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posted: 9/2/2012 7:07 AM

Ethical companies want ethical workers

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By Joyce E.A. Russell
Special to The Washington Post

Editor's note: Career Coach columnist Joyce E.A. Russell, an industrial and organizational psychologist, discussed workplace issues in a recent online forum. Excerpts:

Q: I am a whistleblower who was terminated without cause. The issue was a professional engineering public safety topic. Although you will not likely hear about it, and it will not likely make the news, it has made its way into industry discussions. How does one make it back onto the job market when all employers know that you will take the ethical path?

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A: I would think you should be in good position for many ethical firms (which is where you want to work anyway). This may sound naive, yet there are many employers who prefer to hire individuals who will take the ethical path. You might look at their websites (and talk to people working there) to see if ethics stack up as one of their core values. If it is not even mentioned, then this may not be the firm for you. On the other hand, if it is one of their core values and employees there agree that they seem to really care about ethics, then this might be a better fit for you.

Q: I need advice and maybe a pep talk. I'm in a situation I no longer want to be in: working in a dead-end job and living far from family and close friends. I've been proactive in making a change, but have hit a wall. My job search has been a merry-go-round of searching, applying and interviewing for two years. I'm grateful to have a job, but am ready to move on and do something different. I know it's best to have a job while searching, but I'm in a rut and it's hard to see a way out. Any advice?

A: Generally, you are right -- it is better to look for a new job when you have one already. If, however, you have the financial means to be unemployed while looking, then it makes sense to move to the area you eventually want to work in and start looking earnestly. Reach out to all your networks, friends, etc., and attend as many professional events as possible. You might also want to get someone to look over your resume, cover letter and help with your interviews. If there is a particular place where you lose employers (e.g., at the interview stage or resume stage), then getting some feedback on that part of the process (and how you are doing) will be a good thing to do.

Q: While currently employed and not wanting anyone within your company to know you are seeking a new job, what is the best way to provide references to a future employer? Most of the time they require references from your current supervisor or peers.

A: Most employers understand how this works so they are typically okay waiting to ask for current references until you are pretty far along in the process. So, if you can ask them to wait until you are a final candidate and they are getting ready to make the offer, most employers are willing to do this.

Q: Any reasons not to be completely honest on a 360 review of my supervisor? I have confidence in the confidentiality of the process, although all written comments will be conveyed verbatim. My answers will include concerns about this person's leadership.

A: I think as long as they assure you that the comments will be typed up by another person (not the supervisor), and that no identifying information will be included, then it should be okay. If, however, you are not sure about this, then this could make the process suspect. Just be sure not to include any identifying information in your comments (e.g., I am the only 35-year-old female in the department, and I think this supervisor . . .").

Q: Last year I got a new manager who is young. He seems to dislike the women in their 60s who work for him. I think he wants to get rid of me. Is it better to quit or wait to be fired?

A: To answer your question directly -- generally, it is better for you to leave a firm on your own terms, rather than be fired. But, I wonder if you can try to work on connecting with this new manager. What are his hobbies or interests you might have in common (books you like, movies, music, sports, other leisure activities)? It might seem on the surface that you are worlds apart, but not necessarily. It is probably just as hard for him to figure out how to relate to you as it is for you to figure out how to relate to him. If you have been in the firm longer, maybe you can offer to introduce him to key players in the firm or special ways of doing the work, etc.

Of course, it is possible that he doesn't like the women in their 60s who work for him. But, still I think it is helpful to make that attempt to connect individually with him.

• Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist.

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