How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 7, 2009 11:00 AM
Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, April 7 at 11 a.m. ET.
Lily Garcia: Thank you for joining today's live chat. I look forward to answering your career- and workplace-related questions. Let's begin.
Wheaton, Md.: Hello Lily-
I am currently an executive assistant, have been for about 12 years and I HATE it. It pays the bills but I'm so tired of being an assistant. What other job opportunities can I go after as an experienced EA? I'm experienced in Microsoft Office, can type 80 wpm the basic skills, but I hate answering phones, filing, taking notes. HELP:) Thanks!
Lily Garcia: Even in senior executive jobs, you will find yourself doing some amount of note-taking, phone answering, and filing. My suspicion is that it is not these tasks that you dislike per se, but rather what these tasks represent to you or how you have been managed in their performance. As you think about what else you might want to do for a living, try to deconstruct the negative feelings that you have about your current job to isolate what it is that really bothers you about the work you have been doing. If you have strong administrative skills, you will find that many diverse entry level opportunities are available to you. Human resources generalist and paralegal work come to mind. You would also be an asset to a busy marketing department in a marketing specialist role. These are just a few ideas.
Farmington Hills, Mich.: Hi Lily, I am writing to get advice on how to approach a new career path for myself. I recently resigned from my job of ten years and am having a difficult time finding new employment. I am also seriously considering moving to the D.C. area and need advice on how to go about landing a job that would lead to a promising career. I read a previous article where you gave advice regarding bad credit which unfortunately is something I'm dealing with as well. I hope you can provide me with some glimmer of hope, thanks.
Lily Garcia: Could you give me some more information about your background and skills?
Suitland, Md.: I've been in the automotive business for over twenty years but recently lost my job and can't find work in that field and want to learn computer skills but don't know much. I've tried to get free training but it's not going good don't have the money so what should I do.
Lily Garcia: Start by analyzing the skills that you have developed as an automotive industry employee. Then think more broadly about how these skills might match jobs in other industries. If you were a salesperson, for example, you could consider jobs in other types of retail. Depending on what interests you, strong computer skills might or might not be essential. However, a fundamental understanding of how to use email and basic word processing programs is a requirement for many jobs. Be patient with yourself and recognize that you might not achieve mastery overnight.
Burke, Va.: Is anybody hiring older workers? I'll be 67 in May. I quit an excellent legal assistant job in Dec '07 to care for my mother at home full-time when she became ill and am trying to reenter the job market. My background is wide-ranging: legal, congressional, DoD public affairs, writer-editor. Maybe when prospective employers see how much experience I have, they'll suspect just how senior I really am!
Lily Garcia: Yes. Although age discrimination is alive and well, many employers do recognize and value the experience and maturity that older workers bring to their jobs. I will send you a link to an article on the subject momentarily.
washingtonpost.com: Finding Work for Older Workers (Post, Wednesday, October 4, 2006)
Lily Garcia: Here is a link to an article I wrote on job hunting as an older worker.
Washington, D.C.: My manager distracts easily. We have a standing weekly meeting to review performance, assignments, etc. and he either allows other staff to linger in his office into our scheduled time, takes calls during our meeting, and to put it plainly, is simply rude. How can I get him to focus for a half hour to give me productive criticism?
Lily Garcia: You should tell him how important his undivided attention is to you and ask if he would not mind sending all calls to voice mail during your brief meeting. You could also mention that it seems like your weekly meeting falls at a busy time of day for him and ask him whether you could move the meeting to a time that is more quiet. Finally, you could ask your manager whether he would be amenable to stepping out for a quick cup of coffee with you. However, this last option might not be attractive to your manager if he is truly as busy as he appears.
Manassas, Va.: Do you find that employers are less willing to agree to telecommuting, flexible work schedules, etc. during the current economic downturn, when job candidates are so plentiful? Can you offer advice for job seekers on how to negotiate for these options in the current environment?
Lily Garcia: Employers, to be perfectly frank, have the bargaining advantage at the moment. However, that does not mean that they are entirely unwilling to consider flexible work arrangements for valued employees. My advice is that you not push the envelope regarding these types of concessions at the start of your employment relationship. Rather, wait until you have established yourself as a valuable contributor to the organization. Then ask for the work-life accommodations that you need.
