Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, August 8, 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 talk about your life at work. As usual, the questions are piling up. We'll get to as many as we can and I hope you can jump in with your own advice and stories to help the rest of us along.

In the meantime, is it just me, or is it really confusing for you men about what to wear to work these days? Some wear suits, others ties, others none of the above. How do you decide what to wear in a workplace culture that has gone casual, not-casual, and downright formal all in just a matter of a few years? E-mail me at with your dressing tips.

Alrighty then, let's get started.


Washington, D.C.: Here's a question loosely related to women in top positions as well as asking for a raise. I've been at my position nearly a year and have done a pretty darn good job. I'd like to make my way up the corporate ladder, however my department is only three people and I'm not sure what I'd be promoted to. I'd like to be a manager but there's no one to manage. Is there a promotion in sight for me or should I just ask for a raise? Thanks. This leads us nicely into Amy's two most-recent columns, about careers for women and about raises. Here are Her No. 1 Problem from Sunday's Post and Raising the Raise Issue from July 30.

Amy Joyce: Don't ask me! Okay, that's the point here. You're supposed to ask me. But here's the thing: At such a small organization, you need to figure out what your next move is yourself (with the help of the organization, obviously). In such a small place, it might not be about managing others, but about changing your position, getting new skills, or heading up a new project. Would you want to change departments? Move up within your own very small department? You need to figure out what this next move could be. You can't just ask for something "better" without knowing what you want.


Washington D.C. : Amy,

I almost had to laugh when I read this piece because women, especially in Washington, have taken full advantage of the Affirmative Action legislation presented in the 60s. Ms. Lang of Catalyst needs only to walk out onto Connecticut and K during lunch to witness the hundreds of professional women walking around. Generally the top corporate jobs do go to men and traditionally this is a white male power centered world (D.C.), but I know, especially in the media and lobbying, women are extremely represented.

Amy Joyce: You know what's kinda funny there, Washington? You probably think you're disagreeing with the findings in the column, but you just backed up what Catalyst is saying in this most recent report. The point was not that women aren't represented in the professional world. The points is that there are more women than ever working in this generation, yet they aren't represented in the top ranks. Management, sure. Top management? Not so much.


Washington, D.C.: In the media industry, there have been a lot of studies about the consequences of NOT having women at the upper levels of management with regard to the topics that are covered and the sources that are used to mention only a few. What do you see as the major consequences to society of the deficit of women at the top?

Amy Joyce: In a nutshell: Organizations that don't have women or minorities at the top are missing out on another viewpoint or a way of attracting different clients. [See also: Jeff Birnbaum's K Street Confidential column from yesterday about the lack of black lobbyists.]


Anonymous: My boss never says thank you or anything remotely like it. After big projects, she says nothing. NOTHING. This is troubling me. There is no feedback good, bad, or ugly. What if anything can I do not to get depressed?

Amy Joyce: 1. You can accept the fact that you're not going to get feedback. 2. You can ask for feedback and hope you get some. 3. You can try to understand that sometimes lack of feedback is a sign of a job well done.

Some people want constant thanks, praise and input. Others don't. Just as some managers give constant thanks, praise and input and others don't.

If you like what you're doing, and think you're doing it well, try to bask in that.

_______________________ Here's Jeff Birnbaum's piece: Number of Black Lobbyists Remains Shockingly Low , (Post, August 7). There was also a chat on the topic .


KB in D.C.: Don't hate me! I am a nurse and wear scrubs -- so I just wear shorts and t-shirt and change when I get to work. It is great!

Amy Joyce: Lucky you, particularly in this weather. (I've always been envious of you scrub-wearers after getting a few cast-off pairs from friends who were in nursing school. Talk about comfy work wear!)


Tips for Job Applicants From An Interviewer: Hi Amy. I just finished interviewing people last week for a receptionist position. Here are some basic tips for job seekers from someone on the other side of the desk.

#1- Make sure there are no typos on your resume. I received about 100 resumes for the job, but threw out three quarters of them because of typos. The funniest one was one applicant wrote she was experienced in Microsoft Wood.

