Transcript: Tuesday, February 12 at 11 a.m. ET

How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, February 12, 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.

Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

The transcript follows below.

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Lily Garcia: Good morning, and thank you for joining our conversation. I look forward to answering your career- and workplace-related questions. Let's get started.

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Anonymous: Hi Lily, I'm a mid-level professional who is completely burned out and I'm planning to resign so I can take six months off just to catch my breath (not eligible for LOA). While I can afford to do this financially, I'm wondering what happens when I try to return to the workforce. Is taking six months off frowned upon? Does the word "burnout" signal to employers I won't be able to handle the strain of the job? Will taking this time off mean I need to look to entry-level work and won't be able to pick up where I left off? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: You won't necessarily have to take an entry-level position, but you will need to come up with a very good explanation for your time off. Something other than "burnout." Employers can be very touchy about these out-of-work periods. It seems to raise all kinds of questions for people about work ethic, commitment, judgment, what have you. I think that you should do what you need to do for your health. Just be prepared to encounter a few extra closed doors, and make sure that you have a good story to tell.

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Washington, D.C.: What advice do you have for ex-offenders or convicted felons?

Lily Garcia: Please refer to my earlier "How to Deal" article on the subject for more information. The job search will be somewhat tougher for you. But if you are honest in your application materials and seem genuinely contrite about your past, you will ultimately find an employer who will give you a break. That is a promise.

washingtonpost.com: Here's the link to Lily's article, Job Hunting With a Felony Conviction

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Minneapolis: Lily: I missed the comment period on your Feb. 6 column, concerning the introvert. My advice to her? Bake cookies. I did, and I am a huge introvert and frequently worked with extroverts. While I generally fit in, my lack of socialization initially made people think I was snobby. Then I started baking cookies about once every four to six weeks, and just left them on my desk for people to take. I could then engage them in conversation one-on-one. After that, no one thought I was snobby -- I was "the cookie girl."

Lily Garcia: Fantastic advice!

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Baltimore: Hi Lily. I have a somewhat complicated job situation and I'm hoping you can offer some advice. I've applied to graduate school but I won't know for two or three months at least whether I'm in and I was just laid off from my job. One of the programs is part-time and I would remain in the area and work full-time. The others are full-time programs out of state. Should I look for a full-time job, which I'll need if I get into the part time program here but risk having to leave if I attend school out of state? Should I temp for a few months until I have responses from all the schools? I have to admit that I've never temped before and I'm somewhat nervous about the prospect. This may sound silly but I worry that future employers may look at me less favorably for having done temp work after having had substantial full-time jobs. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: In the D.C. metropolitan area, at least, it seems like everyone has temped at some point. It is not frowned upon, but rather accepted as a right of passage for many jobs. All things being equal, it sounds like the odds are in favor of you leaving the area. Knowing that, you just need to make the decision that makes sense for you financially and logistically. If you need the extra money that a full-time job might get you, by all means look for one. If you would prefer to have greater flexibility, temping may be the right option for you.

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Re: cookies: I'm a temp and therefore move offices frequently. I've found keeping a bowl of breath mints works just as well as cookies, and even ropes in the dieters/diabetics.

Lily Garcia: Thanks!

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Anonymous: When I return from maternity leave, I need to change my work hours so I can pick up my daughter on time from daycare. My boss is not happy about my request but is "thinking about it." I did not think my request would be a problem at all. He allowed our assistant to change her hours several months ago, but told her that it was understood that I have priority (being more senior, and having been here longer) and that if I ever wanted to change my hours she would have to go back to the regular schedule. He doesn't want us both leaving early. He seems to have forgotten that he said that, and now doesn't think it's right to ask her to change back. Besides all that, my job does not need to be performed during particular hours. One thing he said is that if he does okay the change, it will be temporary until I can move my daughter into another program "more like a pre-school." I don't understand his reasoning with that, because regardless of what type of school my kid is in, they are going to have to picked up by a certain time. It doesn't make sense. But now for my question: Should I mention to him that I'm going to have to find another job if my request is denied? I do not want to make "threats," but I really would have to look for another job closer to my daycare and home if I can't leave earlier. I am not just asking because it would be nice for me to have the change, I'm asking for the change because it's a necessity.

