Career Track Live

Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 9, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington area is a magnet for smart and ambitious workers. Post columnist Mary Ellen Slayter writes a regular column for these professionals who are either establishing their careers or are looking to advance. She also offers advice online.

Mary Ellen Slayter is author of Career Track, a biweekly column in The Washington Post's Jobs section. She focuses her chat on issues affecting working professionals.

Read Mary Ellen's latest Career Track column.

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

The transcript follows.


Mary Ellen Slayter: Good afternoon, everyone! Thanks for joining me.


Oviedo, Fla.: Google wants people from "top" colleges as job applicants. See listing from employment section of Google Web site. Is this legal?

Represent Google as a company spokesperson and front line point of communication to our partners, customers, media, shareholders and the financial and global communities. Create process and procedures to integrate all company marketing with public communications. Assess and anticipate risks to Google's reputation and brand. Work closely with key business partners both within an outside the company, including Google's executives, founders and key functional leaders.

Responsibilities: Design and implement initiatives for the Global Communications and Public Affairs team. Develop relations with all forms of media relating to Google. Represent Google as a company spokesperson to our partners, customers, media, shareholders and communities. Direct a broad range of board-related and regulatory communications. Manage a team of highly talented professionals and work closely with key business partners.

Requirements: BA/BS degree from a top-tier university; post-graduate degree preferred. At least 7 years of professional experience in communications. Proven communicator with verbal and written skills. Effective team player who can lead efforts across various disciplines. Capable of working calmly and quickly in high-stress environments. Foreign language capability preferred.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Why wouldn't it be?


Washington, D.C.: Can you or anybody recommend somewhere to take Spanish classes in Washington? I'm interested in learning but haven't taken a class since college. I'd prefer it not be at a university, although I'm open to ideas. I read about something called the International Language Institute somewhere (maybe the Post?) and was wondering if that was a good choice and/or there are others. Thanks!

Mary Ellen Slayter: USDA grad school, perhaps? Since you have had some exposure already, a private tutor might work. Local coffee shops and restaurants often have fliers for local teachers.



Washington, D.C.: What is the minimum salary YOU think a 20-something would need to survive comfortably in D.C.?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Well, I got by pretty comfortably on $27K when I came here post-college 9 years ago, but now? I'd say more like $30-$35K, depending on where they lived and worked. That assumes your job provides health insurance. You won't pay off monster student loans on that or own a late-model car, but you can find decent (shared) housing and feed yourself.

Anybody agree? Disagree?


Job Search While Pregnant-update: Hi, I wrote a while back and just wanted to report on my situation. I interviewed and found a job while only 3 months pregnant. I ended up revealing this to my employer after they verbally offered the position, but before all negotiations had finalized. They were very supportive and I will start my leave in September. Its been a busy few months starting a new job while also prepping for being away but it can be done!

Mary Ellen Slayter: Congrats! Yes, I think that is the best arrangement. That way they aren't shocked by your need for maternity leave and you aren't unfairly taken out of the running for the job.


Washington, D.C.: I started a new job in March. It is incredibly boring and is not turning out to be at all like the position described when I interviewed. When you start a new job and it is not the right fit, is it best to leave immediately? or try to stay for at least a year?

Mary Ellen Slayter: How far off the mark is it? Just boring, and not dangerous, makes me inclined to advise that you stay put and keep working with your supervisors to close the gap between your expectations and the reality of the job. Do you feel like they lied, or did something change?

Regardless, you can start looking. It may take you a year to find a new job.


Washington, D.C.: Re; Spanish classes I've heard good things about Spanish black belt but don't have any direct experience.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Throwing this out there ...


Stafford, Va.: When an employer is asking that you provide a salary requirement along with your resume... how do I write that up?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Include it in your cover letter. Include a range, and say the final number depends on the total package of salary and benefits.


Maryland: There are Berlitz schools scattered around D.C. - good and not unreasonably priced for learning a foreign language.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Another, classic, choice.


