Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, January 30, 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, folks. It's Tuesday, which means it's time to talk about your life at work. As always, hop in with your own advice and stories to share and help our fellow readers along.

Lots of questions are staring at me, so let's get started...


Stamford, Conn.: My husband just received a great job offer outside of the area. Great pay, great city. Except I'm about to start a potentially career-propelling project at work that will last about 14 months. I have been with my company for several years, and this position will help me get the promotion I've been working so hard for. Although there may be opportunities with the company in the new city, I would likely need to put in another two or three years there to receive this type of promotion. My company supports a flexible work schedule and telecommuting, but may not be possible for this project. How do I broach my predicament to management?

Amy Joyce: Do you have a mentor or manager you trust with whom you could talk through this? It will be hard to make a decision when you don't know what they can provide to you if you decide to move. They may be willing to come up with some interesting solutions in order to keep you, and help you stay on track. But you're not going to know that until you talk to someone. I usually say wait to talk to your company about a move until you're sure it's going to happen, but in this case it will only help to talk to someone to figure it all out. And since you would like to stay with the company if you do move, it might make sense to start talking now. Good luck.

_______________________ Not Cut From the Boss's Cloth, (Post, Jan. 28)


Gaithersburg, Md.: Any advice for a friend, who's in dire financial straits as he's been out of work for over three years? He's in his late-50s. He can't prove ageism, but what else can this be? He has an MBA in organzational development and had his own business (no longer feasible). Plus he has experience as a sales manager. His resume looks great and he's been on job interviews. But nothing comes of them -- the companies where he interviews usually end up hiring younger, less experienced people. Where can he go for help? What is available for the older worker in the Washington area? This is a very serious situation and I fear for his well-being. Thank you.

Amy Joyce: Please, people, tell me about good help for this 50-something job seeker. My suggestions: Check with AARP. Their web site shows partner companies who specifically work to hire people who are on the older side. There's also a group called 40 plus of Greater Washington that holds workshops and networking events for people who are over 40 years old. (

My guess is after three years of a fruitless job search, your friend is going to have a tough time now. That's not because he doesn't have the skills, but because his confidence is probably shot. It's tough to come back from that, but great he has friends like you. Please encourage him to get out, network, try to shake off the failures and start tomorrow like it's a brand new job search. Easier said than done, I know. But it will take something like that to get jump started again.


Rockville, Md.: RE: Chicago

As I read your column last Sunday I had to wonder if there was something else going on and urge Chicago to look at a bigger picture. Is it possible that the boss has some other problem and this is a convenient way to create a strike against her? She also states that she is overweight. As much as we hate to acknowledge it, at times there is prejudice against big people. One can't be reprimanded or fired for this, but dress is an interesting approach to it. I think you made a good point that it took a lot for the boss to take this action, so unless Chicago is revealing tons of cleavage (which, sorry, can be easy for a big woman) or wearing micro-minis, I bet there's something else going on.

Amy Joyce: It could be anything, really. We don't get much info here. As much as you think there could be something more to it, I think there could be absolutely nothing to it but an appearance thing. When changing clothes is an easy solution, it can make the later attempts at more "strikes" less possible. If she answers this boss by just dressing the way s/he asked, that's one very easy solution. If there is more to it than that, Chicago will soon find out.


Washington, D.C.: Amy, love your chats! I work with one other person with the same title, and then our boss, the director of the dept. I recently had a one year review and we agreed that I blew the job description out of the water (in ways that I know the other "officer" isn't, since we work so closely together). How should I bring up advancement with my boss without making it an "I'm better than him" conversation, since that's really not what it's about? If we are talking about my advancement in such a small office, it seems to always come back to the other officer. Any thoughts?

Amy Joyce: If it's not about him, it's not about him. You talk about what you've done and how that exceeds your job description. Then you ask for your promotion/advancement/raise ... whatever it is you think you earned. You're not comparing yourself to him -- at least, you shouldn't be. You alone have gone beyond your description, so this conversation should be about you alone.


Washington, D.C.: Amy: I just wanted to say before I became a supervisor and reviewed actual resumes I always thought that resume and cover letter recommendations were baloney. Now as a manager in the public sector, I must say I am almost floored by what we receive. We thought HR was being overly judgemental in its pre-qualification. Now we see, only 20 percent are decent. Basic issues like format, readability and grammar are essential. Positive and grasping/action words, written with a nice flow so that it is general and detailed when appropriate. I have literally received position descriptions for resumes. Sad part is the person let it run for two or three pages.

Amy Joyce: I love to hear from the hiring side. So there you have it, folks.


RE: Older worker: May have to take a pay cut -- that's why they keep hiring younger workers. Also look at government jobs, they tend to value mature workers more.

Amy Joyce: Throwing this out there. I'm guessing this person probably would be fine with a pay cut at this point, but who knows. Government work might be a good option, too.


