Transcript: Tuesday, October 2 at 11 a.m. ET

How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, October 2, 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.

The transcript follows below.

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Lily Garcia: Thank you very much for joining today's discussion. I look forward to your questions and comments. Let's begin.

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San Francisco, Calif.: My boss, to say the least, gets fired up very easily. The VP of our company recently asked me to come up with a bulleted list of all the reasons I feel like I can't trust my boss. I told him I feel uncomfortable doing so but he didn't really seem to care. What should I do?

Lily Garcia: The VP's intentions are good, but you know what they say about the road to hell . . . rather than listing the reasons why you cannot trust your boss, list the changes that you would like to see in his/her behavior. Be as constructive as possible, offering concrete examples of the ways in which the current behavior is negatively impacting your ability to effectively do your job. I assume that the VP wants to use this document as a blueprint for a discussion with your boss, and framing the issues in this manner will lead to a far more productive dialogue.

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Washington, D.C.: I am 35 years old and have a history of depression and substance abuse. I have a bachelor's degree in German and French studies and during college studied abroad for three years. I've been clean for four years and still undergo psychotherapy, but I'm not sure how to address my sometimes inconsistent work history on my resume to a future employer. How do you suggest I approach this issue and still be able to achieve and maintain a successful career path?

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your question. Please look for an answer in this week's "How to Deal" feature, which will be published on Thursday.

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Washington, D.C.: What would the benefit to me to give any notice to an employer if I already secured another job? Especially, since I don't need the reference. In this case it looks like it only benefits the business. I always put my need above that of a business. This is a country of the people not of the business. Most business don't give the employee notice or severance pay. However, they want two weeks notice. It's a little one sided, don't you agree?

Lily Garcia: It is just the smart thing to do from the standpoint of your own self interest. If you leave your job less than graciously, you never know when it will come back to haunt you. Maybe you don't need their reference now, but you may need it later. You also never know when and in what context you might again encounter this company or the people who work there. It is best to preserve your reputation as a considerate professional.

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Burtonsville, Md.: I've been at my job for 18 years and I am wondering how long do I have to wait to retire from it? There is no information in the employee handbook about retirement. My boss also runs the Human Resources department and it's already really difficult to get employee information from him.

Lily Garcia: You have got to be persistent here and get the policy in writing. Schedule a meeting, send a detailed email in advance explaining your questions, be prepared to follow up with specific questions until you get a solid answer, then follow up by email to confirm your understanding. If you are wondering about when your retirement benefits vest, you should know that your employer has a legal obligation under ERISA to provide you with clear information.

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Washington, D.C.: My colleagues are fairly recent college grads and a bit younger than me. I've noticed they tend to get really excited and heap on the praise for the smallest of achievements -- to the point that I almost want to sedate them. I'm all for positive reinforcement, but I find excessive praise condescending. Is this some sort of trend? What do you think?

Lily Garcia: I don't think it's a trend. Just ordinary youthful exuberance.

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K Street: Hello, Lily. I am a foreigner with legal residency, trying to get a new job. Most of my resume's professional history has been in the US, but my education history makes it clear that I am foreign. I have been told that some employers can find this a turn-off, fearful that they may need to pay for legal advice or visa fees (which they would not in my case). Should I clearly state on my resume that although foreign, I already have full legal residency? I know it is illegal to discriminate on national origin, but not on eligibility to work, and I am worried that they may not call me for interview for fear of wasting their time and resources. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Tough one. I would hate for you to bow to bias. But it also cannot hurt to discreetly indicate on your resume that you are authorized to work in the U.S. Discreet is the operative term here, though. I think it would be unprofessional to make a big issue of it.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Lily. Thanks for the chats. I am trying to make a switch to a different field, but my problem is that I am overqualified (two master's degrees and two years of management) for entry-level jobs in my new field of choice, but not at all qualified for anything higher than entry-level. It's gotten to the point where I'm considering leaving some of my achievements off my resume in order to get an interview. Do you have any advice?

Lily Garcia: Don't downplay your accomplishments. Instead, deal with the "overqualification" question up front. Indicate on your cover letter that, although you have X years of experience, you are eager to make a career change and excited to get your foot in the door, even in an entry-level capacity.

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Milwaukee, Wisc.: What do you do if you are really bored? You bring up the issue but there's been no action. I've seen a position within the company that might suit me better. Is it OK to apply for that position?

