washingtonpost.com
How to Deal Live

Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Tuesday, December 29, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, December 29, at 11 a.m. ET.

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. Let's begin.

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Flint, Mich.: Major corporations and educational institutional employers do criminal background and credit checks on applicants. Having been unemployed for over one year, my credit check may show I'm behind in one credit card but paid off other debts. My home mortgage payment history is good -- my last house payment will be in 2011 (yippee!) Will a spotty credit history automatically screen out my application from further consideration -- especially in these days when so many other job seekers also have hit tough times? If I even make it to an interview, should I bring this up as question during the LATTER part of a job interview or not? Thank you and happy holidays!

Lily Garcia: Unless you are applying for jobs in the financial sector or jobs that involve the handling of money or accounts, I highly doubt that late payments on a credit card will become a concern in your application process. In other words, there is no need for you to bring this up unless it is relevant to your job.

You did not mention government jobs. If you decide to apply for jobs in the public sector -- especially those that involve some security clearance -- just plan to be honest about your financial challenges. It does not sound like your credit card payment history rises to the level of the type of problem that would make you a security risk.

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Washington, DC: Hello! I am a federal employee with two managers above me and several co-workers. My managers have created a third management position to manage our staff of three that will soon grown to six. This seems overly bureaucratic to me and my coworkers, and we really can't see what this new position will contribute to our staff. We've raised these concerns to our managers who believe this new manager will find his niche. What advice do you have for us to approach this situation positively, not alienate the new manager and also remain happy in our jobs?

Lily Garcia: Get to know the new manager, make yourselves available as a resource and do what you can to support him in his new role. It will be best for everyone if he does "find his niche" rather than becoming the bureaucratic burden that you fear. In time, it will become clear to the leaders of your department whether they have made the right choice.

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Rural, Va.: I work(ed) for a small private firm. The owner hired someone to cut staff. Within only a few months she has fired almost half of the upper managers -- including the one I reported to. Now she has hired and assigned a recent graduate to work with me. I am to show the new hire everything I do so that "should I be sick and unable to work, this person will be able to fill in".

I see the writing on the wall. At this point, I don't plan to go back after the holidays. There isn't any point because: (1)I don't want to train my replacement, and (2)the company does not allow references on former employees. So, unless I am missing something, why even bother? I plan to just call them on Monday and say I quit. Since I'm not giving a two week notice, is there any way this can haunt me? In other words, if another firm calls them to check start/stop dates, and the HR person mentions this, would it be a show stopper?

Lily Garcia: I understand why you would want to exit the situation. What I don't understand is why you would leave so abruptly without first lining up a new job. Am I missing something? For better or worse, it is easier to get a job when you have a job. Why not just wait for the right opportunity?

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NYC: This isn't exactly a workplace question, but a getting-a-job question. As I was writing a cover letter for a job, I realized the person I'm applying to is someone I used know from college: We worked on the school paper together and got along well, though we weren't close friends. (The job is journalism related by the way.) Do I mention I know her in the cover letter? And if so, how do I go about doing that since cover letters are pretty formal?

Lily Garcia: Don't mention it in the cover letter, but do send her a separate follow-up e-mail noting your connection and further expressing your enthusiasm for the role.

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DC: My company will be closing its doors and I am tasked with writing general letters of recommendation for employees being laid off ("To Whom It May Concern"). What sort of general/specific information should be in this type of letter?

Lily Garcia: Include title(s), job responsibilities, dates of employment and major contributions. Also mention the reason for the employee's departure and that it was not due to performance or conduct concerns.

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Houston, TX: Thank you for taking questions. I have worked in my company's marketing department for two years, basically developing and managing reports, projects and administrative functions. I've had several supervisors because my job is somewhat ad hoc in nature, and it's been no problem. I've recently been shifted to a manager that appears to want to manage me by catching me doing something wrong. He has yet to review job expectations with me (after more than a month), and every conversation with him is somewhat contentious. I respect this individual's job skills but find the prospect of working for him wearying, to say the least. I didn't request to work for him, and it is a semi-joke in the department that I've had so many supervisors. Would it be outrageous to request that I not work for this individual, given the circumstances?

Lily Garcia: If you can identify another person to whom it would make business sense for you to report AND you have a solid reputation with the senior leaders of your company, then I see no harm in testing the waters. If either of these conditions is not met, do not raise the issue. You will only end up looking like a malcontent.

If you do decide to broach the subject, you should be prepared to hear that you need to give the situation time. You were only recently moved to this manager after all.

Have you tried talking to your new boss about your perceptions of his communication style?

