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How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 21, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, April 21 at 11 a.m. ET.

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The transcript follows

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Lily Garcia: Thank you for joining today's live chat. I look forward to answering your career- and workplace-related questions, and I welcome your comments. Let's begin. -Lily

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Washington, D.C.: Any advice on how to tell your boss you're pregnant? I am planning to return to work after my maternity leave and my workplace is definitely supportive of work/life balance, but for some reason I just don't even know how to bring the subject up or what I need to say.

Lily Garcia: Lucky you! So many people are worried about breaking the news of a pregnancy because they fear marginalization. It is great that you can count upon a supportive response.

As far as what to say, first write down the work plan that you think you will be adhering to leading up to and following your pregnancy. Then ask for a closed-door meeting with your supervisor and just come out and say, "I wanted to meet with you to let you know that I am X months pregnant." After your boss congratulates you, let him/her know that you plan to continue working until X date and that you are hoping to return to work X weeks/days following the delivery. Of course, this is all subject to change depending upon your health, etc., and you should let your boss know that you will provide as much notice as possible if anything changes.

Then make sure that you meet with HR regarding your leave benefits.

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Washington, D.C. & NOVA: So I have been looking for a job for about 7 months now. I made a mistake in the past and got a felony on my record (4 years ago).It seems like I get a few interviews here and there with companies, and they seem to like me a lot and seem to want to hire me.

A week later I check my credit report because they always do a background check and I notice that they just don't call me any more about the position, or they send me a letter declining me the position. I have also tried recruiting agency's but they seem to deny me work as well. What can I do about this?

Lily Garcia: The biggest mistake you are making is not coming clean about your record. An employer that likes you very much might be willing to forgive a felony, especially if it is nonviolent, but they will not overlook what seems like dishonesty in the application process. In a moment, I will forward you an article I wrote that contains other helpful guidance.

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washingtonpost.com: Job Hunting With a Felony Conviction (Post, Thursday, June 29, 2006)

Lily Garcia: Here is the article about job-hunting with a felony conviction on your record.

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McLean, Va.: I am a server in the restaurant business, my manager is openly discriminating against me and 25 of my co-workers. Human resources came in a month ago and I brought to their attention the harassment that has been taking place for about 6 months. This manager and a couple of co-workers are bullying the rest of the staff through outward personal threats, blocking monetary profits, and nit picking write-ups. At first I was annoyed, now I'm disgusted and my income has been drastically on the decline since I voiced my opinion. Human resources did little to nothing to help, they reiterated the employee handbook and that was about it. I know Virginia is an "employment-at-will" state which leaves almost no legal recourse for this situation, could you suggest any action? This discrimination taking place isn't based on any particular personal characteristics.

Lily Garcia: If you believe that you are suffering under the supervision of a bullying and vindictive manager, but you don't believe that his or her behavior is based upon any protected characteristic, you might have no legal recourse. The laws against discrimination are narrowly tailored to situations in which someone is being mistreated at work due to race, sex, national origin, religion, disability, and other impermissible factors.

If, however, your mistreatment resulted from a complaint that you made regarding potential illegal discrimination, then you could be suffering illegal retaliation. If in doubt, place a call to your state's fair employment practices agency and ask for their guidance.

If your manager is doing something to affect your wages, you should share this information with your human resources department. If they do nothing to correct the situation, contact your state's wage and hour enforcement authority (usually under the department of labor) regarding whether anything illegal might be taking place.

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Baltimore, Md.: I had written you a few weeks ago about how to build morale in turbulent times. My audience is HR Directors and this is not related to organizational change. You had said you were going to write about this, but I can't find it on your Web page. Can you please share if you do have some articles on this and how to access it? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: The response to your question will be published on Thursday. Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: Any sense of whether those who take early retirement are happier than those who stay longer?

Lily Garcia: I cannot generalize about this. Depending on the details of the package and the circumstances of your life, I imagine people having buyer's remorse or being very happy in either case.