Maryland: My sister and I are sick of our desk jobs and have decided to do something about it. We want to go into business for ourselves as event planners but since this is a new area for us, I was wondering if you had some tips as to what we can do to prepare for this move. We're really excited about this venture because it suits our outgoing personalities and love of turning ideas into reality.

We're making a list of event planners to consult about starting up a business but do you have any books to recommend reading or other advice to give?

Thanks so much! We're very excited about this move and we both finally feel like there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Amy Joyce: I'm going to throw this out there, because I believe there is an association or networking group (or several) in the area. Any event planners have some advice here? (Good luck, Maryland!)


Dallas, Tex.: I have really not been enjoying my job and I have thought about leaving my job, but I haven't done anything about it. Recently, I felt like my bosses were ignoring me. Instead of speaking up, I continued to do what I thought was OK work. Then two weeks ago, my boss asked me in a meeting and informed me that I am on probation until the end of Feburary. They way he stated it, sounded like either the company will ask me to resign or I have to find another position. How can I look for a job now? What do I tell prospective employers if they ask why I am leaving my current position? And, how can I conduct interviews with these employers without raising my boss's suspicion?

Amy Joyce: It's even easier now to look for a job: You have a real motivation to get one. Why were you going to look before? Because you felt like you needed new opportunities/challenges. That's all you need to talk about in your job search. Think about what it is you like to do. What you used to like about your job that is missing now. Why you're not too motivated at work now and what might light some fire for you again. Then explain that to new potential managers. You don't tell them that you're on probation. You don't tell them that your current boss is unhappy with your work. You explain to them what YOU want.

In the meantime, do better work where you are so you don't have to worry about a timeline/getting fired. Your boss may now assume (or even hope) that you're interviewing. When you schedule interviews, do so during lunch hours, before or after work, or take a vacation day. Remember: Most folks look for work while they are in a job. You can do it too.


Long cover letters?: Hi, Amy. Thanks for your work on the Hard Copies feature. One "problem" that I am having is that my cover letters are too long (just under one page in 12-point font). Perhaps I am trying to cover too much ground in them?

My aim in the cover letter is to mention how my skills are in line with the requirements of the advertised position. However, some positions require a lot of skills! Responding to each of these, even briefly, takes up a lot of space.

Any thoughts on this? Should I cut down the cover letter's length even though I run the risk of not mentioning a key skill that may not be obvious from the resume? I do not want to turn off employers with a too-long cover letter/e-mail. Thanks for your thoughts! Missed our Hard Copies feature? Check it out here.

Amy Joyce: There's room for a lot of those details in interviews. Think about what is MOST important to this job and mention it. Also, make it quick. You don't have to tell people everything about how your skills and experience line up. You say you were an X and had experiences that completely line up with [job here]. Then when you go in for an interview, you can talk more about it.


RE: 50-something job seeker: I was unemployed after a layoff at age 55 for nearly a year and a half. At that time I took a job as a janitor because it had health benefits. After six months in that job I got a position in my regular field. I got the position because a friend told me about it.

(This was not the first position a friend told me about, so that's not fool proof.)

I never imagined that it would take so long to find a job. After five or six months I felt like crap. I had never been without a job for this length of time in my whole adult life. I had great experience and education and I had lots of resume help. What I did not have was a job

What I did was just keep looking even though I felt like crap. I don't think there's a magic bullet.

Amy Joyce: Congrats on getting back in. And I think you're right: There's no magic bullet. It's a lot of trial an error, chemistry, good timing, etc. Which is why it's important to try to keep a positive attitude (yes, yes, I know... easier said than done) and keep at it. Thanks for sharing.


RE: Maryland (event planner): Start by contacting local organizations and helping them at a minimal cost to organize events. That way, you'll have good experience and references under your belt to move on from there.

Amy Joyce: Good advice. Thanks.


Glen Burnie, Md.: Hello, Amy. I finally was able to read your chat DURING the chat time. Just a few quick thoughts about the guy over 50 who has been out of work for a few years -- you are right, he needs to network -- remember, a lot of retired people go back to work, so he can also get employment. He should go online and look up any professional organizations that he is affiliated with, and attend some of their conferences/seminars. Also, he could try a headhunter. Their job is to find you a job. The first job may not be what he wants, but it can get his foot in the door -- and possibly lead to other good leads.

Plus, I have heard that Home Depot is a good employer that hires older workers, and he would be a great asset.

Amy Joyce: Thanks, GB. Good points, all. And yes, Home Depot is one of those AARP companies I mentioned. I just found the link:

They list companies in retail, healthcare, communications, finance, business and marketing -- and more -- that partner with them to help find older workers.


Detroit, Mich.: I left a voicemail with a hiring coordinator to accept an offer, and another one a few days later to ask for confirmation, but have not heard back from her. It's almost been a week. Should I call back, and if so when? Don't want to seem like a nag.

