Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, January 9, 2007; 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 discuss your life at work. As always, please jump in with your own advice and stories to share and help your fellow readers along.

We're going to try to discuss resumes and the trials and tribulations of job searches today, but can deal with other things as well. HR folks, managers, supervisors, please jump in with your side of the equation as well!

Alrighty, then. Onward...


Anonymous: Hello Amy,

I just want to give advice to employers, as you and as everyone is always attempting to give applicants advice.

1. Time - Employers, as you want the applicant to arrive on time, please do so yourself, unless there is an extreme emergency.

Please do not disrespect applicant's time when they come for an interview. If the applicant's appointment is at 10:00 a.m., please do not have them wait until 11:00 a.m.. When an employer calls me to schedule and interview, I ask how long do they think the interview will be, who will I be meeting with, and do I need to bring anything additional and will there be any type of testing, so I can allow appropriate time.

In one instance, I had an employer have me wait for over an hour to see her. What she could have asked would I mind waiting or if I could not wait, could we reschedule. That would be the most appropriate and polite thing to do.

2. Appearance - I know some employers have issues with the way applicants come dressed. Some are inappropriate. However, I ALWAYS come looking interview appropriate. I even carry extra panty hose in case of an emergency. I have found if you dress too nice, that can be to your disadvantage, as some interviewers may think that you do not need a job, employers, please don't assume.

3. The actual interview - Employers, PLEASE TAKE A FEW MINUTES TO REVIEW THE RESUME IN ADVANCE, and have a list of questions and a copy of the job description for the applicant. Also, please practice a decent, firm handshake. Please do not shake my hand as if I had some type of disease.

4. Interviewers, if you do not have experience interviewing, please take a class, get techniques from the Internet and practice with family members, friends, or colleagues. Being a good and effective interviewer would make both parties feel at ease.

5. This is one that I have experienced in interviews - PERSONAL PHONE CALLS AT LENGTH. Employers, please put your phone on forward, voice mail, etc. I have had a few employers who actually took the called and talked at length and they did not apologize.

6. Employers, also remember, it could be you on the other side, so please be kind and considerate of the applicants, as job interviewing is an extremely stressful process.

7. Employers, at the conclusion of the interview, please do the following: a) Let the applicant know where they are in the process; b) how long would it be until a decision is made; c) if the applicant is not selected, please contact them within 2-3 days after a selection is made via email, letter or phone call to let them know the outcome. That would alleviate anxiety from the applicant, and it will bring a conclusion for you as well.

Amy, I hope we can have some meaningful dialogue on this subject, as well as getting the employers take on the above.

Amy Joyce: I'll throw this one out there first, from Marcia, who wants to see if we can get a dialogue going here. Sounds like she's had some negative job search experiences. What do you think about this, folks?


Glen Burnie, Md.: Hi Amy! I've submitted this question before, but am hoping you'll answer it this time because the clique at my office is getting really nasty. I have written proof (at least three e-mailed conversations I'm aware of) they've been talking about me behind my back, and I'm not sure how to deal with it. I don't want to think about what's going on that I don't know about.

I'm trying to stay above the fray, not engage them and focus on my work. But at the same time, I have to talk to these people because there's only seven of us, and three of them -- my co-workers, not superiors -- are in this clique. Yet, it seems like whatever I say or do just gives them more ammo. And I don't want to seem like a snitch by ratting them out.

Please offer your thoughts and suggestions. I realize you get a lot of questions, but this has me stressed to the point of considering to look for a new job, which isn't something I really want to do because job hunting has its own stresses. And there's no guarantee things would be better elsewhere.

Thanks so much for these chats!

Amy Joyce: Look at it this way: The majority of the people in the office are not in this teeny-tiny, sad, little clique. You're right that you need to try to stay above the fray. But it sounds like you're not.

Keep your conversations with them to a minimum. I'm sure you have to deal with them, since it's a small office. So deal with them--about work related things only. Then focus on your work.

