Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, December 12, 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, folks. It's Tuesday, which means it's time to talk about your life at work. As always, join in with your own advice and stories to share and help your fellow readers along.

Two questions for you all, for upcoming columns: 1. Do titles really matter? Have you ever asked for a title change? Why? E-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com with your story. I'd love to chat.

2. New Year's Resolutions: Will you make any related to your job/career/job search? I want to to hear about them. Again, please e-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com if you're interested in sharing.

With that outta the way, let's get started. Lots of questions await...

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washingtonpost.com: On the Job With HIV (Post, Dec. 10)

Amy Joyce: This was Sunday's column, FYI...

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Washington, D.C.: Amy -- One of our highly-esteemed part time workers died over the weekend. We're coping, but have the beginnings of a debate: should we continue with our holiday party, planned for next week? What do you think?

Amy Joyce: I'm very sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, I (yes, the woman who gives advice about everything to everyone) don't think I can answer that for you. Some things to consider: How do others feel? Will this party perhaps be a good way to gather and support each other during a tough time? Can you make the party a bit more subdued than planned and turn this into a nice, important event instead?

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New York, N.Y.: Hi Amy, How frowned upon is it to change jobs after only being there a year? I've always been told that you should stay in one place -- at a minimum -- a year, but that you should increase your time at each job as you get older. Do employers really think of you as a loose cannon if you don't stay? Especially in a market where people are changing careers like they change their underwear?

Amy Joyce: That whole year thing is an unwritten rule that is a bit outdated, in my opinion. (And you know, it's all about me.)

Employers understand that people are much more free-agenty than they used to be. If you stay somewhere 12 months versus 14 months, no one is really going to take note. So if you're itching to move on and have a good opportunity, there's no reason to stay in a job where you're unhappy or not growing. If you have a habit of leaving jobs after several months each time, then you might have a bit of a problem that will keep you from getting a new gig. But following drop-dead rules on how long you should stay will only keep you from what might be a great opportunity.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you have any tips on dealing with a passive-aggressive coworker? I work with someone who keeps "forgetting" to pass on a weekly task to me that is now my responsibility, and makes snide comments to me while smiling brightly and pretending to be friendly. She has a real problem with the fact that this task that used to be hers has been reassigned to me, although it makes more sense that I do it, as it frees her up to do more interesting things. The reassignment wasn't my call, it was our supervisor's -- who asked me take it on because the co-worker wasn't able to get it done on time (for good reason -- she has too many other things to do and it isn't really in her area of expertise). I think for a normal person it would have been a relief to get rid of this mundane task, but she's turning it into an enormous issue. She won't just come out and say to my face "I have a problem turning this over to you." Instead she pretends to forget to give me the work, makes the snide comments, and she keeps wondering out loud in my presence why the task has been taken away from her. It's just processing some stupid paperwork. There's really no reason for jealousy, hurt feelings, or feelings of inadequacy. And to top it all off, she has started calling me "ma'am" rather than by my name.

Amy Joyce: She's being petty. You're letting her pettiness get to you. Call her on it when you can: I know you seem upset that this was passed on to me, but I was assigned to do this. Can you please give me the task? (End of discussion).

Or, work around her to get the work yourself. Is that possible?

Most of all, ignore her. So she calls you ma'am. So she comments on the fact you're friendly. Feel sorry for her and focus on your work. You'll be better off in the end.

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Holiday party: For the poster whose colleague died: yes, have the party, but a moment of silence or a dedicated period of time to remember your co-worker would be lovely. If it's not too late, can you take up a collection to donate to your colleague's favorite charity, send a gift basket to his/her family, etc.? Or, use the money the office would have spent on a gift exchange (if you have one) for the donation, so as not to cause additional financial hardship for them.

Amy Joyce: Figured we would get some suggestions, so D.C., here goes...

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For D.C.: How about gathering together to do volunteer work at a shelter, etc.?

