Tuesday, January 8 at 11 a.m. ET

How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, January 8, 2008; 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: Good morning and welcome. I look forward to answering your career- and workplace-related questions. Let's get started. _______________________

Fort Washington, Md.: I am 56 year old female, I have been out of work for four months now I have tried sending a lot of resumes but, I haven't had any luck. I have 24 years of experience in insurance. What type of training should I get in order for me to be marketable.

Lily Garcia: Many factors could be at play in your lack of success, including the presentation of your resume and cover letter and your target companies and positions. I strongly suggest that you find an industry peer or, better still, someone with greater experience, to review your portfolio and discuss how you might be able to make yourself more attractive in the application process.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I have one question, I was laid off Dec. 14. I have been sending my resume to many companies but no responses. What is your advice?

Lily Garcia: The response above is also applicable to your situation. You need to conduct a diagnostic to determine what might be contributing to your lack of success. You may be overshooting the positions for which you are applying, it may be a question of fine-tuning your presentation, and it is also possible that the job market in your industry is tight at the moment.

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Charlotte, N.C.: What do you do when you have degree and have not been working in your field, but rather driving a cab, and want to get a job in your field?

Lily Garcia: Be prepared to start at the very bottom and work your way up. Because of your lack of direct experience in your chosen academic field, you will need to prove yourself.

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Rockville, Md.: How do you get my boss to review my work, even though she is extremely busy; should I push it? I need her review so I can proceed to the next step in my task/assignment. Thank you very much.

Lily Garcia: Yes! Be explicit about the fact that you cannot move ahead without her review.

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Washington, D.C.: I am a federal worker with proven history of excellent work performance. Since being employed with the agency, I have faced a disturbing divorce/custody battle. I am now solely raising two children while caring for my mother who suffers from heart disease. I use the alloted annual amount leave as accrued, as needed. My boss is using my current situation and challenges against me? (Restrict leave option, enforce LWOP, no communication) What can I do?

Lily Garcia: Is your boss simply requiring that you comply with the established policy rearding leave, or is s/he singling you out for performance scrutiny because you are taking advantage of the leave policies? If you are in the latter situation, you should discuss the issue with your supervisor. If you get nowhere, seek help and guidance from HR. You have the right to take leave within established policies without fearing reprisal.

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Lily Garcia: Does anyone have interesting 2007 performance appraisal war stories to share or questions to ask?

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Anonymous: Hi Lily, What do you recommend for folks doing an out of state job search? I want to move back to the D.C. area, and ideally would like to find a job first so that I don't end up living on the opposite side of town from where I'm working (Rockville to Tyson's Corner everyday is just not appealing). I'm fine with covering my own relocation expense and my resume shows my D.C. work history, but I'm concerned that all people will see is my ZIP code and or area code. Any suggestions on how to handle?

Lily Garcia: By no means does being an out-of-towner leave you out of the running for DC-area jobs.

I encourage you to review the How to Deal archives for an article I wrote on the subject. To summarize, you need to establish good reasons for moving to the area. The strongest are family and professional ties. Be sure to discuss this in your cover letter. The idea is to leave prospective employers with the clear impression that you have serious and compelling reasons to be here.

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Northern, Va.: I have a co-worker with whom I have a lot of workplace issues: She seems to take offense at everything I say/do, and my job performance (which is rated highly by my customers and co-workers) never satisfies her. I don't report to her but what I do and what she does are intertwined (she does marketing and I handle the commerce she generates). I wish I could get on better ground with her but don't even know where to start. Thoughts/suggestions?

Lily Garcia: The best approach is complete openness and sincerity. Tell your coworker how much you value having a positive relationship with her. Tell her also that you sense that she has been disappointed in your work product. Then ask her what she thinks. It is possible that you are off-base regarding her opinions, or that her opinions are founded in a misunderstanding of what you do or how you do it. Listen to what she has to say without getting defensive. Then explain your view of your work and your vision for how the two of you can find common ground. The situaton is delicate, but it is hardly insurmountable as long as both of you are willing to communicate and listen.

