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How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 9, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, March 9, 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. Let's begin.

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Denver, Colo.: What is your opinion of personal career marketers? I'm a reasonably successful mid/upper level manager in my current job. While I'm regularly contacted by recruiters from within my industry, I'm considering switching industries entirely. I'm wondering if the best way for me to do this while still maintaining some level of seniority is by using a personal career marketer aka personal recruiter. However, they are not cheap! In your opinion, are they worthwhile or not?

Thanks!

Lily Garcia: I am extremely wary of personal marketers, especially those who charge a large fee up front. If you can find a reputable marketer who will agree to defer their fee until they find you a job, I see no harm in trying this approach. Otherwise, you should execute your career change the old fashioned way: network within the field that you want to join, obtain all necessary degress and certifications, and make sure that you have a resume that emphasizes your transferable skills.

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Arlington, Va.: Lily, I had an interview with a media company that is launching a new website. After the interview they said they were going to send me a "series of exercises." One was write a pretty involved strategy memo for the new website. The other was take their mock-up and provide a full-list of everything I would suggest posting for one day. Both of these items would take an enormous amount of time/effort and also provide them with free "consulting."

I spent two hours writing the strategy memo but for some reason doing the full days' mock-up actually broke my will. In the end, I sent them back the memo and an abbreviated list of links. Maybe they will pretend I didn't understand the assignment? It's a company I would like to work for in the future and totally blowing them off seemed like a bad idea but how much worse was sending in only half of what they asked for? I didn't exactly spell out that I was only doing half the assignment, I simply sent back "well here are my top picks for links for the day" and only sent about half of what the whole page would require.

Lily Garcia: I think that the approach you took was fine. It is fair for the company to ask you for a sample of your work, which you provided. It is quite another thing for them to expect you to design their new site. As long as what you offered was helpful and illustrative of what you could do for them as an employee, then you have completed the assignment in my book.

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Naperville, Ill.: Not so much a question, but a comment - don't employers realize that how they treat their employees now will pay off for them in the future when the economy rebounds and there are lots of jobs available? I work in a small business with about 6 full time professionals, plus two hourly employees in reception and customer service. We salaried folks often go out for lunch to the neighborhood sandwich shop as a group or partial group a few times a month, but it is tradition that on someone's birthday we make a point to all go out together. If we are busy that day, we will schedule it for the day before or after. Sometimes the boss/owner does not come, sometimes he does. This week it was our hourly worker, the receptionist's birthday. When she informed the boss it was her birthday and she'd be away from her desk for lunch for an hour, he told her to be sure to clock out! Lily, this girl makes probably $9 an hour, and this is the one time she goes out for lunch every year! None of us have had raises, bonuses or extra vacation in the last eighteen months due to the economy - this is the only bit of "specialness" we have left! My boss may have "saved" the $9 when we took her out to lunch, but he made all of us realize just how little he values his employees. On the way back from lunch, you can bet that each one of us was talking about resumes.

Lily Garcia: By missing the celebration and focusing instead on the clock, your boss transformed an otherwise enjoyable event into a gripe session. The little things do count. How an employer treats its employees now will undoubtedly have an impact on retention when the economy rebounds.

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Capitol Hill: Help! I need some motivation. My job has an expiration date -- I'm only here for another two months and then I'm on to greener pastures. It has been a stressful time while here so I am having trouble staying focused and motivated during the end of my tenure. What can I do to get my work mojo back?!

Lily Garcia: Focus on your reputation. If you continue to do your best, you will always be able to count upon your current employer for an enthusiastic reference. If you fizzle out at the end, you might burn that bridge.

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Washington, D.C. : Just a comment-- as someone who has battled depression most of my life - I have never felt comfortable "telling." At the start if I work with someone over several years- and we become friends- boss or not- then it sort of unfolds- I had a lovely boss once who suggested I get my meds checked... seriously- I was getting more down- and she was correct, I strongly recommend against disclosure based solely on the law- which I find to be of little help when faced with bigotry of most kinds.

Lily Garcia: I agree that disclosure of a disability is usually not a good idea. When it becomes clear during the interview process, however, that "something" is wrong, it is best to offer some sort of explanation rather than leaving a potential employer to wonder. Under such circumstances, disclosure can mitigate against discrimination and offer an opportunity to showcase one's strength of character in the face of significant challenges.

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Olney, Md.: How can someone find out what information an online background check service is providing to a potential employer? How can you be sure that someone isn't libeling or slandering you? These services are everywhere. For proof, just click on your discussions link on the Post's web site and you will get three of them offering to sell me information in the "Ads by Google" box!

Lily Garcia: If an employer uses a background check service to check your references and criminal or credit history and they make an adverse employment decision based on the results, then they are required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act to explain their reasons and offer you a chance to respond.