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Manassas, Va.: Lily, just wondering if you have any advice on what steps to take in changing your career. I know this is probably difficult in this economy, but any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: How you go about doing this depends largely upon your current and desired industry and field. It helps if you want to move into an analogous or related profession so that you can make a persuasive case for your ability to contribute in the new role. If you are making a drastic career change, you might need to evaluate whether obtaining additional degrees or formal training is in order. As with any career move, it will also help you tremendously to network with people who can introduce you to prospective employers.

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washingtonpost.com: Changing Fields in a Rocky Job Market (Thursday, December 25, 2008)

Lily Garcia: Here is an article about changing careers that might help you.

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Detroit, Mi.: For the past couple years, I've been trying to get a transfer out of my high-stress job to another position with the same company. Over a year ago, my boss told me he would arrange a transfer if I stayed to complete one more project. I found out yesterday that I will not be getting the transfer after all. I am furious with my boss for not telling me sooner, and I am dreading the thought of having to stay here. I know I should be grateful to have a job at all, but I honestly don't know how much longer I can deal with this stress. My health has been suffering, and the prospect of a transfer has been the only thing keeping me going. I've been trying to find a new job, but that's not very likely in this economy, and there's no one I can talk to about this situation at my company. Do you have any suggestions for dealing with this situation?

Lily Garcia: Keep working at your job search. Meanwhile, try meeting with a professional counselor regarding your stress level. I certainly do not mean to pathologize you. Even the healthiest people occasionally need help getting through stressful times. If you honestly feel like you cannot cope with your situation and that you have nobody to talk to about it, counseling might be very beneficial to you.

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Laurel, Md.: Do temp agencies help job seekers that already have jobs?

Lily Garcia: Some do, some don't. It depends upon their business model.

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Would Relocate: Good morning, although I'm happy to be employed and have a fairly secure association job, I found the perfect job in a large city 800 miles away. I'd like to apply since the job would be an upward career move and I like the city. I have not committed to moving to this city but would like to indicate on my cover letter and/or resume that I would for this position. Can you suggest the appropriate language? Thank you.

Lily Garcia: You should express this sentiment in your own words so that it conforms to the style of the rest of your letter. Say something like, "Although I do not live in [name of city], I would happily relocate for an opportunity such as this, for which I am an ideal match."

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Washington, D.C.: Lily, a recent Post article by one of your colleagues offered advice for older job seekers, saying never to tell an interviewer that they remind the job seeker of their grandson or daughter. But how does one deal when the situation is reversed? I've had interviewers say, "Oh my Nana worked at one of the companies where you were," or "My mom would never wear a (trendy) outfit like yours and she's younger than you." I have tried to simply smile professionally and move the conversation back to the job opening. Others I know have had this happen, the 20 and 30 something "managers" telling them that they remind the managers of their father or "PopPop" or "Auntie Grace." It seems so inappropriate and even rude, but these are supposedly professional successful people running companies and departments. Any advice?

Lily Garcia: I am appalled to hear about this commentary. It sounds to me like you are handling the situation perfectly, i.e. politely steering the conversation back to job-related factors.

If you were offered and decided to take a job reporting to one of these managers, I would suggest mentioning early in your working relationship that the comment they made regarding your resemblance to "Nana" was almost a deal-breaker. If you miss this opportunity to educate your supervisor and raise his or her awareness about inappropriate age-related comments, you might be subject to further inappropriate remarks in the future.

If you do not get the job or you decide to decline the offer, I would urge you to report the inappropriate age-related comments to the company's human resources department. By doing so, you might be saving a future applicant from the discomfort that you experienced.

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Re: McLean, Va.: You need to document every incident -- dates, times, people involved. HR can do nothing if you don't have documentation. And if you decide to go the litigation route, you will need that documentation as well. Get the others being harassed to sign off on your documentation.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment. If you feel that you are being harassed, keeping good documentation is very important.

