Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, December 19, 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.


Amy Joyce: Good morning, all. It's Tuesday, which means it's time to talk about your life at work. As always, please jump in with your own advice and stories to help your fellow chatters along.

Question for you all for a possible upcoming column: Have you ever made a big goof on your resume, and only found out about it after you sent it out? And hiring managers/HR folks: What are some of the biggest errors you've found on resumes? Let me know at Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: Good morning. I just started a new job about a month ago. How do I handle the Holiday thing (for lack of a better word) here? A couple of people have given me cards. Should I reciprocate? What if at the end of the week I get unexpected presents? Should I have something on hand? And does cocktail attire at the company holiday party mean a dress? Thanks.

Amy Joyce: Ah, the holidays. Another test of workplace etiquette. I think it's fine if you sit back and watch how your office works this year so you can figure out what to do next year. If you so desire, bake some cookies or do some other nod toward holiday cheer and bring it in for your department. That way, everyone's covered.

Don't break your back feeling like you need to reciprocate. It's not necessary. Some people like to do things at this time of year, but they likely (hopefully) won't be put off if you don't.

Cocktail attire: Probably a dress. Best way to find out is ask a few of those women who will be going. They've been through it before.

_______________________ Attention chatters: We're currently experiencing some technical problems with the chat page, and are aware of the error page that is showing up when you submit a question. We are working to fix it now. The questions are coming through. So please, only send them through once. Thank you!


Arlington, Va.: I've noticed the trend to diminish titles and associate pay etc with what you actually do, not a bad thing entirely. However, I think most people are still accustomed to looking at titles and how one has progressed from newbie, sr. newbie, manager of newbies, vp of managers of newbies etc. For example, I'm a 'Financial Analyst' but am responsible for most of our corporate reporting, a major financial system related to this reporting and so on, a blend of IT and accounting. Long story short, while I agree the "title inflation" you see at most companies has to go, until HR, headhunters and recruiters get past looking at ones title on the resume or business card, those with hum-drum titles like me might be at a disadvantage. Missed Amy's column on Sunday? Read it here: President, Or Decider-In-Chief?, (Post, Dec. 17)

Amy Joyce: They might be at a disadvantage IF the HR/headhunters are still looking at titles. Because of so much title inflation and, er, creativity, most of the headhunters/recruiters/HR folks I speak with--like the directors of HR at both Sara Lee (which I consider a more old-school, traditional company) and Motley Fool (a newer economy company) -- don't pay much attention to titles anymore. They look at job duties and accomplishments. I don't think they could ever tell by your title that you are responsible for what you are. And they know that. Hence, hiring managers are looking past the titles. Sure, some still stand, and most will at least look at a job title. But it doesn't matter like it used to.


Washington, D.C.: I really enjoy reading your chats and thought you could provide some insight.

I'm one of those people who feel that my life goal is to find my path in life (at least career-wise) and I don't think I'm headed in the right direction. I could start my own bookstore with all the career books I have! I've been to a career counselor (just two sessions) and didn't find it very useful, as he whipped out a book I already owned!

I'm out of college four years now and have worked in adv/marketing for all of that time. However, from time to time, I get the feeling that it's not for me, as I'm not giving back to the world/society and that there's a better place I could be working. I know part of the trouble is the fear of change and failure, however the other part is not knowing where to start.

I've contemplated careers in the medical field (various types of therapy) only to be put off by the amount of degrees one needs and/or the amount of science needed (definitely not my strongest subject). Basically, I'm not sure where to begin to look to find the different jobs/careers there are. I know I can call hospitals, nursing homes, etc., and ask to observe, which I think was a great suggestion made to me. And I can volunteer, something I've been looking into. Is there a resource you can suggest where I can find this information? I'm not exactly sure what interests me, as I always figured I'd "fall into" the job of my dreams, but I'm getting impatient.

Amy Joyce: Phew. I'm worn out just reading your post.