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Alexandria, Va.: I work in a hotel where the hourly employees must enter and exit through a security checkpoint. However, salaried personnel can enter and exit wherever or however they wish, ensuring that they will never be subject to the random searches done by security. Isn't this discriminatory?

Lily Garcia: It is most certainly discriminatory, but it is not illegal.

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Virginia: Hi, Lily. My division is being eliminated, and we have been encouraged to seek other employment while completing the transition. To that end, I have asked the owner (my boss' boss, but a man for whom I have completed considerable direct projects) for a reference for a position at a company where he has major connections. He informed me that he could not recommend that position for someone "with a family". I was hurt, because I thought he thought highly of my work, and I suspected he would never say such a thing to a man seeking a reference for this position. I recognize this is likely not actionable in my state (Virginia), but I am concerned I have somehow fallen out of favor. While he is not my direct boss, he is a highly thought of member in our community, and I'm concerned he may not speak well of me to his colleagues. Should I address this with him, or let it go?

Lily Garcia: I think that you should probe further about what he means. Does he think that your family obligations have interfered with your work at his organization, or is he just making asumptions (perhaps sexist ones) about what is good for you? At this point, I think that you should do everything that you can to get the job you want. If you need to go back to your boss' boss to make the case for why you would be ideally suited to the job you seek despite your family obligations, then that is what you should do. I hate to brush aside your concerns about sexism, but I think that would be a distraction in this case from your goal of obtaining solid reemployment.

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coworkers talking trash: I'm a relatively new employee. There's a particular coworker who will talk to me and bring up mean, disparaging things about my boss. I try to quiet him down or change the subject, but he's very open about it. I don't want to be a party to such comments or appear to endorse them. What should I do?

Lily Garcia: Tell him that you are not comfortable speaking ill of your boss. Period. Nothing personal; it's just not your style.

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Dallas, TX: I work for a large Fortune 500 company that provides generous benefits including a no-cost Employee Assistance Program. My boyfriend and I both work for this company, though our relationship predates either of our tenures. We are not violating any company policies and our supervisors are aware of our situation. I am having personal issues with our relationship and would like to discuss them with a counselor. Since I have never seen a therapist nor have any idea how to find one, I would like to try EAP first since it's free and easily accessible. The program promises confidentiality, but am I being naive? I don't want my boyfriend or our supervisors to find out that I even had contact with a counselor, since that could lead to awkward questions, and I'm not sure if EAP would document any discussions in a file that would become part of my employee record. This is my first job out of college, and I'm still trying to figure out how this all works. Thanks for your help!

Lily Garcia: Fear not. In my experience, there is no way that your boyfriend or supervisor would ever find out that you reached out to EAP. Even the HR department, which receives periodic usage reports from EAP, is not apprised of the names of the people who use the service.

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Help my friend, please: Hi, Lily. I have a friend who is at a turning point in her life. Her husband is about to finish his PhD and they're ready to spend some time developing her skills. She has a job using her degree but absolutely hates it. As she's not in college any more, she can't take advantage of advisers. Where can you recommend she look to refine what kind of job she'd like? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: If your friend is really starting from ground zero, she may want to begin with a workbook such as "What Color Is Your Parachute" that will help her to further refine her thinking about what she would like to do with her professional life. I would not recommend that she invest money in career counseling unless and until she has narrowed the field of possibilities.

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For Rural, Va.: Do you have about six months worth of savings in the bank? Can you pay all of your bills while you job search? Even if "the writing on the wall" is true, I think you'll be glad for every paycheck. Also, if you quit, doesn't that affect your ability to collect unemployment benefits, should you need them? And, there is a chance you are being paranoid -- lots of places cross train so that there is coverage when someone is out. It doesn't necessarily mean you're next.

Lily Garcia: All good thoughts. Thank you.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi, Lily. I work for a public organization. I love my job and my boss and the CEO. I have also served on several hiring committees. I have been told point blank by various levels of leadership that we have to hire non-white candidates. I was also told that we have to hire somebody younger than 42. Aren't these directives illegal? The last candidate that we hired was white and 42+ years old. I agree that we want a diverse workforce. How do we achieve that without engaging in illegal discrimination? Thank you.

Lily Garcia: This is an incredibly important question that I cannot adequately answer in the space of this live chat. May I have your permission to write an article in response?

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Good idea or bad?: I'm submitting my resume for a position that I'm really interested in. The process this company uses is that you have to submit your resume through their online portal site. I want to also e-mail the person to whom this position will report to to let him know of my interest and qualifications for the job. This job is perfect for me, and I'm so afraid that my resume will be lost in the shuffle if I don't reach out directly. What do you think of this idea?