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Washington, D.C.: I work in your standard run of the mill cube farm. I have a "neighbor" who slurps tea, water, soup, etc throughout the day. It's extremely distracting and annoying especially when I'm trying to write something that requires concentration. The person is very nice and it's nothing personal but it drives me crazy! How do I go about addressing this issue with the person. Do I speak directly to them and let them know it's nothing personal but ask them to be more mindful, do I approach the issue with their supervisor, etc? Thanks for your assistance!

Lily Garcia: Try addressing the issue directly with you co-worker first. If s/he is unreceptive, or if the behavior continues despite your good-faith efforts to mediate a resolution, then approach your supervisor for help.

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Re: relocation: The job seeker should also state that he/she does not expect the company to cover relocation costs and offer to pay for travel arrangements to interview. Or say he/she will be in town the week of [blank] and hope they can meet. Many employers are not paying a lot of attention to out of town applicants because, frankly, they don't need to and they don't want to have to pay any additional expenses.

Lily Garcia: I agree.

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Government cube farm victim: How do you deal with those who have no idea or honestly do not care that their phone conversations can be heard everywhere, their fishy lunch stinks up the floor, or their personal tics and outbursts are annoying? Often these people are the ones managers fear the most, as they'll grieve everyone at the drop of a hat, and enjoy the conflict they create.

Lily Garcia: You and your supervisors should continue to address antisocial workplace behaviors, even if it means risking a grievance. Otherwise, you risk something far greater, which is an unpleasant work environment.

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Washington, D.C.: When applying for a job, I hate to be asked what my desired salary is. I would like to make as much as I previously did, but for the right job, I might be willing to accept less. I feel like if I put too little, I might leave money on the table, but if I set it too high, I may not even get an interview. What's the best way to answer that question if "negotiable" is not an option?

Lily Garcia: I like to come into a job interview well-informed about the market rate for the position I am seeking. Then I ask for a salary that is reasonable based upon my experience and qualifications. You cannot go wrong by asking to be paid at market. If they employer's response is that they cannot afford to pay what you want, then ask for a counteroffer and consider whether that is something you can live with.

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Washington, D.C.: Help. I have a job that I "should" love. Great co-workers, great environment, decent pay. But I'm completely uninspired and it's becoming harder and harder to be productive. I feel like I'm not doing my best and not meeting my personal potential. I've been here five years, and I've started looking for other opportunities. However, they're obviously scarce. Can you recommend anything to help me energize myself and evaluate my next career step?

Lily Garcia: It is good that you recognize that the problem might not be your job, but your outlook. Maybe this is not what you want to be doing, but maybe there is not a single job out there that could make you happy at this point in time. As they say, no matter where you go, there you are.

You could work with a career counselor to figure out what truly inspires you. You could also engage in some self-analysis of your own by talking to close friends and family and/or going through some mental exercises. After many editions, What Color Is Your Parachute? remains a viable resource for people trying to find their true professional calling. http://www.amazon.com/What-Color-Your-Parachute-2009/dp/1580089305

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New York City: Which websites can you suggest that I go to, to search for mental health jobs in D.C. or Md. I plan to relocate there. I also have a BA in psychology and am expecting to obtain a MS in psychology this year.

Lily Garcia: Does anyone have advice for this reader?

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Washington, D.C.: We've have two rounds of layoffs in the past eight months or so. Do companies typically make any announcements about who was laid off? We are relying on word of mouth to know who's gone and it's a little frustrating. Sometimes I'll call or email someone to help on a project, without response, and will only find out days later they were laid off.

Lily Garcia: In the case of large scale layoffs, many companies strive for transparency about what they are doing, and this might include sharing the names of departing employees. Under ordinary circumstances, a company would not disclose the circumstances of an employee's departure. However, it is good business practice, for the reason that you cite, among others, to at least let people know when someone no longer works there.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there a difference in the meaning of the terms "layoff" and "downsizing?"

