How to Deal Live
Surviving Your Workplace

Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 11:00 AM

Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, September 22 at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.


Lily Garcia: Thank you for joining our conversation today. I look forward to answering your career- and workplace-related questions. Let's begin.


Kansas City, Kan.: This seems like such a small issue, but I'm afraid it's one that's going to build and build until I shoot poisoned darts at my co-workers.

For three years, I worked on second shift in a call center. Just recently, I got bumped, involuntarily, to a third shift position. I had to relocate my desk to another area, an area that's situated in the corner of the building. It would be great (I'm closer to the bathroom and break room), except that the corner I'm in moves. Easily. A lot. Brisk wind can cause us to sway a little (and I'm only in a 3-story building!). So does the motion of people walking.

Even the smallest of my co-workers can set the floor to vibrate, and the majority of my co-workers are not of the small variety (nor am I), and it doesn't take much to make the floor move. It makes me slightly motion sick, and it's very disorienting when my water starts sloshing in the bottle, and my arms (resting on my desk) move.

Here's the specific issue I'm having: there is a gentleman on my shift who jiggles his leg/foot, causing the aforementioned swaying. I understand that people need to walk, and there's not a lot that can be done to prevent the swaying under those circumstances. HOWEVER, I feel like I'm going to snap every time he starts with the jiggling.

This isn't something I can really complain about to a supervisor; it would sound too much like, "Mom! Bobby touched me again!" It's unlikely that there's anything she could do anyway (supervisor, not Mom). As I see it, if I can't deal with it, it's left to me to say something to The Jiggler, but how exactly do I approach him? I've considered sighing loudly and saying, "I hate when I accidentally start jiggling my foot! It makes everything on my desk move!" But that strikes me as too passive-aggressive. Additionally, we have a very small group on this shift, and I'm the newcomer, so I don't want to make waves (including the kind that ripple through my water bottle).

Any advice? If you suggest dropping it, I will, but I can't guarantee that this frustration won't keep going until I throw my stress ball at his head. I thought it might be best to get an idea now on how to handle this.


Lily Garcia: If your work environment truly is as you describe it, then I am surprised that the stress balls are not already flying room all directions. Good grief! The problem with telling your co-worker to stop jiggling his leg is that you have no idea why he does it. It could just be a nervous tick, our it could be a symptom of a health issue over which he has little control. Even if you did get him to stop, you would still be left to deal with the underlying problems of your work area. Today you are aggravated by a jiggler; tomorrow, it will be a "hard walker" or some other type who puts you over the edge. I would suggest to you and your coworkers in the corner work area that you approach management together to request that they address the motion issue. I have a hard time believing that others are not being similarly impacted by this problem.


Laurel, Md.: I am looking for Human Resource jobs because I did my MBA(HR).I applied to many jobs but not getting a Call. Please guide me on how to get a job I this field.

Lily Garcia: I do not have any special advice for finding a job in Human Resources. Like all job seekers, you should (1) ensure that your application materials are sterling (ask a successful professional in the field to review them for you); (2) network within the field (consider joining the local SHRM chapter; get on LinkedIn; identify people who have jobs that interest you and invite them out to coffee, etc.); (3) refine your interview style (role play with someone you trust); (4) adjust your expectations (be realistic about what you may be considered qualified to do); and (5) be persistent and recognize that your search, in this economy, could take months.


Frederick, Md.: I tried to make a career change 5 years ago when the place I was working closed. It has been a disaster. I've been working temp jobs that never become full time jobs since then. I'd like to either get back into my former field or something close, but how do I explain the gaps in my employment. I've also been struggling with depression from the job situation and a medical condition that aggravated the depression. The depression is better now. Can you give me any advice on how to proceed?

Stuck & Frustrated job seeker!

Lily Garcia: You need to look back upon your series of temp jobs and come up with a credible accounting of the valuable skills and experience you have gained. You are not be the first person to lose his or her job due to the failure of a business. The important question is what you have managed to make of this turn of events. Even if you have had multiple jobs and frequent gaps in employment, you can still tell a positive story about what you have been striving to accomplish.

Regarding your depression, do you need any special accommodation from your new employer? If you need to take frequent breaks or you are not able to work long hours, for example, and it appears that this may be at odds with the job for which you are applying, you should disclose this during the application process. You do not need to identify your health condition, only that you may be needing an accommodation.


Anonymous: I previously sent in a question about being a government worker with 24 years, 7 months experience. I now fear I sent in too much detail that it will be easy to figure out who I am, and that sending in that question could possibly be a reason to add to the file on firing me. I would appreciate if you have any generic advice for people in a situation such as that. That would be most appreciated.

