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Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, March 20, 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.

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Amy Joyce: Good morning, all. It's Tuesday, which means it's time to talk about your life at work. As always, please join in with your own advice, insights and stories to share with your fellow readers. We want to hear it from you.

Last week, we had a couple interesting posts: One woman who took a month off after her mother's death in January. She believes her boss is keeping her out of the loop now that she's returned. She feels her boss is back-handedly telling her she is upset she took so much time off. What do you think? Have you ever encountered anything like this on either side? Go ahead and pipe up here or email me at lifeatwork@washpost.com with your thoughts/experiences on this.

Also, we had a post from someone preparing to adopt. Unlike women who have a baby after a pregnancy, it's hard to plan *when* the adoption might occur. So how do you decide when and how to tell your employer that you will need leave... sometime? Again, if you have insight, I want to hear it. Post it here, or email me at lifeatwork@washpost.com.

We have lots to discuss, so let's get going, shall we?

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I St. NW: I missed a lot of work this winter from because I was sick four times. My boss seemed begrudgingly accommodating but has since made passive-aggressive comments like "OK, we're approaching a busy season, so we need to stay focused on work." I know how she operates and she's clearly telling me not to ask for time off.

I'm currently job hunting and am worried about how to ask to come in late or leave early or take an extended lunch to go on interviews (ahem, I mean "doctor appointments"). Even if I came in early or worked late to make up for the time, I'll face her control issues.

Amy Joyce: If you think you're going to need to interview during the day, see what you can do to schedule interviews either during lunch or before or after work hours. You have to remember that the company you're with right now is paying you to do a job. So even though you might be taking several non-doctor doctor appointments, make sure to work hard, hard, hard so your workplace doesn't skip a beat. It's really not fair of you to leave them hanging during a busy season, with them paying you to go look for another job. You may face her control issues, but she won't have much to complain about if you really get your work and then some done.

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The pregnant lady in the office: Hi Amy et al,

I'm pregnant, and though I appreciate my co-workers enthusiasm, I'm getting a little uncomfortable with the way a conversation always ends up being about me. Man, people love to talk about pregnancy. Any suggestions from women with experience about polite ways to change the topic or get my message across? Everyone is excited, so I don't want to make them feel bad, but I'm starting to avoid groups and social situations at work. Will their desire to talk about it constantly wear off with time? This is reinforcing my fear that now I'm just a pregnant lady...

Thanks!

Amy Joyce: Ah, the pregnancy at work issues. It's nice they show enthusiasm, but I understand how you don't want to be viewed differently professionally "just" because your life is changing drastically. I'm guessing that's where your discomfort is really coming from, no? (Well, either that or the strange guy you never talk to who wants to rub your belly for good luck.)

I think you can smile, thank them for their interest, then turn the conversation back to something you would have discussed pre-pregnancy. Work. That project. Office gossip. (kidding, kind of.)

I think you can acknowledge their excitement while turning the conversation to other topics.

Anyone else?

[If you want to tell me about your pregnancy at work experiences after the chat, I want to hear them. E-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com.]

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Maryland: I'm sure you get this question a lot but I'd really appreciate a response.

I applied for a job on the fly about a month ago. I got called for an interview today. I am also six weeks pregnant. I know that you don't have to tell your interviewers that you are pregnant b/c of discrimination. However, if I were to get hired, should I say something if I get an offer??

Thanks for your advice.

Amy Joyce: Someone mentioned last week that this might be the most fertile chat around. I'm starting to think there's something to that.

Anyway, Maryland, we do get this question here a lot. But I always want to answer it. So here goes. Yes, tell them you're pregnant at the time they offer you the gig. You will want to know what sort of leave you can have and you don't want to catch them off-guard later. It might make for some uncomfortable-ness. Granted, you are early in your pregnancy and many people don't start to tell family, friends, bosses until 12 weeks. But telling when you get an offer is fair and helpful to the employer, and to you.

Make sense?