Lily Garcia: "Downsizing" can include other cost-cutting measures. "Layoff" just means cutting staff.

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Bad move by my bosses: My company has 500 people. We recently laid off about five people (more to come). HR and the top brass have been telling people that the people were fired for performance reasons, which is false (one of the people was under my management and was fantastic. She was laid off, not fired). They are being less than truthful because we will be having more layoffs and they don't want people to panic. Of course, everyone knows what is going on and it's just making the top people look ridiculous and dishonest. I don't feel comfortable saying anything to them, but it does illustrate how clueless and out of touch some HR Departments are.

Lily Garcia: I wish that you would say something to someone on the senior leadership team. This is going to have a devastating long-term impact on the level of trust and morale among your organization's employees.

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Baltimore, Md.: While I totally get the comment about how the person's mother dressed, I don't get the "Nana" one ("My Nana use to work for that company"). So the person's grandmother worked with the company. How is that different than a friend? My grandfather worked for GE for a time. I worked for GE for a time. I didn't get my job through him or anything (in fact, he was long passed), but its just a company that has been around awhile. Perhaps the interviewer should have just said "I knew someone who use to work there," instead of their grandmother. But that comment seemed rather innocent.

There are so many comments that can be innocent or could be snide age references. I'm 35, yet I still hear a lot about how "you probably don't remember that (e.g. the Reagan)" or "well I started here before you were even born." It goes both ways.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for sharing your perspective. I agree that inappropriate age-related comments do often go both ways. It would be good for all of us to become more aware of how our language could be perceived, especially in the interview process.

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Re: salary question: You can state that you want to fit into their salary guidelines. You always want to know what positions are worth going into an interview, so you can give a $20K range. If they continue to press, you can always ask what salary range they had in mind. Salary is an important part, but not the only part, of a job offer. There are benefits, environment (cube farms), commute, etc.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.

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Washington, D.C.: I feel like for every question about all the annoying people out there eating lunch in cubeland, there is an equal question about the annoying person who can't work outside of a sound-proof booth and can't stand that someone sneezes sometimes during allergy season or happens to eat something other than/more smelly than plain white rice for lunch. Is there a balance here? Some people are too loud/smelly/whatever, some too sensitive -- how do you figure out where the line is?

Lily Garcia: Excellent question. It is the job of capable managers and HR departments everywhere to figure out where to draw the line under their specific circumstances. No matter what policy decision the organization makes, the chances are good that it will not please everyone.

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Re: pregnancy: I, too, work at a place that values life/work balance and has been historically supportive of pregnant women. Just last year a woman in my office requested and received six full months of maternity leave. So, you could imagine my surprise when my maternity leave request for the same was denied, with only 16 weeks approved as required by FMLA. Times are tough these days and with the economy and budget cuts facing all sorts of organizations, my advice to the pregnant woman is to request what you will but only expect/be grateful for what you end up getting. What was reasonable last year, may no longer be feasible for your company this year.

Lily Garcia: That is a very good point. Thank you.

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Cubeville: What do you do if you are in a cube farm and have to take/receive a personal call on location? Whether I take it at my desk or go out in the hall, it's in "public" and people will likely overhear. Sometimes these calls need to be made and the only time to do it is during working hours (i.e. make a doctor appointment, deal with credit card issue). As long as it's not a constant occurrence, I don't think it's a big deal.

Lily Garcia: Just make sure that you are conforming with your organization's policy regarding personal calls during work time. You wouldn't want this to become a performance issue in the eyes of your supervisor.

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Lily Garcia: Unfortunately, we are out of time. If I did not get to your question today, please email me at hradvice@washingtonpost.com. I will reply within one week.

Thank you, as always, for your spirited participation. Please join me for my next live chat on Tuesday, May 5th, at 11:00 a.m. EST.

Until then,

Lily

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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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