Lily Garcia: Yes, of course. Carpe diem.

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Richmond, Va.: You DO need the reference. Sure, you got your next job without them talking to your current employer, and you imagine any future jobs can talk to other employers, but that's not your choice. You list all your jobs on your resume and they call who they want, the last four jobs, or the most similar. They'll call if it's on your resume, otherwise you omit it on your resume and explain the gap? why you didn't list it

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.

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Washington D.C.: I used to work in a small office (less than 10 people) and being the only black man there I often felt uncomfortable. I was hired to head a department but soon found out that there was already someone working as a "manager." It made the situation uncomfortable for both of us. I tried to put in longer hours to show my dedication to the job but was given loads of mundane tasks to complete and was not doing any of the work by boss said I would be doing. I kind of kept to myself at work and when my co-workers went out I didn't go-- but I really did have prior engagements. Eventually, I was told that my work was good, my response under pressure was great, but I was not a good fit for the organization and was asked to leave. I landed a new job a few weeks a later and a few months after that was contacted by my old co-workers who wanted to grab lunch. I decided to go and they seemed shocked that I had a new job. When talking to future employers and if that brief chapter of my professional history is questioned, what do you suggest that I say? I have been warned never to rundown a previous employer but I'm not exactly sure why I was let go.

Lily Garcia: Think about the reasons why your new job is a better fit than your old one. Those should be the reasons that you give for your departure. I am not suggesting that you disparage your former employer. Just explain to future employer that you were seeking greater opportunities for [insert desirable job quality] and describe how your subsequent job helped you to achieve these objectives. As well, make sure that your former employer will not hinder you by disclosing the reasons for your departure or that it was involuntary.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you handle a question about negative supervsior?

Lily Garcia: In what context?

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Somewhere in Ga.: Please help me, I'm desperate! I currently work for a very small start up company. The concept behind the business is brilliant, however the owner doesn't seem to be 'all there,' as in big mood swings, firing people for minor mistakes, periods of euphoria and deep depression. We assume there is something along the lines of bi-polar going on here. Consequently, he is losing his best employees due to firings or they quit because of the instability. I am on my way out the door too, but I cannot think of a way to explain why I'm leaving this job during interviews with potential future employers. I have only been with this company two months, and normally I would never leave so quickly but this is a toxic environment, and I may get unexpectedly booted myself at any moment. How do I tell interviewers that I had to leave because my boss is crazy and flushing this business down the toilet? Thank you!

washingtonpost.com: Hi, Georgia. You may also want to check out our special feature I Quit! for experts tips on how to leave your current job withour burning bridges.

Lily Garcia: Focus your interviews on the attractiveness of the position you are seeking rather than on the problems with your current boss. Tell them that you would not normally dream of leaving a job after two months, but you came across this opportunity by chance and it is just too good to pass up. An alternative approach would be to tell interviewers honestly tha you are concerned about the financial viability of your current employer. But then you risk appearing disloyal or negative.

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Manassas, Va. : I have just been forced out of a department head position in public human service agency. It is a long and complicated situation, but my short question is, should I be honest on the exit interview form or just not complete the form at all?

Also I have a meeting with one of the city council members this weekend. I plan to give some but not too much detail, in an effort to halp them become more aware as they select the new department head. The locality has been through three directors and two acting directors in five years. (I was director for 16 months)

Lily Garcia: Please refer to our recent I Quit! feature, which offers advice on what and how much to say in an exit interview.

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Washington, D.C.: I really appreciate your columns and for all those out there who have lost hope that their work environment can be anything other than hell, it does get better. For me, taking the California bar and making it clear I was ready to walk got me promoted after 14 years so sometimes, drama helps.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your perspective.

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Washington, D.C.: If you can afford it, is it ok between jobs to have, say, a three to five month gap on resume to hold out for a job you're excited about? (I'm 30) I'd like to think that later in life if came up in interviews I could simply say I waited until I received the right job offer of that time period.

Lily Garcia: You can do that, but you need to be prepared with a pretty good explanation. Honestly, I am not sure if yours will cut it with many employers. Employers tend to balk at employment gaps that cannot be explained, for expample, by family obligations and layoffs. Even then, surmounting the bias against employment gaps can be tough. If you can, you should keep working at one job until you find a better one. Taking a few weeks off in between gigs is okay.