Washington, D.C.: Is there a site that specializes in job postings at associations?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Have you checked


Washington, D.C.: Hello, I'm almost certain that my company is having layoffs in the coming weeks. I'm in the third trimester of my pregnancy, and I had been planning on taking 4 months maternity leave (mostly unpaid), so I won't be able to look for a job until October at the earliest. Do I have any special protections as a pregnant woman? If not, do companies often give extra severance pay to pregnant women?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Unfortunately, they don't. Unless you have a contract, severance is at the employer's discretion.


Hyattsville, Md.: I have had about 7 different jobs in my life. I'm 29-years-old and they were all in different fields and I have recently been a stay home mom for 2 years in 2 different states. I don't have a diploma, GED, or college degree, but I do have management experience and any and every kind of exp you can think of so I guess my question is; how do I get the career I want without lying on my resume? and where do I go to get your response?

- An anxious mother tired of dead end jobs

Mary Ellen Slayter: Start by going back to school. Get your GED, then head to community college. The local ones are very good, and you can transfer to a 4 year university after 2 years. Good luck!


Arlington, Va.: I am submitting this early because I am starting a new job today. Any advice for the new employee? I've been in the work force for a while, but this is only my 2nd real job, and I am nervous about meeting new people, fitting in, etc....

Mary Ellen Slayter: Listen more than you talk, and pay close attention to the culture of your workplace, not just the details of how to perform your specific job.


Maryland: I graduated in 2004 with a B.S. in political science, I temped for almost 2 years and went to grad school now I have my master's in social work. Now I'm temping again doing admin work. I wanted to get into social policy or community organizing, but no one is calling me back. So I'm doing admin temp work again. I'm thinking about taking social work licensing exam and be a clinical social worker although I never wanted to be one. Do you think I should go this route?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Not if you don't want to be one! Does your temp company know what kind of work you want long term? Are you volunteering with any of the organizations you want to work for?


Re: Minimum Salary: That scares me a bit. Most (political) entry level positions in D.C. are around the 25-30 thousand dollar range. So almost a decade has passed and entry level positions pay the same?

Mary Ellen Slayter: It certainly seems that way. The competition for those Hill jobs is just so fierce.


College Park, Md.: In response to the question about Association sites, try This is the American Society of Association Executives, the association of associations. Click on "Your Career" from the home page.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Thank you!


Upper Marlboro, Md.: Who do I contact about a programming problem on your job site? Once I submit a resume on a particular position, the red "A" pops up on all subsequent positions with the same title that I attempt to apply for which causes me to be blocked in submitting a resume for that new position. How do I work around that problem?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Hang on, my producer has the answer to this question ...


Mary Ellen Slayter: There ya go


Washington, D.C.: I totally agree with you today, Mary.

30-35k would be a lean but workable start if you are willing to manage your money and share living arrangements.

Also, USDA language classes are fabulous. I took a few semesters of Chinese classes there and they were very good quality. It was fun to have classmates!

Mary Ellen Slayter: Thanks for chiming in


Protections for pregnant women:"Do I have any special protections as a pregnant woman? If not, do companies often give extra severance pay to pregnant women?"

I'm not trying to be nasty, but why would an employer give extra protection to pregnant women? Wouldn't that be discriminatory against women who can't have kids? And why would you get extra severance if you're pregnant? I've never heard of a company that gave severance based on the number of children you have, so why would you get more for being pregnant. Instead of worrying about that try to find out what will happen to your health insurance. If you give birth without insurance you could very well be paying off those medical bills when Junior goes to college.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Well, they will likely be able to extend coverage through COBRA. But yes, they should check.


Long Term Temp: Yes, my temp company knows. I will look into volunteer opportunities thanks.

Mary Ellen Slayter: It's all about networking. Volunteering would help you find out about paid openings long before there was a job ad.


College Park, Md.: Things are not looking good for my company. I think they are going to start letting go older workers like myself who make higher salaries. How tough of a job market is it out there for a late-40-something?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Well, that could be age discrimination, if they targeted people just for their age. I know you are still a bit young for them, but have you checked out the resources at the AARP?