#2- Watch those e-mail addresses. I am not really inclined to hire someone who puts an email address of or Believe me, some e-mail addresses on resumes were VERY graphic.

#3- Dress appropriately for the interview. Jean shorts and flip flops are a no-no for just about any office environment. I wasn't looking for three-piece suits, but a belly-baring top and short shorts were just a little too casual even if the temperature was 100 degrees.

#4- If you are going to state something on your resume, be sure you can back it up. One applicant said she was experienced in Word. When I questioned her about her experience, she replied "What word?" I told her Microsoft Word and she stared at me blankly and told me she had idea what I was talking about.

#5- Be punctual to the interview. Don't show up an hour late and expect me to rearrange my schedule to accommodate you.

#6- An interview is a chance for you to sell yourself to me. Don't just sit there and stare blankly at me. Also, yawning is not really going to get you the job either.

#7- Know the job you are applying for. I was hiring for receptionist. Don't apply for the job and then tell me you don't/won't answer the phone.

Amy, needless to say, last week was interesting.

Amy Joyce: Sounds like you really had quite a week. Thanks for sharing.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi Amy. I contract with a company with a strict year-only contract policy. I have to take a 60-day "hiatus" after my year is up. My manager extended me a few extra months to match up when I'll be taking off for my wedding anyway, but I'm being told there's no promises after my extension. So I may be jobless weeks before my wedding. Any tips on not going insane? I know I need to start looking because I can't take a two-month vacation while this company sorts out the budget. Is my predicament common? I feel a little bit like I'm going out with the coffee grinds. Thanks.

Amy Joyce: Is your predicament common? Oh, let me count the ways these days. Contractors, feel free to jump in here: How do you cope with this uncertainty?

You're doing contract work, which means, unfortunately (or fortunately for those who love this kind of schedule) that your work life is a bit more fluid than if you were a full-time permanent employee. Accept that if you are a contract worker, that's the way things are. Or try to find permanent work when this runs out.

One option, if you're looking for a little work before the wedding, would be a temporary position. Check out headhunters/recruiters in your area. They may have some short stints for you until you're ready to dive back in to the job search.

And in the meantime, start saving if you haven't yet.

_______________________ Number of Black Lobbyists Remains Shockingly Low , (Post, August 7)

Amy Joyce: Here's the Birnbaum column I mentioned.


Washington, D.C.: Posting early in hope of a response... I am considering changing careers to take full-time position doing work I have done on a volunteer basis for 15 years. Can I do up my resume listing all of my "volunteer" experience as experience for the position, and then raise it in the interview (or maybe cover letter) that none of that work was paid? If I include my "paid" work on there, it would dilute the skills that they are looking for, and I would end up with a far-too-long resume. Working on resume now to respond to a job opening, any advice would be much appreciated! Thank you!

Amy Joyce: Absolutely include the volunteer work that applies directly to your new career on your resume. I would include in the cover letter that your years of volunteer work in the same field make you a perfect candidate for X. That way, they know it's volunteer and won't feel like you were misguiding them at all. I would think they would feel that if you were willing to do it for that long unpaid, you really will be dedicated.

Include your current work as well, but don't worry about listing all your duties, particularly if the skills aren't that applicable.


Silver Spring, Md.: I enjoyed your article from Sunday. One thing I was surprised that wasn't mentioned -- the fact that so many women drop out of the workforce to stay at home. A lot of women who have promising careers ahead of them -- people who could possibly be the next CEO -- instead opt to stay at home. I'm not making a judgment on the decision to stay at home -- just that I was surprised it wasn't mentioned as a factor in the lack of women in high positions. Her No. 1 Problem , (Post, August 6)

Amy Joyce: The number of women participating in the labor force has flattened, you're right. But so has the male rate of labor force participation. This is from Nell Henderson's (our fabulous economics reporter) recent article on the topic (July 7): Contrary to popular theory, Labor Department data do not show a rising proportion of women dropping out of the workforce to spend time with their families. Indeed, the participation rate has fallen since 2000 for both women with children and women without children.