It is tough to figure out where to start. Until we graduate from college, our whole life is planned out. First there's school. Then high school. Then college. Internships thrown in there. A major or two. And then: Boom. Wide world just waiting for us and there is no direct line that says what we should do next.

And so, yes, it can be overwhelming.

But try to stop looking at it in such a large picture way. Take it one baby step at a time. When you wake up in the morning, what are you excited to do? Is there anything in your job you excel at or really like? If there is, start to figure out if there is a way to focus on that, build on that, make a career out of that.

Therapy work: Do you really need much math/science for that? How about trying to find some others who are in that field. Talk to them. What was the education like. What do they like about it and why.

One way to find people in this field, if you don't know any yet, is call your alumni center. Ask if they can recommend any alums who are in this field. Call and ask for some guidance.

Volunteering is great. You volunteer and you get a view into how things work. You also meet people who are in related fields who are going to be more than willing to help you and answer any questions you have. You're also going to be networking when you volunteer, which can only help you get a leg up in a field you might be interested in.

It's cliche, but it's true: Just do it.

Four years out of college is nothing. You are in a perfect spot to start exploring and experimenting. Do it now before you feel like you are too far along to stop and try something totally new. You can change at any point, but it does get harder as time progresses and your progress along a certain career track.

I hope this helps.


Bethesda, Md.: What do you think about leaving a job without another one lined up? Started a new job in June, it's long hours, high stress and miserable. I am a middle aged, well paid professional with a stable job history. Finances are not a worry. Will leaving harm my chances with a prospective employer? Do I list this job on the resume (it has good marketable skills demonstrated but the tenure is obviously short). Thanks for your advice.

Amy Joyce: Absolutely list this job on the resume, or it will look like you weren't working for an even longer period. You're gaining skills and doing a job. That's worth it to potential employers.

I'm usually not one for leaving a job without another one lined up. It can be much more difficult to find a new job because employers might assume there was a problem with this one, and set your resume aside. But if you are truly in a good position financially and have the contacts it seems like you would have at this point, then I'd say sanity comes first.

Two other options:

Are you in the sort of field where you can start doing some consulting work between gigs? That would leave you in a fine situation because you're still working and potential employers will recognize that.

Start to look for work now, immediately, and see what sort of action you get. It might happen so fast, you won't have to spend too much time out of work.


Washington, D.C.: Here's another holiday question. Does bringing, what I considered to be a date, to my company holiday party really mean I announced to my co-workers that I'm in a serious relationship? My friend told me that bringing a date to the company holiday party is a serious faux pas because it's like announcing to your co-workers that your next step might be marriage. Then if the relationship doesn't work out, it may make me look bad. Our party was very casual and an open invitation to friends and family and "dates." I'd hate to think I was sending any kind of message in the workplace my bringing a date.

Amy Joyce: You're over thinking this. Your friend is over thinking this. If you think it would be fun to bring this date, bring this date. Period.


Foggy Bottom: I started at a think tank as an intern and was just recently hired full-time as a research assistant. With most of my colleagues, it's not a problem, but with some, I'm finding there's some trouble with the transition (i.e. they still give me intern work). It comes from my side too. I'm a nice person, so I agree to do the work and am generally willing to do anything that's asked of me. Any tips for a successful transition from unpaid slave to respected working girl? Thanks, and I love your chats!

Amy Joyce: It might not happen overnight. But start to think of yourself as a research assistant, someone who is just as valuable as any other employee at the think tank. Once you're confident in that, people will catch on. As far as the grunt work goes, you'll probably still have to do some. But if it gets in the way of your real work, just explain: "Actually, I'm on deadline with a report right now. Do you think you could get one of the interns to do that? Let me know if you can't and we'll try to figure something else out."

And if it becomes a problem, talk to your supervisor. Explain that you can't do what you were hired for if you are still asked to do the intern work. Ask for help prioritizing. That way, someone else will help others recognize that you're not the lowly intern. That's someone else's grunt job now!


