Life at Work Live

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Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, October 10, 2006; 11:00 AM

Washington Post columnist Amy Joyce writes Life at Work on Sundays in the Business section and appears online every Tuesday. In her weekly chat she gives advice on how to handle social and professional situations.

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.

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Amy Joyce: Good morning all. It's Tuesday, which means it's time to chat about your life at work. Good, bad, ugly. As always, join in with your own stories and insights to share with your fellow readers here. We like your input. Lots of questions await, so let's get started, shall we?

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Washington, D.C. area: What advice would you give to a stay-at-home Dad returning to the professional workforce after 17 years (i.e., resume, explanation of work gap, etc.)? Now that my girls are out of the house, my wife wants a turn at being a stay-at-home Mom. I have not been idle (watching Magnum PI and eating bon-bons). I started a retail store for the first 10 years, and a home-based business since then. Also, I have been updating my HR skill via a certificate program.

Amy Joyce: I'm posting this one early to see who else might have good advice here. The thing is, you were a stay-at-home Dad, and you had a LOT going on. You had a ton of great experience that surely can transfer to the professional world. And you're more than on your way, too, since you're back in school. Think about what skills you gained when you opened a retail store and your own home-based business. That is a lot of experience that will transfer over. You're obviously good at juggling many different things, you are entrepreneurial (who doesn't want that in an employee?), you can attract clients and obviously have a skill with numbers. If it's HR you want to get in to, make sure to get out and network with other HR professionals. Get in touch, too, with former clients. And tell friends, family members and former colleagues what it is you're up to. You never know who might have a good lead for you. Good luck!

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Philadelphia, Penn.: Amy, Is there anyway to prevent someone from gossiping about you? I'm talking about gossip which may affect how co-workers do business with you. I'm pretty sure the co-worker "outed" me and tells other new co-workers within the department about my duties. I don't want to seem catty or paranoid if I say something directly to that person.

Amy Joyce: Just like mom always told us, rise above it. You don't know for sure that this person said anything. If you say something (whether they started some gossip or not), then you probably WILL turn in to gossip fodder. But if you continue to do smart, good work and focus on the reason you are in your job (to work), then other co-workers will likely lay off. Your saying something when you don't even know that you were gossiped about just stirs up a beehive.

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Downtown D.C.: People write to you all the time to complain about human resources folks and job interviews but they aren't always the problem. When I interview for jobs, I meet with the person(s) who will be my immediate supervisors, not anyone from HR. I don't expect to hear from anyone when I submit a resume. I don't really expect to hear from anyone after I have an interview. I do expect to hear something back after a second interview and get really frustrated when it doesn't happen. Is it too much to ask that after a second interview that one of the people you interviewed with at least shoot you an email so you can stop hoping you got the job? Are HR people always expected to be the ones who communicate with job applicants? As an applicant, I have not met anyone from HR so I wouldn't know who to call to find out the status of the job I applied for!

Amy Joyce: It truly can be a frustrating experience. I hope to shed some light on how it all works in a column during the next week or two (check out the Sunday Business section for it). I'd love to talk to you about your experience if you're willing. Please e-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com.

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washingtonpost.com: Some 'News' Should Be Left at the Door , (Post, Oct. 8)

Amy Joyce: By the way, here's my column that ran Sunday about talking about news, like the Foley scandal, at work.

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Maryland: I'm two weeks from my last day of work and having an enormously difficult time staying motivated. I'm still getting my work done, but slower than usual and with more apathy than usual. how can I kick myself in the butt so I don't end up burning my relationship with my boss who has been really great and I've gotten along fabulously with? I feel really guilty, but at the same time, it's like hey, I'm leaving so who cares?

Amy Joyce: You obviously know you should care. So do something about it. I'm all for lists in situations like these. Every morning, come in, make a list of things you can and should do. Even if they are little, they can help you move through your day. Ask your boss what you should do before you go. You could write a memo for your replacement about how the job is done, for example. You can get rid of the guilt and leave on a good note, all in one easy swoop.

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Richmond, Va.: Please add this advice to the worker who fears being gossiped about: People can not gossip about you if you don't tell them personal info about yourself. Keep office talk harmless: TV shows, sports, weather, and leave the personal stories about what you did last night with whom for your friends. Single, married, gay, straight, don't give them ammunition.

