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Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, May 22, 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. Hop in with your own advice and stories to share with your fellow readers here. We always like to hear it.

Now, this question for you: I've received a few posts here in the last few weeks from folks wondering how they can make their office a little more "green"... from encouraging biking to work to recycling. If you're doing something like this, or even considering it, please email me at lifeatwork@washpost.com and tell me about your efforts. I want to hear 'em.

Thanks, all. Let's get to it.

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washingtonpost.com: It's the Boss Fooling You -- for Safety's Sake, (Post, May 20)

Amy Joyce: This was Sunday's column...

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Wash., D.C.: Please help! I got an offer on Friday for a job that has its pluses and minuses. He asked me to let him know by this Wednesday, which seemed fair, but now I got a second interview for a different job that I would really prefer (they have it narrowed down to me and one other person). The second interview is this Wednesday, and the person who would be my boss will be out of town for the rest of the week after that. What do I tell the first guy to stall him off? And do I say anything (and if so, what?) to the people at the second place about needing a decision urgently? I'm panicking!

Amy Joyce: Breathe! Breathe!

This is the difficult juggle so many people need to deal with. Call company A and explain that you need a little more time. You can be honest and say that you have another pending offer or interview. Or you can just stop at you need just a little more time. When you interview for job B, ask when they might make a decision. Again, you can tell them you have another offer pending, but you really are interested in job B and you want to make sure you're giving it a fair chance.

This is never easy, and you will constantly second guess yourself as you try to balance all of this. But be as honest as you can be without angering one or the other. Or if you're not sure about that Friday gig and really want to hold out for job B, then you might just have to let go of job A.

Oy.

Anyone have good personal experience with this? Weigh on in!

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Contract work? Temp work?: Amy: I am looking for a job. I was at a company for nine years and quit to relocate with my spouse. I was not working and then took a two month position in my field (easier, more basic work). I am not working again and am looking for a job. What do I call myself -- temp worker? I was a temp or contract-type hire.

Amy Joyce: You can say "on contract" at the end of your job description. The new recruiters will understand you were doing this temporarily. And you can explain in your cover letter or interview that you were doing this to bridge the gap between moving and finding a great job for yourself. But in the meantime, you gained this knowledge and these skills, etc.

Any recruiters out there have a definite opinion on this one?

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Washington, D.C.: I met some really interesting folks at a conference recently, and have made an appointment to visit their shop. I am truly just curious about what they do and how they got started, what they think of our industry, etc. Do you think this visit will look weird at my current job? I love my job and have no intention of leaving.

Amy Joyce: Does your current job have to know about your visit?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy. A young person (early-20s) has recently started working with us, and I see in him something that comes up rather often in your chat: nothing is ever his fault. Whenever we find a mistake in a project (hey, mistakes happen) or simply want to make an adjustment, he points out that the mistake was in the project before it got to his desk. This is really frustrating for me, since half the time, I can go back to the original file and find it was correct, but I don't want to engage in a ridiculous yes-it-is/no-it's-not argument with him because that's not the point. The point is to move past all that and assign NO blame, and to just make the changes and get the project done. What's the best way for me to handle this? I'm a little older and more secure in my job, so I should set an example here.

Amy Joyce: Are you his supervisor in any way? If so, then yes, absolutely this falls on you to say something. If you think you can help, even if you aren't his supervisor, and you don't think his supervisor will feel like this is not your job, then try.

You could just ask him if he'd like some advice on something you've noticed. I hope no one would ever turn that down. Take him to a neutral, friendly place (buy him coffee, perhaps) and just say that you've noticed it seems like he's afraid to ever own up to mistakes. But sometimes owning up to them can make someone a much better employee than if they try to place the blame elsewhere. If you have any personal stories about something similar, do share.

Oh, and start the conversation on a positive note. "You've been doing great work around here, and I know it hasn't gone unnoticed." Then get into the "But..." part of the conversation.

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Exiled Virginian: Hi, Amy. So, this morning I completely freaked out on one of my male co-workers. He comes in a half hour before me but will sit and wait and wait and wait until I make the coffee and then bound on over and fill his cup. WHY can't the guy who gets here first and is so obviously wanting coffee not just make it himself?!?! Why does he have to wait for a female staff member to make it? Well, I completely called him out on it this morning and now feel a little bad. Just couldn't stand it anymore! Guys in my office also refuse to have any part of the birthday cake buying or picking up duties, but will not hesitate to let the ladies know that when their b-day rolls around, they prefer the rum cake. Seriously!