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Florida: I've been working full-time to put myself through a master's program part-time. My job (clerical) has absolutely nothing to do with my masters or the direction I want to go when I graduate in December(marketing/market research). What would be the best way to revamp my resume? This is my first job out of college and I'll have been here about two years by the time I graduate. I have some relevant intern experience from my college years, but I'm worried that two years of clerical is not going to look good as I go up against other job seekers that were able to continue interning/working in the field though grad school. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated, and thanks!

Amy Joyce: There are things that you did in your clerical job that can apply to your future. Did you start any new projects? Create new ways of doing things? Did you direct any other clerical workers? Improve any processes? Think about things beyond the actual job description. Oftentimes, there are skills there that can apply to another job. In addition, make sure to highlight those internships you did in college, since they are relevant. Remember that many first jobs are clerical in nature. No one expects you to have taken on a top notch marketing role yet. You have pertinent experience in the internships and perhaps even buried in your clerical job. Just make sure to highlight that in the cover letter and on the resume as much as possible. And *don't* let yourself believe you didn't get any experience these last two years, or potential employers might feel the same.

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Hole in Resume: Amy,

I really hope you will take my question. I am worried about how my resume will appear to potential employers.

I quit my job about 6 months ago to move to a more rural area with my husband (he got a better job). I was fine with this since I despised my job. I thought that I'd find something worth my while in our new area and that is not really happening. I did work for a couple of a months in a temporary position to get out of the house.

We don't need my income to pay the bills. However, I am concerned that my time off will look bad. I am interested in and am trying to make a career change. I still would like to know how long is too long for the resume to be idle. We don't have kids and I am not trying to get pregnant so I can't use a child related reason.

washingtonpost.com: Here's a resource for all types of resume and cover letter questions: Our Hard Copies special feature.

Amy Joyce: Using a reason rarely helps anyway. You can write a resume that focuses less on a timeline and more on your experiences. Check out this link to find ways to do that. Remember that just about every manager/recruiter out there has either had time off themselves, or has hired people who did. They may ask you in the interview why there is a gap, but all you have to do is say what you say to us here. I don't mean to sound flip, but it happens and really is NO big deal. Employers get it, usually. (Also, there is no black and white answer when it comes to how long is too long to be idle...)

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New York, N.Y.: My boss is a micro-manager. She feels compelled to always have to see any sort of document I create before it goes out. It makes me feel insecure in the work that I'm doing. I'm not making mistakes and she oftentimes becomes nit picky. In addition, everyone in my department has come to me on an individual basis to discuss their discontent with her micromanaging and her constant put-downs or devaluation of their work. During evaluations of my work, she seems satisfied with the work I'm doing.

She also insists that I stay in her office as she makes corrections on own work. It takes up valuable time that I could be working. I recognize that she is my boss, but I also know when my time is being used wisely and when it is not.

I'm very unhappy with my current situation. Is there some way that I can ask her to back off, but in a more professional manner? Please advise as I love my workplace, but I'm ready to find a new job.

Amy Joyce: Micro-managers can be the worst. But since you're getting good reviews, maybe that's a strong hint you can actually talk to your boss. Schedule a time to sit down with her over coffee, to make your concerns come across a little softer. Then tell her you know you get good reviews, but you feel like you must be doing something wrong because she keeps such a close eye on your work. Tell her you feel like she doesn't trust you, and if she does, that you think you would work best if she could let go a little. Also, you can do this piece by piece. i.e.: If you have work to do when she pulls you into her office while she's doing corrections, ask her if you could go do your work and come talk to her about those corrections when she's finished.

Think that would work for you?

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Arlington, Va.: There is a job opening at the organization where I volunteer. I'm going to apply, but have concerns about the cover letter. Should I do a standard cover letter or can I do something a little more casual considering that I already know everyone involved in the decision making process?

Amy Joyce: Go for something professional, but acknowledging that you know the place and the people. Make sure they know before you apply that you're interested. Then knock their socks off, Arl.

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Anonymous: I've been a fan of your columns for a while now so you were the first person I thought of when this problem arose. I've been at my present workplace for seven months and have been doing a good job. My boss has praised and supported my work. Last week, however, she was unhappy with a project of mine and told me it was "10th-grade level" work, saying this in front of a colleague. It was upsetting (especially since I disagreed) but said nothing. It's been several days now and I'm still unhappy with the way she chose to address her criticism. Should I e-mail her my concerns (so as to document them) or just have a talk?

