Transcript: Tuesday, Mar. 10, at 11 a.m. ET
How to Deal Live
Tuesday, March 10, 2009; 11:00 AM
Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 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.
Find more career-related news and advice in our Jobs section.
The transcript follows.
Lily Garcia: Good morning, and thank you for joining my live chat. I look forward to answering your career- and workplace-related questions. Let's begin. -Lily
Olney, Md.: Is it acceptable to write an email as a thank you note for the interview? And what should I say?
Lily Garcia: Yes, thanking your interviewer by email is okay (although I personally have a preference for typed or handwritten notes). The note should thank the interviewer for his/her time, reiterate your interest in the position, and say that you look forward to hearing back from him/her soon. If possible, mention a specific topic that you discussed in the interview, for example, "I especially enjoyed learning more about your company's plans to institute a vendor relationship management program."
Columbia, S.C.: What can I do about work place discrimination based on age and looks? All the law firms I work at (I am over 40 and most jobs last about 5 years before this happens), eventually they all want to fire all the older paralegals and hire younger ones. Too much Boston Legal perhaps?
Lily Garcia: If you sincerely believe that you have been the subject of age discrimination, consult an employment lawyer, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or your state's fair employment practices agency.
Bowie, Md.: Unfortunately, I recently foreclosed on my house after losing my job. My credit is very poor though I'm working on rebuilding it. I would like a job in the government. Can I pass a security clearance with bad credit?
Lily Garcia: In my limited understanding of the issue, I believe that debt or bad credit does not per se stand in the way of obtaining a security clearance. However, it is important to be absolutely honest in the screening process, and excessive debt may raise concerns about your vulnerability to being recruited by enemies of the government. I would welcome the wisdom of our readers on this subject.
Capitol Hgts., Md.: I am a recent retired federal employee. I was RIFFED in 2007. I was given a buyout. My question is: How can I work for the federal government within 5 years without having to payback my buyout money which I have spent already. I am eligible for a position at the U.S. Bureau of Census but was told I would have to pay back the money to my agency in order to work for the government. Is there any way to override this rule. What is your suggestion? I have sent out many resume's to the private industry without any solid job offers.
Lily Garcia: You are bound by the terms of the agreement governing your separation. Whether there is a way for you to get out of the five-year bar on government employment is a question that you should address to an employment attorney in a private consult. Unfortunately, I am not permitted to provide specific legal advice in this forum.
I do suggest in the meantime that you seek employment with federal government contractors. They will value your federal experience and I doubt that employment with contractors would be barred by the terms of your separation.
Washington, D.C.: Dear Lily, I'm seeking a six-figure salary and searched theLadders.com, which posts those kinds of jobs. My question: If Ladders identifies the company, I always go to the company's website and visit its career section to see if the job is still active. Sometimes, I find that if Ladders posts the job, say, today or within the last few days, the company's website tells a different story. The company shows that it posted the job on its website weeks ago, making the lead stale, I believe in today's job market. Except for "exclusive listing," how does the Ladders and other job boards like it, get their job listings? Do they have job search robots that crawl the Internet and then post the results?
Question 2: Many of these job board sites ask you to "Apply Now" by clicking a button, which sends you to an online form that you either upload your resume to or paste in a text one. I'm skeptical that if I do this, my resume enters the black screen of death and that no human will ever really read it. Is it a better strategy to visit the company's website and try to at least find an email address? I think it is, but my belief is not grounded in any research. Another problem with the online forms is that many don't offer an opportunity to submit a cover letter. Thank you.
Lily Garcia: I think that many (if not all) of the websites that aggregate job postings do employ web crawlers. But I have not confirmed this. Like you, I make this assumption based upon the fact that many of the job postings they link to are dated. You should send an email to the publisher of the Ladders.com about the issue. Perhaps there is something they can do to optimize the effectiveness of their service.
