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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Tuesday, July 28, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, July 28 at 11 a.m. ET.

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The transcript follows.

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

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Micromanaging: Hi Lily--I read the transcript from a few weeks ago when a chatter wrote in about a micromanaging supervisor. I wanted to offer a perspective from the supervisor's view. I micromanage one of my staffers because they were not doing a good job overall. It was only through micromanaging that I learned that the staffer had lied on their resume and in the interview and really had no experience doing the job. I'm not saying this is the case from the other chatter, but it was only through micromanaging that I learned about the deception. Now that I know, I've decided to retain the person for a variety of reasons and work with them to bring their skills level with the position. The bottom line of my comment is that sometimes micromanaging is necessary and beneficial to both the business and the employee.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for offering this valuable perspective. I agree that it is sometimes necessary for managers to more closely monitor the performance of employees. They could be underperforming or, as in your case, there could be suspicions of misconduct.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I work for a small company. I accrue a certain amount of vacation time and sick time per year. The calculations for what I've accrued and what I've used have been wrong for over a year and I keep being told not to worry about it, that it'll get straightened out. I am angry and feel I've been more than patient. Do I have any recourse? Pressing the owner for an answer has done nothing. The person in charge of this is the owner's husband.

Lily Garcia: Your best course of action is to keep your own detailed records of what you have accrued and what you have used. This way, you will have the data that you need to support your position if you are ever unfairly denied paid time off. In a small company such as yours, you should be careful not to push the issue too much in the absence of any negative impact on you. Otherwise, you risk alienating the leadership.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: I am considering applying for a promotion to lead the small organization where I have worked for the past five years. While the job would represent a jump in terms of responsibility, I am the only potential candidate within our office and I'm respected by the existing leadership, so I think I have a shot at the job. (I would probably not be considered if I wasn't applying from within.) However, I would like to explore the implications before submitting my application, particularly since I would likely stay in the organization even if I didn't receive the promotion. Anything I should be considering? Particularly in this economy?

Lily Garcia: Before you apply, find out everything that you can about the new job to make sure that it is a good fit for you. This includes defining responsibilities, determining to whom you would be accountable, and ascertaining where you might go from there, either within or outside of the organization.

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Washington, D.C.: I just graduated from college and I'm still looking for a job. I've thought about visiting companies and talking to their human resource personnel. Do I have to make an appointment to see them and what questions should I ask?

Lily Garcia: You should never show up to meet with anyone in a professional context without making an appointment. And before you start making appointments, narrow the field of companies and positions in which you are interested. Your questions to human resources should relate to currently available job opportunities and plans for growth and expansion that might call for the recruitment of people with your abilities. If you develop a good rapport with the person you are meeting, it would also be a good idea to ask for his or her advice regarding your job search process and your application materials.

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Gift for mentor: I'm about to leave my first job out of college to go back to grad school full-time. I have been with this company for three years and in that time, grew close with an older coworker who became both a mentor and friend to me. I want to either do something or give something to her to express my appreciation for her mentorship and her friendship. I'm also female. Would this gesture be appropriate and if so, what would be appropriate?

Lily Garcia: I think that a heartfelt note of thanks to your mentor would be valued above anything you could buy.

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Ashburn, Va.: Would you please advise me on how to find a really good career counselor or career therapist that I can make an appointment with and talk to? Someone or some company in Northern Virginia (live in Ashburn, Loudoun County). I've read the books, read all your posts in Washington Post. Really good advice; but I want to sit down and talk to someone, like a therapist, who can give me personalized advice and attention. I've got lots of job issues to talk to someone about. Any suggestions please?

Lily Garcia: As far as career counseling firms, I have heard good things about Right Management (www.right.com). If you are looking for a more personalized approach from someone with a PhD, try Ruth Schimel (www.ruthschimel.com). If you would specifically like help from a psychologist, I would recommend Laura Kasper (www.drlaurakasper.com) or Brad Brenner (www.districtpsychotherapy.com).

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Washington, D.C.: I work at a local university. Our boss has expanded the duties of a full-time government employee who has worked part-time in our office for years, (she's a friend of the boss) to handle confidential personnel and financial matters of the office. Is there something unethical in this arrangement?

Lily Garcia: I cannot think of any reason why the arrangement is unethical per se. If you have specific concerns about the integrity of the employee who has been entrusted with the confidential personnel and financial matters of your office, you should bring these to the attention of your leadership.

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Downtown D.C.: After struggling to break into one career field (Capitol Hill), I have decided to use another as back up -- journalism. I guess I just traded one extremely competitive, narrow field for another. The problem is I'm not sure I'm interested in anything else. Do you have any advice for me?