Amy Joyce: Sure, to an extent. But many workplaces today are much more personal. Your advice is particularly smart for those who are new to a job. You don't know what kind of culture you're coming in to for sure. Once you have and trust friends at work, you might be able to break out of the impersonal shell -- if you want.

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Everywhere, U.S.: Amy, I need a serious reality check. I had an extremely non-intellectual, monotonous, and well-paying job that I left for what I thought would be the job of my dreams. I even took a $12,500 paycut for the new job. The issue is that I am incredibly stressed out here. I dread going to work and am not sleeping well when I am at home. I have the opportunity to go back to my old job but it is with the understanding that if I come back I need to stay for atleast two years. I am also really nervous about the humble pie I will have to eat from my co-workers who, while I'm sure will be happy to have me back, will also be judgmental about my "real world" failure.

Amy Joyce: Why would you go back to a job you hated? And that you obviously already dread going back to -- for atleast two years? How about looking for something else? You don't have to just choose between boring, soul-sucking job and stressful, nerve-inducing job. Get out and try to find a better opportunity for yourself.

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washingtonpost.com: A Prescription for Workers' Health , (Post, Oct. 9)

Amy Joyce: This is a story I did yesterday about companies that are adding health clinics onsite to try to cut down on health care costs and keep productivity up.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Dear Amy: My supervisor, also my mentor and friend, has been instrumental in my professional growth. She is kind and fair and has given me sound career advice in the past. My problem is that I've been thinking about leaving the company to pursue a better-paying job. Should I tell her about my plans (as a friend would normally do) knowing that she has managerial obligations to the company? Or, should I play it safe, say nothing and let her know only after I've received and accepted a job offer?

Amy Joyce: You have no idea what awaits you. Unless you have seriously started looking and interviewing, I wouldn't even toy with the idea of telling her yet. When and if you find a job you might consider, then you can talk to her about why you are considering leaving. That will allow you to have a smarter conversation with specifics. And that will only help her. Just make sure to give her enough notice and a chance to counter offer, if she so desires.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy - Please help a young professional out -- I recently interviewed for a position at a new company, but am still at my current job. I am very interested in the new position and really want to be offered the job. However, the new company is asking me for references. I have been at my current job for two years now, and I came straight from college. If I don't have any other references to give them, how do I prevent my current employer from finding out that I am seeking new employment opportunities? Thank you so much!

Amy Joyce: Is there anyone at work that you could suggest for a reference who won't tell your boss? A co-worker/friend, a client, anyone else who knows the kind of work you do and how you perform? If not, then I'd suggest you ask the potential employer if there is another option because you're hesitant to tell your boss before you are sure this job offer might come to fruition.

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Baltimore, Md.: Today is my last day at a job well worth leaving. I've had four jobs in my career, and I know you can't get along with everyone, but my boss at this position was truly the stuff of office legends -- petty, calculating, cruel. Most of my co-workers are also attempting to move on. Anyway, I haven't been offered an exit interview by anyone. I am tempted to speak to my boss's boss today, just to say that I appreciated the opportunity to work here, but also to point out that my boss is "difficult to work for." Would this be appropriate? There is no chance I will ever use my current boss as a reference, but I don't want to appear to have sour grapes. On the other hand, I feel bad for my co-workers that no one seems to notice or moderate our boss' behavior, and I can't help wondering if that's because we are all too intimidated to say anything.

Amy Joyce: I think that's absolutely fair, particularly if you have real reasons and not just general gripes. This boss' boss will probably want to know. Just make sure, too, that you let this person know you enjoyed the job (In other words: do whatever you can to make sure you can still have a reference if needbe.) Good luck and congrats.

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Preganancy and interview: Hello, I just found out that I am pregnant (only about 5 weeks) but I do have an interview next week and have been applying for jobs so hope to have some more in the near future. Should I share with my future employer that I am expecting?

Amy Joyce: No, not yet. You're at a very fragile point in your pregnancy, and you don't want to tell them about it yet. But do find out as the interview process progresses when leave kicks in for new employees, what sort of sick leave and vacation time they have. That will inform you as to what awaits if you do have to step out for a bit nine months from now. Good luck with all of it!

