Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, April 10, 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 talk about your life at work. As always, please join in with your own advice and stories to share with us here. We're listening. Onward...


20009: I was just selected to be a mentor as a part of a new program at my government agency. While I've worked with new employees in the past, I've never been a part of a formal mentorship process.

So, I'm curious if you (or anyone else) have any advice on being a mentor?


Amy Joyce: Great question, especially this time of year as new college hires and interns are popping up.

First, make sure to sit down with this mentee. Take them out for coffee or lunch and ask them what their goals are, what they hope to get out of the job and out of your relationship. Then offer yourself up. Check in with them on a regular basis. And be there for them as much as you can. They need you.

This is also a great question for you all. Send some tips, would ya?


Fairfax, Va.: I love your chat and look forward to it every week. My office is going to go through a transition over the next few weeks where I will be gaining a lot more responsibility, which is great. However, I am very newly pregnant and don't plan on telling work until a month or so from now. Some of my new deadlines will come during my maternity leave. Should I tell my boss now so she can make decisions on the transition or wait until I was planning on telling next month? If I tell her now it's possible that she can give me deadlines outside of my maternity leave time. I just don't want her to have to make changes now and then again in another month. Thoughts?

Amy Joyce: Congrats!

I'm sure she would appreciate it if you told her now, even though it's early. Part of this will depend on the kind of relationship you have with her. If she's smart, she'll appreciate that you told her early. Just make sure to reiterate that you really want these new responsibilities, and pregnancy won't hold you back. You just wanted to give her a very early head's up that you might not be around for those deadlines.

Andrea will post Sunday's column, which --by your requests--includes three FAQ's. And yes, the pregnancy issue is one of them.

_______________________ Comings and Goings, (Post, April 8)


Washington, D.C.: I am in the middle of job searching. A couple of the job descriptions ask for a "brief, unedited writing sample." The positions are fairly entry-level, and I realize they are seeing if I am able to communicate at a certain level. Should I write on a personal topic with passion and beliefs, or should I keep it on a professional, unemotional level? What specifically do employers tend to look for in a good writing sample?

Thank you.

Amy Joyce: It's best to call and ask for clarification. Some may want one thing, while others are looking for something else. I'd try to focus on the issues of this organization (if there are any) and do that. But it's probably better if you can get in touch with someone at the company and ask. Anyone else with insight on this?


Richmond, Va.: Let the mentee tail you, especially to some meetings so they can see what higher roles entail and get examples of coordinating techniques and makes good contacts. I think the best thing I could have learned earlier was about coordinating with other people; I knew the facts and technology of my discipline, but needed to learn how to build consensus, ask people to do things for me, and network.

Amy Joyce: Good idea. It's often how to make personal connections/network that we don't get when we first enter the work world. Thanks.


Centreville, Va.: Amy, I love the columns and have a question for you. I run a very specialized business that does consulting work -- among other things -- so I'm in contact with many people around the world. Since what I do is open to anyone from 10 to 100, I have a wide range of personalities in which to work. Right now, I have a youngin who wants to learn more about what I do -- which is good -- and how to get better at announcing. He's a great kid, but bombards my e-mail box with the same questions over and over. I like the kid and think he'll be a good announcer one day as he's got the chops for it, but he's starting to stress me out a little. I don't want to discourage him in any way, what's the best course of action for me to take to lighten my e-mail load, while also maintaining contact with someone who has a strong passion and enthusiasm to do what I do?

Amy Joyce: Mentor him. Talk to him about his desires, goals, etc. Then ask if you can give him some advice. Tell him pretty much what you say here. Don't discourage him from networking. Just tell him that he should think about what he's asking before he sends the emails. And even though it seems like emails are an easy, non-invasive way to network, he has to remember they take up time like anything else. So make sure he thinks before he hits send.


Job Search Woes: Hi, Amy. Please help. My husband is looking and things are not going as well as we thought they would. He had little trouble getting a new job last year. The company is going thru a major upheaval that will likely involve job cuts so he is looking again. He has ten years of great experience and his resume is excellent (I am in the same field so I have a fairly unbiased opinion).