Washington, D.C.: How do you know if it's worth it to relocate? I've been offered a job that is on the west coast but I'm just not sure. I'm fine with the idea of moving, but I don't know what questions to ask myself (or others) to determine if this a good enough job to warrant a move. Thoughts?

Amy Joyce: Okay, folks, it's time for an all-swim. What do you think? What did you relocators go through to figure out if it was worth it?

For me, this is what I'd think: How is this job better than my present job? Where would this new job take me in a year or two? If it doesn't work out, might I have a way to get back to DC (if I like it here)? Consider friends, family. Are they nearby? Factor them in when considering moving across the country.

Anyone else?


Emmitsburg, Md.: Hi, Amy. Being a communications major, I once noticed -- way far after it being mailed out -- that my resume said that I had excellent "pubic communication skills" instead of PUBLIC!! I thought I was going to die! I laugh about it now and wonder why I didn't get a call. I mean, if you were someone who took it at face value, wouldn't you be a tiny bit curious? Happy holidays!

Amy Joyce: Ouch. Yep, I'd guess that happens a lot! Emmitsburg, can you email me at I think this deserves a mention in a column.


RE: Washington: If she enjoys her current field, there are plenty of jobs in marketing and advertising, and plenty of orgs you can work for, and still get the feeling of "giving back." Associations and non-profits and charitable organizations all need marketing staff, or anything else one is interested in. "Giving back" doesn't necessarily have to come from what are seen as the traditional service-to-the-community jobs.

Amy Joyce: Good point. Career seeker, are you listening?


Washington, D.C.: Hey Amy! I am hiring right now for a position with requires one or two years experience for a nonprofit job and I have to say I am so shocked by the number of two or three! page resumes I received. With scores and scores of college clubs listed and other things ... including high school honors!

I can't not emphasize enough about how bad this looks to me. What it says to me is that you do not understand about the rules of the world and etiquette and that I would be really worried that to send you to a meeting by yourself. Also, I have to say, that it really reinforces all of my stereotypes of young people just graduating college, that you all think too highly of yourselves and that your whole lives have been a series of blue ribbons for nothing and that you would interrupt my board chair in the middle of meeting without thinking about it. Again, you all think you are too special and don't know the rules of the world.

I interviewed one woman for the position and she used the world humble to describe herself and I almost hired her on the spot!

To all those just graduating, consider that you might have something to learn and we will all love you for it.

Amy Joyce: An interesting take on the multi-paged resume, particularly from people who haven't had a multi-paged career yet. Thanks... I'd love to talk to you further about this, too. Can you e-mail me at


D.C.: For the person considering careers that need a science background, I'd like to put in a plug for the local community colleges for filling in science gaps. They're great and reasonably priced. I filled in math/science gaps before grad school at NOVA and had a really excellent experience. I also found that taking classes one at a time when I was ready was much better than doing five at a time in college. Science might not have been your strength, but it can be now.

Amy Joyce: Plug away. Thanks.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Amy,

Last week, you remarked about a one-page limit on resumes. I always thought that the "expected" limit was two? With a lot of experience, education, training, etc., what is most important to fit on one page? Any thoughts on employers who throw away resumes that violate the one-page rule?

Amy Joyce: Well, interesting you should ask. Check out what the hiring manager a few questions up just said. Granted, she is particularly talking about new graduates. So someone with a lot of experience might be able to squeeze in two pages. Current skills/jobs are important. Remember that you don't have to go in to great detail on jobs you had a decade ago. That's what cover letters and interviews are for.

Any other hiring managers want to chime in on this one?


RE: Relocation: Questions to ask the new job HR: Who pays for the move (if they do, they really want you), what help do they provide for trailing spouse (if there is one), are there folk to talk to about the rest of life outside work -- schools, places of worship, volunteer activities, where to live, what the cost of living is like there, do you like where you would be living? (Not everyone goes "ga ga" about San Francisco -- and I lived there as a trailing spouse).

Amy Joyce: Good tips. Thanks.