Lily Garcia: Without getting into the details of your case, if you are concerned about being fired as a pretext for withholding health benefits, then you should address this issue immediately with your human resources department. If you feel that such an action is imminent, then it would also not hurt for you to consult an employment attorney with federal government expertise.


Silver Spring, Md.: I currently work in a science lab and have been trying to get a science based job outside of the lab.

I have interviewed at health-care/science consulting firms but haven't received any offers.

I am looking for a science/technology headhunter firm but can't seem to find one, do you know of any in the D.C. area? Or know where I could investigate this?

I feel that I need some professional HR help to make this transition since I will probably need to take a few steps back in level in order to move into a 'desk' or corporate science job. Thanks for your help!

Lily Garcia: The headhunters are struggling every bit as much as the job-seekers these days. I am not sure how much of a strategic advantage you would gain from working with a science/technology headhunter. I also do not have any specific recommendations for you. I think that the best use of your time would be ensuring that you have a good online resume posted on LinkedIn, which headhunters regularly troll for talent. You should also network aggressively within your field.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Lily. A couple of weeks ago I was harshly reprimanded via email by a supervisor for leaving work 15 minutes, which I never regularly do. (I left) early to sign a condolences book for a colleague of ours that had recently died (I work on the Hill - the condolences book was located in an office about a 5 mins walk away.) Although I apologized immediately, she continues to watch over me like a hawk and now ignores me. What more can I do to smooth things over?

Lily Garcia: Did you explain your reason for leaving early?


Falls Church, Va.: Hi, Lily, I live and work in Northern Virginia and am looking for a Career Coach in the area. I have several questions about my career and would also like some assistance with interviewing. I would preferably like to meet someone face-to-face. Do you know where I might be able to find a listing of these services? I tried to find a service online but was unsuccessful. I would really appreciate your assistance! Thank you!

Lily Garcia: The best way to find a career counselor, in my opinion, is through your referral network. Ask around about who has been successfully assisting your friends and their friends. In the category of large placement agencies, I have heard that Right Management ( is good. I have also heard high praise for Dr. Ruth Schimel (



I'm a full professor at a small liberal arts university, the senior woman in my department, amidst what has now dwindled to five senior men. I have historically taken a pro-diversity stance on hiring, which does not mean hiring any black man we meet but does mean trying to recruit the very best candidates of color we can find. The guys disagree, on the grounds that this policy discriminates against white men, and last year the current chair ordered me to "keep my opinions to myself." Chairs in academic departments do not give this sort of instruction to tenured colleagues, and we had a rather heated exchange. The others held a meeting of "senior faculty" without me in which they closed ranks around him. Since then I've been excluded from important decisions about hiring, selection of the next chair, etc.

I'm stuck. The growing cadre of bright eager junior colleagues, especially the more "diverse" ones, do not need to hear about this dispute, and in any case are powerless to intervene. The dean is on my side in the sense of being keen on diversifying faculty demographics but bringing him in is an unseemly power ploy in itself. And we have no ombudsperson or dispute resolution mechanisms on campus to which to appeal. There's not one of the guys I trust enough anymore to have a professional conversation, or who has attempted one with me in a whole year. Do you see any constructive way out of this standoff? signed, tenure-trapped

Lily Garcia: It seems to me that an "unseemly power ploy" has already taken place. If you have no dispute resolution mechanism or ombudsman at your disposal, then it seems to me that you have little choice but to garner your resources. Let the dean know what is going; form an alliance with your junior colleagues who have an interest in these issues.


Washington DC: I'm 54 years old, a single father of 2 young boys, laid off carpenter, unemployment gone, still no jobs, desperate, housing industry at stand still, what can I do. I have to feed my family, pay my rent, can't go back to school. Have been surviving on odd jobs but they are becoming fewer by the day.

Lily Garcia: My heart goes out to you. I unfortunately do not have any brilliant insights on how to cope with your situation. My best suggestion is to keep doing what you have been doing: get work wherever you can while continuing to seek reemployment in your field. Also make sure that you take advantage of the social services available to you in your job search and in supporting your family through this difficult time.


Bethesda, Md.: Career Coach? I've never heard of such a thing. Call me pessimistic, but work in the field you love (or have experience with), be open to all opportunities, go into the management part of your field if you're interested... and boom! You're successful!

Too simplistic? What am I missing... ?

Lily Garcia: If only it were so simple! A career coach/counselor can help in indentifying your competencies and interests and focusing your professional aspirations. They can also provide guidance and support in the development of application materials and preparing for interviews. Not everyone needs a career coach, but the right pairing at the right time can yield very good results.