I don't know of any sure-fire way to ensure that nobody from your past is speaking ill of you. The best insurance against bad references is to maintain positive relationships with past employers. If you were fired or otherwise left on bad terms, ask your past employer to agree to provide a neutral reference (i.e. confirmation of last title and dates of employment only). Most employers will do this anyway as a matter of policy for fear of defamation lawsuits.

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Alexandria, Va.: Two comments for job hunters: I feel for people who are out of work, but please do not apply for jobs for which you are not qualified. I have chaired three hiring committees in the last year. We have to weed through dozens of applications just to get five people to interview. It is maddening and you are hurting your chances of being hired by us in a future position.

Also, if you include an objective on your resume, tailor it to the job that you are applying for. It is astounding to see objectives that are so unrelated to our organization/job title. I discard those resumes immediately. Furthermore, your objective should show how you will benefit the organization, not the other way around. I see objectives such as "I want to move to the East Coast" and "I want to jump-start my career." As the hiring manager, I don't care about what you want... I care about what our organization needs.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your note. I agree with your advice.

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Washington, D.C.: This question may be too specialized (related to the legal field). I took a job with a 2 year time limit (not a contract exactly), and as I started looking for opportunities to begin after the 2 years (I am just over one year in), I found a great one! Problem is: they want me to start in 3 months, not 9 months, as I had hoped. This opportunity will not be available later if I don't take it now, and I am scared that I will be unemployed if I let it go to fulfill my 2 year commitment at my current job. What should I consider while making this decision? Obviously potentially losing a good reference from my current job (because I'd be leaving early) is one thing. Anything else?

Lily Garcia: If the new opportunity is too good to pass up, then your current employer should understand why you would terminate your contract early. Three months will give them plenty of time to find your replacement. To make things easier for them, you can even offer to help find and train that person.

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Washington, D.C., of course: Hi Lily,

How long must one stay in a job to be considered credible and serious by future employers? Last year, I left a job after only 1.5 years because I had been offered a government position. That gov't position was put on hold (due to political issues not related to me), so I took another job in the interim. Must I stay in my current job, where I've been for a year, for another year so I don't look like I'm job hopping? (Is job hopping a bad thing in DC, where everyone seems to stay in their positions for 18 months, anyway?) Or may I again pursue a government post, as had been my original intent?

Thank you!

Lily Garcia: In response to a similar question, I previously wrote: "Whether you can be officially anointed a 'job hopper' depends as much upon how long you stay in your jobs as on the conventions of your profession or industry."

I will send you a link to the full text of the article.

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washingtonpost.com: Avoiding the job hopper label (Post, Nov. 6, 2008)

Lily Garcia: Here you go.

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Southern Maryland: Dear Lily: I am a regular reader of your column and look forward to your chats. I was dismayed, however, to read your reply last week to Anonymous, who didn't get interviewed for a non-profit job for which he/she felt well qualified. You replied that the prospective employer "may have selected a few good applicants from the top of the pile," without even seeing Anonymous's application. If this is so, then it's not a numbers game, as you often say, but pure luck. Is it too much to hope that an employer would feel a sense of duty toward those hundreds of applicants and acquire temporary HR assistance to get through the swell? How about reducing the time frame for job postings to a week or so and restricting them to their own websites so that they're less likely to get picked up by the bigger search engines? That way, perhaps they'll attract a smaller number of jobseekers, who are also more familiar with their mission. My own job search has gone on far too long, but I have met a couple of wonderful managers who have admitted to reading every application that has come across their desk; they remember the cover letters of the best applicants, and they can tell you the percentage of great candidates they received, out of the whole group, and how difficult their decision was. Not surprisingly, these managers have a happy staff and few turnovers. Sign me Anonymous, Too.

Lily Garcia: I hear what you are saying, but it is simply not realistic to expect that every resume will be reviewed. It is not a question of dumb luck, but of being proactive enough in your job search that you hear about opportunities early and apply for them fast. I admire those managers who are able to review every resume that comes across their desk, but I do not fault those who cannot find the time.

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washingtonpost.com: If you have a disability disclose it -- anti-discrimination laws are there to protect you. (Post, Feb. 25, 2010)

Lily Garcia: I believe that the reader who wrote earlier regarding whether to disclose a disability to an employer was referring to this article.

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Re: media website: Just to add, this potential employer wanted me to send something like 30 links from a variety of sources (Best of Google News, Best of Twitter, Best of You Tube, etc). In the end I only sent five links to the most important stories.

I know it will seem like I either didn't understand what they were asking for or deliberately blew off more than half of what they asked for. They probably won't hire me, but I'd like to think I didn't close the door to working for them forever.

Lily Garcia: You may be pleasantly surprised. Even though you did not finish the assignment, you gave them something to think about. I doubt that many candidates put in as much effort.