Amy Joyce: Don't feel bad. Sounds to me like this was long overdue. When you get in tomorrow, ask him if he needs a lesson in how to make the coffee. If it's not started the next day, ask where the coffee is. Or start bringing yours from home and refuse to make it. Next time his birthday rolls around? Buy him an apron as a gift.

All of this can be done in good humor. Or not, depending on how you feel.

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Chantilly, Va.: Amy: I may be having to look for a new job in the next year or so. I have been at my current job for 20 years. I have seen your response as to how to handle the "should I tell the prospective company that I am pregnant question." I have a slightly different situation. If I had to change jobs and would naturally have less leave time, how do I handle telling the prospective employer that I suffer from migraines (don't laugh, its an official disability according to the ADA)? They cause me to miss about one day every month and its not a problem where I work now. Do I tell the new people that I have this disability (and risk them not hiring me because of it)? Or, do I tell them after getting a job offer?

Thanks ... would appreciate any comment on how people have handled this.

Amy Joyce: Migraines--no laughing matter. To be safe, you may want to tell them until you have accepted an offer. In fact, you can wait to tell them when you get hit with your first one and need to take a day off. But if you need accommodations, you may want to tell them earlier. Any legit company will know this is not a reason to not hire someone.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Recently, my employer without warning blocked Gmail, leaving all of us in the dark. (Try at least 1,000 people) Although it is not favorable for us to use personal e-mail at work, it is still nice to be able to stay "connected." It made us feel like we weren't capable of being trusted. Yes, we kept our e-mail in-boxes open and would be even more productive after receiving a warm and friendly message from a family member or friend. It's almost as if we feel like Big Brother is watching our computer moves. Now that we're not as connected to our social networks, it is making us even more frustrated and we aren't nearly as productive since there aren't any affirmations to keep us going along. What is your advice for proceeding with this situation?

Amy Joyce: Well, it's completely up to your company here. You are paid to work, and if you spend time gmailing, you aren't working. Most companies understand that you need a little outlet during the day, or of course you need to be in touch with family or friends for various reasons here and there. But your company is, essentially, doing nothing wrong. Maybe this will get you out of the office earlier every day because you'll get things done sooner. Or maybe you can just pick up the phone to call folks you need to speak with.

If you're really unhappy with this, ask a decision maker why they did it, and ask if there is any way to reconsider. But you might want to come up with a better reason than just needing affirmations throughout your day. If everyone's upset about it, maybe the company will reconsider.

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Green office policies: While everyone should do their part, it's important to remember that consumer energy consumption is actually declining while commercial energy use (particularly industrial) are multiplying. So employees should think big and lobby their employers for big changes. Ask the boss if your company can install solar panels on the roof or if you can subscribe to an energy plan that uses part renewable energy. (Some cities and states have this.) Replace company vehicles with hybrids when the need arises. Institute an open window policy instead of an A/C policy when it's nice outside. Encourage good telecommuting policies, etc.

Amy Joyce: Alrighty. If you have done something like this, please email me at lifeatwork@washpost.com for a column I'm writing. Thanks.

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Baltimore, Md.: On the question regarding a pending job offer versus another interview. I think that the person should accept the offered job, negotiate a two-three week hence start date and if an offer comes from the second interview situation, well, you can always call job 1 and say you've changed your mind. I can't understand why so many people seem to think they have the obligation to honor the job offer when in actuality if the company was sold tomorrow and they froze new employees, you'd be out of a job. Circumstances change each day. Learn to live with it and look out for yourself. Companies do!

Amy Joyce: Well, in doing so, you might be burning bridges for future jobs. Or maybe they are asked to sign a contract and can't break it. Not sure this is the most delicate way to go about it, but I guess it's an option, if you can stomach it.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a twist on the "should I tell the interviewer I'm pregnant" question. I have an interview today and my wife is three months away from giving birth. I had planned on taking four to six weeks of FMLA when my wife's time expires later this year. I would really like to be able to do this, or at least take some of that time if hired at this new company (though I would not technically be eligible for FMLA).

This is just a first interview, how and when do you think I should go about bringing this up?

Amy Joyce: Congrats.