Living on a "low" salary: I moved down to the DC area the end of 2004 and had a salary of $33,000 working on Capitol Hill. I lived in Columbia in a rental complex where I scored a good deal and paid under $1000 a month. My job eventually paid for my student loans (I think after 3 mos). It also covered most of my MARC monthly. So it can be done.

Mary Ellen Slayter: I think so, too. It's housing and transportation that you have to get a handle on.


Takoma Park, Md.: For the person interested in studying Spanish: I've heard good things about Spanish Black Belt. Stay away from USDA: 20-30 students in a class is WAY too many for effective language learning.

If the writer can get 2 weeks away, I wholeheartedly recommend immersion study at one of the private language schools in Guatemala or Honduras. You will learn more than you ever believed possible in 2 weeks, at a cost of around $200 a week, including lodging and one-on-one instruction.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Another perspective on USDA, and another suggestion.


2 follow-ups: The poster wondering about a job board for associations should check the web site of the American Society of Association Executives. And the first poster wondering if it's illegal to seek applicants from top colleges: I am so sick of everyone thinking that behavior they don't like from employers is illegal. What's illegal is discrimination based on a legally protected class, such as race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, etc. And that means that you made a negative decision BECAUSE of those factors, not that you made a negative decision about someone who happens to be in one of those classes. People need to learn the law.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Agreed. I am still waiting to hear back from that poster about what they thought was illegal about the ad.


Oviedo, Fla.: Re: top schools for Google ad -- why should this be allowed? Only "elite" grads need apply? Nno Ball St., Towson Univ., or(ahem) U Md., my alma mater? You can't say "no Lutherans" or "only lesbians" in a wanted ad.

why is Google OK on this one?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Because in this country, admittance to and graduation from college, including "elite" ones is largely a matter of merit. It is reasonable for employers to evaluate people on their education credentials, and some schools are better than others for certain things.

That doesn't mean that everyone who graduates from Stanford is smarter than everyone from Towson, but we'd be fooling ourselves if we treated those educational experiences as equivalent.

And I say this as someone who went to LSU, not Harvard.

Your comparisons are off. Religion is a protected class, as is sexual orientation in some juridisctions. Neither has anything to do with job performance, and quality of education definitely does.


Dupont Circle: 1st time applying for a federal job. What does this mean when the website indicates "Referred to Selecting Official". Does that mean I passed the general HR hurdle and I am being sent a more selective group?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Yep! Congrats!

I'm curious ... how long did it take from the time the job closed?


D.C.: Advice for first day on the job:

Take time to sit with various coworkers and ask them about their jobs, roles w/in the co. etc. As w/informational interviewing, people love to talk about themselves, and this helps you learn the ropes while getting to know colleagues.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Absolutely!


Baltimore, Md.: My fiance suggested I try and set up an 'informational interview.' I'd never heard of this before and I was wondering if you had and, if so, how I might go about getting one.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Look for people who have similar jobs to the one you want. Alumni groups and trade association are a great way to find people. Send them an e-mail, asking to meet for coffee. If they agree, ask lots of questions about their job and how they got it. Ask for their advice. What you don't do is ask them for a job.

Make sense?


Washington, D.C.: What is the take home pay of a $30k a year salary? My expenses are about $20k per year.

Mary Ellen Slayter: It's about $23K in Maryland, assuming you're single, with no dependents. That doesn't include deductions for health insurance, just FICA and federal and state taxes.

I based that estimate on Paycheck City's calculator.


Dupont Circle again: It took 3 weeks. Not bad, I guess. It took my current employer 6 months from application to hire!

Mary Ellen Slayter: Do you mind sharing the agency?

I'm impressed. Some agencies seem to really be making good on their promises to speed up the hiring process.


Washington, D.C.:"Because in this country, admittance to and graduation from college, including "elite" ones is largely a matter of merit."