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Anonymous: I'm in my mid-sixties and have made many innovative contributions to my small company's projects for the last seven years. My reputation with clients is legendary and I get along with everyone. Now, however, a new, young, and very capable employee has joined us and she is getting the new challanging work while I am left in the dark about changes to our work process. My ego is crushed and I think it's time to find something new in another company. Do you think it wise for me to move on at my age? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Don't make any false moves! Who assigns the work in your company? Talk to this person about your view of the situation. Maybe there is some way that you and the newcomer can share the challenging assignments. And certainly something can be done to help keep you in the loop.

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Virginia: Hi Lily, Is it typical for a company to tell you if you DIDN'T get a job? just wondering -- I went for an interview (higher up in my own organization) before THanksgiving... they said we would be notified after the winter holidays... I'm thinking I would have heard by now. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: It is extremely rare not to hear back if you have actually had an interview.

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San Diego, Calif.: Lily, I was placed on administrative leave with pay very suddenly with no real explanation on Oct. 24. I was told the "investigation" into my alleged transgression (vaguely described as saying something that upset a partner agency) would take two weeks. Eight weeks later, I am still on leave. I have never been spoken to. I have made three polite inquiries as to my status with my local office and I am told this is an issue with our national office. No one locally seems to know who to talk to, and they say their hands are tied until they get word. They want me back, but their passivity is surprising to me. I am still being paid, and plenty of people think I'm super lucky getting this "vacation." But the questions are uncomfortable and I feel my reputation is suffering. Some have advised legal action, but that's sure to anger my employer. What should I do?

Lily Garcia: The question is, "Legal action on what basis"? Do you believe that you are suffering illegal discrimination? It cannot hurt to consult a local attorney or your state human rights enforcement office regarding the situation.

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Washington, D.C.: Lily, my office is composed almost entirely of people in two age groups -- 30's and late 50's. There is no one in between. I am one of the older people. Some of the younger people display an excessive interest in the ages of the older people and spend time trying to figure out how old we are. I don't care how old any of my co-workers is, I care how well they do their job. Any suggestions on how to deflect rude age-related questions?

Lily Garcia: This is completely inappropriate. The head of your office needs to communicate to the 30-somethings that the guessing game is not cute and that it is, if fact, potentially offensive. Meanwhile, if you are asked such a question, I recommend that you respond candidly that questions about a person's age, especially when they are obviously older than you, are rude. Sheesh! Where are their manners?

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Anonymous: NSPS was designed (sold) as a way to identify very good and very poor performers. I've been told it's impossible to get an outstanding. So ratings are very concerntrated in the middle (like a rating of fair) and we all end up getting the same percentage increase. So how is that any better than the GS ratings?

Lily Garcia: I don't know. Does anyone have insights for this reader?

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Alexandria, Va.: Well, my 2007 review went fantastically... I was told I was one of the top two performers on my team of nine. And then when raises were distributed, I only got 1.5 percent. In my mind, I didn't even get a decent cost-of-living increase, since inflation alone is about 4 percent, and I was hoping for a little more on top of that since I performed so well. I understand raises are not as good as they used to be, but I was still expecting to see at least a 2 percent or 2.5 percent. Am I being unrealistic or did I get shortchanged?

Lily Garcia: Your employer is most definitely being cheap, but your situation is unfortunately not unheard of.

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Nashville, Tenn.: I'm drowning in intraoffice gift exchanges that seem obligatory. I'm new here, and the $65 mandatory contribution that was equally leveled on all employees, regardless of salary, seemed egregious. Any suggestions on how to gracefully bow out without ruining my budget? One coworker is pregnant, first pregnancy since I arrived, and so I've bought a gift so that I can honestly say I'd already done something when the request for a $50 contribution is made, as it was when she got married six months ago. What to do?

Lily Garcia: I think your approach is right on the money. Do something thoughtful (and within your budget) on your own before the collections hat comes around.

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Washington, D.C.: I recently became a whistleblower and expected good results from upper management. I complained against my supervisors who were mistreating a co-worker: yelling, harrassment, etc. This co-worker was forced to quit recently. It turns out that the buzz word used by human resources now is "MEDIATION" which I was told would be the only solution to come to an understanding between me and my supervisors. I explained to my company's human resources department that unnacceptable behavior by my supervisors had nothing to do with mediation. They insisted it has. Any thought on this trend? Thank you.