I would bring this up if the interview turns in to an offer. Asking for FMLA for later in the year is not a really big deal, usually. It can be part of your negotiating, and the company's response can tell you a lot about the place you are perhaps going to work for. When you do ask about it, make sure to have some sort of plan in place. (i.e.: Can you be contacted while you're on leave? Will you be able to get work done before you go? Will you be able to make it a seamless transition in and out, etc.)

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Rochester, N.Y.: Amy: You come recommended from a friend in the D.C. area. Here is my problem, please help! In my office, three of us share names with characters from the TV show "The Office." One of us with a person's real-life name, the other two share character names. We just hired a new guy who has latched on to this and it's driving us insane. How do we handle this? Our boss pretty much leaves us to police ourselves and we've never had a problem. I don't like being called "Tuna" and have told the new guy that to no avail. How do we set this guy in his place without causing a massive situation?

Amy Joyce: I'm sorry, Tuna, but I'm laughing out loud. (At least you're not Pamalama Ding Dong).

Okay, okay. This grates on you. You don't want him to call you that. Tell him to stop. Be serious about it. Then if he calls you Tuna again, ignore until he calls you by his real name. Welcome back to middle school.

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Coffee, Stat!: Ha! I've worked in many an office where the guys don't want to do "girl stuff," like answer the phone, order birthday cakes, wash out mugs or make coffee. Men, it's the year 2007. It's sexist and annoying to expect the girls to clean up after you!

A few years back, I was the only woman in a small office. I spent a few days pretending to be the "office mom" -- sure, I made the coffee, but I also reminded everyone to stand up straight and not mumble, clean their rooms, etc. If someone made a face at me, I told them it would freeze that way.

It didn't 100 percent fix the problem, but it was an improvement.

Amy Joyce: That's pretty funny.

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How do I word this?: Amy: I moved and the area we are living in has basically no jobs that match my skills at the pay level I was at. So I am unemployed. Can I tell recruiters that I am just not finding anything that was a good fit? Is it wrong to basically say "there are not many jobs here"?

Amy Joyce: Sounds like a good enough reason to me...

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Austin, Tex.: Hi, Amy. Thanks for taking my question. I'm working on a team, where I am having a problem with being seen as a team member since January. For instance, not being copied on team e-mails, not being allow TWO minutes to speak in hour-long (sometimes longer) meetings, and not being heard when I chime in.

I have had a positive attitude about the situation in hopes that things would change, once they see the quality of my work and/or let me into their inner circle of trust. I have even brought up the issues with each member individually -- for instance, asking to be copied on team emails so that when a team member references the email in a discussion or a meeting.

Well after four months, things haven't changed. So, two weeks ago, I asked my manager to take me off this project/team (with no explanation as to why). The answer was no, so I asked today if he would reconsider -- providing him with some insights into the problems I am running into (mentioned above). The answer was no again.

My question is, how do I proceed from here? Right now, I am looking for another job, but my emotions are all over the place and I am beating myself up for putting myself in that situation and not being able to suck it up (I know... Not a Carolyn Hax chat...). Any advice you or the chat group can give would go a long way.

Thanks!

Amy Joyce: It sounds to me like you need to have a real conversation with your manager, beyond just asking to be pulled off this team. Why are you not being included? Why can't they do something as simple as putting you on the emails or letting you talk in meetings? Pin the manager down on stuff like this, then take that knowledge and go from there. Communicate not just how you're feeling, but also why this is a problem for the team, for the project and for the company. Take control of it as much as you can, and maybe you'll stop beating yourself up. You shouldn't just suck it up, you should do everything you can to fix it. And one way of doing that is to talk to your manager and make him/her make a decision or help you come up with a plan of what to do.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Amy. How do I deal with a co-worker who is my peer in title who is chronically late to work and meetings? She is very capable and does well, when she is working (although she is on the phone with her boyfriend much of the time she is even at work). However, her problems getting to where she needs to be bleed into my work and that of subordinates she and I jointly manage. Her behavior sets a terrible example for them and simply frustrates me. Who wants to work hard all day and feel like part of their work is making up for an inconsiderate colleague? Further, who wants to do that for their boss?

This problem is compounded by the fact that her boss and mine knows of her time management issues and will not take action because, I believe, he would rather hope that issues will go away on their own.

Amy Joyce: If her lateness is affecting your work, then you have to say something. Be direct. "Sally, I don't know if you realize this, but your coming in late has impacted what I need to do, and isn't really setting a good example for..." Tough, but needs to be said, right? Otherwise it will just continue to fester. When you're through with your conversation, don't act "weird" around her. Just make sure you get your concerns on the record with her. She may not realize that she's doing something that could impact anyone else.