He does not have a masters. After a phone interview he THOUGHT went VERY well they sent a letter that basically said other candidates had more education so he is out of the running.

He is getting down about looking now. What kinds of things can one do to deal with rejection? It is especially tough when the rejection occurs before a face-to-face interview. What can a candidate do if the education requirements indicate a bachelors is the desired education level yet they end up going with a candidate with a masters? I don't blame these companies but my husband really does have great experience and knows his stuff and would just like to get a chance. Is there something else he can do?

Amy Joyce: Just keep at it. (Don't you hate that?) Does it help that this happens to EVERYone? There will almost always be a rejection or several when it comes to a job search. It can be the most ego-battering life scenario we go through. But he needs to remember that he is valuable, has great skills and great experience. It will likely just take time. It's good he's looking now. He should do what he can (as much as he may dislike it) to get out and network. Join a professional organization/association if he hasn't and go to any networking events that might arise. The more people he knows, the better the prospects will be. And the better chance, too, that he will get positive feedback that is much needed along the way.


Washington, D.C.: When a company says "do not call" on their on-line application forms, are you really not supposed to call to follow-up? Or is that a sort of "trick" statement designed to only reward those who take the initiative?


Amy Joyce: It usually means do not call. But if you know someone at the organization, definitely give them a try.

Any HR folks out there who can fill us in?


RE: Company's loss of health ins: I hope the poster from last week is participating today. I wasn't able to get my two cents in prior to the end of the chat.

If your company is losing it's group health plan the insurance company is required by law to offer every member continuation of coverage (cobra). This will be more expensive, but at least it won't leave everyone in the lurch. You can also recommend employees search for private coverage. This may be more expensive as well, depending on who they go with, the deductible, age, health, etc. For those members with spouses who are employed they should look into getting coverage through the spouses job. Loss of coverage is considered a qualifying event -- a reason to change your coverage.

I hope this is helpful. Dreadful situation!

Amy Joyce: Hope this helps the person who wrote in last week.


RE: Richmond, Va.: Definitely don't write about personal issues for a professional writing sample! Research about the applicable industry so your writing sample not only shows your writing skills, but your research skills -- much less your ability to understand what is appropriate for a professional job. If I started reading a writing sample that was personal, I'd stop and move on the the next one.

Amy Joyce: One writing sample opinion. (Agreed, unless it's a publication/organization that is looking for that sort of thing.)


Alexandria, Va.: If you were a manager, and someone arrived late for work and apologized but explained that they had just heard gorgeous music from a street performer just outside of a Metro station, how would you respond?

Amy Joyce: I'd smile because that would be the best excuse I heard all day and it would give me a little hope that this person could bring some beauty into the workplace. (Then I'd ask them if they got a permission slip from Weingarten for their late arrival.)

Actually, for anyone who read Weingarten's story and chat Sunday/yesterday: How about that theme from those who said they cried after they read it because they had a soul-sucking job and wish they could do something they really loved?

Oh, sigh.


D.C.: Please help! I'm overcome with guilt -- and not sure how to deal with it. I've just been placed on an intensive project at work that will require significant time and effort. I'm happy to take it ... only I plan to leave the company in a few months. My plans are uncertain, but I think it's pretty likely that I won't be staying on to finish the project.

I know I shouldn't feel guilty about it -- but should I tell my manager about my potential departure? Or should I just give it my best effort and then give them sufficient notice?

Amy Joyce: Give it your best effort and give your boss sufficient notice once you know what's going on. And make sure to keep very organized documentation of the project, in case someone does have to pick up for you.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Amy. Thanks for the columns. After several years of freelance and contracting work, I decided to go back into the workplace. Unfortunately, I chose a job that I now realize could be done by someone 10 years behind me in experience. The situation is exacerbated by a boss who pretty much knows what she wants done and how to get it done, so she more or less gives me a weekly to-do list. (Most of my colleagues feel we are glorified administrative assistants.) We had a staff meeting with our boss where we danced around the subject of management style to no ones satisfaction. I don't feel free to take on or initiate any other projects, because she usually tells me I don't have the time to do it. Any suggestions on language to deal with this?