Amy Joyce: A lot depends on what kind of relationship you have with this boss. You could document them if you think you're going to need that in the near future, but it might be best to try to go face to face on this one. That way, you're not starting off on a defensive foot.

Ask your boss if she would have a minute to talk to you about the project and her reaction to it. Go, talk to her and listen. Now that she's calmed down, she might have some helpful insight. Then explain to her that's just what you were looking for, not being insulted in front of another colleague. Be strong, try to stand up for yourself, but also listen to what she has to say (as much as it might be painful to do...)

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Omaha, Neb.: I think it is horrible that the boss is treating the employee poorly instead of humanely in a time of such loss. In our current U.S. corporate climate, taking a month off for anything (even if you have the time coming) is seen as self indulgent, weak, etc. And then it also bears mentioning that having a job where one CAN swing a month off (albeit with consequences) is a sign of great privilege. When so many working class folks can't even get a sick day, what do THEY do when they need time to grieve? Or deal with a family member in the hospital? Or any number of life crises that white collar workers have more freedom to cope with?

Amy Joyce: All good questions, Omaha. Even if someone has FMLA, it's designed so they can take care of a sick relative, but not if they need time to grieve or set things in order. And, of course, it's unpaid, making it difficult for many people to take.

What is up with our culture that even if we have the time and are "allowed" to take it off, we can get burned for it in the end?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy. I hope you take my question because I really don't know what to do. What is the best way to deal with jealous, vindictive co-workers? I have been working with someone for close to seven years, and recently the problems she has had in her life seemed to affect her in the worst way: she brings all of her problems to work, and blames everything that happens in the office on me. Before all of this we were friends. My bosses have come to me with work because they know I'll get it done right away; she on the other hand does it "when she gets around to it." I always feel like I have to walk on egg shells around her and it's not healthy for me, especially since I am pregnant. How do I handle this maturely and professionally? By the way, she is old enough to be my mother and she has seniority over me.

Amy Joyce: You need to stop thinking about her so much. Work with her, work beside her, work parallel to her. But don't focus on getting some sort of friendly working situation back with her. It sounds like your bosses trust you and want to rely on you. Go ahead and run with that. You're doing your work, and doing it well. And the people who need to recognize that. If this woman is jealous and vindictive, let her be that way in her corner by herself. Try to ignore, do your job, move around her. Is that possible?

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Rockville, Md.: I work in a very small law office (just he and I). While I've learned a lot (mostly what I don't want to practice as an attorney) I am starting law school in August, in Oklahoma (closer to my Texas home). I want to leave in June, and have the summer to myself. I'm pretty sure my boss is going to be as immature as possible.

Any insights on making it easier? Should I wait until two weeks before I go, or should I tell him next week after I send my seat deposit? I know he needs time to hire a new employee, and I would like to help train them.

Amy Joyce: Give him a little more than two weeks notice. But don't tell him just yet. You still have a good amount of time to go before June. Focus on your work now, give it a few more weeks, and when you're sure you are ready to go, and you have your date picked out in your head, then tell him. If he's immature about it, I'm afraid that's his problem. Do what you can to make it easy on him anyway. Help train your replacement if there is one before you go. Leave a memo with all your duties and how to do them. Get as much done as you can before you leave. Then move on, happily, to your new life. Good luck.

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Amy,

I just found out that my office is downsizing and that I will need to find a new job. Although by virtue of experience, I am good at what I do (consulting and compliance work), I really am considering moving into another field entirely. My current line of work does not make me very happy. How does one make such a leap? Should I assume a pay cut as a result of this change? Any insight you may have would be appreciated.

Amy Joyce: Oh, where to start.

Do you know what field it is you're interested in? Have you done your research about the field, jobs in it and where you might apply? If not, get on that now. Talk to people in the field, read books about it. Volunteer in it. Network. (Actually, these are all things you should do anyway.)

With the experience you have in your field now, try to figure out how much you can make in the new one before you start interviewing/negotiating. There's a good chance you'll have to take a pay cut, because you likely won't be making a lateral move. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a good resource to find salary figures online.