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More on "greening" the office: As far as commuting and "greening" goes, does the company support telecommuting/teleworking, carpooling, etc.? Some will give carpool/vanpool vehicles prime parking spaces. Does a company participate in the MetroChek program? The more people who take public transit to work, the better! I already drive a hybrid car, and am saving my pennies to buy a bicycle to bike to work -- I'm lucky in that I live only about six miles from my office. I petitioned (successfully) for my office to institute recycling -- they do cans now, and I'm working on them to take glass and plastic bottles, too!

Amy Joyce: Great. Can you e-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com? I'd love to talk to you!

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Washington, D.C.: I am a horrible interviewer. I have had the great luck to interview for my dream job -- and many lesser jobs -- over the past year. My resume always gets me in the door. But I just can't seem to seal the deal.

In the meantime, my work situation has gone from bad to worse. I am afraid if I stay here much longer, the organization's reputation will preclude me from any chance I have of getting out...

Is there such thing as an interview coach? How do I find one?

Amy Joyce: Have you tried a good friend/spouse/SO? I know it's a little odd to do, but do it. Find a friend, then do a mock interview or ten. Get someone who will be willing to be brutally honest with you and help you think about your answers, comments and reasons to be interested in this job. If you can't do it this way, most job coaches/life coaches have a lot of experience with this. So do recruiters, who will gladly sit with you through a mock interview or two. Any mock practice you can get will help you realize what you need to focus on, work on and remember when you walk in for the hot seat.

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Bethesda, Md.: RE: Baltimore's comment on accepting then backing out of a job offer during the interim. As an employer, I would be livid -- how would the applicant feel if, after they accepted the offer, I kept interviewing and found someone I liked better, and then withdrew the first person's offer after they had given notice at their own job, etc.?

Amy Joyce: Right. Thanks for sharing.

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Going Green: How does one do this at work where a boss prints out every single e-mail in triplicate and then does not recycle the paper? when telecommuting is regarded as "a slacker's idea"? when keeping all the lights and electronics on in individual offices is standard, even when the person is on vacation? I was actually reprimanded for not turning the lights on in someone's empty office although she is of for two weeks. How does one go green when suggestions to do so are laughed at?

Amy Joyce: Have you explained why you're wanting to do these things? Do you have facts to back them up? Sometimes those things help. And if this is important to you, don't let a little taunting get to you. Let others follow by your example.

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As a recruiter ...: For the poster trying to stall between a job offer and an interview, it is absolutely a bad idea to accept the first offer and then back out at the last minute. You will definitely be burning a bridge, and if you work in a close-knit industry, that is not the kind of thing you want in your history. What if an excellent offer comes up there in the future? From my experience in HR, you would almost certainly not be considered, and if you are, it would be at the bottom of the list, as a recruiter would be wary of dealing with you since you might back out again.

Amy Joyce: Again, thanks for the important inside info.

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Washington, D.C.: I started a new job recently and have a pet peeve -- my boss won't allow me to take lunch for more than 15-20 minutes, which is enough time to grab a sandwich or heat up something, but not enough time to eat away from my desk. Per company policies, I'm supposed to get an hour. I'm non-exempt, but my boss refuses to sign off on overtime for working through lunch. I really dislike eating at my desk (once in a while during a crunch time is okay, but not daily). Plus, at my previous job, I was able to use my lunch hour for errands such as going to the bank or drugstore. Is there any way to address this issue without sounding like a whiner? At the very least, I think I should be paid for time worked, but I have been told (by my boss and by HR) that this is pretty much non-negotiable.

Amy Joyce: If you're non-exempt, this is illegal, isn't it? Has that come up in the conversation at all? At the very least, you should be paid overtime. Companies like Wal-Mart have been successfully sued by employees who were forced to skip lunch hours. Not sure how much you're willing to fight, but if you want, you could bring this to your employer's attention.

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Arlington, Va.: Just to comment: It's not unusual for employers to block web-based mail programs on their networks, for both productivity reasons and for security reasons (web-based mail makes it a little easier to get a virus/worm into the building, and makes it easier to send things out as well). It's entirely possible there may have been issues like the latter which prompted the change.