Regarding your second question, I think that applying directly to the company on its website is always preferable to submitting your resume, sans cover letter, through a dubious job board.
Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Lily, I was recently denied a job after authorizing a pre-employment credit check which uncovered that I have had some collections. Most of my experience is in Financial Services so I'm thinking I'll probably run into this issue again. Due to the length of time I've been out of work and my dwindling financial resources I can't pay off these old accounts, do you see any way to tactfully mitigate or disclose adverse credit history, when applying for positions?
Lily Garcia: This is a very good question the answer to which I think would help many of our readers. With your permission, I will publish the answer in next Thursday's "How to Deal" column.
Washington, D.C.: How do you re-enter the work force after being off for 4 years due to medical issues, and being a 41 year old woman.
Lily Garcia: You must address the issue of your gap in employment forthrightly in your cover letter. Do not feel compelled to disclose the details of your medical condition or treatment. Just explain that you have been out of the workforce due to a medical condition from which you have thankfully made a full recovery. Then express your enthusiasm about returning to the workforce and your interest in this job in particular.
Washington, D.C.: Lily, although I am currently employed, I am looking for a change. I was recently contacted by a marketing firm that promises to provide me with 3 resumes, a marketing plan and access to job vacancies all for a fee.
Are you familiar with these kinds of firms? How do I test their effectiveness? This is not the time to pay into a scam. Thank you.
Lily Garcia: It is not unheard of for recruiters to charge some nominal fee to services to their clients. But beware of having to make too much of an up-front investment. The market is crowded with recruiters who would probably be very glad to represent you for free.
If you want to check on the credentials of this firm, check with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection. You might also do an Internet search for the name of the company to see if anyone out there has griped about them.
Arlington, Va.: With the economy as it is, I keep hearing, "Be thankful you have a job! Be thankful you have a job!" I just want to raise the counter-argument to that notion, because I'm currently in a job where my position is secure, but I hate where I work, and the work environment is taking a great toll on my emotional health. If this gives you any idea of things, it's one of the reasons I take depression medication.
Which leaves me faced with the question EACH DAY of whether or not I stay in a job that's driving me into the ground in order to ensure my continued financial well-being, or whether I save my emotional health and leave my job at the risk of long-term unemployment (or flipping burgers at McDonald's, which will hardly pay the rent). It's the ultimate damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't.
But I think it must be said that, even in this economy, having a job is NOT a cure-all.
Lily Garcia: I hear you. I am not going to tell you that you should feel compelled to stay in a job that is making you so miserable that your health is at risk. It is just that the usual cost-benefit analysis regarding whether to leave a job has been distorted by the state of the economy. As I always say, there is no harm in looking around to see what opportunities might be available. But you should prepare yourself for a long search.
Lusby, Md.: Your article "How to Deal" left one key thing out; why was the subject hiring 20-somethings that couldn't or wouldn't do the job in the first place?! Do you realize how many 30, 40, and 50-somethings need jobs & have an attention span longer than a gnat?
Lily Garcia: That's a fair point. The reader who asked the question left me with the impression that he was not getting interest from other age groups. But I could have been wrong.
Bethesda, Md: I have been applying for positions, almost exclusively on line, for the past year. Most do not get a response and the listings say "no phone calls." Is there a reasonable amount of time before I should call. I realize employers are inundated with applications these days, but I am now curious about what they are looking for, whether it's a real position or just collecting resumes.
Lily Garcia: I think it's fine to call a week or two after you submit your application.
N.Y.: I am not sure what kinds of non-compete and/or contracts I signed when I first got a job. How do I ask my HR department for this information without creating an alert?
Lily Garcia: How about just asking to review your personnel file?
Baltimore, Md.: Where can I find information, articles, workshops about people management in lean times, working with survivors of economic downturn, maximizing morale and minimizing negativity? Thanks.