Remember that you have friends/family/people outside of work to keep you going and make your life enjoyable. Try to look at this as work only.

I'm sorry, I know this isn't easy. But the more you focus on the things you have to do, and focus on doing them well, the more this silly clique will fade into the background. And perhaps they will move on to a new victim when they see there's not much to say/do about you.


Arlington, Va.: Amy,

I have a question about how most area companies handle closings due to weather or special circumstances like last week's Presidential funeral.

I am a salaried employee and work for a private company that has a contract with the federal government. The day after Christmas, our management sent out a memo stating that from now on, if the government closes for any reason, that we will now need to use our personal leave if we wish to be paid for the time. In the past, we were always given administrative leave to use when the government closes. Since the government was closed on January 2nd, everyone was forced to use their leave or take leave without pay for that day. This came as a big shock to most of the people in my group.

Is this something typical at other companies or just a sign of the times?


Amy Joyce: Can you come in to work those days and get paid without using personal leave? If you're not sure, ask. I'm afraid it's less a sign of the times and more just something a lot of companies do. Granted, Paid Time Off, where workers get a certain number of days a year to use as sick/vacation/holidays is getting to be more common, and you sort of fall in to that category now. I know many people who will work on a day when others are typically out just so they don't have to use their PTO. Is that an option for you? If not, you might want to ask your boss if it's a possibility.


Washington, D.C.: I know that I should address a cover letter to a specific person, but how do I best determine who that person is when the position announcement just lists "career opportunities" or similar?

Amy Joyce: If you don't have a particular person, that's fine. To Whom It May Concern works. Anyone else have a more graceful way of dealing with this? HR folks, what do you like to see in this case?


New York, N.Y.: Recently, I was hospitalized with appendicitis. I was out of work for seven days. When I returned I was told since I was out for more than three sick days I needed a doctor's note. No problem. HR called me the other day to say the doctor's note was too vague. My doctor refuses to go into any more detail, saying he can't cross the line of confidentiality. I feel like I am in a catch-22. Any advice?

Amy Joyce: Tell them that's what he said. And then give HR your doctor's telephone number. He can then say to them in person that he can't, by law, tell anything else. I mean an appendicitis is an appendicitis, right?


Washington, D.C.: Is this legal? My employer makes a 401K match every pay period. Sometimes they don't give the full match, and at the end of the year they'll figure out how much more they owe you and pay the difference. However, in the meantime we lose out on potential interest payments. The policy is a match every period, so I don't know why this happens, and my company can't/won't explain.

Amy Joyce: I think companies have some flexibility here. According to Martha Hamilton, author of our new, wonderful Financial Futures column, there are some companies out there that can decide at year's end how much they want to match. Not all that unusual. Of course, if you have a union contract or other binding contract saying the company has to put in a particular amount every month and they're not, then there's a problem.


Silver Spring, Md.: I agree 100 percent with the unnamed poster regarding how employers should act in interviews. It is often astonishing when being interviewed at the behavior of some HR people. I have turned down more than one job, or have taken myself out of the running because my interview experience was so bad. If the interviewer is rude or the process is annoying it is a warning signal for any job seeker that the job will be full of headaches.

Amy Joyce: How the interviewers act can definitely impact a job seeker's decision about whether to go forward with a job or not.


Adding to the interview wish list: Employers, if you are doing a background check and are withholding a firm offer until the check is finished, please do not expect the applicant to quit her/his current job in the meantime.

I had this happen where the interviewing company wanted me to start ASAP, but I refused to give my two weeks notice until I had an offer letter in my hand. I thought I was showing respect to both my current and potential new employers. Everything worked out fine, but I had too much on the line if it hadn't!

Amy Joyce: Is this a pretty common situation, folks? I feel like I hear of this happening a lot...


New York, N.Y.: Hi Amy,

Can you help me resolve a question of guilt? We have a small team (eight people across two offices), and we're seeing a lot of unexpected turnover. One decided not to come back from maternity leave, and two others are leaving to pursue other interests. I want to leave, too, and had a plan to give my notice by the end of this month (when I vest in an incentive award granted three years ago).