Chicago, Ill.: Dear Lily:

I need serious help in regards to the problems I have currently at work. One project manager, who is sole responsible for not promoting for his own personal reasons. He is very annoying, harassing, depressing and more over sarcastic. Does not appreciate my work, my education or my personality. He tells me whatever he feels like. Insults me for any reasons he finds. Basically he promotes his own buddies and leaves me behind. It is over one year he continuously turning me down for any positions I applied for. Whereas others came after me, without any degrees or any know how about the company's product, culture as well as services we provide. This employer is a giant defense contractor. How can I deal with this situation? We in IRAQ serving one of the project for this company. This project manager is a retired Sgt. Major from Marines. He prefers military personnel over civilians like myself. He is a very discriminating person. He is even known to be prejudiced. HR knows the problem but no one is coming up with any solution. Please help me find a way to deal with this person. Can you please help? I am even thinking to file discrimination in general complaint against my employer.

Lily Garcia: Filing a charge of discrimination should be a last resort for those who have exhausted informal dispute resolution options. If you genuinely feel that you have suffered illegal discrimination and human resources is unresponsive to your concerns, then you may be left with the choice of finding another job or filing a charge. If you choose to pursue a formal complaint against your employer, keep in mind that this is a lengthy process that in the end may not yield the results you want.


Washington, D.C.: A coworker of mine has an active social life outside of work. Most people in and around our office either do not have such colorful lives or don't talk about it. I'm in close contact with this person for work and so know a lot more than perhaps either of us would prefer. Based on this, I often know when this individual is hangover or tired from the previous night's extracurricular activities. I think it's affecting work performance, but don't know how to properly approach the conversation. I don't want it to seem like I don't approve of a social life, but I hate to see it affect both mood and performance on a regular basis. I also want to prevent the general knowledge of these activities to negatively affect the perception of our office.

Lily Garcia: If you are concerned that your co-worker's overactive social life is impacting his/her performance (which, in turn, impacts you), the you should address the issue. Let him/her know that, although you do not judge his/her personal life, its effects are becoming evident in his/her job performance. If you approach your colleague with an attitude of genuine concern rather than judgment, he/she will be more likely to internalize and act upon your message.


Washington, D.C.: I did explain my reason for leaving early.

Lily Garcia: In that case, you should take your boss aside to explain your perception of her behavior since the incident and ask what you can do to rebuild her trust in you.


Waldorf, Md.: Hi Lily, I have a question. In the past I've heard people complain that they didn't get a job because of discrimination or reverse discrimination (i.e...., quotas), but how could they know that was the reason? Like most people in the work force, I have applied for jobs in the past that I did not get. I never knew who was hired in my place, and I was never told why I wasn't hired. At the end of the interview the company only said, "We'll call you." And of course they never called. My point is that you can't possibly know it was discrimination if you don't know who was hired instead of you or why you were not selected. So why do so many people, black and white, think they were discriminated against when they didn't get a certain job?

Lily Garcia: If you believe, with no objective basis, that you have been discriminated against in the hiring process, it may be because you have a difficult time accepting that you were not selected for legitimate reasons - i.e., someone else was better qualified.


D.C. Carpenter: I bet that the laid off carpenter has already explored such an option, but he could seek out employment opportunities at grocery stores in town. I think there is a new Harris Teeter opening somewhere. But I bet he could easily adapt to a new environment such as that, as well as get himself some benefits such as reduced groceries... until time passes and life sends him better days.

Lily Garcia: Thanks for your suggestion.


New Manager: Can you recommend some books or articles on management for someone who is new to managing staff? Thank you.

Lily Garcia: For the basics, I always find myself going back to the writings of Peter Drucker.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Ms. Garcia

When I was ready to come back to work from maternity leave my employer told me that my position was no longer available, is that legal and is there something that I should do?

Lily Garcia: I am not at liberty to offer employment law advice in this forum. Generally speaking, as long as your employer has a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for eliminating your position, then what they have done is not illegal. You should consult an employment lawyer if you have reason to believe that your employer's decision in your case was not legitimate.


Trying to be a consultant: I am working on some projects on my own while I have some free time and would like to be a consultant in my field. I am an instructional designer and put courses online, and since my contract job is done, yet I'm still paying for child care for the next month, I am putting coming up with some e-learning modules on my own. I LOVE working part-time, and want to continue, but am not sure how to best go about putting my name out there. My primary experience is K12 (teaching and online development) and my supervisors in my past jobs are great, but they don't have a lot of contacts that are hiring. I'm starting a professional blog, have a resume online, but am not sure what else I can do.

Lily Garcia: Start networking with instructional design companies. They often outsource work to part-time consultants. Two good ones are KMi and Leanforward.


Lily Garcia: Thank you for your participation today. We are unfortunately out of time. Please join me for the next edition of "How to Deal Live" on Tuesday, October 6th, from 11:00 a.m. to noon, EST. You may also email me at

Best wishes,



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