Amy Joyce: At this point, nag away. They offered you a job. You want to accept it. Nothing wrong with calling again, or even calling someone else on the hiring team. Maybe this person left, took another job, is on vacation. This is the time to be persistent.


RE: Resumes: As a hiring manager, the first thing I do is scan over the resume-- then if it catches my eye, I look over the cover letter. My resume pet peeve: people who list their job descriptions, not their accomplishments.

Amy Joyce: That seems helpful, thanks.


Suffocating at work in N.C.: I have a pernicious allergy to perfume, and artificial scents. The lingering smell of the shampoo in your hair can set me to crying. My office is directly across from the bathroom, which is routinely sprayed with stuff that makes me want to throw up. I've made the situation known to everyone in the building, and have even taken to throwing out the spray. But some people don't get it. Do you have any suggestions for handling this situation diplomatically?

Amy Joyce: Talk to HR or your manager. Sounds like you have a medical reason to be moved to a different desk.


Event planner wannabes: Look into the George Washington University event management certification. A lot of people in the D.C. area know about this program and it is highly regarded. Check out ISES -- the D.C. area chapter. It has great networking each month and informative speakers. Pick an area that you want to focus on in event planning. You can't do it all -- you need to excel at one or two types of events. Good luck!

Amy Joyce: Great, thanks.


RE: Job switch to event planning: Have they ever planned an event? If not, it is going to be tough to find clients without a track record of successful events. Maybe start out pitching services to very small organizations that wouldn't normally have the budget to hire an event planner -- maybe even offer free services to a couple of organizations so they can start building a track record of successful events.

Amy Joyce: More advice for our event planner wannabes. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: I read the question from the friend of the older worker with great sadness. But I have some questions. Has the job seeker kept his computer skills up? Managers in their 50s and up used to be able to count on assistants to handle their word processing etc. needs but not any more. Has he considered temping as a way to make money, keep busy, network, and look around for the right job? And finally is he holding out for the same job title and salary he had in the past or can he compromise and take something perhaps a little less lofty with the hope of being promoted? Over 50s have to be flexible in the job market; I know this from experience. My last word: 40 Plus of DC helped me a lot when I was thrown out of a job as if I were trash. Some of its programs are free but the most useful one, the job hunting course, does have a cost.

Amy Joyce: Thanks very much. All job seekers must have some level of flexibility. Then once you have that job, you can think about moving in another direction at some point. Your dream job may not pop up right away.

This is good advice and I hope it helps.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Amy,

I'm struggling right now to make the right decision for my future. I have been at my current job for only five months, but just received a wonderful job offer from a highly regarded national organization. They approached me ... I wasn't necessarily looking although it was in the back of my mind. It's not that I hate my current job, but it's not somewhere I can stay (for over five years) and grow -- and that's what I'm looking for. I hate to be a job hopper though ... help! I have no idea how I would explain this to my current boss.

Amy Joyce: If the job is right for you, and you think you'd be happier there, with more chance for growth, then why stay where you are? It might be a difficult conversation to have with your current boss. But you explain that you weren't looking but you can't pass up such a great opportunity. It's life. (You won't look like a job hopper unless you do this often.)


Event planning: Hi, Amy. Love the chats. A great place for event planners to start is PCMA -- the Professionals Convention Managers Association. Although the name might be misleading, it is a great organization that provides networking opportunities for individuals looking to get involved in planning meetings and events. Look on their Web site for a listing of events

A word of advice -- although I love my job, when I first started I was very surprised at how much time at a desk event planning requires. Although searching for potential event venues and being on site during events is great, event planning also involves working with contracts, billing and attention to minute details. Some days, it is like a nine to five desk job. I hope the poster and her sister find what they're looking for in the events profession, but I do want to be real with them about what they're getting into. I feel like it's a career that's frequently idealized.

Amy Joyce: And hopefully they will find that out. If one is to make a big switch into a new career, it's important to do the research first to find out if it's the right move. Thanks so much. This is very helpful.


Arlington, Va.: I assist with recruiting for my company and can't stress professionalism and attention to detail enough! I recently got a reply e-mail from a candidate that had no introduction, no capitalization, and no sign-off. What a turn-off! Treat e-mails formally -- they tell me how you are able to communicate both internally and with clients. Also, don't use weird fonts or formatting in your resume or cover, and make sure a Word version is formatted to print correctly. Details really do make all the difference.

Amy Joyce: Tips galore today. Thanks.


River City: Made a quick decision and took a job I don't like. How long can I wait until I start looking? The last job before that only lasted nine months, but it was because the company lost money and laid off eight of 11 people. So it wasn't my fault, but it looks like I can't stay at a job long. I just want to feel fulfilled and good about myself again.