But now I am feeling guilty. I have a two-month notice period but that has not proven to be enough time in the past to find someone new, and they are facing three other vacancies on a team of eight. I don't -- have -- to leave at the end of March, but I am already having severe motivation problems, and this was before the onslaught of work that will undoubtedly come as these people actually leave. Ugh.

Your thoughts, please? More money would not solve the problem. It's a way that the job is fundamentally structured that I'm no longer happy with.

Amy Joyce: I think your company would not want someone working there who already is out the door. Give them enough notice (two months seems like a huge amount of time), and even offer to help them recruit, if you can/want to. Remember that this is your life, your career, your future. Why stay at a place that leaves you uninspired and wanting more? Just make sure to be as fair as possible before you go.


Washington, D.C.: I agree that contacting someone you brought in for an interview is CRUCIAL. I interviewed and never heard from a company a few years back. Earlier this year, the same company contact me saying they saw my recent work and wanted to know if I was interested in interviewing for a full-time position. I declined. I have no interest in working for a company that does not foster simple human respect. I would never work in that environment and am somewhat grateful that I didn't get the first gig.

While employees have to be careful about burning bridges, I think it's just as important to remember everyone has to worry about it-position of power or no.

Amy Joyce: I think that's very true. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: I share an office with someone who has some disturbing habits, and I wonder if there is something I can or should do. She snorts often and must have a sinus problem she hasn't done much about. She sneezes, loudly and in my direction, without covering her nose. When someone, always more senior, needs to tell her something, she seldom looks up from her e-mail or instant messaging, which I find very rude. She also has poor phone etiquette and treats others as if she's busy and important and they aren't. She text messages on her cell phone, and the beeps and alerts I find disturbing. She could silence her phone but doesn't. She never uses headphones with her computer nor adjusts the volume to minimize disturbance. Just before the election, she canceled a meeting we had scheduled with congressional staff saying we were "waiting to see where the chips fall." She is young and can often be inconsiderate and exercise poor judgment. Because of our small quarters, she's fortunate to share space with someone who could give her some constructive feedback but it's not my responsibility to do so. I wonder if I should continue to try to ignore her or begin to speak up where I think I can help? Thanks.

Amy Joyce: Why you haven't spoken up yet, I don't understand. Take the things that impact you directly, not something that she's doing to her boss (that would be her supervisor's issue, not yours).

It's pretty simple: "Would you mind putting your cell phone on vibrate? The noises are really distracting." My colleague who sits about two feet from me, literally, was sick recently. My response? "Don't you dare get me sick!" We had a laugh, she stayed in her corner. I stayed in mine. These are the things we have to deal with in the workplace. We spend more time with these people than our own families. So deal with it. Be direct. Treat them like you would any other human being. And do it piece by piece. At this point, you can't necessarily sit down and lecture her about all the things she's doing wrong. In fact, you might not be right about some of those things. So call her on the things that could hurt you directly, then get back to work.


Boston, Mass.: To HR and hiring managers: The WORST thing in the world is to be interviewed for a job and then receive NO follow-up. At least call and say you've hired someone else so we can move on in our job search, or call and say you need a few more weeks to make a decision, whatever. I realize you can't respond to every resume you receive, but once you invite someone in for an interview, you owe them the courtesy of closure to the process!

Amy Joyce: I would hope in most cases, companies know to do this. But I know not all do. Check out my Sunday column about how both companies and job seekers have handled this situation. (I'll post it in a second.)


RE: New York: I once went through our employee assistance program and was recommended that I go to rehab for an addiction to pain killers. My doctor told HR I needed a month off, without going into details. When I returned, I was asked for more info on why I was out. I refused. Was fired. I then sued and won a judgment against the company. So New York should tell HR to accept the doctor's note or he should contact an attorney.

