Transcript: Wednesday, September 4 at 11 a.m. ET

How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, September 4, 2007; 11:00 AM

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. She takes reader questions and answers a selection weekly in her weekly How to Deal column for washingtonpost.com.

She comes online twice a month to answer your questions about human resources issues, workplace laws or just everyday workplace survival.

If you've got a workplace question and would like it to be featured in an upcoming How to Deal column, e-mail Lily at lilymgarcia@gmail.com.

Find more career-related news and advice in our Jobs section.

Transcript follows below.

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washingtonpost.com: This discussion will start momentarily.

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Lily Garcia: Good morning. Thank you very much for joining my live chat today. I look forward to answering your questions regarding workplace issues. Let's begin.

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Alexandria, Va.: I could really use some advice about my manager. I have been at a new job for three months and my manager is a disaster to say the least. Just this morning I had to respond three times to an e-mail about a project I have been working on because my manager keeps forgetting I have it and is trying to assign it to someone else. She constantly forgets what everyone is working on even though we have a clear schedule and other staff members below the manager take advantage of this incompetence by doing what they want and working on needless projects to kill time. I know, and most others know, that this manager is a disaster and she will eventually drop the ball (or we'll stop carrying it for her) and all of us will suffer. Is this hopeless or do people like this eventually get canned? I'm not sure I can keep doing my own work and my manager's.

Lily Garcia: They do get canned, but you need to speak up to more senior leeaders. In the meantime, try managing the situation by proactively giving your manager regular written status updates. If she forgets, you can simply reference your previous email, thereby saving you time and frustration.

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Virginia: Any advice on feeling out prospective employers/colleagues before you accept a job offer?

Lily Garcia: The Jobs section on washingtonpost.com contains an excellent job evaluation tool. It is called the job-o-meter, I believe.

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D.C.: Any advice on finding a job in a city you are not currently living in? Want to move but it seems like such a challenge.

Lily Garcia: Add a sentence or two to your cover letter explaining the reason(s) why you would like to relocate. If you can afford the time and expense, plan a trip to the area and let prospective employers know that you will be in town and available for interviews on certain dates. It will make you seem a lot more serious about moving.

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D.C. : If you get asked salary range in an interview, is it true that they will probably give you the lowest you gave? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Yes, probably. Better to give a target salary and make it clear whether that is a firm number or you are willing to negotiate.

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Washington, D.C.: 3-4 years ago, a co-worker is still bullying me by glaring me in a hostile manner and giving the silent treatment everytime I went to talked about WORK (except for social) to her or in meetings. HR won't do nothing and my supervisor and her are good friends. And I always thought men do the bullying, not women... Advice?

Lily Garcia: Confront the issue directlty. Tell her that you are sensing hostility in her demeanor and ask her to modify her behavior. This approach will embarass many such people into behaving more politely.

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Laurel, Md.: I've had two interviews in the past month. One I've had a 2nd interview for. HR said I should hear something the next day and its been a week. The other interview I emailed them after a week of not hearing anything and they told me to contact them next week. My question is I know I'm the one looking for a job but if I can find the time to get out of work to go on these first and second interviews and risk losing my job in the first place can't I at least get the courtesy of saying yay or nay if about the position? Is HR that busy to even send an e-mail?

Lily Garcia: I feel your pain. This is incredibly frustrating. It could be that they are swamped with applicants or bogged down in the interview process. It could also be a simple matter of disorganization or lack of consideration. The onus should not be entirely on you. Unfortunately, your best approach will be persistence.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Hi, Lily. I'm trying to negotiate a salary and title increase and need some help. I've been with my office one year and in that time three directors have left as well as 1 other staff member, with another one leaving in the next two weeks. As such, I am now the second most senior staff member in the office; however, my salary and title have not been increased nor has there been any discussion of future responsibilities. This office does not hire from outside except for entry level positions.

I've done all the research comparing my salary with those serving in similar positions and I realize they make between $10-$13K more than I do currently. While I work 10-12 hours/day, having only been in the job a year, how is the best way to ask for such a large pay increase after such a short period in the office?

Thanks so much for all your help.

Lily Garcia: You need to make the case for why it makes good business sense to pay you more. Explain the value of the additional work that you have been doing, especially in light of the wave of departures. Highlight your major accomplishments and describe your plans for contributing in the coming year. I caution you, however, that an out-of-cycle salary increase (i.e., not during the annual appraisal period) is hard to come by at any organization, least of all a nonprofit undergoing staffing transitions. Give it your best shot, but be prepared to be patient.

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Washington, D.C.: I have to work with a very difficult person. He is related to a very high up in the company and seems to think he is entitled to not work hard and has special privileges. He frequently reminds us about his family members position.

I have spoken to my supervisor about his behavior. But I am worried that complaining might hurt my position in some way.

Lily Garcia: How inappropriate. What is the size of your organization? The larger it is, the less likely that this person will be able to exercise any sort of real influence. Has your supervisor been receptive to your concerns?