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To Naperville: If the receptionist offered to make up her lunch hour at the end of the day, the boss might have been more generous and told her not to worry about it. The workplace is all about the bottom line, and seeing that the employees care about it makes the penny-pinching bosses more agreeable.

Lily Garcia: Of course it all comes down to the bottom line. And it helps the bottom line tremendously to make your employees feel valued. The manager in this case made a legitimate request, but his timing could not have been worse.

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Fairfax County, Va.: Just wanted to add my total agreement to your note to the person who's clock watching (or calendar watching ) with just two months to go. First impressions are important, but "last impressions" are just as permanent. If they blow off the last two months and let down their colleagues, there goes a lifetime of future recommendations, networking, and work friendships, not to mention self-esteem. Get it done! Two months will be here sooner than they think.

Lily Garcia: It's also a matter of principle.

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Virginia: Good morning. I was informed yesterday that my organization is having serious money issues. I work at a non-profit. No direct indication was given that our jobs were in jeopardy. However, once the announcement was made, I asked about the future of our jobs point-blank to my boss, and he didn't look me in the eye and he said he'd get back to me. So. I'm nervous. I'd like to start looking around and will need this job as a reference. Should I tell my boss that I'm going to start looking so that he can be prepared to be reference (we have an excellent working relationship). Should I just wait until I find something I'm really interested in and then tell him? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Unless you trust your boss not to hold it against you that you are looking, you should not let him know until later.

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Alexandria, Va.: Our unit has three team leader positions come available, and its pretty clear who will be filling those slots. These individuals had been given more responsibilities over the past year than others have, although many in our unit have taken team leader skills training over the past couple of years.

So, what now? How do I communicate to my supervisor that I'm capable and want to grow in my position? Facilitating subordinates' opportunities for growth is one of the responsibilities of a supervisor, is it not?

Lily Garcia: Be direct about your desire to advance within the organization. Tell your boss that you would like to be considered for assignments that will allow you to develop so that you are ready to be promoted when additional opportunities become available in the future.

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Midwest-for now: Hi, I have a question about searching for a job cross country. After a couple of years it seems like things are finally starting to pick up in my industry in a part of the country I am interested in possibly moving to (and maybe eventually going to grad school in) the only problem is that I live a four-plus hour plane ride from this part of the country.

I have started to apply for jobs but I am wondering how to handle the possible interview process. Should I offer to phone interview before I do a in-person interview? Should I set up a trip ahead of time and include that in my cover letter when I apply for the jobs? I am okay with paying my own travel expenses, but I don't want to pay for multiple trips and not get a job. I also am okay with paying for my own relocation (I have been saving money specifically for it) but I don't know if I should tell a company that up front during the interview process or not. I don't want the fact that I live out of state to disqualify me for a job, but I also feel like I have to be careful about the amount of time and money I invest in the interview process especially since I will still have to fund a cross-country move.

I know that moving now, and looking for a job when I get there would be ideal, but I cant really afford to take the chance that it still could be months before something stable comes along.

Lily Garcia: In response to a job applicant seeking to relocate to the DC area, I wrote: "It is not unusual for employers to narrow the field of applicants based upon such factors as willingness to relocate. In addition, for certain jobs, being from or having significant ties to the area, may be a relevant factor for employers choosing among qualified applicants. . . . [M]ost employers will happily grant out-of-area applicants an initial phone interview and then work around the travel cost issues if they are interested in moving forward. In the meantime, if you have not done so already, I recommend that you clearly indicate in your cover letter that you are willing to relocate for the position. It would also enhance your application to mention plans to visit the DC area for several days in the near future. This will not only highlight your interest in relocating to the area, but it will also create opportunities for in-person meetings." I would offer the same advice to you.

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Re: 2-year legal question: It also depends on the lawyer's field and what the two year job is. For instance, in a judicial clerkship, they have a very specific hiring cadence and get their new people from out of law school, so often can't replace someone who leaves early until his/her term was up because of the logistics of the replacement taking the bar, etc.

For example, I know someone who worked as a clerk for a judge in a very specialized field and decided to leave her judicial clerkship about 6 months early. Since a field is small, having a bad reference from a judge has been very detrimental to her career. She finally had to move cities because she was having trouble finding work.

Saw the same thing happen to someone who did a Presidential Management Fellowship at an agency that supervises a relatively small field of law. It's been easier on him, but they always ask why he left early and if he burned any bridges.

Lily Garcia: That is a very good point. If leaving your position early would result in professional fallout of this magnitude, then the new opportunity may not be worth it.

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Lily Garcia: We are unfortunately out of time. Please join me for the next edition of How to Deal Live on Tuesday, March 23rd, at 11:00 a.m. EST. You may also email me directly at hradvice@washingtonpost.com. Although I may not be able to respond immediately, I will answer every question.

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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