Amy Joyce: One view...


RE: NY and Doc's note: You, the patient, have a right to confidentiality. It isn't his right to withhold information. therefore, under the law, you have the right to waive it and tell him to write a specific note to your employer. You may have to waive the right to confidentiality in writing, but if you do, he has to write the note. In the waiver, just say you have the right to confidentiality for X procedure performed on Y day and the recovery time for the purposes of sending this information to your employer to verify.

If the doctor doesn't do it, I'd (1) drop him and (2) show your employer the itemized hospital bill showing when you went in for the procedure.

Amy Joyce: And another.

But I disagree with this one. Why can't HR accept a week off for an appendicitis? If the doctor gave away that much, I think that's enough.

_______________________ Persistence Can Help Rescue a Resume That's Lost in the Ether, (Post, Jan. 7)

Amy Joyce: This was Sunday's column about the lack of feedback after interviews, and how some companies deal.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy. I'm applying to go back to school full time, which means I will be leaving my job sometime over the summer (I have been there about three years). Should I tell my current boss now about my plans, or should I wait until I am accepted and my plans are definite? If I wait, I feel like I am going to spring this on her very unexpectedly. Plus, I feel like I am hiding this huge secret from the entire office as it is. It feels strange to talk about work plans for the upcoming year when I know I won't be there in the fall!

Amy Joyce: A lot can change between now and then. Wait until your plans are set in stone and then give notice. You can give more than the usual two weeks, but giving them a head's up that you *might* be leaving sometime over the summer is too much information for both them and you.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy, I hope you can answer my question.

I am having a review this afternoon and I need to tell my boss that I am not happy with the way things are. She is very busy managing different groups of people and my group always comes last. Last month I even joked that we (my group) felt like the "bastard child" of the company. And it's true -- we do.

How do I tell her this? It seems like I work and work and we always get pushed to the side for the more important groups. It is very discouraging and it is beginning to affect my work. She normally praises me and my work but actions speak louder than words. I am supposed to get a raise and a promotion so I don't want to blow it. How can I tell her without offending her?

Saying I feel demoralized sounds too negative. Don't you think?

BTW, I wrote in a few months ago because I was having problems with some co-workers. I took your advice and waited because I did not want to leave my job and they both quit in the past two months so my patience paid off! Now things are better than ever.


Amy Joyce: Remember that review time is the time for a good, open conversation. If you have specific examples of feeling like you're being marginalized, and an example of how it's affecting your work, go for it. Just tell your boss what it feels like and ask how you think you should handle it. Frankly, what you told us here sounds reasonable and I would think any boss would want to hear this. Then, listen. She may have a very good reason for whatever's going on. I'm sure, by the way, that your raise won't be tossed just because you have an opinion about your workplace. That would be unreasonable, and any good boss will want to hear what you have to say. Good luck.


Alexandria, Va.: I have this nagging feeling that I am going to be laid off this week. What do I do to relieve my anxiety and feel more in control?

Amy Joyce: Get your resume together, start researching companies you'd like to work for, contact your network of friends/former colleagues/friends etc., and just check in, asking if they know of any openings. The best way to survive a layoff or even a not-layoff is to prepare yourself in the best way possible, rather than hiding and hoping it will pass. Good luck.


Between the secretary and my boss: Awkward situation: I had a meeting last week with my boss and her boss (the "big boss"). My boss asked me to call the big boss's secretary to confirm that he would be available for this meeting, as he has been very busy with a crisis lately.

The big boss's secretary (this is her actual title) started yelling at me when I called to confirm. She asked why I didn't trust her to do her job (to call if a meeting cancelled), said that she couldn't stand my boss, that she can't stand to even look at her, that my boss disrespects her all of the time, etc.

I like my boss. She is very demanding but also kind and supportive. I have known her for years (we both worked together at another company) and she is polite and respectful to everyone. I used to like this secretary just fine, but now I'm the one who is afraid to look at her.

