Mary Ellen Slayter: Good afternoon! We had to shift a day because of the holiday, but it looks like we still have lots of good questions.

Mary Ellen Slayter: My colleague Vickie Elmer is looking for local people who noticeably enliven their workplace, improving morale and making it easier for their colleagues to bear coming in every day.

Does that describe someone you know? Please send Vicki an e-mail at

San Jose, Calif.: Have there been any recent studies on managerial effectiveness in U.S. companies? In business school, we read about how managers need to evaluate their employees’ work and skills impartially to boost morale and productivity (in theory it makes sense). However, in the real world it seems that the true path to advancement is how well one can play office politics with no regard to competence and skills (Don’t tell me this happens in just a few companies. It happens a lot more than people think and in some of America’s most admired companies). I cannot believe that’s how businesses have been run since the 1940s. I don’t believe this can be good for future American competitiveness.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Office politics is an exclusively “American” thing, though. It’s human nature.

Also, I think the ability to “play office politics” is a skill set unto itself, and a very valuable one.

Baltimore, Md.: Thanks for taking my question. Shortly I’ll be leaving my first job for my second job. I’d like to give my supervisor a gift of appreciation because he helped me develop into the person my new employer hired. Is it appropriate to do such things?

Mary Ellen Slayter: It’s not necessary, and it can come across as weird. How about a nice note of thanks? And just keep in touch.

Houston, Tex.: I was wondering if you had any suggestions for evaluation a job offer for a first full-time job, particularly about salary? I’ve just graduated from grad school and have no experience with real salaries (I lived just fine on $20,000/yr on department support). I’ve received an offer from the company I had a paid internship with, and it is way over my expectations (my first thought was “wow”), but I’m worried that mine are unrealistically low and therefore not a reliable base. I’ve tried looking at sites like, but the job description and category (geologist) looks too generic and doesn’t distinguish between employer categories (like government vs energy industry), plus the salary range it gives is way below my offer, so it seems rather useless for me.

I’m partly concerned about this because I’ve read that women tend to be underpaid because they tend to accept the first offer and not to negotiate, which I admit I did for my internship and would rather not fall into that trap again. How much higher might it be realistic/not outrageous to ask for, percentage-wise?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Do you have any mentors who could give you a benchmark for salary? Perhaps a trusted professor, or a mentor who has been in the industry longer than you?

Is the salary enough for you to do the job? How are the benefits? Vacation time? Try to evaluate the offer as a package, making sure it meets your needs.

Tallahassee, Fla.: I’ve taken over an existing team -- one of the staff had a close personal relationship with my predecessor, and I think played on that friendship to her advantage. She now complains that I won’t “share the details of my life with her like Karen did” and finds this “frustrating.” Any suggestions on how to politely, but professionally tell her to butt out and get to work?

Mary Ellen Slayter: What an awkward spot to put you in! It’s natural to form friendships with people we work with, but you can’t force it.

Have you told her that you just prefer to keep work and personal life separate? Play it off like it’s a thing with you, not a judgement on her friend-worthiness ... Need help finding that dream job? Our special feature offers expert tips on How to... Stand Out.

Burnt Out, D.C.: What do you do when you’re totally burnt out? I have spent the better part of the last decade killing myself to get where I am today in a very competitive field. I worked long hours, climbed the ladder, went to graduate school at night, and loved every hectic minute of it. I’ve got a great job in a career field that I love, but I can hardly motivate myself to turn on my computer anymore. I can spend hours at my desk just surfing the web or staring at the wall. I’m embarrassed and ashamed -- I don’t even recognize this lazy and disinterested person I’ve become -- and yet I feel stuck. Since finishing school several years ago, I’ve had great work/life balance and I’ve taken several recent vacations, but I come back feeling the exact same way about my work. I’ve started looking for a new position, hoping to find something that will be more motivating, but I’m afraid that I will find myself in the exact same situation in a new position. I’m mostly concerned that my colleagues will start taking notice and that my vary hard-won professional reputation will start to suffer. Help!

Mary Ellen Slayter: That’s why you have to get out before that happens.

It sounds like you would really benefit with a session with a career coach, or even a therapist.

Springfield, Va.: Are there any special legal provisions for being rehired at firms where one used to work?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Is there something in particular that’s worrying you?

Tysons Corner, Va.: After 10 years in the nonprofit sector, I am considering a switch to the for-profit world and have a job offer. What I’ve found, however, is that the title being offered to me almost feels like I’m taking a big step backwards, even though the job responsibilities are clearly in-line whith my experience. Is this a common problem when people switch from non to for profit? I’ve been promoted several times in my current position, and I would be naive to think that some of those title and responsibility promotions were not in lieu or a significant pay increase. I’m worried about how this “drop” in title will look to future employers. Any advice?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Titles are so wildly inconsistent, making them virtually useless. Most hiring managers realize this, and focus on what people actually do. I wouldn’t worry about it.

Columbus, Ohio: How soon is too soon to call about a job. Last week I had an interview on Monday and was then a second interview on Thursday. I felt they both went really well. At the end of the second they said they would get back with me the beginning of this week. When would it be ok to call if I havn’t heard anything. I want to call now but am thinking it is too soon.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Have you sent your thank-you note or e-mail?