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Rockville, Md.: What's the appropriateness of telling your boss about a rival offer, with the hope of getting a salary increase? I'd rather stay with my current company, but another company offered me $10,000 more. If I could get a match from my current company, that would be great, although I know it's a bit risky.

Lily Garcia: Yes, it's extremely risky. You risk alienating your current employer and appearing opportunistic and manipulative. If you need or deserve more money, you should make the business case to your current employer about why and how much. If you do not get a positive response, then you should look elsewhere.

Since you already have the offer in hand and you need to make a decision, you don't have the luxury of taking the above approach. In your case, the least offensive approach would be to let your employer know that you have been made a salary offer that you can't refuse. Do not ask for more money. Just leave it open for them to come back with a match. If they really want you, they will.

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River City: RE: Retirement. Do you HAVE a pension with that company? Seems like if you did, you'd be getting regular updates from the investment firm runnign the fund with vested dates, returns, etc. The fact that you've received no info suggests there is no pension. What about your seperate 401(k) and federal info, research that first.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your inqights.

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Virginia: I don't think a three to five month gap is that long. Getting into a year and interviewers would ask what went on, but three month? Not that long for a focused professional search.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Lily. Love these chats. I posted this question a couple of weeks ago and you didn't get to it. I hope you can answer this week.

I just found out that I am pregnant and am seeking advice on the best way to tell my employer/negotiate the best paid leave. A couple of details about my situation:

- I am considered a "Temporary" employee because I am not covered in the employee union until I've been working here for two years (I will have been on staff for 1 year when I deliver.)

- Even as an "at-will" employee, I am covered by most of the same benefits as the union employees. Though I have had some difficulty getting mgmt. to agree to some benefits (i.e. tuition reimbursement), they've eventually given in after a lot of back and forth.

- I'm worried that I'll have similar difficulty getting them to agree to six weeks of paid leave (as outlined in the union contract).

- Also, I think I will probably not return to the job after my leave (I plan to finish my M.A. full time next year.)

How do I get the best leave without creating bad feelings when I don't return?

Lily Garcia: There is no question that you will damage your reputation if you negotiate hard for six weeks of leave and then don't return. Is there no policy manual that describes the leave and other benefits to which "temporary" employees are entitled? It would be best if you could simply point to a policy rather than having to make a case for your benefits.

Assuming that there is no written policy directly applicable to you, I suggest that you request the same leave as is offered to union employees. This should be fairly uncontroversial if your employer has established some pattern of following the collective bargaining agreement as a guideline. Then be content with what your employer is ultimately willing to give. The harder you fight for more paid time off, the more it will sting your employer when you don't return.

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Washington, D.C.:

How does one appropriately leave a job to be a stay-at-home parent? I returned recently from taking leave after my son was born. I'm thinking that within the next year I want to quit to stay-at-home. Since I will not be leaving for another job, how much notice should I give? How can I go about doing this to minimize the discomfort felt to my employer, and not leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth. I want to be able to use this employer for references in the future.

Lily Garcia: Give them plenty of notice. If you trust your supervisor, you can tell him or her even several months in advance that being a stay-at-home caregiver is your goal. Express your desire to make the transition to your successor as seamless as possible and offer to help find and train their new hire. Also, remain flexible about your date of departure so that your employer does not have to worry about a gap in coverage for your job.

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Columbia, Md.: How do you address references when you work for one of those 'spooky' alphabet soup agencies? I can't provide any easily b/c of this.

Lily Garcia: If you cannot get a supervisory reference, what about coworkers, contractors, or others with whom you have had regular interaction on the job?

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RE: Rockville: Sometimes people get let go for this, though, so you'd better be prepared to take that other job offer.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.

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Inappropriate interview question: I work in a large company that has not hired for a decade, and it shows -- I'm a good 15/20 years younger than most. And my age is frequently commented on by people (2, 3 times a day?) It is concerning because, obviously, careers are decided based on perception.

I couldn't think less of the practice of subtle (or not) age discrimination (among other types that I personally know well). But, I have found it very useful in discerning friends from foes. I'm entrusted with responsibilities by people who are highly reputable in our area, and I'm mistreated by others who do not believe someone like me should be their equal or team leader because "it's not right" (or, they'd continue to 'dictate' to me even though we're counterparts). I'm the first to believe that subconscious biases really affect people. Fortunately, usually, after a period of time, my credibility is quickly established with others. It's great when work, well, works.