Amy Joyce: more

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Washington, D.C.: When one's job search is taking them much longer than they had hoped, what course of action do you recommend? I am a recent graduate and while jobs were easy to come by in school, now I am having a lot of trouble finding a long-term job with benefits. Right now I am temping but unfortunately none of the agencies are keeping me busier than part-time, and to be honest, money is getting tight. Should I continue temping part time, go for a job with much lower pay than I have been hoping, take a job waitressing to tide me over or just hold out for what I'm looking for? I don't know what conventional wisdom says about these kinds of situations...all I know is that those jobs I turned down in August are looking really good right now! But I don't want to get locked in to a job I don't like...ah! Please help!

Amy Joyce: So you don't want to get locked into a job you don't like. That makes temping a perfect opportunity, I think. You get paid, you get to try out different companies and jobs. And because it's part-time, you can use that extra time to network and find a full-time job. Make sure to do good work at your temp positions. You never know what might turn into a potential full-time job offer. If you find a job that is lower-paying than you hoped, but seems like there is a good chance to grow, consider it. You will have a better chance of moving up from a full-time gig than you would from a temp position (for the most part). But every chance you get, get out and network. Find places/associations that hold events related to the field in which you're interested. Call your alumni center if you have one to find out if there are any local networking events, or alums in your field or in the D.C. area who might be willing to chat with you. Just get out there so you create other opportunities for yourself. It might not happen immediately, but it will give you options.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy -- I just switched to a new team at work and am really excited about working with everyone. However, there is one guy on the team who, on almost a daily basis, hits on me and asks me to dinners, concerts, etc. I politely decline his invitations every time, and then he usually makes a snide remark or gives me the silent treatment for an hour or so. His behavior is ridiculous but I know that I have to work with him, so I'd like to talk directly to him without going to my HR manager. Do you have any advice on what to say? Any ideas are greatly appreciated!

Amy Joyce: Unless you feel like you're in danger, (in which case you should definitely go to HR), stop being so nice. Be direct. "I don't go out with coworkers. Please stop asking. You're making me uncomfortable."

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Alexandria, Va.: Amy, This may seem trivial, but you always give great advice...I am very unhappy in my first job out of college. I have been here 8 months and the job is not what I expected it to be, in addition to a boss who seems to be bitter at the world. I have stayed here to see if it would get better and because everyone says to stick out the first job a year or else it looks bad on the resume. Also, they are paying for my MA.. .which is huge and one of the main reasons I accepted the job in the first place. My question...is the free MA enough to stay at a job I'm miserable at? I have been looking at other jobs out there, research positions that I am more suited for and that I feel I would be happier at (I have interned at a few of the places of employment where I would apply). Friends have warned me not to make a "parallel" move to another organization making the same money, same level (entry) etc. I'd appreciate your input. Thanks!

Amy Joyce: You might as well apply and talk to those places that really interest you. Then you can make an educated decision. My feeling is if you're miserable, there is no reason to stick around. This is your life you're playing with here. So even though you're getting free tuition, you also are miserable. Feel things out. Find out what better opportunities are out there for you. Other companies pay for tuition. You might be able to find a job where you'd be happier and get the tuition reimbursement.

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Re: tuition reimbursement: Be prepared to pay the company back if you leave. Make sure you know that policy inside and out!

Amy Joyce: Good point... Check out the policy.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Amy, My job that I have been at for 4 months is incredibly boring and I am the kind of person who likes to multitask and keep busy. I am a researcher who only gets tasks when other people give them to me. This leads to some days with absolutely nothing to do and others that are very busy. My employee review is coming up. How should I address this?

Amy Joyce: During the review, listen to what they have to say about you. If everything is satisfactory, then tell them you'd love to try new things, add tasks to your day, etc. If you have your own ideas about how to increase your workload, even better. Have you noticed anything around your workplace where your research skills could ease other people's workload? Any new database you might be able to compile? Project you could take on? Think about that now and pitch it to your bosses during your review. Good luck.