Should I say anything, to anyone about this? Or should I just suck it up and chalk it up to the secretary having a bad day? (She seems to be having a lot of them lately.)

Amy Joyce: Ignore and move on. It was a rant that she either regrets or doesn't. But really, it doesn't have to do with you. It's her issue.


Little Rock, Ark.: Amy,

My partner works for a church, and has a series of "past presidents" that complete her annual reviews. This changes yearly. The immediate past president last year, who chairs the committee, was a real jerk, and gave her an evaluation that was not based in fact, and to which she had no chance to respond. He's sort of abandoned the whole thing now, and she's left with this thing hanging over her head. How would you advise she handle it? Ask for a new review (six months early)? Ignore it, since everyone else seems to be? She's the longest tenured employee at the church, and hasn't had any negative reviews before, and no complaints from members, etc., on her work.

Amy Joyce: I'd tell a mentor or other past president that this review feels like a black mark that I wanted to fix. A lot of it wasn't based on fact, but there was never a chance to respond. Then she should suggest that either it be thrown from the record, that she should be able to respond now, or that she be reviewed early in the hopes a good review will cancel this one out. Don't be shy about this. Even if others are ignoring it, it's on the record and everyone should have a chance to respond to an evaluation they deem as wrong/unfair.


Cleveland, Ohio: Follow-up to my question submitted last week about the annual review.-I e-mailed my supervisor and she gave me my Annual Review to look over within three business days! It's pretty good too. Thank you Amy and chatters for your feedback.

Amy Joyce: Excellent! (To those just reading, Cleveland was very frustrated with a long-overdue review. The answer: Just ask for it!)


Arlington, Va.: Hi Amy,

I'm home looking for work as we speak! So many job listing ask for salary history. That always raises the hackles on the back of my neck because, while I understand they want to know how much I'm willing to accept/looking for, they don't need to know how much I've earned in the past. It's too personal a question for me. Better to ask for expected salary (or not ask at all in the ad).

Anyway what's your thoughts about dealing with ads that ask for salary history/salary range? I used to leave the salary history blank until a previous job chat said they might screen out all cover letters without it.

So I started added boilerplate language that "As for the requested salary history, I do not tend to provide that information in cover letters but I'm very motivated to work for (organization X) and I'm sure if you decide I'm the right candidate we can come to an agreement on salary."

Amy Joyce: The boilerplate you suggest works for me. Your resume could be tossed for the wrong number, too. So do what you feel best about. The salary history question is an annoying one. But if you tell your potential employer that you're flexible and would like to talk about it later because you're excited about a job opportunity there, that's probably the best you can do.


Washington, D.C.: When do you know that a job is not right for you? My bosses are nice, the benefits and schedule are great, the actual work is good, but does not fit what I want to do. I've been here a year. I'm nervous about leaving for monetary reasons (I get paid good along with all the other perks) and because I know it could be worse, AND because I have NO IDEA what exactly it is that I want to do. I'm thinking I should stick with this for now, since it will give me time to find out what it is I want to do, but I still get disheartened at work sometimes thinking about how I'm not passionate about the work. (I still put 100 percent though).

Amy Joyce: Stay where you are, with the caveat you'll try hard to find what is right for you. Use this time to determine what you like about your job and don't like. Maybe there's a part of it that you really look forward to doing every day. How can you turn that into something bigger? Take this time to get out after work and network. Go to some of the many, many events this city offers. Talk to people about their work, what they like, what they don't like. Think about what you like to do on the weekends or people whose work you think looks appealing. What can you do to turn that into a career for yourself? Talk to family and friends and ask them what they could see you doing. Some of their answers might surprise you and excite you.

In other words, congrats that you have a job that pays well and that is comfortable. You're already a ton better off than most people. But don't use that as an excuse to get comfortable forever. Consider it a stopping off point to what you really want to do.