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FAQs?: Someone last week or the week before complained about your answering some of the same "newbie" questions over and over (about being pregnant and interviewing, when to tell or not tell an employer if you're considering grad school, etc.)

Have you ever considered doing a "Frequently Asked Questions" column?

Amy Joyce: I know why I like you guys: You have good ideas. I'll think about that one...

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RE: I Street, N.W.: Regarding the first question about taking time off to go for interviews: Do companies schedule interviews early, like 8 a.m.? Is it OK to ask for an interview late in the day, like 5 p.m.?

Amy Joyce: They do. I'd try for an earlier rather than later interview, though. Humans are humans. They might be tired at day's end and not be too enthused about interviewing anyone. (Of course, you might feel the same way at that hour...)

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D.C.: No motivation on such a beautiful day and I've already gone through half a bag of chocolate. Now that the weather is nice my mind keeps wondering ... any tips on how to combat spring fever?

Amy Joyce: Make plans to go outside for lunch. Be grateful we have more daylight in the evenings, and do something about that. Get yourself some flowers and put them on your dirty, cluttered, bedraggled desk (she said as she looked at her dirty, cluttered, bedraggled desk).

Take a little break and get outside... again.

You might be cured tomorrow. It's supposed to be cold again, I think. Boo.

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Starting to feel guilty: In the fall, a staff member left, leaving open a position that I wanted. While we were re-grouping and going through the interview process, we divided up the job duties among us remaining staff. I went on vacation in the beginning of January, I was offered the position on an acting basis.

Just recently, I was offered the position, but also given some extra responsibilities to match my strengths. I am so grateful for this position, but am also planning to move over the summer. We don't have a set date yet, but we will be going.

I am starting to feel guilty, and a little dishonest about taking a new position while actively looking for a job in another part of the country. But at the same time, this will give me great experience and add to my skill set, and giving me experience in skills that will really help me in my future employment.

Amy Joyce: Congrats on your new job. Remember that you're giving your company something right now, by taking on this job and doing good work while you're there. And remember that plans can change. So even though you say you're going somewhere this summer, something might happen where you won't. And you'll still have this great gig. So remember that, and explain it to your boss gently when the time comes. Meanwhile, focus on this gig, enjoy it and do well. Life is life. You have only one and while life happens, things happen. So you have to spend your time trying to figure out the best thing for you while also not ruining the lives of people around you. Sounds like you're doing just fine. (And it sounds like Amy's lunchtime approach-eth.)

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Arlington, Va.. Hi Amy! I live for Tuesdays because of your chats!

I'm giving a huge presentation later this week -- I'll be speaking to over 150 employees. I anticipate that I'll be asked questions throughout the presentation. If someone asks me a question that I don't know the answer to offhand or would like to do some research before getting back to them, what response do you suggest I give so it doesn't look like I don't know what I'm talking about? Thanks!

Amy Joyce: Sounds like you've got it answered already, Arlington. If you don't know the answer, tell them you're not sure right now, but that you'll do some research and get back to them. You can't know it all, but do what you can to know as much as you can.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: FMLA is definitely a component of this grieving question. If someone is taking off a month, I highly doubt they are spending a month signing papers and making plans. They are grieving, they are (I'm guessing) depressed. My mom was off for six weeks after my sister passed away, FMLA leave. Our family doctor signed off on it without a second thought. "Grief" may not be an illness, but it absolutely has physical and mental repercussions. So not only is this a situation where the doctor did agree that FMLA time was warranted, that my mom could not have functioned at work at all whatsoever anyway, but it was also in her employer's interest that she didn't just up and quit and is now able to be back at work (though slightly under full time, she takes FMLA leave every week to make up for the difference). I don't think her situation should be an exception, it should be the rule, and she didn't need any extra provisions or rules to work out this schedule.

Amy Joyce: Well, this is one option. But only if a doctor signs off on it and if your company accepts it. And in the meantime, that leave is still unpaid, so lots of folks can't do it. I'm glad your mother was able to. And it sounds like the smart move for her company. It's important for companies to look at these situations from multiple angles.