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Vienna, VA: Hello Amy, I'd like an opinion about my recent lack of merit/bonus increase. I received an "exceeds expectations" on my performance review, I have been handed my tasks for the next year with an increase in work assignments including some very high profile projects in the company, however I did not receive a merit increase this year. I didn't receive one last year, because I came on board two weeks too late, but this year I have been told that because I am late sometimes (the only negative on my review) that I wouldn't be receiving a bonus. Do bosses really put so much stock into timeliness (we're talking 10-15 minutes here, and there's no time clock) over effort and work ethic? Others who shirk their duties but show up in a timely fashion are bragging about their bonus while I am too busy working to even take a lunch break. Some perspective before I get too bitter, please. Thank you.

Amy Joyce: Are you sure they're giving out bonuses this year? Sounds to me like the budget's tight and they are looking for reasons to cut down on passing out the increases. If it's really bothering you, I'd suggest you speak with your supervisor about it. Bring up that you exceed expectations, and you don't see how being late at a place that doesn't punch clocks would keep you from a merit increase if they are happy with your work. (Also add in there that you won't be late anymore...)

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D.C. again...: I think people's feelings are mixed, most in favor of a subdued gathering. But if the idea of a gathering is really distressing to one member of the team, is that a good reason to call the whole thing off? You know how it is, everyone responds to grief differently. I'd hate to make a sad situation worse by making someone feel that they have to be merry. And thank you for your kind thoughts -- she was an amazing person.

Amy Joyce: If one person is upset about it, that one person can just not attend. It sounds like you already have your answer if most are in favor of a subdued gathering. Good luck. (And I agree with the earlier poster who said forgo any gift exchange to honor this woman and a charity on her behalf instead.)

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New York City: Hi Amy. I received an big award at work this year, but I'm looking to change jobs. Would it be rude of me to leave so soon after receiving an award? Part of me says I need to move on if and when I'm ready, but I don't want to seem rude and ungrateful by leaving soon after receiving the award. Any words of advice? Thank you.

Amy Joyce: Award Schmaward. It's lovely that you received it. But if you were planning to move on either way, a nice award shouldn't keep you there. That may sound harsh, and I can feel managers everywhere cringing, but of all things to keep us at a job, an award should not be one of them. If you start looking for work now, you don't know how long it will take for the right job to come up. So don't even think of the loyalty part yet. Start looking and take your time. When you find something you're certain to want to do, then make your educated decision about whether to move on. Don't just base it on an award, though.

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Vienna, Va.: I've been working at a law firm since I came out of college in May. I'm thankful that I was able to get a job right out of college but the firm is not as "fun" as I thought it would be. Any suggestions for someone new to the working world? I just feel like all I'm doing is working day and night just to pay student loans and not having fun at work. People have said stay at least a year, but at the same time everywhere I look they ask for "3 years of experience."

Amy Joyce: Not to beat you up, Vienna, but when you went to law school, did you think being a first year lawyer would be anything but working day and night? That's sort of part of the culture, isn't it? Use this time to really think about what you don't like about the firm itself, and figure out if maybe what you don't like is being a lawyer. Working day and night is often just part of the career you have chosen. If you think another firm would be different, do your research first. Talk to former classmates, professors and colleagues. Find out what their work life is like (or was when they first started) and then make some educated decisions (my theme for the day) about what move, if any, to make.

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Arlington, Va.: I just got an email from a potential employer and they have asked for my transcript and a writing sample. I certainly have a lot of writing samples to choose from, but would it be best to submit a sample that is relevant to what the company does, or is it best to be irrelevant? I've heard both. What exactly are hiring companies looking for with a writing sample? Thanks! Love the chats!

Amy Joyce: I'll throw this one out to the masses. Anyone have good insight? HR folks: What are you looking for?

My feeling is it's best to choose a writing sample that is relevant to the company. They will better be able to picture you there than if you sent one unrelated.

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Pasadena, Ca.: Amy -- I'm trying to plan a move cross-country for 2007 with a lot of variables that affect the schedule: pending divorce, sale of my home, purchase of a new home, custody issues and finding a job. Is it too soon to start calling potential new employers when I can't move for 6 months min? What if they have no ob postings -- is there a smart way to make contact? Do you have an old column on this to link to? Thanks!