Amy Joyce: Start looking now. It may take you a while to find something, which means you'll be in your current job longer than you are now. And by starting now, you can really take your time to find the *right* fit, rather than just a job. If something good comes up, go for it. Interview, network, talk to people. Just make sure your next gig is something you want to do and can do for more than a few months.


Landover, Md.: My spouse and I did some business with a professional individual over a year ago; the business was concluded in a satisfactory manner, but now this person seems to think that we have some sort of continuting relationship. He sends us gifts, calls us just to "touch base", and doesn't seem to understand the implications of repeatedly declined invitations to dinner. While we're as friendly as the next people, this person has some unsavory political/racial positions, and we have no interest in a personal relationship with him. Also, I find the constant exhortations to "recommend him to my friends" really obnoxious. Other than continuing to politely decline his invitations (the political events are the easiest to say NO to!) what can we do to end this relationship that should have ended a year ago?

I submit this to you because it's a perennial work issue to keep professional relationships viable, even in the absense of personal ones. Thank you!

Amy Joyce: Sounds like this person is taking our networking tips a bit too far. He's trying to build a relationship with you and build up a client base. I'm guessing he has a good idea that you don't have a continuing relationship, but one gig with him means you're on his roll of contacts now.

If you really just don't want to talk to him anymore, treat him like you would a bad boyfriend. Break up. Not sure if you'd be up for that since this has gone on for a year, but it's doable. "Listen, X. Our business has gone in a different direction, and although we appreciate the work we did together more than year ago, I don't want you to waste your time. We're not planning to do anything else with you on this."

If you're not up for that, accept the fact that he may call every now and then. Continue to decline. If there is something specific he did that gives you reason not to want to pass him on to friends, do him a favor and tell him.


RE: Washington, D.C.: For the person who wants to switch jobs after five months -- I was in the exact same position. I had only been at my job for the same amount of time. The job was OK, not great, but not absolutely terrible either. Another opportunity sort of fell into my lap and I took it (for less pay, no less!) I've been here for a month now, and I know it takes time to adjust, but I would do it over again 100 times. I can tell this current position is a good fit. I didn't realize how bad the last one was! So now I've had three jobs in a year in a half, but I don't care. I plan on staying here for a while and I think (and hope) that in the long run, it won't matter at all. It's life, you only get one!!

Amy Joyce: Thanks much!


For would-be event planners: By "event" do you mean parties, or conferences? A friend's wife (& a couple of her friends) decided to get into party-planning, so started by throwing a great birthday party for her hubby when he reached a milestone age (one of those ending in 0). That way a lot of people got to see what she could do!

Amy Joyce: Interesting. That's a creative way to do it. (As long as the husband didn't feel like a cheap party trick!) Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: I have a boss whom, whenever anyone quits, or transfers to another division, she harbors a longstanding grudge despite what a good worker the person may have been. She refuses to attend any goodbye festitivies for the person, and flatly refuses to give recommendations or references.

I am at a point where I want to transfer to a division within the company that has more family friendly hours. But I am afraid she may derail my chances of getting the position I want and need (I have a four year-old.) Any suggestions?

Amy Joyce: That's a yucky boss. You want to transfer for your reasons. Try it. I'm sure others in the office know what your boss is like. And if they like you, they like you. Make sure to document all the good things said about you. Awards, raises, good reviews. That way, if your boss does say bad things about you, you have proof that there is no real history of bad work. Good luck.


RE: The event planners: All the suggestions have been good -- the GWU program, talking to event planners, book searches on Amazon, etc.

BUT -- you're not looking for a job, you're starting a business, do NOT ignore the nuts and bolts of running a business. Contact the SBA, go online for their Business Start Up guide.

Businesses succeed and fail on how they're run, and the "best" in a lot of fields fall on their face because they didn't focus on the business aspect.

Been there, doing it now. Good luck.

Amy Joyce: Another good point. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: If I came really close to being hired for a job last year (three interviews, it was between me and someone else, they hired the other person) is it worth reapplying to this organization now? Especially since I have significantly more applicable experience in the field? Or do you think they would look down on my application?

Amy Joyce: Absolutely apply. And for future reference, try to keep in touch with them in the future if you can. If you got that close, that means they liked you. It could have come down to something very small in their final decision. Do you remember who your hiring manager was? Try to contact that person and say that you are still interested in working for them. See what happens. Many managers I speak with tell me this is more than a fine thing to do. Often, they wish they could hire both people at the end, so coming forward again shows you really are interested in this organization. And it gives the company a second chance.


Amy Joyce: Okay, gang. The lunch bell has ringeth. Join me again next week, same time, same place for more Life at Work chatter. You can hear me on Washington Post radio Mondays at 12:50 and Wednesdays at 11:50. Life at Work, the column, runs in your Sunday Business section, and my email is

Have a good week, all.


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