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Annapolis, Md.: In my office there is a lot of pressure to work more than a 40-hour work week. The idea is that employees who love their job do better work and enjoy coming to work. Naturally they want to spend more than the required hours at work.

I am in the position that, while I really like my job, I also really enjoy my life. I also take night classes for graduate school. What should I do to survive in this environment where both immediate supervisor and boss contribute over 60 hours a week?

I don't understand why people think you are only a good employee if you are willing to put in all that extra time. We even have paid overtime which these employees do not take.

Amy Joyce: That is definitely a pertinent situation in today's workplace. Do you have to be at work that many hours just so your boss can see you are willing to kill yourself for this job?

First of all, you have a good reason for not being at work 60 hours a week (grad school... well, and life, of course). Do you feel like not working as many hours as some of them do has hurt you? Or do you feel like maybe that's just the way your boss is and that's what makes your boss happy?

I'd like to believe if the work is done and done well, the hours don't really matter. But I do know better than that. Lots of bosses and co-workers out there like to see people spending the same amount of face-time at work as they do. Why?

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Herndon, Va: I work in the normal cube environment on the other side of the wall its becoming a meeting place for a group of employees that when they get together they speak in their native dialect. Is there a PC way in telling them that it's becoming annoying? Or do I just try to ignore it? Thanks.

Amy Joyce: What is it that's bothering you? If it's the noise, tell them to keep it down. If it's that they are speaking in a language you don't understand, and it doesn't impact you directly (i.e.: they should include you in their conversations because they're talking about a project you're all on together) then focus on your own work and move on.

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RE: Arlington: Also, sometimes it's helpful to give out your e-mail address, and ask the person to send you their question as a reminder for you to look into it. I've done that before and it's worked pretty well. I think the important thing is to come across as concerned, as opposed to all-knowing. Most people aren't going to expect you to know everything about the topic.

Amy Joyce: For the presentation giver... Good advice. Thanks.

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: We recently had an employee summarily fired. He was here one day and the next day we came in and found out that the previous day was his last. There was no indication of what was happening and no reason given for the termination. This person was on our 'team' for about four years. As colleagues of his do we have any 'right' to find out what the reason for termination was?

Amy Joyce: You really don't, as much as your curiosity might be killing you right now. However, a smart manager would do something so you all don't sit around and wonder if you're next. Such as: "We had a personnel problem with Jim that I can't get in to, and we had to let him go yesterday. We'll find a replacement as soon as possible so you all can seamlessly move onto your next project."

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Micromanagement?: I don't get it. Why is it micromanagement for your boss to check your work? I work in an office where nothing, and I mean nothing (e-mail, letter, proposal, work product), leaves until at least two people review it first. I imagine that your editors don't run things without review first. What's the difference?

Amy Joyce: That's a very good point. I pictured this manager holding the employee hostage while s/he did that review. But you're right, of course a boss should check and recheck things before they go out to clients, etc. (I have a line of at least two, oftentimes more, editors.)

A micromanager is someone who does too much checking in, tells a person how to cross Ts, move a mouse and what color to use in an email. I think it often comes down to trust and respect.

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40-hour week: One thing to remember here is that for many professional salaried positions, there isn't any such thing as a routine 40-hour week. If you are in just such a job and others work more than 40 hours a week, they likely are picking up your slack.

Not all jobs are 40 hours a week. If you don't want to work more than that, find an industry where it is OK to do so and/or find an hourly job.

Amy Joyce: Another good point. Salaried professionals aren't like Fred Flintstone, clocking in and out at very particular hours. (They also don't slide down dinosaurs, but we do have metro buses.)

But there is a lot of the office face time game that goes on around this fair city. I hear way too often about people who send emails at 1 am to their boss, just to make it look like they are working into the wee hours. Why, oh why, do workers do that to themselves? Work late when necessary, but if it's a game, that's just a waste.

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Amy Joyce: Okay, gang. That's it for today. Thanks for another interesting conversation. You can email me at lifeatwork@washpost.com. And you can check out the column in the Sunday Business section. Join me again next week, same time, same place. Enjoy this weather and have a great week!

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