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Florida: Dear Amy: Thanks in advance for answering my question. I know it is a bit early to be thinking about this, but I like to be prepared. Here is the situation: I am working full-time and going to school part time for a Masters degree. I know now that I will need to stop working at my current job in order to do a part time, semester-long internship before I can graduate. My current job has a high learning curve, and even though it is not a hard job, my transition into the position was rough as I am the only one within the organizaiton that does this job, and there was no one to help. Since I know now that I will be leaving next August, when should I tell my supervisor? I like her a lot, and do not want my replacement to go through a hard time like I did and make things tough for my supervisor. Do you think the standard two weeks is enough, or should I give a month or so? I think it would be beneficial if they could hire someone that I could train, and I'm not sure if two weeks would give them enough time. Thanks.

Amy Joyce: It sounds like in this situation, you can give more than two weeks. Remember that that is just a guideline. If you FEEL you could be giving more and should give more, then you probably should. Wait a bit (obviously, a year in advance is too long to offer) but maybe a month or so in advance, when you're absolutely sure to be going, talk to you boss. It sounds like the right thing to do in this case.

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Vienna, Va.: I don't know if this is a question you could really help me with, but thought I'd ask anyway. I found the absolute perfect job description; the only thing is that the position is with an organization that is overseas and I don't have a few of the qualifications or experience that they are asking for. I know I would be perfect for this job because I would be so passionate about it. How can I convince them to not only hire someone that's from a different country (and go through the whole sponsorship process) but who also may not have some of the qualifications they are looking for?

Amy Joyce: I'll throw this one out to the masses here. Can anyone help with this?

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Arlington, Va.: Bottom line: I am in the nonprofit field, like what I do, but my husband is getting moved overseas for three years. (woohoo!) This will happen next summer, about nine months from now. I would like to continue doing some of my work for my employer on a part time, contract basis, but need to figure out when to start that conversation -- appropriate amount of time to get worked into the budget/plan for the next year, but not so long that they make me obsolete by the time I leave.

On top of that, I need to be out of the office for several days in a week or two to attend a briefing for spouses at my husband's new employer about moving overseas. I am torn up about what to say about this need for time off and would feel really icky making up a blatant lie. Thus, I am tempted to tell my boss my long term plans now and say I look forward to working with them over the course of the year about plans for the future ... help!

Amy Joyce: Do you have to tell your boss why you need to be out for a couple days? How about just saying that something has come up and you need to take a few vacation days. Once you're sure what's happening, then talk to your boss about potential contract work. Make sure when you do, that you have a plan: What would you be doing on contract. Why should they do this. How does it help the company. I know you're excited right now, but this would be way too much notice to give your boss, particularly if you don't know the details yet, or have a plan in place to pitch to your boss. Wait until other things have fallen together for you, then go to your boss.

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Washington, D.C.: Amy -- Stupid question, but I have to ask. I am working a perfect job (love my co-workers and company benefits are outstanding). The problem is it doesn't pay that much and I am now living paycheck to paycheck. I have even taken on a second job to supplement the income because I like this place so much! However, I am looking for a position in the District government and with my experience and location status (I live in the District and can claim residency preference), the HR says I will be a shoo-in for this job. I just don't want to leave a job I love for another job with MUCH more money. Help! Thanks.

Amy Joyce: If you don't want to, then you don't want to. So figure out a way to make it work. Can you cut costs anywhere? Is there any way to get a raise where you are? And think about the benefits: You say they are outstanding. How much is that worth in dollars? And does that mean you're earning retirement savings now? Is it better than it would be at another job? That should weigh in to your decision. Also think about earning potential. If you stick with the job you love, could you earn more in a year or so to make it worth sticking it out? You have something rare: A job you truly love. That's worth a lot and you need to figure out if it's worth a little scrimping and saving along the way.

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Re: Political Scandals: Hi Amy! Read your article about scandals. What amazes me is not so much the personal info I hear on a daily basis but the unabashed opinions. When did it become okay and perhaps even encouraged to diss the President? Regardless of political stripe I'm just amazed by people not holding back in the office or cocktail parties, etc. anymore. I would never dare want to offend anyone nor would I assume my opinion is warranted by making some snarky comment about a president, any president. Paris Hilton, yes, she's asking for it and she's a joke but leave politics out of it please. Am I being a prude?

Amy Joyce: I think it should be a free-for-all at cocktail parties. But the office? It depends. I think this time, politically, is much hotter than it has been in years. People have definite opinions and have a hard time understanding people who don't see what they see. That said, we all work in offices made up of people with many differences, including politics. As with any discussion at work, I think we need to be careful not necessarily about expressing and opinion, but about how we express that opinion. But I also think just because it's the workplace doesn't mean we should drop all opinions and dicussion at the door. We just have to be open minded and aware of how we express these things.