Christmas gifts to co-workers: I try to bring something little (usually food) to the office for co-workers every Christmas, and I absolutely do not expect anything in return. It's something my mom did every year, and a tradition that I enjoy. It's not about reciprocation; it's just one thing I like doing, and I hope it makes me a good office citizen. Other people bring in goodies at other times of the year, or organize birthday parties, or tell funny jokes. I bring cookies to my co-workers. It all works out in the end. Honestly, an enthusiastic "Thank you!" is all I ever need or want. (And if I don't get a thank you, then that's okay too!)

Amy Joyce: You sound nice. I think a lot of people in these chats are wishing they worked with you.


Haymarket, Va.: Hi Amy,

Love the chats! How long after an annual review is it appropriate to tell your boss that you'd like to transition to a new position (and consequently, under a new boss) within the same company?

Amy Joyce: Thanks.

Well, an annual review is a good time to talk about your upcoming goals. You can do that in a more general sense, saying you'd love to move into a marketing position eventually. Then when you're ready to apply for that position, go talk to your boss about the specifics... it's probably best to say you'd like to move under a new boss after the review. But good to get it out there that you'd like to move toward something else during the process.


RE: Relocating: I moved to D.C. from the West Coast, and I'd think really hard about how important it is to you to see your family and friends on a regular basis. I plow through vacation days because any trip back west requires a day on either end for travel (this is different for big cities, but my flights always require changing planes). I like the work I'm doing, and it isn't work I could do in my hometown, but I know I won't stay on this coast the rest of my life because it's just too far away from my family and being able to visit them is important to me.

Not saying you'd necessarily feel the same way, but I do think it's something worth considering seriously.

Amy Joyce: Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: I've got a phone interview for my dream job tomorrow! Help! Last minute tips, etc.?

How should I deal with the fact that though I've actually sort of worked for this organization before, the person who is interviewing me doesn't know me at all?

Amy Joyce: Make sure to dress up.

Kidding. Really.

Make sure to let this person know how you've worked for this organization before, and what you liked about it, how it went, etc. Think about these things in advance, and have a few good points written down so you can remember what to say. If this is the first phone interview, it's usually pretty painless. It's a very rudimentary screening out of potential employees, so just saying you successfully worked with this company before will probably push you to the top of the pile. If it's not a first, think about what you'd say in any interview--why you want this job, how your current skills will be a good match, and go ahead and talk about why this is your dream job. They're all ears.

Good luck.


San Diego, Calif.: For the potential job changer: I became a nurse after being in psychology. Yes, you DO need science and biology in the nursing/medical/allied health fields. But the best way to see if any of them are for you is to contact your alumni center and ask them to put you in touch with an alum in the field that interests you. You'll be able to spend an observational day, but you'll have to jump through some hoops -- privacy and HIPAA being what they are. Its worth it though -- you'll never regret spending the time, if only to figure that a career choice isn't really for you.

Amy Joyce: Another shout out for alumni centers when trying to figure out what to do with our lives. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: I'm a recent grad ('04) and I have a one and a half page resume. There aren't any college clubs on there, or scholarships or awards even though I had quite a few. I worked full-time in professional, office settings for all four years of college and I don't see any reason why NOT to include that information on my resume. I understand that many people fresh out of college really don't need more than a page, but given that I now have nearly seven years of full-time work experience I'd hate to have someone throw out my resume just because they think I'm too young to have done so much.

Amy Joyce: So what will your resume look like when you have 10 years of experience? 20 years?

You have to cut it down, D.C. Even if that means just listing that college job with half the duties (bullet points) you have there. People will understand that you had a professional job while you were in college. Congrats on that. Lots of people do/did. You have to keep it short. A resume is supposed to highlight the important parts of your career. Cover letters and interviews are for the rest of it.


Washington, D.C.: Amy,

I run my organization's intern search, so I see a lot of resumes and cover letters. I'm in total agreement with the previous poster: college students, don't send a three-page resume. Limit yourself to one page (I do, and I've been out of grad school for seven years).