Amy Joyce: Very true. (See also: My column at the beginning of this chat.) But there does come a time when you have to wonder if cutting off this outside access makes work much less human. Granted, just cutting off access to one email program is not going to stop the world. There are other ways to communicate.

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Baltimore, Md.: RE: the poster trying to deal with the young person who won't own up to mistakes: Long, long ago at a small trade association, I had a boss who was a retired Marine colonel with a southern accent, a brush cut and a fondness for cigars. (You get the picture.)

When I was first hired, he told me, "Look, if you make a mistake, just come and tell me and everything will be OK. Don't try to hide it from me, because I will find out. And then everything won't be OK."

It was just about the best job performance advice I have ever gotten.

Amy Joyce: Sir, yes sir! Good advice indeed...

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RE: The Office: I'm thinking anyone who calls you Big Tuna deserves (or wants) to be called Andy. Consistently.

Amy Joyce: Or, as a colleague (sorry, I had to share with a colleague already. This question made my morning...) mentioned, maybe Big Tuna should just start putting this guy's things in Jell-O. That'll teach 'em.

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RE: Horrible interviewer: Also take a second look at your writing sample and resume. Many times our HR department will forward us a resume that has the right qualifications on a quick read, so we call someone in for an interview. Then we read their writing sample and its terrible. Or we realize that their resume is littered with typos or inconsistencies (such as not being consistent with format or whether you have commas before the and in a list (x, y, and z vs. x,y and z). In a field where we write a lot, little things like that on a resume or writing sample can lose a good candidate a job.

Amy Joyce: For sure. Thanks.

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"Well, in doing so, you might be burning bridges for future jobs ..." : I can verify that's true. We have a former employee who was remembered for his hard work, but was denied a chance to interview for a job when he wanted to come back -- because before he left here he accepted a promotion and raise and then took another job two weeks later. You just can't do that without burning that bridge forever. The current bosses remember that stuff and wouldn't interview him despite his reputation for hard work. His reputation for reneging on an offer overrules that.

Amy Joyce: Thanks.

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Temp Work: Amy -- Maybe you can answer a question that I have... You say that temp work is great to find a job and such. But I'm having one problem and its this.

Most of these temp agencies that I go to "the minute that I walk in" want me to fill out the I9 form, which tells them that I can legally work in my own country.

But the problem that I'm having is this, after filling that form out and then telling them on that form my birth date, they tell me "then" that they have nothing and keep on having nothing.

So now at the age of 53 after years of being a secretary, I'm having problem getting a job and my only resource is filling EEOC complaints against these company's. This is no life. Plus I'm a veteran and I know these companies have government contracts and can't discriminate against vets if they have government contracts.

What can I do to stop the age discrimination. This is causing me quite a bit of financial trouble. My husband has to work two jobs and is now looking for a third one.

What can I do if anything. (Hope to get a good answer). I know you're not an attorney.

Anything would be useful.

Amy Joyce: I'm sorry, but I have no idea if this is discrimination or if they just don't have the right job for you. Because many times, they simply don't right then and there. But you can get on their list, follow up, show a positive attitude and, in the meantime, go to another temp firm. You can work with more than one at a time, you know. And that's what many people do. You might also try to find a recruiter for yourself or check out AARP's workplace page. They have a ton of resources for workers over 50, including job sites and employers who they have partnered with to find those over 50 to work for them. Check it out: http://www.aarp.org/money/careers/findingajob/readytosearch/employment_websites.html

I know it's frustrating to not be able to land a job, but it does take time and patience and a LOT of pounding the pavement, networking, sending out resumes and simply talking to folks who might have an in somewhere.

Good luck.

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Michigan City, Ind.: RE: Amy Joyce: Temping ain't nothing, Annapolis. It's a job, you're gaining skills, you're making it work WHILE you're getting your degree. Good for you. When you write up that resume, make sure you emphasize things related to your degree, projects you worked on, etc. Have you done any volunteer work or other related projects to your degree? Make sure potential employers know. But don't skip the temp part of things. Employers understand and certainly appreciate those who work so hard.

Not in my experience. After being being discharged from the Army I temped throughout my college program and for the subsequent three years after graduation while looking for work.

The general consensus seemed to be that the random-employer temping (everything from labor to electronics manufacture) counts for squat. It's only marginally better than an outright unemployment gap.

If I put all of my various assignments on a resume, it grows to 15 pages. If I leave things off, there are terminal "gaps."