Lily Garcia: At the moment, the Internet is replete with articles -- many of them surprisingly thoughtful -- about managing workers in a down economy. I co-authored a guide for employers a few years ago called, "Workforce Strategies in a Down Economy," but I am not sure whether Aspen Publishing has released an update. If you send me an email with more specifics about what you need, I will send you some more suggestions.
What can I do about work place discrimination : It has a lot to do with salary too. Once you work there long enough that your standard 2% raise gets to a certain level and your value isn't increasing, they think it's cheaper to hire a new kid who's trainable and will work for half the salary. Make yourself indispensible by taking classes and sending emails that show you contribute more as a result of those classes. ("I noticed the Acme paperwork don't include the CBPA Compliance Note I learned about in my environmental law class.") Follow the money.
Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughts.
Del Ray: I just got an email from a job site (not monster but like monster), requesting a photo of me: "I promise we will never use your photo in our marketing, or publicly in any way, but we'll just share them with the people working here at The Ladders." It's kind of creepy and weird. What do you think they intend on doing with my photo?
Lily Garcia: I am willing to bet that they would like the option to use your photo in promoting the services of the site. Look for an email ad campaign in a few weeks featuring the photos and personal stories of "real job seekers, just like you."
Re: Olney: I would highly recommend sending BOTH an email and a snail mail note. The email is immediate, and helps to leave a positive first impression. You also never know how fast an organization may make a preliminary "pass/dismiss" decision; my company has debrief sessions the next day after an interview at which we decide whether or not a candidate moves on in the process. The snail mail is a very nice (should be sincere!!) gesture that follows later and can reinforce positive impressions as well as demonstrate simple manners and etiquette.
Lily Garcia: Good suggestion. Thank you.
Arlington, Va.: My boss is blatantly sexually harassing me for the past few weeks. She has made sexual remarks about my appearance, asked me out on a date, and touched me inappropriately. I've told that her behavior isn't appropriate and she laughed at me. She said they'd never take the word of a new employee over someone who's been at the firm for 15 years. She also said her best friend is director of HR and would never even consider action against her. What do I do?
Lily Garcia: First, document everything that is happening. Second, even though your boss has tried to intimidate you into not making a report to HR, you should do so anyway. And tell the head of HR what your boss said about being immune from disciplinary action. Tell him or her that you are making a report because you don't want to believe that the organization would tolerate such lack of integrity.
If the HR department does not respond immediately to mitigate your situation, contact an attorney, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or your state's fair employment practices agency for further guidance.
Columbia, Md.: Thanks for taking my question. I'm 8 months pregnant and my doctor gave me an order of bed rest for the rest of the pregnancy. My company doesn't have any policy concerning this, but does have short term disability. Would a OBGYN's order of bed rest fall under short term disability? In this economy, I can't afford to have leave without pay. Thanks again.
Lily Garcia: I cannot tell you whether your condition would qualify you for short-term disability, but I can tell you that it might. The only way to find out for sure is to consult your HR department.
I believe that debt or bad credit does not per se stand in the way of obtaining a security clearance. : Your best bet is to be honest not only about the foreclosure and the circumstances that led to it, but also about what you're doing to re-establish your credit. Even if there's not much you can do, outline the steps you're taking, and the communications you've had with your lender. Be very forthcoming. It's the only way.
Lily Garcia: Thank you for your insights.
why was the subject hiring 20-somethings that couldn't or wouldn't do the job in the first place?!: Because their salary expectations are so much lower.
Lily Garcia: Maybe so.
What is your suggestion? I have sent out many resume's to the private industry without any solid job offers. : Maybe because you had a typo in those resume's. No one can proof their own work. Always get a pal to proof a resume before sending out.
Lily Garcia: It's never a bad idea to have someone else review your resume.
Re Washington, D.C.: Regarding the job board postings being out of date: From my experience as a hiring manager, I find that we promptly remove listings from our company website as they were filled, while our postings on Monster and CareerBuilder were left until they expired.
