sit less than two metres away from you at work but seem only able to e-mail rather than talk?

Amy Joyce: Keep answering them in person. But if that just seems to tick them off, it's not worth it. It's one of those things we likely just need to learn to deal with in today's new, electronic and open office environment.


Anonymous: My co-workers frequently mention girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, and wives in casual conversation, and nobody thinks twice about it. However, I have avoided mentioning my girlfriend because I was scared to let them know I am gay. In an effort to hide that fact, I have probably led them to believe that I am straight. If I were to come out now (now that I know them well enough to guess that they'd be accepting) I'm afraid they will feel that I have lied to them. Any suggestions? And if I ever start a new job, how should I have dealt with it from the beginning?

Amy Joyce: But you haven't lied. Remember that and just be yourself. (I know, I know. Easier said than done.) By never mentioning anything one way or another, you never lied to your coworkers. If they seem surprised, explain as much as you would like. Or as little. If you ever start a new job: Same advice. Be yourself. If you want to put a picture up, do it. If you want to bring her to a company picnic, do it. You're in a relationship, just like any other employee.


Managers/Employees question: As a manager, what do I want to see in my employees? I want to see/hear them take time to get to know fellow coworkers, take an interest in the business or organization as a whole, and ask a lot of questions. Whether the question is where is the bathroom or why do you do X this way, questions that show engagement in their environment and with their job. I highly encourage employees to seek out extra training and professional development and to grow as people. In order for me to be able to best encourage this development, I need to hear from employees what they want, what they are interested in, and what their experiences/knowledge bases are. I consider myself an employee cheerleader - rah!

Amy Joyce: I like you! (And thanks...)


Bethesda, Md.: Amy: I had a baby, switched jobs when he was six months old to be closer to home, to have flex time and to be next door to his daycare. Long story short, the job situation has problems. I want to apply for new jobs in the same area. My question is will it hurt me with prospective employers that I've only been at this new job for about six months? I also want to try to have another baby very soon and could walk into a new position just a few months pregnant. No one talks about how hard it is to juggle having babies and career moves. Any advice?

Amy Joyce: If you're unhappy, start applying and looking for new gigs now. You don't have to take any offers. Also, you may not find anything right away, so you will have been at the job longer than six months.

However, remember that if you do get a new job and become pregnant, you might not have yet earned any maternity leave. Keep that in mind when you start your search. It is incredibly hard to juggle all of this.

Would you happier to stick it out where you are, knowing you have leave benefits (if you do)? Or are you willing to take a chance, see what else is out there, and decide once you have an offer what is best for you and your family?


Amy Joyce: Okay, gang. That's all we have time for today. Join me again next Tuesday, same time, same place. Check out the Sunday Business section to read Life at Work, the column. You can also hear me on Washington Post radio every Monday at 12:50 p.m.

And don't forget to e-mail me with tales from the office holiday party.

Have a great week!


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