I'll see if we can find a link to it, because it was very interesting.

That said, it's true that women do drop out--or at least slide out for a time--because of family obligations. And it's something I write about quite frequently. There is no doubt the workplace hasn't figured out a perfect formula to help working moms (and dads) find that balance. But according to Catalyst, the same number of male managers and female manager want to get to the top levels of corporate America.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi! I began working as an entry-level professional about a year ago. Within six months, I received a significant raise (due to my work performance). This raise was completely unsolicited, and a very welcome surprise. Now, I am approaching my first annual review.

During my interviews last year, it was mentioned that increases in salary were tied to annual review performance. My question: Is it reasonable for me to ask for a raise at the review? What amount would be a reasonable raise to ask for? Any other advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Amy Joyce: It would be reasonable, particularly if you think you have earned a raise. Think about it before you mention it. What have you done that should result in a bump in pay? As for how much: Check with the Bureau of Labor Statistics or other web site to see what someone with your experience in your industry might be making. That should give you a little info to go on. Good luck.


Follow up from last week: Hi again Amy,

I'm the chatter who was successful in getting a job through contacts, while the traditional submitting papers into a void was not working. A chatter responded that that was just luck and networking is an inherently elitist tactic. I've been thinking about that, and I both agree and disagree. It was luck, or at least serendipitous, that someone who respected me knew someone else who was hiring, and yada yada. And I would never advocate that anybody looking for a job just sit by the phone and wait for contacts to come through. But, that does mean that you make those connections. Which gets to the point of networking being classist and elitist.

Your network is how you define it. For me, I think of networking more as building community. I volunteer, I know my neighbors, I made lasting relationships with professors and advisors in the different schools I went to, I am lucky enough to have a close family. So my network spans many classes and backgrounds, because it is my community. The traditional definition of networking, which to my mind brings an image of an old boys club, is not the only way to be. And high-powered corporate exec jobs are not the only ones that benefit from this. It always helps to know someone when you're looking for a job, whether it be a bus driver, attorney, non-profit worker, what have you. Just be a nice person, do work that speaks well for you, and be open to making connections with people who come to you from all walks of life. Even if you don't get a job, I bet your life will be richer.

Amy Joyce: Well said.

_______________________ Here's Nell Henderson's story: Whither the Women? , (Post, July 7)


Rochester, N.Y.: Isn't it that a lot of women would rather at the age of 50 (when top mgt. positions become more available to people regardless of their sex) just plain don't want the stress of being in a top mgt. position? Are you simply not asking yourself if a large number of women simply for personal/lifestyle reasons don't want top mgt. jobs? That's the same reason most men don't want them, after all. I mean, look at the schedule Condoleeza Rice keeps-- would the average man or woman for that matter really want to keep such a schedule?

One thing that has been missing in the women-at-the-top debate but only alluded to and in a few cases explicitly mentioned is the choices women make for themselves. If the last 30 years has shown us anything, it is that women are far from being passive rag dolls who let everyone else decide what's good for them or what to do. So why can't that fact be acknowledged in this discussion?

Amy Joyce: You're speaking for a lot of people in saying that women at the age of 50 would rather not be in top management positions. Who says? No doubt a lot of women don't want to be there --at any age. But same goes for a lot of men. I'm not sure that we haven't discussed this quite a bit.

The problem, according to many women AND men, is that there aren't many alternatives to traditional 80 hour work weeks and corporate ladder climbing to get to the top. Is there a way to make work "flexible?" Is there a way to keep women on the career track even if they take a few months off to have children? (Also called on-ramping and off-ramping). Can working dads get better paternity leave without being dinged for stepping out of work for a few weeks?

That's what some of corporate America is trying to figure out these days to keep the really good workers and keep them on track, even if they are looking for other ways to live their lives than workers traditionally lived.