Lily Garcia: Without knowing anything about you more than what you have written, the only think I can say is that it sounds like you need to broaden your job search. If you are unsure of your interests, ask trusted friends, family members, and professional mentors for ideas. They might be able to provide you with insights you never would have reached on your own.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Lily, if a large enough group of employees feels they are being treated unfairly by their company, what are the chances they could form a 'small union' to advocate for them? Have you ever heard of this being done? Could it be done anonymously and would you have any advice on where to start?

Thanks!

Lily Garcia: I have not heard of a recent union organizing campaign to start a new union (as opposed to joining an existing one). This does not mean that it isn't done. But I imagine that one of the reasons I have not heard about this type of undertaking is that its is so much easier to simply join an established organization that has the collective experience and resources to truly support your efforts.

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Washington, D.C.: What's the best way to present the old, "No, I don't have experience, but I'm ready to learn" argument to employers? I'm at a point now where I simply can't take my current job anymore, and need to switch fields. I'm willing to start from the ground up, and I'm willing to take a pay cut, but before I start sending out resumes, I'm trying to figure out how best to address it in my cover letter so I can at least get an interview.

Lily Garcia: Even if you don't have direct experience in the field you are pursuing, you surely have done something that has prepared you for its challenges. You need to draft your resume in such a way that you highlight the most relevant aspects of your experience. Do not say to an employer in your cover letter (or elsewhere) that you do not have experience. Instead, develop a persuasive argument for how the experience that you do have, although atypical for the field, is nevertheless valuable.

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Washington, D.C.: I totally agree with micromanaging a person to bring them up to part on their skills. But in todays society this in not always the case MOST managers micromanage to hurt the person by firing them not thinking of how they need the money to feed their kids and with the cost of living and the low paying jobs this is not a good thing.

Lily Garcia: I think that the reader who sent me the earlier comment made a valid point that I do not represent often enough in this forum: Micromanagement can hurt, but it may be necessary in some cases. I don't think that most managers who needlessly micromanage do so to deliberately hurt their employees. But I do agree with you that the effects of misdirected micromanagement can be extremely harmful.

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Crofton, Md.: Can a citizen get their own top secret or secret security clearance? There are many jobs and job fairs specifically catered to having one; however, most are now asking that you already have it. Please inform.

Lily Garcia: You cannot get a security clearance on your own. You must be sponsored. Unfortunately, that is the extent of my knowledge regarding the issue. Can anyone else offer insights to this reader?

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washingtonpost.com: For more on security clearance, ask government careers expert Derrick Dortch.

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Hyattsvill, Md.: I am an out of work intelligent single mother of 2 children ages 2 and 4 years with responsibility for a home and mortgage which is presently 12 months in arrears and may soon be foreclosed on if I do not find a job soon. I have tried every area without success to date. My qualification and experience is in Administration and Accounting. What do you advise?

Lily Garcia: You may have already taken some of these steps, but I will err on the side of being overinclusive:

(1) Tap into your network. Tell everyone you know -- and I mean everyone -- that you are looking for a job. Disseminate your resume throughout your network via email and networking sites (start with LinkedIn).

(2) Reach out to recruiters that specialize in placing working mothers (see www.momcorps.com and www.mom-entum.com).

(3) Use craigslist to look for jobs and post your resume/ISO. Craigslist is a great marketplace for flexible jobs and for small employers seeking help of the type that you can probably offer.

(4) Seek help from nonprofit and government foreclosure prevention programs that can help you to find ways to stave off the loss of your home.

(5) Explore all of the government assistance options that might be available to you to help with childcare and your job search.

If anyone else has ideas for this reader, please write in.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it not against the law to discriminate by age? A company (name removed) has requested candidates between the ages of 20 to 40. Extra Requirements. You must be in any of the following locations: 1. Delaware 2. District Of Columbia.

And have an age range between 20 - 40

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wl/jobs/JS_JobSearchDetail?jobid=28354697&jobSummaryIndex=10&agentID=

Lily Garcia: I cannot speak to the circumstances underlying this particular job posting. However, I can confirm that it is illegal under federal law for private employers with 20 or more employees to discriminate against employees and applicants age 40 and over. Under many sate and local laws, smaller employers are covered and there is a broader mandate against age discrimination.

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Hartford, Conn.: Hi, I appreciated your answer to the person asking about the recovering/counseling alcoholic in the cube next door. You seemed to consider all aspects of the situation well.