It's partly a matter of merit. But come on, it's ALSO a matter of expense. There are plenty of people out there who were smart enough to get into an elite school, but not in a financial position to pay for it.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Sure, and I'm one of them.

But class discrimination isn't illegal either.


Anonymous: Hi,

I interviewed at a company that wanted to talk to a reference, preferably someone who was my manager. So I gave them the name of an executive at a Fortune 500 company that I was fortunate to work for. The executive let me know that the discussion occurred and that he felt it went well. A few weeks later I found out that I got the job. I also found out that the person who contacted my reference is still in contact with my reference and now "networking" with the executive.

While I have worked for a few companies over the years, I've never had to provide a reference like this before. So I want to know if this is normal. To me, it just doesn't sit right. I can't see how it would be ethical for anybody to personally benefit from something I had to provide for the employment process. And what if I didn't get the job. Would this still be ok?

I want to talk to the executive to express how uncomfortable I feel about the situation and learn his thoughts on what's happening. I also want to talk to the guy in charge at the new company about this. It's a small office (and no HR), so the minute I mention something, there is no turning back.

But before doing any of this I need a reality check on if I'm overreacting.


Mary Ellen Slayter: You are completely overreacting. Even if you hadn't gotten the job, there wouldn't be anything unethical about this. Enjoy your new job and drop this.


Re: Informational Interviews: Some colleges have programs for setting these up for their alumni. Might be worth checking out if you're a college grad.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Yep. And you'd be surprised at how people are to talk about their jobs.

UMd journalism students sometimes e-mail me, asking about my job. I'm happy to oblige them as long as I have time, whether by e-mail, phone or in person.


Arlington, Va.: When giving salary requirements, is it necessary to provide a range, as you suggested? I'm not sure why I would put an upper limit on the salary.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Well, it's either going to be a range, or a single number. A range gives you some flexiblity.


Washington, D.C.: I'm trying to negotiate a modified work schedule for when I return to work after maternity leave. I want to arrive and leave a half hour earlier than I do now so that I can get to my daycare on time. My supervisor at first said no, then changed her mind several weeks later, then changed her mind back to no again. I do not want to leave this job, but if she will not let me modify my hours I'm going to have to start looking for another position elsewhere. I do feel like I have a good argument about why she should let me change my schedule - most of my work can be done at any time, I have almost no face-to-face contact with the internal clients we support, I work very hard, I get excellent reviews, I'm willing to work overtime on a weekend if it's needed.

She's told me in the past that I'm her best employee, so it seems like she'd want to work with me on this. But, she tends to be a little cold, and looks at things only from her perspective and how it affects her. She is not going to care whether or not a refusal to accommodate me will make me unhappy. But I'm positive she will regret losing me because I am a good employee and she just lost several other people all in the last 2 weeks. How do I negotiate with this type of person? Should I try to get this ironed out before I go on leave, or let it rest until I'm getting ready to come back?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Can I just say that it sounds like your employer sounds like an idiot? Is she really willing to lose you over this perfectly reasonable request? I say let it rest until it's time to come back.

I'm going to take this opportunity to plug a presentation I'm giving this weekend for the Women's Center on asking for a flexible schedule. It's in Vienna, on Saturday, from 2-4 pm. Find out more:


D.C.: 'Elite colleges only'. It may not be illegal but it sure is short-sighted. Pretty surprising coming from a company started by a couple of college students who had yet to earn ANY degree.

BTW - I hope nobody from a 'non-elite' college would let that stop them from applying. I often tell people if they have 60-70% of the qualifications listed, apply anyway. Lots of places describe their cadillac candidate, when in the end they hire a nice reliable Toyota.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Yes, of course others should still apply.


Dupont Circle: The agency is the Dept. of Commerce

Mary Ellen Slayter: Cool! Thanks for sharing!


Mary Ellen Slayter: Thanks for all your comments and questions. See y'all in a couple of weeks.


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

© 2008 The Washington Post Company