And please don't spend your whole cover letter telling me how the job would benefit you. I'm hiring for an organization that's going to be a serious asset on your resume, so I know that you're going to benefit. Tell me what you can do for me -- how do you fit the job?

And: I ask for a writing sample and names and numbers of references. Don't send an incomplete package. Read the whole announcement, write a letter telling me how you fit the position, and send all the documents. I can't tell you how many people disqualify themselves by showing me that they didn't read the announcement with care. I have highly detailed projects. If you can't read the announcement, what does that say about your potential to do serious, detail-oriented work?

Amy Joyce: More sound advice for recent grads ... thanks, D.C.


RE: Relocation: I agree with the previous poster about vacation and family. I moved from the Midwest to D.C. and have been here for just under 2 years and I want to move back. I've had three funerals this year and it's always hard to try to get last minute flights. Sure it's nice and helps you grow as a person but if you're a strong family person it'll be incredibly hard.

I do value being out here since I learned a new way of life and culture so to speak but I can't wait to move back to be with friends and family (none of which I have here).

Amy Joyce: I knew you'd all have good insight. Thanks.


Job titles: The only time a title ever meant anything for me was at raise time. My company was notorious for low salaries, so we had them do a salary review of similar positions in the area. They were going to give everyone an increase based on the salary review, but each person's increase was going to be based on their title. I was doing the same work as everyone else in my position, but I found out they had the next level up title, whereas I didn't. I was told that I would get a lower "salary review" increase because my job title reflected lesser responsibilities. When I pointed out that I was doing the exact same work as everyone else (and in some cases I had MORE responsibility), my boss said it was out of her hands and she could not get my title changed because of the red tape involved. I found a new job soon after at a much higher salary, and within the week my boss offered me a higher salary and a title change to stay! I left.

But my point is that sometimes titles make a big difference for issues at your current job. My job titles have never been an issue on my resume or with interviewing.

Amy Joyce: Going back to my Sunday column (link above): Yes, titles can matter for the jobs you are in. I'm sorry for that bureaucratic situation at your old job. Makes it all seems (painfully/frustratingly) silly, doesn't it?


Arlington, Va.: Hi Amy,

I'm a contractor and my job is ending on Friday (I was hoping they'd extend my contract or put me on staff, but it wasn't to be.)

I have some money saved up but I'm worried about being unemployed not only for the week between Christmas and New Years' but the first week(s?) of January as well. I've been looking for work but no one was finalizing their hiring before the new year.

What's your advice for this period for me? Does any industry need help right AFTER Christmas? I happen to be an editor but can do all kinds of office work.

Amy Joyce: I did a column not too long ago about whether companies still hire at this time of the year. They do. And if they don't exactly hire, they do fill up their pipeline of people. So keep at that job search, because even if they don't hire you Jan. 2, they are filling up their possibilities. You might want to check with some recruiters/headhunters in the area, as well. And, obviously, stay in touch with the company where you were contracting. Sometimes things work out there. Since you are an editor, you might be able to find freelance work as well. It's a very marketable skill (said the writer, hopefully).


Loudoun County, Va.: Speaking of resume errors: I once was given a resume by a mutual friend for a job candidate who had previously worked as an IT contractor for Loudoun County. On her resume, she misspelled Loudoun as many people commonly do as "Loudon." When I pointed this out through the mutual friend, the candidate's feedback was a huffy comment that it didn't matter and I was just a nit-picker. So I just threw her resume into my nit-picking trash can.

Amy Joyce: Misspelling the county in which you'll be working is a big problem. Candidates seeking guidance and feedback: Be not huffy.

(And why, oh why, can people not learn how to spell Loudoun? One of my pet peeves.)


Amy Joyce: On that note, and I hate to do this because there are about 200 questions left unanswered, we have to get back to work. Don't forget to e-mail me at with your resume horror stories. All tales and advice welcome. Have a good week (and holiday, if you celebrate) all!


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