This is somewhat of a vent - 3 of my coworkers regularly talk on their cellphones when at work and one carries it with him/her all the time. I'm mostly annoyed by the ringing, not the talking, as 2 of the 3 people are pretty quiet in their conversations.

The 3rd person, I'll call him/her Robin, who's about age 50, is very loud on his/her cell and work phone and has conversations about family stuff frequently. It's not terribly personal, but it's often and annoying. The calls have recently been about house/car insurance estimates/choosing a company and college financial aid issues. For the insurance, there were calls to the agency, to the spouse, back to the agency, etc...

The other thing Robin does is brush his/her teeth in the bathroom opposite my office (about 25-30 feet away) with the door open. Gross.

My office is fairly lax about overall policies, so nothing's ever been said about personal use of cell phones here. Not that I like bureaucracy, but I wouldn't mind a general guideline about it. Do most offices have one?

Do you think I could ask the coworkers to change their rings to vibrate instead of ring?

Sorry for the long question. Thanks!

Lily Garcia: I think you should ask your boss to ask the team to turn their phones to vibrate. Many organizations have a written policy to address this issue.

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Potomac, Md.: Isn't it a greater question of why is an employee spending work time on private counseling sessions? She is getting paid to do a job, not counsel people.

Lily Garcia: That is another valid point that perhaps should have been included in my article. Thank you.

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washingtonpost.com: Personal Conversations at the Office Should be Private (Post, Thursday, July 23, 2009.)

Lily Garcia: Here is a link to the article about which the last two comments were made.

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For Hyattsville, : She may've done this but how about a temp agency?

Lily Garcia: Great idea. Thanks.

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For Crofton, Md.: I am a security professional and can tell you some government contractors are willing to sponsor non-cleared applicants to fill contract slots. You just need to show them you are "clearable" - no major red flags such as finances, drugs, etc. The good news is that many contracts allow for interim-cleared employees to start work once the interim is granted (usually within a week after you submit the paperwork); you don't need to wait for the full clearance to come through before you can start working.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for sharing your insights.

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Alexandria, Va.: Lily, my boss tells everyone on our team, no matter what the topic, that 'you're lucky to have a job here at all.' She had a working lunch with two staffers and repeated the line at least 10 times. Someone asked this week about whether our department will be participating in an annual conference in October for which we always need to prepare a detailed presenation. She said 'that's not something you need to know, you're lucky to have a job here at all.' No one knows if our dept is on the chopping block or what is happening. Her best friend is head of HR, so no one dares approach them. One person, who had been promised a raise last year, was told by my boss that only one person in each dept would receive a raise this year, and that person was her, none of her staff. She then repeated the 'lucky to have a job' line. I realize she is under pressure, as everyone in every manager's job is, but this has now gone on since Feb. A lot of work is not being done because my boss will not give direction or information, and while we all agree we're lucky to have jobs, we'd also like to know if those jobs are in jeopardy.

Lily Garcia: I think it is fair to assume that your organization is weathering difficult times. It is unfortunate that your boss has chosen to express her anxiety about the situation by repeatedly making this unhelpful remark about how lucky you and your coworkers are to have jobs. If you are not comfortable approaching human resources, you should consider speaking with your boss as a team to let her know that, although you agree that you are lucky to have jobs, you would also be very grateful for more information about what, exactly, she means. Ask about the future of the organization and how, if at all, your team fits into it. She might not have very much helpful information to offer, but I think that it might help to at least pique her conscience regarding the effects of her commentary on team morale. If your boss does not have the answers and you feel like pursuing the question further, you should scan the horizon for another member of the senior leadership who might be approachable and willing to entertain your questions.

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Online Courses: Hi Lily,

I believe it was on your chat a couple of weeks ago someone asked about earning a degree from online, for-profit colleges such as U. of Phoenix and Walden U.

I am not out to trash these institutions, but I have been in the higher ed field for 25 years, and would not be impressed by a degree from one of those institutions.

Distance ed is a great thing, but you don't have to go to one of the big online for-profits to take distance courses. Check the Web site of your local university or community college, or Google "online courses" or "online degree" with the name of the field you are interested in. Accredited, affordable programs are out there.

Just FYI.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment. I think that I will open a discussion next time on this topic as it has provoked number of well-reasoned responses from our readers.

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Lily Garcia: We are unfortunately out of time. If I did not get to your question today, please feel free to email me at hradvice@washingtonpost.com. Please also join me for the next "How to Deal Live" on Tuesday, August 11th, at 11:00 a.m. EST.

Thank you, as always, for your intelligent and spirited participation.

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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