Lily Garcia: My main thought is that somehow your HR has been left with the impression that the problem goes both ways. Try to keep an open mind and participate in the mediation process as constructively as possible. You will otherwise lose credibility.

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Philadelphia: Re: The 56-year-old worker seeking a job, Lily, can you please address the reality that companies do not like to hire people over 50? I am tired of reading how supposedly certain companies eagerly seek older workers but of course these are companys that hire p/t workers and pay less than a living wage. Burger King and Home Depot are nice for seniors, but you need to have three or four such jobs to even make ends meet. Can you please address the fact that those who hire are far younger and thus do not see 50-60somethings as viable employees? If you doubt this, please look at the many, many new hires over 50 at the Post who have been hired as executives or reporters.

Lily Garcia: Thank you very much for your comments. I do not deny the challenges that older workers face in the job market. But I also know that many employers do value the experience and wisdom that older workers can offer. Please refer to our How to Deal archives for a more in-depth treatment of this subject.

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Re: Out of state job search: Couldn't you also make the move, but look for temporary executive housing during the job search, with the housing search happening after you're settled?

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughts. If that is within this reader's means, that is also a good option.

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Anonymous: How many war stories do you need? Our whole office hates our boss and five or six of us are looking for new jobs. She based part of our appraisals on statistics that we were told would not be used for our review. She stated specific numbers in my review, but then could not remember what files they referred to. Oh, and she also covers up illegal activities by agency employees and asks them to change their story so she looks good (she destroyed the file so there is no evidence). She frequently loses files and forgets to get back to people. Your government at work. Our lives are strictly regimented. We have strict hour requirements and if we go anywhere we have to tell her. We all hate it here.

Lily Garcia: As many as you are willing to share. Thank you for your thoughts. I can see why you want to leave. In the meantime, please consider reporting this conduct to your EOO office.

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Anonymous: I just started in my current position last August and what I thought would be the ideal job for me has turned out to be boring, lackluster and uninteresting. While the team I work with is great and I got a considerable jump in salary, I have little to do all day and feel uneasy in my position given the lack of work I have to do. I want to look for another job already but don't want to look like a job hopper. While I was in my last position for two years, I was only in the position before that for 5 months. I know there's no hard and fast rule for staying in a position, but I really want out of here and don't want to short change my resume. What do you think? Should I stick it out or move on now? I should also mention that I believe I could a new job fairly quickly -- I could possibly even go back to my former company.

Lily Garcia: If you are as miserble as you sound and you could easily transition into something else, start packing. To avoid givng the impression of instability, it is wise to try to stay in a position for at least a year. But you should not allow this to override your need for happiness and professional fulfillment. Good luck!

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Maryland: When did it become obligatory to pay into an office "pool" for group gifts and such? Do they take it out of your pay without asking? How is that possible? When did it become required to participate in that stuff? People CAN be friendly and some will choose to exchange gifts and such for life occasions, but do people really expect this these days?

Lily Garcia: I agree. It is out of hand.

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Re: 2007 performance appraisals: I don't have a war story, but I do have a question. I had a terrific review, my boss had all kinds of great things to say about my work. So, when it came time for me to voice any concerns I did not say anything that was on my mind. Rather, I just glossed over everything and said how much I liked the job and working with her. In reality, I've got a few issues with her management style. Should I have said something?

Lily Garcia: Yes. And you still can. Just find a constructive way to say it. Think about how you would feel receiving such feedback and what approach or langauge would make you most receptive.

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Re: intraoffice gift giving: You said "Do something thoughtful (and within your budget) on your own before the collections hat comes around." Not to be a complete grinch, but this is something I have a hard time with. I understand the company sending flowers etc. in times of illness, death, marriages but a $50 or $65 contribution? That's ridiculous. I don't want to have to buy someone a gift for their baby shower, or to be pegged as a scrooge if I don't. I think this has gotten out of control -- the discretionary money I have will be spent on my family and friends (who may include co-workers), not on mandatory group collections at work. How can offices show support for a co-worker without making everyone feel like they have to contribute? I felt bullied into participating in a bunch of holiday gift-giving this year.

