Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, February 27, 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 chat about your life at work. As always, pop in with your own advice and stories to share with fellow readers.

Sunday's column was about nose piercings in the office (but really about oh-so-much-more). And yes, I've gotten hate mail for telling folks to go ahead and pierce away. (And, natch, not hate mail too.) Send me your thoughts. I put an extra layer of skin on today.

But most important, let's get to your burning questions and see if we can help. Onward...

_______________________ Fashion Leads by a Nose, (Post, Feb. 25)


N.Y., N.Y.: Do you have any advice for someone who is looking to relocate out of state? I feel as though I have exhausted all of my job opportunities for hr/org ... development/training in NYC. I received a master's from George Washington University and am thinking it might be better to go to the area where my school contacts currently are.

Amy Joyce: How about checking with your school contacts to see if they have contacts in the area you want to go? Email friends/colleagues/classmates and profs and tell them what you're hoping to do. Ask for advice, guidance or any contacts they might have. Check with your alumni center at and ask for a list of alums. Then call them and ask for help. Sure, not all will be willing or able, but some will. And those are the ones you are looking for. Also, attend those alumni events that are held in your area. It's a great way to meet new people and grow that network. You're lucky: You have a built in network already. You just have to say hello to get started...


Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi, Amy. About two weeks ago I had a first interview. Sent four individual thank you e-mails and heard nothing back. I sent a follow-up last week to the admin who I talked to about scheduling and all, no reply. Who should I call now, the main interviewer? What to say? I'm guessing my rejection letter is in the mail, but I appreciate any help, thanks.

Amy Joyce: Yes, call the main interviewer -- or e-mail if it seems like they are more that type of company. You may not get an answer, but at least you know you tried. Also remember that these things take time. Two weeks might just mean they haven't had a chance to make a decision yet.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy. I have a second interview this week for a job I'm very excited about. The interview will again be with the technical staff I would be working with. My question is when I should mention that I will be getting married this fall and need a few weeks of (unpaid!) leave. Should I wait until (if) I negotiate with HR, talk to the technical staff in the next interview? Thanks!

Amy Joyce: Wait until they offer you a job. Then tell them about your upcoming wedding/honeymoon and explain that you're willing to take unpaid leave if necessary. No need to mention it immediately. This happens all the time and is a simple thing for them to solve.


Arlington, Va.: Good morning. Other than government agencies, how can I find good jobs overseas?

Amy Joyce: Okay, gang. This is yours. I know you have advice here. From me: It depends on what you do/want to do/your level of expertise. If you work for a place like the World Bank, for instance, you're going to be able to work overseas a lot. If you teach, try a position teaching English in another country (many programs like that out there).


Job hunting while pregnant: I'm in the early stages of pregnancy. I know you have discussed the dos and don'ts of this before. Would you mind giving a recap? Thanks.

Amy Joyce: Sure, and congrats. Go ahead and job hunt. When you find a place that you're happy with and gives you an offer, tell them about your "state" if you're far enough along (about 12 weeks, since that's what everyone considers the "safety point"). Some women have told me they very successfully asked straight out in interviews what the leave policy is, even if they weren't pregnant. The thinking? If the company is open about it and supportive, that's the company they want to be working for anyway. If the organization seems cold and the interest in you wanes, then life might not be so good there and that's a good hint you might not want to work for them.

If you get an offer and you're only a few weeks along, it's fine if you wait to tell them until you're ready that you'll need some time off in about 8 months.

However, it's important to find out in advance how much leave they offer. You can ask in the interview process or they will likely offer it up. You can also ask if they have an employee handbook, which usually details leave policies.

Hope this helps.


L Street, N.W.: For the person looking to relocate out of state: When you apply for jobs, state in your cover letter, in the first or second sentence that you ARE relocating to New York. Don't say you WANT to relocate. A lot of companies only consider candidates in the area because they don't want to pay to relocate you (especially someone right out of college). Sure, it might mean that you'll have to pay your own expenses to get to New York for an interview, but at least you will increase your chances of actually getting the interview. And you can write off the job interview travel expenses on your taxes.

Amy Joyce: Thanks. That's good advice.


Work and weddings: What's the final word on inviting work people to a wedding? I work in a VERY small department in a VERY large company. I have been scrupulous about not inflicting wedding plans on work people and not interrupting work with calls. (I've made some calls during lunch, but not during work, and always from a private office.) Two women with whom I work have asked questions about the dress, etc., but understand that this is a very small, family wedding. Family and a few close friends, fewer than 100 people in all (and we both have large families).

I have read conflicting info. about whether I am obliged to invite my boss and spouse.

Boss knows I am getting married. We work closely, but do not get together socially. Boss has not met fiance. Boss is sort of socially blind ... very bad at small talk and social stuff, though boss tends to think otherwise.