Lily Garcia: I wouldn't resort to "threats" just yet. Have you explained your predicament to your boss exactly as you have explained it to me? I would start there if I were you. If he denies your request, then ask him to reconsider and advise him then that you will need to look for another job if he cannot be more flexible.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Lily: I have decided to put in my notice at work this Friday because working for my manager is a daily exercise in insanity. I know I am supposed to give a whitewashed reason for leaving, such as the commute is getting to me or I have been offered an opportunity that I cannot pass on, but everyone at work (other managers and HR) already know why I am leaving, because of my manager. Myself and other employees in my group have made formal complaints and nothing has changed. My opinion is they think it wold be easier for employees to quit rather than get a new manager. Regardless, do I give the standard exit speech or let everyone know (again) that this is serious and why I am leaving?

Lily Garcia: If you have already made your concerns clear, I see no reason for rehashing them. The only exception would be if you work for a large organization and there is independent review of exit interview notes. In that case, it might make sense to explain your position again just in case it will make a difference ultimately to those who are left behind.

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Re: cookies: Please be careful about bringing baked goods into the office, especially as a woman. As a woman in a male-dominated office, often the women who bring in baked goods are pigeonholed as more administrative, stereotypical women's roles, while the women who don't bring in baked goods have a career path that is more gender neutral. I wouldn't give my co-workers or bosses the chance to shut down my advancement, just so I can make friends via cookies. Invite someone out to lunch with you, every one needs to eat and throughout a year you can normally work your way through the whole office, going out to lunch once a month or once every two weeks.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughts.

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Anonymous: I'm an alum of a "basketball school" and March Madness is just around the corner. Here's the thing: I don't care, I don't follow sports, and it bugs me when colleagues ask me sports questions. Any suggestions for deflecting the office sports nuts without offending them?

Lily Garcia: If someone asks you about sports, cheerfully respond that, as weird as it might seem, you actually don't follow sports at all. Try not to be grumpy about it.

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Re: mid-level professional who is completely burned out: Before you quit maybe you can make some plans for the time off. Like a big trip you've always wanted to do, some big project you haven't been able to pay attention to, or classes you've been wanting to take. You can then tell employers that you were using that time for X, not just laying around the house. When you are ready to go back to work, be very positive about the time off. Don't apologize for it, don't act like they're going to see it as a negative. If YOU are positive about what you accomplished during that time, they will be much more likely to be okay with it.

Lily Garcia: Great advice. Yet, there are still employers who will frown upon the soul-searching traveler. In any event, just be prepared with a good explanation. And this reader's advice to remain positive about your time off is spot on.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Lily, a friend of mine recently applied at a restaurant in D.C. for a server position, and as part of the interview process, they said they needed a picture of him. He consented to having his picture taken, but understandably felt a little bit weird about being asked to do so. In any case, he didn't pursue the job, but taking a picture of someone as a part of interviewing doesn't seem "kosher" to me. What do you think?

Lily Garcia: It is not "kosher" to the extent that taking pictures allows the inference that appearance (race, etc.) is being considered in the application process. Nothing illegal has occured until an employment decision is actually made because of an impermissible factor. But what happened to your friend was highly inappropriate and legally dangerous for the employer.

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Washington, D.C.: In his shameless quest for the limelight in a place where there is none, my supervisor works on my things behind my back, has me taken off call lists, and generally, leaves me in the dark while he needs to know all. Should I be flattered that he takes my things or worried that he takes my things?

Lily Garcia: I wrote an article a while back on bosses who steal credit from their employees. Have a look. I think there is helpful advice in there for you. In short, you should be flattered, but you also need to look out for your best interests at work. And that means taking measures to ensure that you are getting appropriate credit.

washingtonpost.com: Here's the link to the article: Giving Credit Where It's Due
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For cookie girl: In the last few weeks on these WaPo chats, the issue of women baking in the workplace has come up. Some say it's a bad idea, some think it's great. I don't know what I think. Since coming to my office I've made banana bread and brownies a few times to share, but I'm not sure if it's helped or harmed me. For what it's worth, I work in a male-dominated industry, and I'm one of a few women in a managerial position. I've had a tough time fitting in, and some times it's been very difficult for me. But I make great banana bread!