Amy Joyce: Lay it out for her: Tell her what you're working on, what you're finished with and in what timeframe. Then tell her about all the free time you have that you would like to fill with more work.


Smalltown, USA: My job went from full to part-time due to the real estate market - I am the office manager. I took a 20 percent cut in pay to accommodate the firm. For a few months I was paid under the table so the pay cut was not big deal. Now I am being paid via check, not payroll, so that I must pay my own taxes! With the rate cut, I end up making about half of what I earned full time with the same responsibilities. I love the people and jobs here are hard to come by -- what would you do? Is this legal? And must I pay taxes if it isn't a payroll check?

Amy Joyce: You must pay taxes. Period. Might be time for you to look for another job if the hours aren't enough for you.


Washington, D.C. I've been at my first job for four months now. Things are good, but not as challenging as I hoped. The commute is about an hour and 15 minutes on average and up to two hours on a bad day from my office to my house. Is it too soon to consider my options? Will switching jobs now brand me as a "Job hopper"? Should I just stick it out?

Help! Tired of the commute.

Amy Joyce: Check out the Sunday column. It's your first job, so it will be understandable to most employers that you maybe realized you were in the wrong gig. Start looking now, see what comes up, and when you find something interesting, go for it and see what happens. Good luck.


RE: Lateness: A different take on the issue of being late. What do you do if your boss is always at least 15 minutes late for every appointment? We frequently meet offsite as I work from home a lot. Every time he says "Sorry I'm late." I used to say "It's OK" but now I just don't respond. I'm thinking of telling him the next time he schedules a meeting for 10:00 to say "I'll plan to be there at 10:15." I'm tired of him being so inconsiderate.

Amy Joyce:"Do you really mean 10:00? Or should I go by the Bill clock?"

Say something. (You don't have to be snarky, like I just was, but you get the idea.)


Washington, D.C.: Can I just take a moment to vent about how much I dislike talking to someone when they're on a speaker phone? It's fine if more than two people are on the conversation, or if someone is missing both their arms, but otherwise it says to me that someone is too busy and important to pick up the phone and put it to their ear. Not to mention the fact that it sounds like they're talking to me from the back of a cave. Is there some etiquette for speaker phone that I'm not aware of?

Amy Joyce: I've asked people to take me off of speaker phone before. Why? Because I never can hear them well. It's a good excuse. Try it.


Washington, D.C.: I just wanted to say hang in there to all the job seekers out there. After being unemployed for nearly nine months, I finally found something perfect for me. It happened out of the blue too. Early last week I had no prospects or leads except a ton of applications out there, and then two days later I had interviewed with two different organizations and was offered a position, with another offer to follow. (I went with the first.)

Amy Joyce: Thanks. We like positive examples here.


Baltimore, Md.: For the man with a bachelor's degree and no masters. In my former life as a government contractor with a variety of companies dealing with the federal government I ran into something similar -- with my experience and salary level I became too expensive to bid on many contracts that called for personnel with either specific degrees or a masters. I felt I had two options: enroll in a masters program so I could add "Masters candidate" on my resume or switch fields. I switched fields. Less $$ but after a few years I am in a great spot with the lack of degree a non-issue.

Amy Joyce: Thanks, Baltimore. Good to hear from personal experience. Although it sounds pretty extreme, it's good to remember there *are* options.


Going back to old company: I left the Fortune 100 company I worked for and it was a mistake. I really want to go back to one of the locations (they have many). I have been applying for jobs that I am qualified for but is there something else I can do?

My wife keeps telling me to send a resume to HR but she does not understand that "HR" does not exist. Each site has their own requirements. and when they need someone they put out a posting and then you apply.

I left the company on great terms so I am not worried but I just feel like I could do more than just send resumes for postings.

Amy Joyce: You absolutely can do more than send resumes to random folks. You're better off than most. You have contacts within this company. Since you left on great terms, call the people you worked with. Won't they likely make sure your resume gets to the right people?