Because the department is small, I feel as if I'd have to invite at least two other people (and their spouse/significant others) if I invite the boss -- really don't want to do that. What little I have said in the office has been tactfully clear that we are planning a small, family-focused wedding.

So, what are the rules?


Amy Joyce: No one should feel obliged to invite a boss or coworkers to a wedding. This is a pretty personal thing when you think about it (not that anyone would know that from the monstrous weddings we all go to or throw!)... So if you don't feel close to someone, don't invite. And remember that they might actually be relieved to not have to go.

If someone at work told me they were having a small, family wedding, I would never assume to be invited. Nor would I want to be, really. It's family, intimate. And I'm a workmate. Try to think of it that way: How would you feel if the roles were reversed?

No matter your decisions, it's not going to impact your annual review, I'm sure.


Silver Spring, Md.: I'm a sophomore college student, and last summer held my first serious 9-to-5 job. And oh man, was it tough.

I just can't see myself ever being able to adapt to such a lifestyle. Maybe it's just that I'm so used to having free time and not worrying about bringing in an income, but the idea of holding an office job for eight hours a day just seems painful. Is this cynicism normal? Should I just try to avoid any and all office work and become a rock star? I'm worried about this coming summer because I truly dread working another office job for 40 hours a week, but I feel I need to keep working to build a strong resume.

Amy Joyce: What is it you're hoping to do with your life? What's your major? Your interests? Try to find something in that world.

But issue at hand: This could have just been a boring position, as most are when you're a sophomore college student. Let me guess what you did all summer: 1. Answered phones 2. Made copies 3. stapled things together 4. picked up coffee/cakes/dry cleaning 5. had the worst desk in the place, furthest from the window 6. Didn't really talk to anyone because, well, you didn't even understand what it was you were doing there.

Give it some time. Think about what you want to do, and spend these next few months looking for a summer job that might actually fit your interests. It might be in an office, it might be from 9-to-5, but it might actually excite you. Then again, it might be a night shift at the local club. Find something you like, but don't write anything off yet. This one job does not say all about future jobs.


RE: Relocating: Always, always, always, say in a cover letter that you plan on relocating and try to include a reasonable date/time if possible (within two weeks of an offer). And always say that you don't expect relocation exp, unless you really need them. I go through hundreds of resumes a week and I get folks from California trying to get a job in D.C., but never mention anything about relocating so I don't have time to find out if they are serious about it or not. Since becoming a recruiter a year ago, I've learned so much about what/not to do on resumes and cover letters.

Amy Joyce: Thanks. That helps.


Maryland: If someone told me they were having a wedding with 1,000 guests, I still would not expect to be invited. What's with people EXPECTING invitations to an event?

Amy Joyce: A good point, indeed. In fact, I think it's usually the inviter who thinks people are expecting things. Let it go. Do what you want. It's your wedding, not an obligation (hopefully ...)


Annapolis, Md.: This may be more of a career track question:

How does a woman choose between providing full-time care to her children and taking a break from her career (which sets her back, especially in the engineering field) or day care for the kids and career advancement.

There is a strong argument that your kids are only young once and they are the most precious things in the world. But after investing time and money into my advanced degree and knowing how quickly you become outdated in the engineering field it's a really tough decision.

Any guidance out there?

Amy Joyce: Oh, if only I could answer this in a short chat. Or even in a long book. Welcome to the world of motherhood.

Do you like to work? Do you *have* to work? Do you need to work to feel fulfilled? These are things you need to ask yourself. If you could give or take work and really want to stay home with your children, you might want to seriously consider a break from the working world. But you have to consider many, many things. Money, career aspirations, desires for your children. Many women say they are better mothers because they work, and I totally understand that. Others say they never felt more fulfilled than when they decided to stay at home with their kids. Also, naturally, very understandable.

Unfortunately, I can't answer this for you. The best you can do is really think about yourself and what you need and want for you and your children. I believe neither decision ruins a child, or a career. But either decision will definitely impact both a career and a child. You just have to think about what impacts you want to have/make/live with.

Check out other options, like part-time work, working from home and ways to --as it's trendily called right now -- on ramp and off ramp. (Move into and out of the workforce.)

Also, always talk to women in your field. How did those who have children do it? Everyone will have a different answer. But listening might educate you a bit on what you're thinking and feeling.

You might want to check out the D.C. Working Moms yahoo group to read what the women there struggle with and love about working outside the home and being a mom. (

Good luck with your decision.


Arlington, Va.: I just gave notice to my supervisor that I'm taking another position this summer, giving them more than three months to find my replacement. I love my current employer, but the new position just makes more sense for my family and my mental health.