Lily Garcia: I think it would be fine for you to try to establish some personal connection with the hiring manager to set yourself apart from the pile. But don't be pushy. If you do not receive a response to your personal e-mail, let it go and allow the process to take its course.

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Somewhere, USA: A member of my (very small) department was let go in the fall for performance reasons. She did a lot of vital clerical tasks, but her position is not going to be filled. I could use some words of wisdom on how to balance being a team player and making sure the work gets done (on the one hand) with making sure I don't get cast in a role other than the one I came on to do. Thank you!

Lily Garcia: You will need to be proactive in helping to ensure that your former co-worker's duties are evenly distributed among the remaining members of your department. Take a shot at categorizing her tasks and ask for your supervisor's guidance regarding who should be covering each of these items. I think it would be presumptuous for you to suggest which of your team members should do what, but taking the initiative to start a conversation about the issue would be welcome.

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Charlottesville: Lily, how long does it typically take to fire an executive at a company? For instance, if a company has a good amount of information which would support firing and in fact would like to do so but would prefer to have a tight case against a lawsuit -- how many "strikes and you're out" need to occur? This relates to toxic environment issues rather than fraud. Thanks

Lily Garcia: It realy depends upon the nature of the offenses in question. I cannot articulate a hard and fast rule. What I can say is that creating a toxic work environment, for better or worse, does not usually get a manager fired overnight. It takes employees having the courage to come forward to share their experiences; sometimes it takes quantifiable data such a a spike in the turnover rate or a decline in productivity.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Dear, Lily. I have recently graduated from trade school and am now a certified dental assistant with an x-ray certification. I have been applying for a job in this field for the past three months and have yet to even get a phone call back. There are plenty of job listings for this particular post but most of the requirements are for those with previous experience. I have no dental assistant experience, but I have extensive retail experience. Do you have any advice for me? How do i go about getting one of these offices to even consider me.

Lily Garcia: If you had an internship or any other sort of practical on-the-job training during school, make sure that you mention that in your cover letter. It also would not hurt for you to acknowledge in your application materials that, although you do not have the job experience they seek, you amply make up for it in your work ethic and enthusiasm. Sell yourself! And keep applying. This job market is tough for new grads, but failure is only guaranteed if you stop tring.

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Also for Rural, Va.: I also wonder why he or she would just walk out? If in an interview he is asked "Why did you leave your last employer?" I don't think the reason will sound very positive. Also, if asked if he has ever failed to give two weeks notice, and he is honest, he will not look good as well. Show the person the ropes, collect your paycheck and look for a new gig. If the employer lets you go, get your unemployment and discounted COBRA.

Lily Garcia: I agree. Patience is the name of the game.

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Potomac, Md.: Lily, I work for a utility company that serves Montgomery County. There are workers from India in management positions and when jobs are open, only people from India seem to get hired regardless of the qualifications. What to do in this case?

Lily Garcia: If you suspect national origin discrimination, you should bring your concerns before your human resources department.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Lily. I have been working as a writing consultant for eight months at a local government contract company. They like my work and have indicated they would want me to go permanent. The problem is not only do I like being a consultant, but I have been shocked by the lack of professionalism and skills by others in the workplace. The projects are severely mismanaged, and they are poorly organized. How can I try to keep working as a consultant but politely refuse their attempt at making me permanent?

Lily Garcia: If you decline their offer of full-time employment, you should prepare yourself for the possibility that your contract will be terminated. This employer has determined that they need a full-time person to do what you do and that it is ultimately cheaper to pay a full-time salary rather than a consultant's hourly rate. If you turn them down, they might keep using you for a while, but they will also open the search for an employee with a view toward eventually phasing you out.

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Yet another thought for Rural, Va.: The poster mentioned that the would-be replacement is a recent graduate. I wonder if he/she is being replaced for age-based reasons, which might be actionable.

Lily Garcia: That is always possible. But it may just as likely be an attempt by the new supervisor to hand-select known quantities for the team. If this employee sincerely believes that age is a motivating factor for these personnel decisions, he should involved the HR department.

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Bethesda, Md.: I am pregnant and am taking paid maternity leave next year. I'm afraid I might be laid off during my leave. What kind of resources can you recommend that explain pregnancy discrimination?

Lily Garcia: Start with a visit to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Web site.

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Lily Garcia: We are unfortunately out of time. Please join me for the first How to Deal Live of 2010 at 11:00 a.m. EST on January 12th. In the meantime, feel free to e-mail me at hradvice@washingtonpost.com. Although I may not get to your question immediately, I can promise you that I will reply.

Happy New Year,

Lily

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