Lothian, Md.: Hi, should I tell prospective employers that I got fired from my last job as a paralegal or tell them I got laid off, since my last employer doesn't give references supposedly? And, I have experience but it's minimal, 2 yrs in Antitrust, 3 mos. in Criminal Def. and 2 yrs. for asbestos law. Most of my jobs were as "glorified docket clerks", i.e. just maintaining documents/files. I'm disappointed in the paralegal field since I graduated with a bachelors degree and can't find opportunities for growth and learning. Please advise. Now I've been told on job interviews that I'm not experienced enough or that I'm over experienced. I don't know what to do. Thanks!
Lily Garcia: An involuntary termination does not have to be an insurmountable obstacle to employment. In a moment, I will send you a link to an article I wrote on this issue.
Regarding your level of experience, be patient. Some employers will think that you are overqualified, some will think you are too inexperienced, and a few others will think that you are just the right fit. You might be able to cut down on your frustration meanwhile by making sure that you are applying only to jobs that are truly commensurate with your years of experience.
washingtonpost.com: Interviewing When You've Been Fired
Lily Garcia: Here is a link to an article I wrote on looking for a job when you have been fired. I hope this helps.
Abroad: I am re-entering the work force after a five-year hiatus in which I had two children, completed a Master's degree and wrote a book. How should I address the hiatus on my resume?
Lily Garcia: Include the book-writing and the master's coursework on your resume and use your cover letter to explain what you have been up to. If your work on the book does not fit neatly into the professional experience section of your resume, then add a section to the start of your resume called "Major Accomplishments" and list your writing there. You might also seek resume-writing help from a recruiter who assists women re-entering the workforce. Mom Corps (www.momcorps.com) and Momentum Resources (www.mom-entum.com) are two good ones.
D.C. Cube Land: Lily, I'm new to being a manager. I've only done it since last summer. My "underling," while highly competent, is extremely negative. I'm quite the opposite. Basically, I just find it is better to have a good outlook on things and try to work through the muck rather than to wallow in it. Anyway, I'm finding that this attitude is really weighing on me and pulling me down. I know you can't change someone's personality, and I don't want to take any formal HR action for attitude, but how do I get across that I can't work this way? Please help. His glass isn't half full or empty, he says it's shattered. I just want it to be midway. Advice?
Lily Garcia: Are you sure that your employee's negative attitude is just a personality quirk? Your first order of business is to have a talk with him regarding whether his unhappiness is being fueled by some aspect of his work environment. If you receive every assurance that his misery is entirely personal, you might want to suggest (without making any assumptions about the underlying cause) that your employee call your orgaanization's Employee Assistance Plan for help, assuming you have an EAP. I know that you do not want to deal with this as an "HR issue," but you might ultimately have little choice. If your employee is bringing you down despite your sunny disposition, imagine what his attitude might be doing to other people in your workplace. At some point, when it is bad enough, a negative attitude does become a legitimate performance concern.
Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Lily, after the shock of a layoff a little while ago, I'm very lucky (especially in this economy) to have a choice between two jobs. One has about 10 percent better pay and benefits, the other has more responsibility and more learning opportunities. I need to figure out how to decide. Any advice?
Lily Garcia: Congratulations. You should decide between the two jobs based upon your personal priorities. Think about whether what you most need at the moment is additional pay or additional opportunities for growth. Even if you are tempted by the pay, think about whether there are aspects of the job at the other organization that might make it a better fit long term.
Washingtonpost.com's Job-O-Meter walks you through many important considerations. Have a look: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/jobs/features/2006/hiringsquad/packages/job_o_meter.html
Bethesda, Md.: Help. My boss is a bully. He controls through anger. He has had a revolving door of admins, and the only reason I've lasted so long is because I know to keep my mouth shut. Another woman here can say the same about him (and has, to me). All the others have left, some after mere months. He requests a critique/feedback each year during my review (and this other woman's review). He wants to know how he is doing. Telling him he has anger issues is a non-starter, he would retaliate (even if under the radar -- i.e. why is that big bad project in my lap now? Because he is mad). What to say? I seriously think a case could be made re: hostile work environment/discrimination against women. But, if you always give him a free pass when he asks each year, then you are stuck, right? I am petrified to tell him he needs counseling, or anything that isn't 100 percent glowing.
Lily Garcia: With your permission, I will write an answer to your question in next week's How to Deal column. Your question raises issues too numerous to address in this forum.
Silver Spring , Md.: That link to NOWCC was a joke right? Can you write me a budget on how to live in this area on $10-$12/hr? Sunday's Post emphasized to not look old to reduce age discrimination. Are days at a spa and hair-care tax deductible as part of a job search? I am in my 50's, have a graduate degree in computer skills, a recent update on computer skills and not a nibble for jobs. The best hope is the non-reliance on H1B visas since HRs of companies are quoted that they rather hire a young H1B than and older American.