My concern is that people here are going to drive me nuts asking questions and soliciting advice on how to do things for months after I leave. There is precedent for this, I watched it happen to another former employee for almost a year. I want to maintain my relationships with my current co-workers and I really want to make the transition go smoothly. But I don't want the burden of doing my old job (for free) for months after I leave, especially while I'm learning how to handle the new gig.

How do I lay the groundwork now to prevent this from happening, without coming off as a brat?

Amy Joyce: Educate them now. When you leave, be prepared for the calls, but refer them to the long memo you left at work about how to do things. Tell them that you really wish you had more time to help them out, but you have done all you could do. You're right, three months is a long time to find a replacement. Hopefully by the time you leave, someone will be trained and running already in your soon-to-be-former job.


RE: College sophomore: The college student should go to their campus career office and start investigating. There are a lot of careers out there that don't involve sitting in an office for eight hours a day. Start investigating now. Look for summer jobs/internships in those fields. Take a few classes while in college to see if these interest you.

Amy Joyce: Absolutely.


RE: Silver Spring sophomore: It gets better, trust me. When I got my first 9-to-5 in college I was so worn out that I went to bed several times a week at 7:00 p.m. and thought that working life stunk. I even liked the job I had, just not the lifestyle of work. It's hard to adapt to being "on" all day long when you're used to all the breaks and downtime in a normal college day. Your body will adapt in time -- what you're feeling is pretty normal according to other people I know too.

Amy Joyce: Right. But then again, some people just aren't cut out for office 9-5 jobs. And there's nothing wrong with that. This is the time to experience new things, explore possibilities and remember that you DON'T have to know right now what you want to do for the rest of your life. Explore as much as possible.


RE: Relocating (more!): It also helps if you state why you are relocating -- to be near family or significant contacts. If you are relocating to be near a spouse or a potential spouse, that also helps. People want to know that you aren't relocating on a lark -- if you have a support network or family, you are apt to be happier and more comfortable with the move sooner. I have been a recruiter for almost 15 years, and it really does help the comfort level for a potential employer.

Amy Joyce: Good to know. Thanks.


Wedding and co-workers: If I can add my experience to this: When I got engaged, I chose to invite only a few people from work who I considered friends. The rule I followed was if they were someone I saw socially outside of the office, they were on the wedding invite list. This turned out to be the best option because I then left my current job before the wedding and the "former co-workers" who had been given "save the dates" were still very welcome and were invited. By the way, this meant one boss was invited and the other one wasn't. I ended up going back to the same company a few months after the wedding and there were no hurt feelings. Ask yourself if this is someone you see outside the workday and use that as a cutoff. And congrats!

Amy Joyce: Works for me. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: For jobs overseas, try headhunters with global outreach. If interested in development, sign up for the weekly job alerts of the It's an excellent resource.

Amy Joyce: Thanks. (I don't know this web site, but will post it. Do your due diligence first, folks.)


Gaithersburg, Md.: I'm in my first year of a great job. I need to take two weeks off back to back in August. The office manual says you can't do that until you've been with the company longer. That said, my boss is very easy going and I get the feeling that policy is not always set in stone. Do I acknowledge what I read when I ask or pretend I never saw it. If necessary, I can make up some of the time on weekends. Offer that immediately?

Amy Joyce: Ask your boss now if he thinks it will be possible to take these two weeks off. I'm sure between now and then, you two can figure something out. You don't have to bring up the office manual. I'm sure he knows it. But if you want to be sure he does and the vacation time won't be taken away from you later, then mention it.


Washington, D.C.: Just a comment about piercings:

I work for the government and my tongue is pierced. It's never been a problem. In fact, my supervisor also has hers pierced. I removed mine for my interview and was actually very relieved to see my interviewer with a tongue stud. I even joked about it to her in my thank-you note.

Amy Joyce: Interesting. (Or should I say: Interesthing.)

In my opinion -- not that any of you ever thought I had one! -- it takes all different kinds of people to make up a good workforce. Different backgrounds, beliefs, looks, attitudes. And so, like some of the managers I spoke with for the column, sometimes something as little as a nose or tongue ring can be a signal that someone has a different perspective.

(Remember the days when people shunned women for wearing pants to work?)


Just sayin': Don't you get sick of answering the same questions over and over again. Haven't we gone over the pregnant job search/relocation job search/getting married job search/how long should I wait to call after an interview a thousand times already. Can't people read the archives?

Amy Joyce: I like to welcome the newbies...


Silver Spring, Md.: I'm 30, and I have a nose piercing (and a lip piercing) that I remove for job interviews. I also wear long sleeves to cover my tattoos. Frankly, I'd rather have someone concentrate on my skills and on what I'm saying than have them distracted by my body art. There is plenty of time to express your personal "flair" once you have the job; the interview process is not that time. Of course, you might make an exception for jobs where appearing "funky" at the outset might be an asset, like graphic designer for a quirky publication. But in general, I see no reason to not look and act dignified while creating the best first impression you possibly can.

