Transcript: Tuesday, April 29 at 11 a.m. ET

How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 29, 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.

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

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D.C.: Hi Ms. Garcia, thanks for taking my question. What advice do you have about dealing with flakiness? I have had several potential employers express interest in hiring me over the last few months (they have told me things like, "We'll be back in touch with an offer," or "We're looking to see how we can fund your salary and will be in touch" or "We want you; don't take any jobs without checking with us first"). But I have not heard anything from these people in at least a month. And when I email them, they do not reply. If they are no longer interested, couldn't they just shoot me an email back saying so? Otherwise, what am I to think? I am tired of being left hanging.

Lily Garcia: If they do not respond in a month, it is safe to assume that they have "flaked out." They are pursuing other candidates, or the budgeting for your position did not come through, or they have had turnover in the staff that was interested in you, or any number of other things may have come up. I would try calling just to say that you would like to know whether they are still interested because you have not received a response to your messages and you have other offers pending. If you still do not hear back, move on.

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Reston, Va.: I really want to eliminate my credit card debt by finding some work for the evenings/weekends. Online data entry work seems perfect, but how do I know which companies are legitamite? There are so many to sort through I don't want to join some pyramid scheme or something! Thank you!

Lily Garcia: Ask around, do an online search, check the better business bureau, check with the Federal Trade Commission's consumer protection division. Also, trust your instincts.

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Midwest: I made a strategic error in my job search. I am looking for a part-time istructor position at one of the local community colleges (just 1 or 2 classes). At the suggestion of another instructor, I am calling the heads of departments to make some kind of personal contact before sending them my vitae and cover letter. Well I called two division heads and left messages on their voicemail, asking them to call me or email me if they were interested! So now I've not only put the ball in their court, I've risked looking like a stalker (or at least someone with no interpersonal skills) when I send them my vitae without hearing from them. I am kicking myself, and am wondering how to overcome this misstep. Thanks for your advice.

Lily Garcia: I think that you are overthinking things a little. In all likelihood, these two individuals are busy enough that, by the time they receive your resume, they will have only the most vague recollection of your phone message. Besides, leaving a phone message followed by written correspondence hardly makes you a "stalker." Best of luck.

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Sterling, Va.: Hi. I'm a stay-home mom who wants to get back to work. Have an IT degree, but have stayed home for 8 years. While at home, volunteered at elementary school and now have a strong knowledge of public school system in Loudoun. Would prefer to work within the hours of 8-4. Is it realistic to find something in those hours and starting in September? When should I start searching? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: My question, which will also be the question in the minds of prospective employers, is what you have been doing to keep up to speed with developments in IT for the past eight years. Has your work with the elementary school exposed you to technology? If not recommend that you take measures (a certificate program, etc.) to brush up on your skills. If you are limited in the hours that you can work, you can generally expect to be pursuing non-exempt jobs (i.e., jobs that pay by the hour), which are usually of lesser seniority than salaried positions and allow for less autonomy. I would approach this just like any other job search. That is, look in the paper and online, especially on IT job web sites. If you would like to start working in September, aim for starting your job search in July.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm a Fed and I've been in situations twice now over the last nine years where my supervisor forced me to apologize to someone I thought had told lies about me. Do they have authority to make me apologize and when they call names, can I take notes? It seems they never take my side. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: They can ask you to apologize and, if you don't, your supervisor may consider it insubordination and write the incident up accordingly. But you can always take notes and assert your position.

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Online work: I think a minimum good rule of thumb for the person looking for online data entry work is avoid any situation where they have to pay money in return for a training or materials, etc. These are sure scams!

Lily Garcia: Thanks for the advice.

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Richmond, Va.: A classic question on job interviews is, "What is one of your weaknesses?" I know my weaknesses are disorganization and, to a lesser extent, time management. I've got a job now, which I'll be leaving in the fall for law school. But I'm wondering what I can do now to demonstrate to future employers that I have tried to work on this weakness. Obviously, I am working on it on my own, but what tangible steps can I take?

Lily Garcia: I don't know why interviewers insist upon asking that question. All that it does is present an opportunity for the interviewee to showcase further strengths. You might say, for example, "My greatest weakness is that I have trouble maintaining work-life balance. No matter what, I will always stay as late as I have to to get the job done because I simply cannot enjoy my after-hours time unless I know that my employer is happy." You get the idea. I would not recommend that you fall on your sword in your interview. If you feel that you must mention this weakness, find a way to spin it into a strength.

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Copenhagen, Denmark, and curious about American Ways: I don't live in the U.S. but enjoy reading your column and chat online. I've noticed the occasional question about pregnancy and maternity leave, and am curious: Aren't there laws governing this in the U.S.? In Denmark we have laws specifying exactly how long in advance you have to tell your employer about a pregnancy and how long a maternity leave you're entitled to at how much pay (in a percentage of your normal salary). The law states the minimum; individual employers are free to offer employees better conditions than those specified in the law.

Lily Garcia: As uncivilized as it might seem, employees here do not enjoy such protections. We do have a federal law that mandates that employers of a certain size allow up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for the birth, adoption, or foster care of a child (the Family and Medical Leave Act), and some states have passed laws that allow for more leave or that reach smaller employers. Very recently, a sprinkling of states have passed laws allowing for some paid sick leave. But that is about all that our employees can count upon.

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Cubicleville: Hi Lily. My friend recently hit the 1 year mark at her first full-time job out of college. After a probationary period, she got a small raise, but has received neither an annual raise nor a review (which are not common at this company). Although her supervisor brought up the issue with their bosses, nothing resulted, and he is not comfortable raising the issue himself due to a somewhat tense, top-down office culture. What can she do about this situation? Thanks for any help.