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For Vienna: In my limited experience, when organizations list their job qualifications, it is like a "wish list." I am an analyst but have sat on several hiring committees for our non-profit organization and we almost never see our 'dream candidate.' So, apply for the job, and use the cover letter to say why you think you're so perfect for the job, without drawing too much attention to the qualifications you don't have. You don't know which ones are mandatory for that organization, and which ones are just for their dream candidate. Apply, put yourself in the best possible light, and let your passion shine through.

Amy Joyce: Thanks much. I agree and hope this helps Vienna.

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Middle Mangement Hell: I am a middle manager at a government agency. Recently, many of my colleagues who I also supervise have complained that I am out of the office quite a bit. It's true I have been out, but much of it has been for work including to get more resources for the office and handling matters that would be too much of a burden for the staff. But the employees I supervisors don't seem to understand that and complain to my boss that I am unavailable. I would like my supervisor, who has approved these trips, to speak up on my behalf to the staff. He refuses to do so and even encourages the negative talk about me among the staff by making jokes about my trips and general availability. When I try to explain why I am away directly to the staff I sound defensive. Is it wrong to expect my boss to speak up for me?

Amy Joyce: Sounds like your boss is being a doofus. But it also seems like you could probably stop the negativity by simply sending emails to your group when you are about to go out of town and why. It's not defensive, it's just smart management.

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Cleveland, Ohio: How do you handle an interview when you know they are considering you for two open positions? Would you do anything differently? One position is vacant and one is a brand new position in the small (100) company.

Amy Joyce: Just do what you would if you were interviewing for one job: Know as much as you can about the company when you interview. Have questions ready about BOTH jobs. And think about how your current skills would fit in to each. Also consider which one you would prefer. They may ask you as the interview process moves along.

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D.C.: Amy: After an interview yesterday, I touched base with the individuals who I listed as references, to let them know that they may receive a call. One of them is going to be out of town during part of the timeframe that the hiring manager would be checking references. Should I pass that information along to the hiring manager? Should I offer to provide another reference if they need to talk to someone else while that person is away?

Amy Joyce: You might as well tell the hiring manager when this person is leaving. The company could call them before your reference leaves or after they return.

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RE: Dream Job vs. Money: To the poster who was just not making enough: I was in a similar situation for about a year and a half, doing a job I loved working in the entertainment field. But it just didn't pay the bills. I was working an additional two jobs, before they finally gave me a raise. But even that raise wasn't enough and I was so tired of "trying to make it work." So my advice is to try to make it work, but if it won't, just leave. You gave it your best shot and working at your dream job isn't worth it if you're slowly slipping into debt and can't even enjoy your time off because you have so little money to spend. Quitting that job was one of the best things I did, but I still had a great time there.

Amy Joyce: Yes, if it gets to be too much of a drain on savings, finances and a life (trying to hold down three jobs is more than tough), then it's probably time to go. But really try to make it work.

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Overseas response: Part of the problem is that I have one of those offices where everybody is in everybody's business so it would be a bit hard to just say "I need some time off" without an explanation - and I was just on vacation for a couple of days last week. The move is definite and I have most of my plan to propose to them worked out, would just need to write it down...still think it's too soon? I really appreciate the feedback -- LOVE your column and this chat!

Amy Joyce: If you feel like it's not too soon, then it's probably safe. I'm not a part of your office, and everyone's culture is a little different. So any advice I give you here is just part of other factors you need to consider. My answer can't be the be-all, end-all. You have other things to consider as well. That said, the reasons I would wait: nine months is a long time. Between now and then, they may find someone to replace you and not need your services overseas. You may not have a plan that is as well thought out as it could be because you are so excited right now. Also, the company might somehow change, and you might need to take that into account before you propose the contract work. You might want to take more time to talk to others who have done something similar to what you want to do, and ask how they made it work. These are for instances. Think about it before you jump. Finally: Even though people like to know what you're doing, you don't have to tell them.

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Amy Joyce: Okay, gang. Time to get back to work. E-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com if you have been frustrated about the hiring process. Like I said, I'm hoping to shed some light on it from HR's perspective. Don't forget to check out Life at Work, the column, in your Sunday Business section. We'll chat again next week, same time, same place. Have a great week!

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