Washington, D.C.: Don't laugh, but I've never applied for a job where I've had to give salary history or state salary requirements. Now I'm doing this for the first time and not sure how to present it. How big of a range is OK? Also, I'm moving to an area with a lower cost of living, so I realize I'll have to take a pay cut, which is fine, but I don't want the fact that I'm making $50,000 to scare off people that are hiring for jobs that pay in the mid-$30,000.

Amy Joyce: Ha ha snort! No, seriously. I'm not laughing. Lots of folks haven't had to deal with this.

I think you need to say just what you said here. "I'm making $X, but I am flexible, and frankly, more interested in discussing the job right now than the salary."

Good luck.


D.C.: Has any study been done on the ratio between women who want top level jobs and those that actually get it? I always thought that I wanted to be a top executive running a Fortune 500 company, but now I'm not so sure I want to sacrifice my time with family and friends in order to do that. If a lot of other women also feel that way, I can see how the percentages will remain low. Just a thought.

Amy Joyce: That would be a very interesting way of doing it. Let's see if it's out there.


Washington, D.C.: I've been successfully moving up the career ladder in my chosen field for the last ten years and work has always been very important to me. I'm expecting our third child, and am strongly considering taking a few years off. I view this as an opportunity that I'm privileged to even consider. And I'm sure I will want to return to work in my field in the next three years or so. So, while I've thought a lot about quitting work, I'm still very unclear about what I could be doing now or while I'm out of the workforce to ease my attempts at "on-ramping" in the future? Any tips?

Amy Joyce: A lot of it depends on your industry. Do you need to keep up with technical skills? Training? Certifications? Make a plan about what sorts of things you need to continue to learn as you take a few years off to raise your children. Make sure to keep a network of people you can keep in touch with while you are out. You may decide you want to come back sooner, or may just want to take some part-time work to keep sharp and marketable. If you decide to leave, hang on to those mentors. Talk to them before you step off and keep in touch with them as you think about ramping back up. If you can, attend a few professional networking events each year so your name is still out there. It will also help you keep up with your industry, who is hiring and what the trends are.

Anyone else with some advice?


Baltimore, Md.: For Washington, D.C. (transitioning from current career to paid position in formerly volunteer field):

I transitioned from a tech career in the for-profit world about five years ago. I still use my history as needed from that era, as the skills and tenure still apply. I use a skill based resume with employment history divided into for-profit and nonprofit areas. While my resume is long at 2.5 pages, I've gotten nine interviews in the past three months from 24 submissions. Don't get hung up on length of resume -- just use your experience no matter from where it stems.

Amy Joyce: That seems wise, thanks.


To "Anonymous": I've been an employee, and I've been a boss. As an employee, most of my bosses liked me, a couple along the way haven't. As a boss, mostly my employees like what I do, especially when I had more boss experience, and sometimes they didn't (mostly when I was young and inexperienced as a boss).

For employees: Your boss is not a mind-reader. If you don't tell your boss there's something you don't like, you can't assume you boss will know. This isn't because your boss is unfeeling or uncaring, it's because your boss has a lot of things to worry about, only one of them is you, and there aren't enough hours in the day.

For bosses: Your employees are not mind-readers. If you don't tell them you like something they've done, you can't assume they'll know you like it, and they may decide not to continue the excellent work you are counting on for the next time you need them to do it.

Amy Joyce: It sounds so simple, but what a smart reminder. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: I agree with D.C. not wanting the top level job. I don't want to work 12 hours a day and never see my husband. I do want to move up the ladder but I don't think I want to make the sacrifices necessary for being at the very top.

Amy Joyce: And a lot of people feel the same. So becoming a Fortune 500 CEO is probably not for you. However, an option for someone in your position might be job sharing. There are some executive level folks out there who felt the way you did, found a good partner, and split the job. Smart, huh?


Silver Spring, Md.: Just some advice to interviewees: BE NICE!

I've been at my current position for a year doing public relations. It's a science-oriented government agency and although I had a strong background in communications, I had absolutely NO background in anything science. However, I got the job the day after I interviewed (first job out of college).

Recently I asked my boss why she hired me since there were other candidates with more science experience. She said that one of the big factors was that I was really nice and friendly to everyone, from security to the receptionist to my interviewer, and smiled a lot. Obviously there were other factors that led to me getting the job, but just be pleasant and smile. It can make a difference!