Crystal City, Va.: My roommate came home the other day from work and showed me a "list" that went around to all of the guys in her office. Apparently, every few months, one of the guys sends out a list of all the women in the office, and some (not all) of the guys rank the women on "hotness." Then the final top 10 is sent back out, with their stats -- rank, average, highest vote, lowest vote, etc. She said this is done on company email, on company paper, and is even done in a company software application. I was appalled at this and actually got very angry. I couldn't believe this type of thing was going on in an office setting. She didn't seemed miffed by it at all, saying it didn't affect her job or performance so whatever. I can see where she's coming from, but for me it is a principle issue.

I don't really have a question here, but I thought I'd share that this type of thing still happens in the workplace today. I don't really consider myself a feminist, but this is just offensive. I'm sure it's "all in good fun" but the ramifications are too great for everybody.

Amy Joyce: It's sick, if you ask me and is not in good fun. How can this be okay? It's a power play by immature men who should be stopped by a boss/manager/supervisor. So the women in the office are worth only their rating on the top 10 list? Companies have been sued for less. And yet, here we are. Nice.


HR Person: Do not call means do not call. My company tends to issue this statement for positions that we get A LOT of applicants on such as AAs, where we can get literally up to a hundred resumes. Stating this on position announcements cuts down on the amount of calls we get so we can focus on screening through the applications we have. Often times we are working on numerous positions at one time, and there have been times when I have spent literally one to two hours just returning phone calls on routine questions. We understand this is "our job" but cutting down the amount time we spend on the phone with routine questions makes us more efficient at our jobs ... the sooner we can get through reviewing the applications the sooner we can call you for an interview!

Amy Joyce: Thanks for the insight.


Washington, D.C.: I applied for a job to a government office through a middle party (not a headhunter but more of a staffing organization). Anyway, from inside sources I know I was in the running to be interviewed. I just got an email from the middle party saying that the government office is reconsidering the job description and will repost it at a later date. Sounds to me like they didn't get any resumes they liked. Does it sound this way to you? I guess I can reapply when the new job is posted but I tend to think I'm already out of the running.

Amy Joyce: I would agree with your assessment. But ask your third party. Be direct and ask for a direct answer. Ask what you could do differently, and if it would make sense to apply again. Good luck.


RE: Guilt: What is with all the guilt people have in leaving a job? It doesn't matter when you leave, something will always be left hanging. If your company was going to downsize, they would not feel guilty about laying you off. Do what is best for you and your career. If you keep organized and documented like Amy said, there's no reason to feel guilty.

Amy Joyce: Well, they might feel guilty about laying you off. But that doesn't mean the company wouldn't do it. It's a smart business decision in their decision makers' minds. So treat your career in the same way. If a good opportunity comes up that you want, you should go for it. But go about it as smartly and delicately as you can because you never know when you might cross paths with the old company/old boss again.


Job requirements: I am interested in applying for a job that requires more years of experience than I have. A friend told me that companies will sometimes consider people if they meet many of the requirements. Do you find that to be true, Amy? Will a company consider someone who is a quality candidate even if they only have eight years of experience and the job requirements indicate a need for 12 years of experience?

Amy Joyce: Job requirements in postings are often a wish list. If they like you, like your experience and feel like you'll be a good fit, they will overlook a few of the things you don't have. You may not make it past the initial stage, but you might as well try.


Washington, D.C.: A former co-worker of mine was asked to resign from our old company, a highly dysfunctional and unprofessional place. Her leaving is truly their loss as I think that she was the only person (myself included) who knew what they were doing at that company. She's asked me to serve as a recommendation for her and I've agreed. However, I am wondering how to talk about the fact that, yes, she was fired, but that firing was not indicative of her work and more indicative of problems in the company without sounding like I am telling tales?

Amy Joyce: Just leave it at "was not indicative of her work."

Focus on what she brought to the company and as good at, and don't tattle on your own company too much. Those calling you will likely get it. Good luck, and good for you.


Amy Joyce: Alrighty, folks. Time to get back to work (or searching for work). Join me again next week, same time, same place to discuss your life at work. You can email me at and don't forget to read Life at Work, the column, in the Sunday Business section. Have a great week, all.


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