Lily Garcia: I hear ya. How about an e-card? :-)

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Philadelphia: It SHOULD be extremely rare to not hear back after an interview, but I've honestly lost count of positions I interviewed for and never heard back from -- including ones where I sent follow up letters and called/emailed to inquire about the status. I think sometimes they don't fill the position or keep stalling and honestly don't know and forget to get back to you and stuff happens, but it seems like at a certain point if you can't get someone to answer you you just have to assume you didn't get it. Keep an eye out, they may repost the position in a few months, that's another good hint. The lack of responsiveness in the hiring process is getting a little out of hand. But, if you recalibrate expectations (even though it is perfectly reasonable to expect a response!) it can really help eliminate the stress/frustration.

Lily Garcia: How disappointing. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

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Logan Circle, D.C.: Long story short: Started this job last spring, had a great boss and mentor. Boss and mentor left unexpectedly in August, new boss's deputy hired before boss left. Started in September. Fast forward: Micromanagement, poor communication coming from new "boss," feel like I'm being set up to fail. Believe he's in over his head. Newest craziness? I am not allowed to send out any email without checking with her first. Time to find a new job? Document crazinesses? Go to HR?

Lily Garcia: Go to human resources AND start looking for another job. Good grief! Just when I think I have heard it all . . .

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Rockville, Md.: I work for a retail store that is going to pay commissions. The pay is $4.00/hr + commissions. The problem is over a quarter of the time is spent on non-sales work. While the store is closed we have to clean, mop floors, stock shelves, clean the refrigerator, microwave and do other tasks. The company philosophy seems to be why bring in people who we will have to pay at least minimum wage when we get these people for $4.00/hr. Is there a limit on how much non-sales work under minimum wage work we must do in a week? Second question. Our shifts are all over the place. Frequently have to work until 11:00/11:30 p.m. and then be back 7:00 a.m. the next day. Given maybe an hour commute each way and a shower and clean clothes it guarantees very little sleep. Is there any protection giving minimum time off between shifts?

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your question. Given the complexity of the answer, I will take this up in our How to Deal column sometime in the next three weeks. Also, please feel free to email me further details at lilymgarcia@gmail.com.

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Ellicott City, Md.: I am leaving my current postion for two reasons. The commute is too far and unprofessionalism in the work place from mangement (I was cursed at) I am waiting for my offer letter from another position. The dilemma is I took a sign-on bonus. If I give the two weeks notice they may take my last check of this month. I don't know how long I will have to wait for my first check from the new position. Financially, I can't afford that. My intentions is to make arrangements to pay the bonus back $2,500, after leaving. There was no stipulation of when or how the bonus had to be paid back. Please advise.

Lily Garcia: Make a proposal in your letter of resignation regarding the bonus pay-back. A commitment to pay them back, say, within the next 30 days, is completely reasonable. Try to get them to agree to this in writing. If they threaten to dock your pay, make an appeal to their conscience.

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Nashville, Tenn.: I left a very good IT company, it's one of the top companies in the industry in April 2006, I was with them for 7.5 years and left on very good terms. I took time off to have a family and decompress but I am ready to get back to the real world. I am finding it difficult to get people to look at my resume. During my time off I worked in retail for nine months and part time as well, I have not listed those positions on my resume since it's not really what I consider "in my field." How do I get back into the tech industry smoothly? Also, Nashville is not a mecca of technology so I am finding it difficult to get good quality careers here.

Lily Garcia: You may need to start widening your job search to other geographic areas. Also, do not leave your non-IT positions off of your resume. Rather, organize your resume under the headings "Technology Experience" and "Other Professional Experience." Then explain in your cover letter why you took time off, your major professional accomplishments, and your eagerness to get back to work in the field.