Be nice to everyone -- at one of my previous internships, a candidate didn't get the job partially because he was incredibly rude to the receptionist.

Amy Joyce: True, indeed. A lot can be said for a person who is rude. And rude to the receptionist? Hello? That's the person who holds the place together.

You won't be hired just because you're nice. But--particularly if you mean it--it shows that you might be good to work with or for.


Charlotte, N.C.: Not so on the topic for today, but I'd love to hear your advice: My secretary (who I share with others) lost her 22-year-old nephew in a car accident over the weekend. Our office manager told me this morning that the company only sends flowers, etc., when the death is in the immediate family. Should I send flowers? On my own or with an informally organized group? They have not designated a charity for memorials. Are there alternative gifts that you can suggest? Should I attend the funeral since it is in town? As a newcomer to the working world (only a year out of graduate school), I am unsure of the appropriate protocol in this situation.

Amy Joyce: Since this person is your secretary, I suppose you have a bit of a personal relationship, right? In that case, I would send her a note just from you, expressing how sorry you are. I also think sending flowers would be nice. If there's a group of people who know your secretary and you think would like to join in, then do so. Support from workers at this point is always helpful. If you can't tell if people want to join in, then just send flowers yourself.


Middleburg, Va.: Hi Amy,

I recently interviewed for two positions, both of which said that they would let me know this week. I received an offer from my second choice, but want to wait to hear back from the other position. Is it okay to call and ask for an update, or do I need to wait and try to stall my second choice for as long as possible? Thank you!

Amy Joyce: Give it a few more days. It's only Tuesday. Then if you don't hear from Choice #1 by, say, Thursday, check back in with them. Ask if there is anything else they need from you, when they might make a decision, and --if you feel it's appropriate by the way the conversation is going--say that you have another offer pending, but this company is your first choice, so you hope to hear soon.


Falls Church, Va.: Hi Amy, Thanks for the articles and the chats. You've been doing a great job.

My question is: How do you know when it's time to move on?

I've been in my current job in the Federal government for three years now. It's my first "real" post-grad school job in my desired career track. More days than not, I feel content with my job, although there has been more than one occasion in the past where I've felt that I'd stopped growing/got frustrated with the bureaucracy and have actively looked for new jobs. But then they always come through with some new responsibilities or interesting work. I've also been promoted thus far as fast as regulations will allow and am now making more than I would probably be able to make outside the government in my field. They've also told me that I have unlimited potential in this organization.

I've been warned however (by mentors further along in their careers in this agency), that three to five years is the most I should stay in a job at this point in my career, to keep from stagnating.

As long as a feel I'm being challenged and valued, should I stay, or do I owe it to myself to keep moving?

Amy Joyce: You owe it to yourself to find out. Do some research. Look around to see if there are other jobs you might be interested in. Quiz your mentors on why they think you need to move on, even though you're hearing your opportunities where you are are endless. You can't answer whether you need to move on without figuring out what you might move on to, and why you might want to move on. Hope that helps.


Alexandria, Va.: I was not actively looking for a new job, but I was recently interviewed by a corporate recruiter from another company and she made me realize that I need to update my skills and also that I may need to make a move from this company I've been with for almost nine years.

My question: after speaking with the recruiter, I'm thinking about making a career change. Who can I speak to or where can I go to identify the best field to go into to utilize my previous experience? Thanks! For information on career transitions (and more), check out's recent Hiring Squad special feature.

Amy Joyce: Do you have any mentors? How about joining a professional association? The more people you meet and speak with in your field, the more you will know. Get out and, like I said to the poster before you, do some research. Don't be afraid to ask people questions.


Amy Joyce: Okay, gang. It's time to get back to work. Thanks for the interesting discussion, as always. Join me again next week, same time, same place. Don't forget to check out Life at Work, the column, in the Sunday Business section. You can e-mail me with your what-to-wear tips at

Have a good week, everyone.


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