Silver Spring: How do I negotiate a signing bonus? I have recently accepted a job, and I remember the announcement stating that signing bonuses were available to qualified candidates. I kind of off-handedly mentioned it to the HR person, and she told me she would have to investigate if funds were available. I'm still awaiting the offer letter with my start date, so I don't know if I'm still in the running this time, but I would like to know for next time at least.

A signing bonus should be negotiated as part of the total compensation package. Have you already agreed to a salary? If you don't like the numbers they give you in the official offer letter, you can still propose a signing bonus to sweeten the deal.

Virginia: I'm a reporter for a small daily newspaper and am getting tired of the daily grind. What I'd like to do is something completely different for a year or two -- historical research, landscaping, retail -- anything but what I'm doing now. I guess it's the seven-year itch, because I entered journalism in 1997. If I take a job outside the field of writing, will it hurt my career later? Should I freelance in addition to whatever job I take?

What makes you think you'll become un-bored with journalism during your absence? If you're going to switch fields because of burnout, go ahead and do it wholeheartedly. Keep in touch with your old journalism contacts. If inspiration strikes, shop stories around, but don't force it just for the sake of keeping your clips current.