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Re: office gifts: Yeah, the head guy among the subordinates here convened a meeting and told everyone that they needed to give him their $50 by a specific date for christmas gifts. It's CRAZY. Last coworker I had with a baby, I made extra dinner four times over the prior month and froze her dinners. I showed up at her shower with a box of frozen food that added maybe $10 to my grocery bill for the month. Not a onesie, but she seemed to appreciate it.

Lily Garcia: Great idea.

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Baltimore: For the reader who is among the more senior in age in the office and doesn't like the 30-somethings speculating on their elders' ages. They might be trying to figure out if there will be any possibility for promotions within the organization due to retirements. If the economy is heading to recession, or it's a good company, staying with current employment is probably something these younger employees want to do. But, if there is no opportunity to move up the ladder attributable to a more senior yet not ready to retire group, the option of moving on may be necessary for career growth.

Lily Garcia: Interesting. Thank you for your thoughts.

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Anonymous: The baby ones are the worst. Yeah, I'm to contribute my $30 for her gift, and do half of this woman's work for six months too. How about I do your work, and you give ME a present?

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.

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Re: asking their ages: Lily, you wrote: I recommend that you respond candidly that questions about a person's age, especially when they are obviously older than you, are rude. Sheesh! Where are their manners? In my office, several people younger than us longtimers often try to guess the ages of older workers and will say "Wow Jean is 60, that's really ancient!" They say things like "that's something my generation gets but your old one doesnt" and in general are very rude and ridiculing about age. And when one's boss participates -- when the boss's response to being told that it is rude to ask such things is simply to laugh, what is one to do?

Lily Garcia: All you can do is stand your ground. You should also consider mentioning the issue to your boss's boss or to human resources. I do hope that you HR, at least, can see the wisdom in not ridiculing people over the age of 40! Can you say A-D-E-A?

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Anonymous: I have a performance review (APPAS) war story. Even though I'm an intern, I'm a GS-11, and I receive annual reviews like everyone else. I rotate on different assignments every few months or so, and I receive rating at each assignment. ell, on the assignments I generally get rated in most all areas at a 4, a few 5s and a few 3s. The problem is, my overall annual performance ratings is a 3 -- which generally does not get me a bonus at the end of the year. We have a new administrator who lowered the eligibility rating required to a 3. So I got a bonus this year. The problem is, when you add all of my ratings up and do the math -- I should be rated at a 4, and each year I am rated at a 3. My assignment supervisor says she also adds in her own rating -- but it's never in writing or measurable. So although I'm happy I got a bonus this year -- I'm not entirely comfortable with the ambiguity surrounding how they are coming up with my rating each year. Any thoughts?

Lily Garcia: I would not revisit past years, but I would raise the issue next year if it results in your not getting a bonus.

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Chicago: Layoffs, layoffs layoffs! Any advice on the mental stress of significant (less than 25 percent) overall layoff rumors in a large company? Nothing's official but I will only have three weeks notice and three weeks severance to get to another job. What do I do if I don't get the boot but many of my close friends/colleagues do? Do I want to keep working here if I'm not laid off as there have been other layoffs in the last two years so I'm never really safe?

Lily Garcia: If only I had a crystal ball. Based on the financials, you can try to predict whether your company will be having more layoffs in the future. But the truth is that you never know. Meanwhile, you are left to suffer from "survivor syndrome" -- a term coined in the aftermath of Hiroshima which has been detected in the survivors of corporate downsizing. In short, it is not a stable or healthy situation on many levels. You just need to decide whether you derive enough benefit from your job to keep weathering these difficult transitions.

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Lily Garcia: This concludes our chat for the day. If I did not get to your question, please feel free to email me at lilymgarcia@gmail.com. Have a great afternoon!

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Anonymous: Legally they can't withhold your last paycheck (wages for labor) to re-coup the bonus that was paid to you, unless you signed a contract that spells it out expressly. If you did sign something of this sort, there isn't alot you can do about it now, but take the hit and move on -- especially if they are unprofessional (cursing) as you say. Contact friends, family, or social service agencies for assistance, but don't expect a company that you say is already unprofessional, and where you are quitting to be on your side, as you resign- after receiving their $2,500 sign-on bonus.

Lily Garcia: Thanks!


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