Unless you can get a "temp" job within your specific industry, or better, in the company you want to work for on a permanent basis, long-term-temping is fatal to a job hunt.

Amy Joyce: What do you consider long-term temping? If it's throughout college, I don't think that's long-term. You don't have to get into great detail with each gig, if you don't think it will help you move into that next position. You can group a few under "temporary placement" and in your cover letter, explain that you temped your way through college, gaining new skills and experiences. Then focus on how a few of those jobs actually could relate to what you want to do now. Employers want to hear how pertinent your jobs have been. They don't need a list. They want to know how they can benefit from your experiences. So no, I disagree that temping is nothing. It definitely counts for something, but you have to figure out just what it counted for and why an employer will care. And they will care.

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D.C.: I was suddenly fired last month in a move that was ugly enough that now both my union and the EEOC is involved. How should I address this with potential employers? I figure I can use something like "we had different ideas about how to best utilize my capabilities" when I get to the interview stage, and I have no problem telling friends the truth about what happened, but what about networking? If I call a friendly acquaintance from an earlier job to see what openings they've heard about on the grapevine, what do I say? Especially if this is somebody I can see myself swapping workplace horror stories with over a couple beers?

Amy Joyce: Always start out cautiously. Say it didn't work out, wasn't the right fit, or even that you simply needed a change. All true, right? And then if you trust someone enough, (but please, wait for this option) go ahead and tell them what you want to tell them. But make sure you do it in a way where they don't feel that this had anything to do with you or your work, or feel that their organization would find itself in the same state. In other words, don't trash your former office too much. That often rubs people the wrong way. And the more professional you act under these tough circumstances, the more they will understand that you're, well, professional. Good luck.

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Give the boys a break: I've talked to a number of men who don't participate in cleanup and birthdays. I've found relatively little sexism among these men; mostly, they're just inconsiderate of others regardless of gender, and have never washed their own mugs so they expect "someone" to do it for them.

I'm not saying it's a good thing, I'm just saying it usually is not sexism.

Amy Joyce: Ouch.

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Washington, D.C.: I work at an architecture firm and do our part in helping the environment, we specify green products and practices for our projects. This includes recyclable materials and energy efficient light fixtures/appliances. Our clients usually go along with us because it's something they can do as well to help the environment.

Amy Joyce: Thanks. I'd love to hear from you, too. E-mail me at lifeatwork@washpost.com if you can.

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RE: Green office spaces: During the summer months the building managers dim the lights (thereby cutting not only lighting, but also cooling) in the hallways in order to save money and energy when costs and consumption are high. However, I've never understood why they don't do this all year long? If employees can adjust to the darker hallways during the summer, why not continue to conserve during the rest of the year? And yes, I have suggested this to no avail.

Amy Joyce: Not sure why this is such a difficult thing to do... come on, building managers. What's up?

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Georgia: Amy: I am applying for jobs on the Internet. I have sent out several resumes. I want to know when/if it is okay to call a potential employer.

If their number and name are listed on the job description. can I just call them up several days later and ask if they need additional information?

I cant just wait around hoping they call. I need to do something to show that I am really interested. Or am I wrong and they really don't want you to call?

Amy Joyce: If their name and number is listed, by all means, call. Just ask if they need anything else from you, or even ask if they know when they might start to make a decision.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Amy. I really identified with your article a few weeks ago about the gender pay gap starting just out of school. I'm a female two years out of school this month. I think the article was right on target, and I have evidence to prove it: my (male) friend and I were hired at the same company upon graduation -- we had the same major and got hired for the same job -- but he was offered four percent more than I, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it still bothered me. At the time, I couldn't figure out why, but after reading your article I suspect gender may have something to do about it.

Anyway, my next review is coming up in about a month, and -- you guessed it -- I'm going to try to negotiate for more money. Last year I got a fairly decent percentage raise, but this year I want a little more. Problem is, the topic of money wasn't even discussed in last year's review (neither my manager nor I brought it up). Being a complete novice, I thought that was normal, but it is clear to me that this year I'm going to have to assert myself and have the money discussion. Obviously, I'll need to back up my request with reasons why I deserve it, but I was wondering if I should negotiate in terms of actual dollar value or in terms of raise percentage points? I was wondering if you have any suggestions on how to approach this during the review?

washingtonpost.com: Here's that story: Her Pay Gap Begins Right After Graduation, (Post, April 29).