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your perspective.

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Washington, D.C.: I missed the last chat but wanted to comment on something after reading the transcript. I have been a hiring manager for 10 years at a major corporation, and never in my life would I pursue an applicant who simply pasted their cover letter into the body of an e-mail. You should always attach it along with the resume. In the body of the e-mail, write a quick and formal note of introduction. Your cover letter is meant to highlight your skills and interest.

Lily Garcia: Thank you very much for your insights.

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Fairfax, Va.: Lily, I run a business that's been a one-person deal for quite some time. It's gotten to the point that I'm going to need to expand and add other independent contractors to complete some of the jobs that I can contract. I really don't know how to go about doing this and I'm still using everything under my SSN. Do I need to create some sort of LLC and get a tax ID number to do this? I want to make sure I stay on the up-and-up with this.

Lily Garcia: You are on the right track in identifying the issues, but you need to consult with your tax accountant and/or a corporate attorney for sound advice on your next steps. Please e-mail me at lilymgarcia@gmail.com if you would like recommendations.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I made a job change less than six months ago, mostly because the new job appeared to come with less stress and a flexible schedule. It's turned out to be anything but. A total nightmare. I'm tempted to turn in my two weeks and get out of there even without another offer. I've started sending out resumes but a little soon to land an offer. I could live off of savings for a few months, but am also wondering what the career ramifications will be for this jobless period, not to mention that I wouldn't have been at this position for even half a year. Get some therapy and hang in there until the offer comes or get out of Dodge before they cart me away in a straightjacket?

Lily Garcia: I was actually just chatting with one of our readers about this. Please scroll to the top of the transcript for more information.

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Gaithersburg, Md., again: I'm looking at government positions. Would you know if they look at my situation differently than private industry?

Lily Garcia: Yes, it is a different culture altogether.

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Anonymous: In all fairness, the new mom's coworker is in the same predicament, has to pick up her child by a certain time. Why should she give up her right to a flex schedule? Find a workabout solution for both parents, not using your superior position to force someone to switch back. I'd let someone with that attitude find another place to work anyway if she's so willing to stab her support staff in the back.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for sharing your perspective.

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Stamford, Conn.: The chairperson of our non-profit board is a micro-manager. She has gone beyond the policy-making role for boards and has driven away four CEO's in as many years. Other board members know this, but will not take her on. We fear that no one will take this job as long as she is chair. Suggestions?

Lily Garcia: What do your by-laws say on how to oust the chair? Start there and work behind the scenes to rally support from your other board members. You can also try the direct approach: tell the chair that her style is driving away good talent. Who knows? Maybe she will listen.

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Germantown, Md.: Minneapolis had a great idea about baking cookies as a way to fit in. Just be careful you don't become known exclusively as the cookie person. Once you get that kind of reputation it becomes difficult for people to think of you as the professional you are and it could hurt you more than it helps.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughts.

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Re: "Your cover letter is meant to highlight your skills and interest.": Which it would do if it's pasted in the body OR attached. What kind of HR professional would "never pursue" someone who relays valuable information in one of many acceptable modes? I'd never work for someone so illogical and unreasonable. Sounds like she doesn't get the best person for her company, but the lucky fool who uses the right color ink in the signature block. What odd criteria.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your response.

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Richmond, Va: Isn't the same INFORMATION in the cover letter whether it's as an attachment or in the body of an e-mail? Why this crazy "I'd never hire someone who sends it one way or the other"? Reality, folks. The information inside is the issue, not whether they attach or paste!

Lily Garcia: Thanks.

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Portland, Ore.: If someone missed an interview because he showed up too late for the flight (no extenuating circumstances), do you think that person is deserving of a second chance at the interview? This is the subject of some debate in my office. I'm of the opinion that if a person can't set aside enough time to get to the airport on time to leave for a job interview, this person is not aware enough to deserve a second chance.