Amy Joyce: I agree that it's easy (and people should probably) remove a piercing and otherwise look professional, particularly on a job interview. It's an interview, after all. If you don't feel like you look professional, you probably don't. But just because you work, that doesn't mean you can't be yourself. You just have to figure out a good way to do both, as you did, Silver Spring.


Anonymous: Long memo on how the work is done: How I wish I had had such a thing in my last job! It was a nightmare, and I did not make it through probation. In the interview, when I asked what the person did in a day/week/year, the managers just laughed, and never answered the question. In the future, I will make sure to get that question answered.

Amy Joyce: They laughed? That might be a good hint to say thanks but no thanks right then and there. Strange. Dilbert, anyone?


Washington, D.C.: Moral conscience variation on your weekly "I'm going back to school" question. I've been accepted to a grad program, and am not yet sure if I will choose to go (Fall '07). My office (of four years) is currently planning to lay off about 10 percent of its staff, and I know my position is not included. Should I let anyone know about my plans (when I decide) so they can count me out in their lay off numbers, or wait until late-July/August to tell (as you usually recommend)?

Amy Joyce: Two reasons not to: You don't know if you'll go. There is a reason they are not cutting your position.

I'm sorry for your coworkers who are being laid off, but this has nothing to do with you and even if you told them you might leave 9-10 months from now, their decisions would likely not change.


"Overseas" need more info from you: The person who wants to work overseas really needs to give a little more info. "Working overseas" is pretty broad. Different countries have different rules about work permits, some very strict. Also, without knowing anything about what you want to do, and what type of experience you have, it's hard to give advice. One of my friends works as a librarian for the UN and there's a great chance she'll be moving overseas if she wants to. She might not have a say in where she's going. Many friends have done Peace Corps. Another taught English in Japan, and she enjoyed being immersed in that culture, but it was also quite difficult at times being the only American in her small town. And yet another friend is an attorney who just transferred to his company's Paris office. He'll be working with a lot of Americans, as well as French people. These are all very different types of jobs - the only thing in common really is that they're not in the US. You've got to decide what you want to do, what types of counties you'd like to live in, how much contact do you want with the foreign culture, before you go about trying to get a job overseas.

Amy Joyce:'Zactly. Thanks.


RE: Piercings: I guess for me it comes down to pierce if you want, but don't be offended if you DON'T get a job because of them. It might NOT be an issue, but it might. I don't like them, and I'm not going to hire someone with facial piercings. Right, wrong, or indifferent, I don't like the message it sends and I don't want that being the face that represents my business to the world. And you can't do a darned thing about it, because it isn't a protected class. Part of the world of freedom of expression is there being some accountability for those choices. Go head and pierce to your heart's content, but you're not working for me. And don't preach about how I might miss out on an otherwise wonderful employee -- you're right, I could. But there are an awful lot of wonderful employees who don't feel the need to "express" themselves in that manner.

Amy Joyce: Noted in the column, noted here. Good to remember as folks are sitting down in the piercing chair.


Washington, D.C.: People send you hate mail? Just for having an opinion on whether or not it's okay to have a nose ring in the workplace? I suppose I can understand not liking nose rings, but to send hate mail?

I have a friend whose arms are covered with tattoos and she's never had trouble finding a job. Her opinion is that if the employer can't get beyond it, she doesn't want to work there. She's worked for some very well-known companies, too.

Amy Joyce: And, of course, the other side.


Arlington, Va.: Hi, Amy. I love your chats and never miss one. I am submitting early and hope that you can answer my question. What to do when your boss has no work ethic? I do all my assignments in a timely manner and then they just linger and grow old in his in-box. Other office workers inquire about status and I look lame and sound stupid when I tell them that the work has been done it is just languishing in the boss' in-box! His boss doesn't seem to care and I think the only reason he has a job is because of his excellent business connections. Please tell me if there is anything I can do short of constantly nagging him to do his job.

Amy Joyce: Is it possible to cc the people who also need this project/work when you send it to him? That way, they have it. Make copies or e-mail them the work along with your boss. (First, make sure this isn't totally taboo, of course.)

You could also tell your boss that so-and-so needs this work now, so he really needs to look it over by noon so they can keep their deadline on the other end.

Do what you can to push him, but also keep the others informed. If you're work is done, there is no reason for you to feel lame and sound stupid. Good luck!


Amy Joyce: That was a quick hour. Please join again next week, same time, same place and we'll try to get to your questions/comments.

Don't forget to check out Life at Work, the column, in the Sunday Business section. You can e-mail me at

Have a great week, all.


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