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Newbie: I just started a new position, and they're easing me in. I think overall that's much smarter than the companies with a sink-or-swim policy. But I have nothing to do! We had a meeting where my boss listed who took care of what, and all of my responsibilities were assigned to other people. And since these people are busy doing my job, they don't seem to have time to train me.

Do I speak up and ask that I at least be given some of the tasks I was hired to do, or do I wait it out? I'm here on a trial basis, so I feel like I can't prove myself when I don't have much to do.

Lily Garcia: Be patient. If it takes them three or four weeks to ease you into the position, that is fine. If you are still bored after two months, you have a problem. For the moment, keep your eye out for projects that you can easily take over from those who are performing your duties. Request to be assigned to the project or at least co-pilot. Make it clear to your supervisor that you are grateful for the transitional period, but that you are eager for an opportunity to start contributing in a meaningful way.

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RE: Manager is a disaster: In a situation like this, is it alright to ask the manager if she's OK? I think the manager would do that for someone they supervise. But when it's your manager, it's harder to figure out. Maybe this person is dropping the ball a lot because of a personal problem.

Lily Garcia: That would be okay as long as you have a close personal relationship.

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Washington, D.C.: In general, I get along really well with my manager and I enjoy coming to work every day. My only complaint is that she sometimes assigns me tasks (none of which are very difficult) that are not part of my job description, and which I know for a fact are her responsibility, but she would prefer not to do them. Again these tasks aren't overly taxing, but I can't help but resent that she dumps things on me just because she doesn't feel like doing them. Can I do anything about this?

Lily Garcia: It is okay for your supervisor to delegate work to you. There is no exception for menial work that your supervisor would just prefer not to do. However, I do have sympathy for the fact that, in addition to being annoying, this probably feels demeaning. The next time you get such an assignment, try telling your supervisor about all of the work that you have on your plate and ask whether it would be okay if the assignment were completed by X date in the future. If you seem busy and are not immediately available to complete these projects, she will probably be less likely to ask.

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Washington, D.C.: Lily -- I mean really, how important are titles in the workforce of today? I see many jobs for "coordinators" and they are really "administrative assistants" when lots of them want basic "secretaries." Why do so many people put so much stock into them?

Lily Garcia: It's the money and the recognition. If an employee is unable to secure the salary that s/he deserves (or thinks s/he deserves), he or she may be willing to settle -- for the time being -- for a loftier title. As well, employers use titles to recognize an employee's high degree of proficiency, added contributions, or morphing responsibilities. But I agree. The whole title thing does get a little ridiculous.

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Washington, D.C.: My current position involves some fundraising, but I would like to transition into a position that involves this full-time. I have an interview on Friday with the fundraising arm of my current company, but I'm not sure what kinds of questions they will ask. Any advice?

Lily Garcia: I do not have any specific advice for interviewees in your field, but I am hoping that some of our readers might. Any advice for this job applicant?

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Richmond, Va.: All I have to say is that I belong to a public school system. I am only in the seventh grade, and one thing that scares me more than anything is college. My dream is to go to Yale University. I want to get a Ph.D. in law. I want to become a senator. My school is my work place and with all this preassure, sometimes I don't feel as though I could survive it.

Lily Garcia: I commend you for your ambition. But please remember along the way to ask yourself whether what you are doing makes you truly happy. You will most easily succeed at that which you love.

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Quitting old job before searching for new job: I'm -- for the first time in my life -- in a position in which I can quit my current job, take a little time off, then start looking for a new job. I really feel the need to take off a couple of months and recharge before I start the job search. I'm extremely burnt out. How risky is it to be out of the workforce for six months or so before searching for another job? Do employers really view this sort of thing negatively in an applicant?

Lily Garcia: As long as you are doing SOMETHING with your time that you can credibly list on your resume, you should be fine. Could you work here and there as a contractor, even just a few hours per week? That would be far preferable to an employment gap. You may very well find an employer who is understanding about your need for time off. But most employers will regard such a break with suspicion.

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Alexandria, Va.: Here in my office, we have a policy that people may occaisionally work from home if they have extenuating circumstances, but generally you are expected to be in the office. My direct supervisor takes this policy to the point of abuse I believe. She'll "work from home" at least two days a week. I sympathize because she has a long commute, but I feel she's crossed the line. Speaking to her supervisor is out of the question due to the type of person he is. The only people that I could talk to are other supervisors who have no authority over her but do have some authority over me (our structure is wierd here). Do I have any options?

Lily Garcia: Apart from being annoying, is this affecting your work? If not, I would not counsel you to make an issue of it.

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Lily Garcia: Thank you very much for your thoughtful participation. I regret that I was unable to answer all of your questions. Please feel free to email me directly at lily.garcia@gmail.com, or join me for the next live chat on September 18th at 11:00 a.m.

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