Lily Garcia: If there is no good reason for missing the flight, I would say the window of opportunity has closed. Yet, an employer might still be willing to give such an applicant a second chance depending on their level of talent and other factors. You never know.

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Anonymous: I've been job searching and I'm going to quit my job. My boss has fired several people who turned in their two weeks notice. How should I approach this? Do it on a Friday? A Monday? Give 30 days? Two weeks? Effective immediately? Do future potential employers believe interviewees who say they were fired after turning in their notice? No employees receive severance, whether they're fired or quit. I am going to temp or something for the time being.

Lily Garcia: It sounds like you should expect to be fired and plan accordingly. When you decide to give notice should depend upon what makes most sense financially for you. In your case, unless you have a lot of financial flexibility, it would be most sensible to secure another offer before quitting and to quit no more than two weeks before you are scheduled to start the other job.

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Baked Goods: The most prolific baker on my team is the most macho guy of all. Let's stop with the stereotypes.

Lily Garcia: Good point. Let's move on to other subjects, shall we?

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Alexandria, Va.: Lily: I recently completed a master's and am having problems knowing where to go from here. I keep having really bad job experiences (duties drastically change after I am hired to manager being so incompetent it hinders everyone's work). I have spoken to others in my field and former coworkers and have been assured it was the situation and not me. But this still leaves me wondering if I am in the wrong job field, if I am unable to pick good offers, or maybe all jobs are this emotionally draining. Thoughts?

Lily Garcia: Without knowing more about your chosen field, I cannot fully address your question. All I can say is that you should probably listen to the people who are reassuring you that you have been the victim of circumstances. No matter what you do for a living, it can be hard to find a job that is a good fit.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I always attach my cover letter to an e-mail, but I don't see what is so bad about putting it in the body also. I think it's just preference. Is one way better than the other?

Lily Garcia: I believe that you should both attach and paste, but reasonable minds may differ.

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Anonymous, again: My co-worker is not a mom right now, and has no plans to be one. She wanted the flex schedule (which is only 1/2 hour than regular time) so that she can get home earlier, because she does not like the fact that she has to commute to the 'burbs.

Lily Garcia: Thanks for the additional information.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Lily. I have a resume question. I've just been laid off after 16 months in my job. I left my previous job after five months because the company was engaged in some seriously unethical activity that I wasn't comfortable with. I spent two months out of work before going to the job that I just got laid off from. I'm wondering how I can put this experience in the best possible light as I look for new work. Before these two major detours I had a stable work history where I spent two to four years at each company. I left a job at a high-profile company to take the job where I spent five months because it was presented to me as a "step down" prestige wise but an opportunity to really run something. Should I leave the five-month job off my resume altogether? If I did that I would have a seven-month gap before the job where I spent 16 months and then got laid off. During that time I did freelance work as well. I'm worried that having a five-month stint followed by a 16-month stint would raise more flags for employers than a seven-month gap would, especially if I can honestly say that I spent that time doing freelance work. What do you think? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: I wouldn't leave anything off of your resume. Omitting information will raise red flags more readily than a patchwork job history. Better to think carefully through the explanation that you will use in your cover letter and interview.

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Re. cover letters and e-mail: Here's what I do: I attach both, usually PDF form and I write in the body of the e-mail that I've attached the cover letter and resume, if they cannot open it let me know, etc. Why is this so difficult? A cover letter in the body of an e-mail doesn't look good, in my opinion, since it's not formatted nicely. You want to make a good first impression, don't you?

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughts.

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Charlotte, N.C.: My boss recently (in the last two months) began erroneously accusing me and my co-workers of not telling her things or doing/not doing something without her permission. She interperses genuine feedback with excessively negative, personal comments which would appear to serve to undercut a person's self confidence. She has always been high strung and controlling, but recently seems to be increasingly off the reservation. Our company is under financial pressure which cannot help the situation. Short of finding a new job, how do you possibly negotiate a relationship with a person who is negative, paranoid and accusatory?

Lily Garcia: Short of finding a new job, you just learn to let the personal attacks roll off your back. You should also do everything that you can to secure your position in the organization by establishing relationships with other influential people and making sure that you are known to others as a good worker.