The thinking is probably that the company has paid for X amount of days on the job listing, so just leave it, rather than pulling the ad early, and not getting the company's money's worth.
Lily Garcia: Thanks for sharing your perspective.
Credit Rating and Security Clearance: Being that I am currently going through the security clearance process, I know that the red flag over credit rating only occurs if you're 180 days past due on your bills, or you have collections that are 180 days past due.
The best thing to do is be honest about what happened and why you were foreclosed. You will be interviewed for your security clearance. This is time to being up your financial affairs. If the investigator doesn't ask, volunteer the information. It is better to acknowledge the problem and be open and honest about it. That speaks volumes about your character, which can affect how the investigator perceives your trustworthiness. If you don't mention it, or try to hide it, that will be more damning.
Lily Garcia: Thanks. That is very helpful advice.
Work makes me depressed too: And I tell myself I could not afford health insurance or medication without this soul sucking job.
Lily Garcia: Touche. Here's to finding a job with great benefits that does not suck out your soul.
Herndon, Va.: Other than explaining my availability when applying for a part time job, do I need to disclose that I am working full time? I feel that this is something that might be better brought up during the interview because I don't want to be ruled out strictly based on the fact that I work full time. Do I have to disclose it upon applying?
Lily Garcia: I don't think that you would be ruled out from consideration for a part-time job just because you are currently working full-time. But you might be asked in the interview process why you are interested in working part-time.
Re: Medical Condition: Lily, why can't the 41-year old woman just say in her cover letter that she made a personal decision to take some time away from the work place? I don't like the idea of her stating she had a medical condition in her resume....
Lily Garcia: I'm not crazy about it, either, but I would also hate for employers to make undue assumptions about why she was out of the workforce. I think it's better for her to provide some honest explanation in her cover letter (not her resume), again, without disclosing details about the condition or its treatment.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Regarding the poster's question about financial issues and clearances: I work in personnel security and will tell you that poor credit and lots of debt does pose a security concern. The best bet is to be totally upfront on the clearance application and list any mitigating factors, such as entering debt counseling, paying off bills, etc.
Lily Garcia: Thank you for your response.
Fairfax, Va.: Hello Lily, after attending a job fair, what is the best way to follow up with a recruiter? Thank you for the advice!
Lily Garcia: Follow up just as you would after an interview: Send an email or a typed or handwritten note.
Washington, D.C.: For Bowie, MD: When you say "government," you're referring to Uncle Sam, right? Did you know there are other levels of government in addition to Federal, such as municipal and state? Have you considered other non-profits such as associations and charities? Good luck!
Lily Garcia: That is a very good suggestion. Thank you.
RE: Explaining work gaps: Hi Lily: Many people have written in asking how to explain gaps in work history. I have formatted my resume to not include any dates and I have not had any problems. When I show up for the interview I just make sure I can explain any date information to them. I have been a valuable government contractor that is not a job hopper, but contracts end and they often do so within a year. This has helped me get in the door and explain why I may have so many different jobs listed.
Lily Garcia: I think that's a fair strategy if you are in an industry or profession within which gaps are expected, or if the gaps are not very long. As a general rule, most hiring managers will wonder about a recent employment gap of more than a few months. I think it is best to address the gap up front rather than risk being excluded from consideration.
Why can't the 41-year old woman just say in her cover letter that she made a personal decision to take some time away from the work place?: That seems very sexist to me. If a man took 4 years off, we'd wonder why. If parent (mom or dad) took time off to raise kids, that would be a valid statement. Otherwise, to say a woman can just take time off just cuz she wants to implies she doesn't really work for salary or a career, but to cure boredom when hubby's at work. It's a new century folks!
Lily Garcia: I would give the very same advice to a man.
Lily Garcia: Unfortunately, we are out of time. If I was unable to get to your question and you would still like an answer, please email me at email@example.com. I will be sure to reply within a week.
Wishing you a great afternoon,
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