But, I have a different take on the 'inappropriate interview question' question. The interviewee was the one who first blurted out 'because of the age difference?' One can't argue that it was not on this person's mind as much it was on the interviewer's.

One might also imagine the interviewer might have simply botched the question by phrasing it in an as-good-as-guilty way. An interviewer would want to know how you'd work with others, fit into the existing environment, etc. And while assuming (and somehow letting it be known) would be wrong, not anticipating it, or not recognizing it once it started happening would be downright stupid.

You might be offended that the interviewer assumed you'd behave stereotypically - I would find the insinuation insulting, too - but pat yourself on the back because you recognized how bad assumptions can be. Many people don't realize that's why on any given day, all of us could be subjected to age, gender, and race stereotypes and the impact could be huge (see the excellent Shankar Vedantam Department of Human Behavior columns).

Your answer to that weird question could have been to draw attention back to yourself and in 40 seconds, describe how you believe your personality fits into the work and the environment they've described so far, and you can end with a smile and nod toward your future team leader - without pointing out the unfortunately obvious.

washingtonpost.com: Check out Lily's recent column: Crossing the Line During an Interview, (Post, Sept. 27)

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comments.

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Kensington, Md.: I'm graduating from college in December and readying my application for the job hunt. Ethical question: I majored in journalism with a concentration in broadcast. Is it ethical for me to submit some versions of my resume with the major as "broadcast journalism" (to TV stations, other broadcast outlets) and another version where my major is just "journalism" (to jobs where the broadcast doesn't really apply)?

I don't want to lie. Thanks for your help.

Lily Garcia: You should be absolutely truthful. Indicate on your resume that you majored in journalism with a concentration in broadcast, and use your cover letter to highlight your interest in broadcast journalism, along with any relevant experience you might have gained during college.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a new assistant who is a dream employee, except for one thing. Sometimes in her eagerness to show initiative, she answers questions that should have been left for me. Or, she'll go ahead and do something without asking. Both of these situations have caused some problems. I do not want to dampen her enthusiasm, and I don't want her to feel like I don't think she's capable. How should I approach talking to her? I am actually not technically her boss, but I'd rather handle it myself since the boss isn't really involved in our daily interactions. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Tell her exactly what you just told me -- that you think she is fantastic, that you do not want to dampen her enthusiasm, and that you do not want her to feel like you don't think she's capable. Then offer her guidance on the types of questions that it would be best if she left to you, and the types of projects on which she should not be so trigger happy. Give her several specific examples and explain to her why it is that a different approach would lead to a better result. Her eagerness and enthusiasm will make her receptive to constructive feedback as long as it is framed as an opportunity for learning and growth.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: If Rockville wants to negotiate for more money, it might be better to check the local salary scales and use those as a negotiating point. An explanation to the boss of "I did some research and discovered I could be making more money, and since I'm happy here and don't have any intention of leaving, I'm wondering if we could have a discussion about it." I tried it, with another job offer in my back pocket, and it worked ... just have to be careful not to back the boss into a corner.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your insights.

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Two month toxic tenure: For the worker who is leaving the start up due to the "toxic" environment I have one question. Does her resume demonstrate longevity at previous employers? If the answer is yes than any new company might realize this was a bad fit/situation/etc. If the answer is no than her history may require further explanation which she needs to do positively.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.

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Client writing samples?: I work for a consulting firm, I have a friend who is interested in applying for a job with a client's competitor. In what way can she use any of her work here as a writing sample since it's all confidential and proprietary? It would be easy if it were published, but it's not yet. Thanks!

Lily Garcia: Some firms will allow the use of writing samples containing confidential information as long as all of the confidential information is redacted. It is unlikely that your firm has a published policy that states this, so your friend should ask around to find out what others have been permitted to do. If the confidential information is redacted, then there is no tangible harm in disclosing the writing sample, so your friend would not have any legal consequences to fear.

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For pregnant temp: Talk to the local union rep. In some cases, the union can represent temporary employees, or may be able to give you advice based on experience with previous employees in a similar spot. But don't ask for the paid leave and not come back. That's just shabby.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your insights.

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Lily Garcia: Thank you for your participation in today's chat. If you would like to have your question considered for inclusion in my weekly column, please email me at lilymgarcia@gmail.com. Have a wonderful afternoon.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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