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Capitol Hill: I'm young, and I look it. People tend to think I'm about 17 unless they know better. Even when I dress up, I still look very young. I feel like this is inhibiting my career. Any tips on how I can counteract my overly young look?

Lily Garcia: Let your work and demeanor speak for themselves. That includes behaving as a consummate professional with colleagues socially and after hours. If you are less strict about your behavior, you will only reinforce whatever negative stereotypes your youthful appearance is evoking.

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Anonymous: Re: the coworker was given permission to work certain hours for her own lifestyle choices, be they children, taking classes, whatever. To rescind that because someone who outranks her wants to take that right away for herself is a horrible way to treat employees. Very classist, too. Any professional who threatens to leave if a coworker in admin isn't stripped of rights she'd already negotiated is not a team player and has airs.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughts on this issue.

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Alexandria, Va.: Quite frankly, your co-worker still has as much of a right to her approved schedule as you do, as a mom. People all have commuting woes regardless of their mom status. The problem here is that workplaces are so frequently inflexible and staunchly holding on to outdated ideas of workplace setups, in an area that would benefit greatly from alternative arrangements. Not that it helps the situation in question, but I think we are all tired of getting the shaft on flexible work arrangements to step aside for the moms.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for adding your perspective to the discussion.

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Anonymous: Re: cover letter: Amen! Which is why a HR staffer who's the first gate you have to get through with a rigid refusal to even look at 50% of the applications due to personal preferance is scary, for applicants and for the company.

Lily Garcia: Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I love my job but feel I'm underpaid. My boss says they can't do anything unless I had an outside offer. I'm working on an application hoping I get an outside offer only so I can get a bump at work. I feel this is disingenuous to the other employer (as I don't want to work there). Is this wrong?

Lily Garcia: Your boss' request is truly bizarre and places you in a very uncomfortable situation. It is also risky for your boss. What if, in the process of securing another offer, you actually end up liking another employer better? I would say, pursue other offers only if you think there is a chance that you would take them.

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Re: getting fired when you give your notice: I was in this situation once. On the advice of my co-workers, I gave them one day's notice. What I didn't realize was how valued an employee I was. When they asked why I was I giving such short notice, I was honest and said, "I know you always fire people who resign." They were very upset, since they would have worked to keep me had they had some notice that I was thinking of leaving. It didn't help me much, but they gave up the practice after that.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your insights.

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Anonymous Can't Win: Even with the additional tidbit of info she can't win. If she forces the admin to go back to regular hours she's using her status as a parent to get over on the childless. If she doesn't get the flexible hours then she'll have to leave or sacrifice for her child. She should discuss the flex hours with her boss and leave the admin out of it. It's her situation and she has to deal with it. Is the father of the child in the picture? Why can't he pick up the child?

Lily Garcia: Thanks.

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RE: cover letters: I have never hired someone personally, but I have worked for people who do, and can say this: When you have to read through 200+ applications for a single job, yes, formatting DOES matter. It may not be fair or logical, but unfortunately it is true that when you have dozens of qualified applications submitted in an aesthetically pleasing, easy-to-read format, the cover letters and resumes that are just print outs from Outlook, or unformatted, automatically-generated from a Web site like Career Builder. Not only do your eyes just glaze over them, but it just comes across as not putting any effort into your application. Putting it in a nice, readable format shows you have targeted the job and truly want it.

Lily Garcia: I appreciate your insights. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I hate my job -- it was not even remotely close to what was described to me in my interview. However, they are paying me a ton of money to work that is ten steps below what I thought I'd be doing and every time I ask for more responsibility, they don't respond. On top of that, I've gotten two raises and I haven't even been here a year. They like me, they pay me VERY well but the work is mind-numbingly boring. I'm afraid to leave because I won't get the salary and benefits I get here. Plus, it's easy. If I go somewhere else, I'll work harder and get less money. What to do?

Lily Garcia: Save up and enjoy the free ride until you are financially and psychologically ready to make the move to more stimulating and less lucrative work.

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Lily Garcia: This concludes today's chat. Thank you very much for your participation. Wishing you a great afternoon,

Lily


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