Lily Garcia: Your friend should continue to firmly and professionally insist upon having an annual review. If, after one or two follow-up messages, she receives no reply, she should consider mentioning the matter to the human resources department. But I hear what you are saying about the top-down culture. It might just not be politically feasible for your friend to keep pursuing this and she needs to ask herself at what point it is simply not worth the fight. The reality might just be that she cannot count upon regular reviews in this company. And this is just one more piece of information that she will need to analyze when considering whether to stay.

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Washington, D.C.: Any advice for someone who loathes their job because they don't respect their boss? Mine is a passive-aggressive tyrant who micromanages everything. I have seen this person speak to people through clenched teeth, question where people are going when they request time off, tell folks they're going to get raises and then not give them. This individual treats certain staff members a lot better than others and lets them get away with anything short of murder while tyrannizing over the rest of us. Yes, I am actively, desperately looking for another job, but what can I do to get through the days in the meantime?

Lily Garcia: I feel for you. I do. You should most definitely find a way out. In the meantime, here are a few ideas for coping:
(1) Commiserating with your allies. Venting to people at work who feel your pain can help enormously. Venting to close friends and family can also help, too.
(2) Seeking counseling. If it has gotten to the point where you feel depressed and dread coming to work, you should seriously consider reaching out for more professional help. Some people feel that there is a stigma attached to seeing a counselor or psychologist, but you will be surprised to learn just how many workers in your position take advantage of these services.
(3) Give yourself a break. Take it easy at work. Don't stay late. Get your work done, and get out of there. Try to create as much time as possible for relaxation in your life.
(4) Try to have a sense of humor about your situation. Sometimes it helps to laugh, rather than cry, at the absurdity of your situation. If you can't laugh now, you will laugh later. I promise.

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Arlington, Va.: Eight years off from IT is a very large gap. Think where we were in 2000 technology wise. The Internet was only getting started.

If she hasn't kept current with IT, through classes, reading trade magazines, I think that she should start looking, first, at getting up to speed. Which means a lot more work and preparation before starting the job search. Also starting off with "I need to work these hours" is probably not going to endear her to prospective employers. I'd try and get more of a feel for how flexible the employer is, and the work environment.

Lily Garcia: Thanks for your advice.

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Rockville, Md.: re: flakiness:

Why can't people be polite? Are there so many workers that it's okay to treat potential employees rudely? We all hear how we are supposed to send Thank You notes... what flakiness describes, combined with the article in last Sunday's Post about job offers which are rescinded because "the employer couldn't forecast accurate hiring needs" is appalling!

To some degree, how I am treated before I am hired is good information. But we are also sending the message that it's okay to play with people's paychecks and that one's word is meaningless.

Lily Garcia: I hear you. It is a very frustrating state of affairs. And how an employer treats you during the hiring process reveals important information about that organization's culture.

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D.C.: A potential employer is insisting that I start immediately (this Monday) without giving two weeks' notice at my current job. I think this is wrong, but I want the job. What to do?

Lily Garcia: Push back as much as you can. Tell your prospective employer that for you this is a matter of professional integrity, that keeping your commitments and not leaving your current employer in a bind is very important to you. If they continue to insist upon a Monday start date, ask directly whether that will make or break the deal. If they are prepared to move on from you because you cannot start on Monday, you will have to make the difficult choice to compromise your values or lose the job.

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D.C.: Hello Lily,

A position suddenly outside my department in the same organization I work for suddenly opened up. I would like to apply for it (it would be a lateral move for me -- I have been thinking about steering my career more towards the type of position that opened up instead of my current role). How best to let the powers that be know that I am interested in the position, including my manager? Who should I tell first about my interest in the position -- my manager or the hiring manager of the open position (which, incidentally, is my manager's manager). Thanks!

Lily Garcia: Tell your manager first and ask for his/her mentoring in the application process for the job.

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My greatest weakness is that I have trouble maintaining work-life balance.: I hate these kind of answers! They sound insincere. Please at least don't use one of the canned responses you find in interview self-help books. You really need to come up with your own fake weakness. I would not bring up being disorganized and having problems with time management -- UNLESS you can go on to say something like, "that's why I created a personal organization system that works for me" and discuss what that system is.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comments.

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Waldorf, Md.: Good Afternoon. I am moving from Maryland to Florida. I have sent my resume in to several potential employers. I feel my resume is very strong, and am at a loss why I have no gotten a call back to set up an interview. It's been about two weeks. Do you think it could have been that I had all of my Maryland contact information, including a Maryland address on my resume? Should I resubmit now that I have my Florida address? Would that help? Thanks!

Lily Garcia: That could be part of the problem. Employers generally have a predilection for applicants who are in the area or who are moving to the area. If your application materials make it look like you are an out-of-towner, that could be holding you back.

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For Sterling, Va.: Why not check out the Loudon County Schools Web site to see if they have any IT positions? I work for the State of Maryland and I see IT positions for both the state and for the different county school systems all the time.

Lily Garcia: Thanks for the advice.

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Are there so many workers that it's okay to treat potential employees rudely?: While I do agree that telling someone you are interested and then not getting back to them is rude, you should not expect an acknowledgement or written rejection note every time you apply for a job. We sometimes get 300 resumes for a single job announcement. I just cannot respond to all of them.

Lily Garcia: Thank you very much for your perspective.

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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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