Baltimore, Md.: I'm not actively looking for a new job but an amazing opportunity just presented itself. The problem is that the prospective employer has asked for references very early on in the process. I don't want them to contact my present employer unless I feel I stand a realistic chance of getting the job, at which point I'll alert my employer to this potential position. What's the best way to handle this?

Amy Joyce: Tell them that. They should understand. Then suggest other references (clients, former employers, co-workers, former co-workers, etc.).


Interviews: Why is it so hard for HR people to follow up with applicants. This has happened to me with a few companies in the last year. I follow up with HR or the person who interviewed me and I get nothing back. Is it plain rudeness?

Amy Joyce: Could be anything. Busy, rude, they left their job. So stick with it and follow up more. If your direct HR person doesn't follow up and you have another contact at the company, then call or e-mail them. If you interviewed already, contact one of the people you interviewed. Be persistent.


Dr's note: I don't see why an employer should need anything more than "Jane Doe needed a week off work due to health reasons." What the health reason is is none of their business. The happy person may not care if his employer knows he had appendicitis, but a person could have all kinds of health problems they might want to keep private. They might want to deal privately with finding out they have cancer, or a miscarriage, or whatever. Human resources shouldn't need to know anything more than a legitimate doctor gave you a legitimate medical excuse for using sick leave.

Amy Joyce: I agree.


Cubeville, USA: Oh my gosh, Amy. My boss is driving me nuts. I get that work hours are 8:30 to 5:30. And I'm usually on time. But once in a while, if I'm five minutes late, she calls me into her office to discuss the "situation." It's five minutes!!! Any suggestions on how I can gently explain that five minutes isn't really late? Things happen in the morning, Metro delays, rain, or just moving slow. Geez. I'm totally fed up with this nonsense.

Amy Joyce: It may be nonsense, but it obviously matters to your boss. So you have two options. 1. Leave earlier so you're not late. 2. Suck it up and have the conversation with your boss. Apologize for being late, explain the Metro was delayed. ("Moving slow" is not an excuse when the time matters to your boss.)


Denver, Colo.: My feeling on the job search process is that I don't expect a response from

a submitted resume. I do expect a response after something further, such as

a phone or face-to-face interview, a request for additional information, and

so on. Unfortunately, my experience has been that employers usually haven't

followed up unless I've made it to the "finalist" stage. Some examples:

- After I submitted my resume, an employer e-mailed me a "supplemental

application" to fill out. It was fairly long and took me about an hour to

complete. I never heard from them again.

- I did a 45-minute phone interview with an employer. I never heard back

from them, even after I made a follow-up phone call. Then I saw the

position advertised again.

- An employer called me in the middle of dinner and asked if I could do a

phone interview right then. This was their first contact after receiving my

resume. I said it was a bad time and we agreed on a time later in the

evening. They never called. I called them back the next day and left a

message. They finally called me back a week later and said the job was


- And my favorite: A third-party recruiter set up an interview for me. I

didn't get the job, but the recruiter never told me. She kept saying things

like "they haven't made a decision yet" and "you are still being

considered". I stopped calling her after a few weeks and I never heard from

her again.

Amy Joyce: Frustrating, I know.


HELP!!!: Amy,

I'm burned out and unmotivated at my job. I've been here three years, and I'm sending out resumes (though it's slim pickings right now). I HAVE asked for certain changes to be made that could help freshen things up and give me a new perspective, but it'll take time for them to take effect. Any advice on how to make it through each day?

Amy Joyce: Sending resumes out is sometimes like screaming into the wind. Take some time and really think about where you want to move. Call companies and ask for informational interviews. Get out and network. And the more you do to find out what you want next out of your career, the easier it will be to get through each day. Because you're taking control. Good luck.


Amy Joyce: The lunch bell is ringing, folks. Thanks for the interesting discussion, again. Don't forget to check out Life at Work, the column, in the Sunday Business section and feel free to email me at Because of the volume of emails, I can't answer them all, but I may post them on next week's chat (sans name). Join me again next week here, same time, same place. Have a great week.


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