Amy Joyce: Obviously, you now understand that you have to ASK for these things. I wonder if that friend of yours asked and you didn't at the beginning? It's up to you what you want to ask for. Percentage point or dollar amount--they can be the same thing. Just don't let yourself walk out of the interview without asking, or you'll have lots of regrets later. Even if it doesn't feel comfortable, please say something like "Before I go, can we talk about money?" Simple as that. Really. It may not be the most comfortable thing you've ever done, but you'll feel so much better if you ask.

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RE: Non-exempt employee: There are several nonprofits in the area that help employees with problems like this. They don't cost anything. Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and the Employment Justice Center come to mind. I think EJC has walk-in clinic hours where you can talk to a lawyer right away.

Amy Joyce: Thanks very much. I hope you're still reading, non-exempt.

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Northwest, D.C.: Coffee making ... sorry Amy, but I totally disagree with you. Of course, this guy is a complete bore and has no excuse for refusing to make coffee, but he's not actually "asking" someone to make coffee for him, he simply (and stubbornly) refuses to make it. If no one else does -- he goes without. It's annoying -- yes, but I don't think the person should call him on it or follow your advice to basically harass him over his behavior.

Maybe he could argue that he doesn't "realize" that he wants coffee until he smells it brewing. As I say, I'm not sticking up for the guy, but this is obviously really important to him. My advice for your reader is to NOT make it so important for you.

Amy Joyce: If he does it every morning, I would guess this "boor" knows he wants coffee and is just waiting for someone else to make it. But thanks for your opinion. It always seems like the little things at work are what drive us crazy and make coming to work pretty difficult sometimes. (See also: The Office.)

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Washington, D.C.:"Quitting" a job after accepting is the worst advice ever. We just had a summer intern do this to us, and it will long be remembered. Our field isn't the smallest, but word gets around fast. Memories are long.

Amy Joyce: Final word on this one! Thanks.

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RE: Chantilly, Va.: I have a positive story about changing jobs while ill. My new boss was extremely accommodating with my schedule while undergoing chemotherapy (now cancer free). Woohoo!! One of the perks of my job is working a compressed work schedule. This allowed for me to schedule chemotherapy treatments on my scheduled days off. My boss went one step further, if I needed another day or recover, he allowed me to reschedule my scheduled day off allowing me to save my limited sick days. If Chantilly knows she may need a day per month, maybe she could work a compressed schedule freeing up a day and "swapping" as needed. Just a thought.

Amy Joyce: Your boss rocks. And more important, congrats to you!

Thanks for this. I hope it helps Chantilly.

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RE: No lunch hour: I hate to be extreme, but if I were in the shoes of the new employee who can't take lunch breaks, I would be looking for another job. If a company refuses to follow the DOL's rules on such a simple and standard thing, it will screw you over in ways unimaginable as an employee. Get out, get out, get out! I worked at a place like that once, and oh, the horror stories!

Amy Joyce: Yep, this isn't a great sign, is it? You may want to keep your eyes open for a better opportunity, lunch hour guy.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm pretty sure that owning up to a mistake saved my job once many years ago. I realized I had done something wrong and called my big boss at home over a weekend. It was one of the hardest calls I've ever had to make (13 years later, I still get butterflies thinking about it), but he was pretty understanding, thanked me for calling and for having the class to call and clear things up. I think it actually helped our relationship.

Amy Joyce: That's great to hear. Thanks.

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Alexandria, Va.: I had an interview with an organization in mid-April and the person who interviewed me replied back to my thank-you note saying that it is her hope to share more details with all of the applicants in May. At what point should I send a follow-up e-mail inquiring about the status of the position?

Amy Joyce: Sounds like now would be a good time. It's almost the end of May. Just do it. You're not bothering anyone.

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Juggling offers: I was able to let Company A give me more time even though I let it slip that I was waiting for Company B. Company B turned me down so I was lucky Company A preferred me over their other options. Still, I always had it in my mind that Company A knew that this job was not my first choice. Therefore, asking for more time ONLY is the choice I would make!

Amy Joyce: Thanks much. That might help...

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Amy Joyce: Pant, Pant. Goodness, there were a ton of questions today I couldn't get to. Check me out again next week, same time, same place for more. I'll try to think and type fast again.

Don't forget to e-mail me with your stories of trying to help your office "go green" at lifeatwork@washpost.com.

You can check out Life at Work, the column, in the Sunday Business section.

Thanks all. Have a great week.

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