Lily Garcia: No joke. Older workers remain a vital part of the labor force. I don't think that the answer is to try to look younger, but to market your skills as attractively as possible. No doubt, the proliferation of H-1B visas can lead to stiffer competition for technology jobs, but I disagree that this is the primary cause of job search difficulties in the technology industry for workers old - or young.
Fairfax, Va.: Is it common for companies to have difficulty communicating to their employees during economic downturns? Or is this something I should be concerned with in my job? Right now, communications are all over the map. Company initiatives are mentioned once with fanfare then never spoken of again. Some layoffs are noted with urgent all-hands calls, and others are under-the-radar. There is not consistency whatsoever.
Lily Garcia: Whether the economy is good or bad, companies will struggle to effectively communicate with their employees. The gravity of the messages that your organization is communicating at the moment just serves to highlight the ineffectiveness of their communication strategy.
Washington, D.C.: Wow, in your column it strikes me as funny that the law firm losing two out of three associates hasn't considered it might be their own work environment causing people to leave. If it were only one out of three, okay, but two-thirds of all new hires leave? That's telling. I used to work for a large law firm, and new associates were given no help at all, on purpose. They were not even given assignments or placed in a particular practice area. The attitude was that if they could not find assignments and partners to work with on their own, they were not "big firm" material. A certain percentage were expected to fail. One would think that this would mean only the nasty survive, but that wasn't the case. There were a lot of nice people working there, and I enjoyed my time there.
Lily Garcia: It would be interesting to study what behaviors allowed these associates to survive life at your old firm.
For the Executive Assistant: I was in a similar position and second your advice. I realized what I hated about the job was the politics that often surround executive offices which included upset employees and customers. So I took an entry-level job at a community college (a pay cut but full tuition benefits) and am now studying to be an accountant. I realized I enjoyed the administrative work because it was detail oriented, which fits nicely with accounting.
Lily Garcia: Thank you for sharing your perspective.
Odenton, Md.: Just wanted to put out there: be careful what you wish for. I hated my job, too. And now that position (in a non-profit) was eliminated from the budget. So, no paycheck after this week. I suppose there's unemployment, but I'm not sure that will even cover my mortgage at this point. I've been looking since June, and have only had one series of interviews at a county job (that dragged on for months). It's one thing to look for a job when you have one, a whole other thing when it's 11:30 p.m. and you're still in your pajama's after exhausting every job site you're a member of.
Lily Garcia: Thank you for writing and best of luck.
Washington, D.C.: I share an office with my boss, which is great because we have developed a really close relationship. However, I find myself unable to get my work done. She narrates me throughout her entire day, "What to do next, what to do next." It's exhausting. And I feel rude sticking headphones on, because she likes to listen to the music too. I'm looking for another job, but I can hardly work under these conditions in the meantime. Please help.
Lily Garcia: If you enjoy a close relationship with your boss, then perhaps you could have a heart-to-heart with her about your need to work without interruptions. If you do not feel comfortable raising the issue, then it sounds to me like you have little choice but to leave the headphones on.
Alexandria, Va.: After being in my current job for a year, I applied for another job in the same division of my company. I let both my immediate boss and our VP know that I was applying for something else. My potential boss was enthusiastic about my interest, and promised I would be a finalist. Despite a very positive interview process, in the end I didn't get the position and was very puzzled. I spoke to the supervisor of the position and she gave me reasons that didn't ring quite true, and they were reasons she could have related before I went through the whole process -- it wasn't anything new. I've since heard they wanted to hire me, but that the VP of our area nixed the change. I have no confirmation of that fact, but I trust the source. What, if anything, can I do about this?
Lily Garcia: It is important for you to know whether the VP of your area will not allow you to move to another part of the organization and, if so, for what reason. Perhaps he or she thought that the timing was bad or that they could not afford to have a vacancy in your position at the moment, in which case you might have better luck later on. It is also possible that your VP will stand in the way of any transition you try to make because of office politics or some other reason that has little to do with you. Ask your source whether he or she knows the reasons for the decision. If you cannot get a satisfactory answer, think about who else in the organization might have access to the information you need and can be trusted with your question.
Lily Garcia: Unfortunately, we are out of time. If I did not get to your question and you would like an answer, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Indicate in the subject line of your email that you are forwarding a question you submitted in this forum. I will send you a response within one week.
As usual, thank you for your participation. I look forward to our next chat on Tuesday, April 21st.
Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resource advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. She takes reader questions and answers in her weekly How to Deal column for washingtonpost.com.
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