Amy Joyce: If you know where you're moving, do what you can to find people you know or people of people you know there. Talk to them about places you should call or go as you figure out where to work. Contact friends, family, colleagues and former colleagues to tell them where you're going and what you'll be looking for. You may be able to get a foot in the door that way. And do research online to find out what companies might be ones you'd like to look in to. Once you have that figured out, get in touch with them, or start looking for their job openings. It's fine to get in touch with them before you're actually in the new area. But they might take you more seriously once you have an address that is in the same region they are. Good luck.

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Anonymous: In my work place we've just introduced a series of new products, which has initiated much training time. Our department trainer has been calling me (more then once) and requesting I come in on days off. However, she will not be coming in on her days off to complete one of the trainings. When I explained this would be a problem, she was extremely unpleasant and almost bullying. What's worse, I spoke with a co-worker also in need of this training, and he hasn't received phone calls or even been questioned as to when he's attending. Should I bring this to the attention of our boss, or just keep dealing with her directly?

Amy Joyce: Definitely talk to your boss. Explain what's going on (s/he will want to know because there may be a problem with your pay if you are required to come in when you're off-duty). Explain that you know you need to do the training and you want to, but coming in on days off is not feasible. Ask your boss if s/he knows of any alternatives. This is the person in charge of your work life, not the training manager.

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Footwear Question: Hello Amy! I enjoy reading your column, and read the Business Casual one with interest, as I am new to the working world. As a government employee who never sees a customer, my office dress code is quite lax -- I try to wear khakis or cotton pants most days, but wearing blue jeans is not out of the question, and I wear my comfy, properly-sized, clean, neat sneakers every day to work (I park very far away from my building). My question is about what to do in situations where I'm outside my office. I understand that looking professional is very important, especially when networking, but at what point does the cost outweigh the benefit? I would never wear sneakers with a suit, but if I'm wearing my standard nice-slacks-and-cardigan-set outfit, does a nice (in my opinion, I realize!) pair of white shoes really detract from it? Some networking events involve extensive walking or standing around, and while my "suit" shoes (which I can only wear with pantyhose or tights) are plenty comfy for reasonable amounts of stand/walk time, after a while they start wearing on me. What's a woman to do? Most dressy shoes I've seen barely fit my feet (they're fairly wide for their length, and tend to "ooze" out of the narrow sandals and things popular these days) -- and don't get me (5'8") started on heels! Are clean, nice -- not ratty and gross, tennis shoes ever acceptable? Or do I suck it up and hurt my heels, knees and back for a brief time every couple of months?

Amy Joyce: Tennis shoes are just wrong. Never, ever wear them with a suit when you're at a networking event. It does matter. And there are plenty of shoes out there that are comfy but look professional. You don't have to kill your knees just because you're not wearing bright, white tennis shoes with your suit. Try (not trying to sell a brand here, but really...) Clarks or Dansko shoes. They have plenty of styles and are made to be comfortable. Tennis shoes are called that for a reason. Really.

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Law Firm: The poster said "college," not law school. And there are plenty of legal jobs that don't require working all day and night!

Amy Joyce: Goodness... you're right. Alrighty, Vienna, just ignore that post completely. This changes everything. You don't have to stay for a year. But don't quit this job without a new one. Use whatever time you have to network, go to alumni events and try to find other opportunities that might better fit your desires. (And take this as a lesson that perhaps you don't want to go to law school!) By the time you find a new gig, your year might have passed. And although many job postings say they require 3 years of experience, apply anyway. Sometimes that's a wish list. If a company likes you, they will hire you.

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Vienna, again: Well sorry, I should have said that I'm working at the firm with the IT department. Not a lawyer in this lifetime. Any recommendations to unique/fun companies or career in the IT industry?

Amy Joyce: You're in a great area for that. One place to start is to check out the Northern Virginia Technology Council for networking events and other ideas. Most companies, no matter what, need IT folks. Find something that piques your interest and go after it.

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Amy Joyce: Okay, gang. Before I screw up anyone else's life, I should get going. Don't forget to check out Life at Work the column in the Sunday Business section, and email me at lifeatwork@washpost.com if you want to talk about titles or your New Year's resolutions. Have a great week, all.

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