Washington, D.C.: Hi, Mary Ellen.

I had two terrible auto accidents in 2005 and 2006 forced me to quit my administrative assistant job which I had held for four years (broken leg bones and a fractured sternum). While I was recovering I obtained a master’s degree in a slight different field. Now that I am looking, how can I explain two years of employment gap without sounding weird? I mean, don’t want to sound like I quit because could not balance the time.

Mary Ellen Slayter: You didn’t have a gap. You were in school, earning a master’s.

I wouldn’t worry about it, but if someone DOES ask why you didn’t do both, you can tell them about the car accidents.

Career dead-end: After 18 years in my field, I am at a dead-end with my career unless I get a graduate degree. I keep toying with going back to school because I “should” get that degree, but the truth is I just don’t like my chosen career path. So I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a degree that keeps me in a field I really have no interest in. How does one go about changing careers when you don’t even know what you want to do anymore? I am so confused about where to start. I think if I had a plan of action, I could stand to stay in this job several more years.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Definitely don’t get that master’s then! You’d be much better off investing in a degree that helps you switch to something you like better.

Have you read “What Color Is Your Parachute?” You can’t beat that classic book as a low-cost way to get you brainstorming about other career possibilities.

Columbus, Ohio: Yes, my thank you went out Friday morning.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Give them a few more days then.

I know, it’s so hard to just sit there!

Albuquerque, New Mexico: Hello, Mary Ellen. I am currently living in New Mexico and I hope to relocate to D.C. with my family as soon as possible. I have two classes left for my bachelor’s in criminal justice. its been our dream to live near and work in D.C. I have applied for many positions and I still have not heard anything. To be honest, I am even looking for “easy” jobs just to help relocate us as soon as possible. I have not yet heard from anyone and I am a little worried. As far as everything else goes, we have chosen the area and homes where we would like to live, schools for the kids and so on. Is there something more I should be doing?

Thank you for your help!

Mary Ellen Slayter: Graduate, move here, and temp for a while. You’ll have a much easier time getting interviews for entry-level jobs if you’re already in the area.


Rockville, Md.: Stuck in a dead end job for eight years. I revamp my resume every year. Why no job?

Mary Ellen Slayter: If you’re still putting the same old stuff on your resume, revamping it isn’t going to make a difference.

Eight years is a long time to spin your wheels. Do you know where you’d rather be?

Washington, D.C.: RE: The geologist. I’m reading the question from the geologist that she received an offer from the energy industry. I went through the process last year with the energy industry last year, and their offers were really high. The energy world has gone through a series of hire/layoffs of scientists in the last 20 years. Generally now, the offers are high because not enough new people have come in over the last 20 years.

Mary Ellen Slayter: For our geologist ...

Odenton, Md.: My husband is about to graduate this spring and is currently looking for a job. Due to being in the Air Force for almost half his college education he has been to 8 colleges. He has the max allowed transfer credits at the school he is graduating from (80 credits) and has a 4.0 GPA for those credits.

My question is, when listing his GPA on his resume, should he use the GPA the college has listed which only includes the credits taken at that specific school or should he average his GPA over all the classes that are counting towards his degree?

Mary Ellen Slayter: I’d go for what the college has listed, just because it’s easiest for a prospective employer to verify, in case they want to.

Arlington, Va.: I’ve been at my current job for 8 months and have an opportunity to interview with another law firm (I’m an attorney). Would it be ‘wrong’ to leave my current job for say, an almost 40 percent pay increase? The money and benefits are the only issue (I actually like my current job).

I don’t want to job hunt, but if the money is there, why not take it?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Will you like this other job?

RE: Arlington, Va.: Good question. The only answer I have is that I know I’ll like the money.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Money isn’t everything, though. Go on the interview. And ask LOTS of questions. You’re in a nice spot.

Herndon, Va.: Here’s the situation: An unemployed, out of college (business BA in finance) person who says taking a “low-level” part-time job will make him/her less attractive to employers. I say any job looks better on a resume than none, and the longer you’re not working the worse the resume looks. Your view?

Mary Ellen Slayter: I think you don’t have to put it on your resume at all, if it’s completely unrelated to your field. But in general, I agree with you.

Georgetown, D.C.: What to do about a cubicle mate who has had a stomach-turning phlegmy cough for two weeks? I cannot sit here any longer! I feel nauseated. (We aren’t allowed to use headphones) ...

Mary Ellen Slayter: Ask if they are ok? Suggest they see a doctor? They must be miserable.

Dream Job: I, too, interviewed for my dream job on Friday afternoon. I’ve already sent my thank you notes. I really want to know if I made it to the second round of interviews. How soon can I follow-up? How often should I contact them? One e-mail a week?

The waiting is killing me.

Mary Ellen Slayter: One e-mail a week is about right, I think.

Washington, D.C.: Late question, sorry. My therapist suggested I take a career related test called something like START Campbell. They could not remember the name. I can’t find it on the internet. Do you know of any career tests that have a similar name?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Perhaps he or she is referring to the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Thanks for all your comments and questions! See you in February.

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