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updated: 10/21/2012 8:03 AM

Career Coach Q&A: Office vs. cubicle; too soon to leave?

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

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

Q: If you are offered a job, is it inappropriate to ask if you will be assigned an office or a cube? I know it sounds petty, but it honestly would make a difference in my decision. Would this seem like a "high maintenance" request to an employer?

A: I think if you are visiting the firm, you might just ask where you would be working. This should give you an idea of what space you might have. Often, the answer to this question comes from visiting a company and seeing how they are organized. If you are talking to them over the phone, generally this is not one of those questions that you should ask right away. Better to first learn about the nature of the work and colleagues. But, you could still ask them what the work environment is like. You could also ask employees who work there (and might be doing the same type of work) what the work space is like.

Q: I recently started a new job with a defense contractor -- I've been here for a few weeks. I've received an offer from a federal agency that I interviewed with as part of my job hunt (before starting my new job). Their hiring timeline obviously took a lot longer than my current employer. What is your take on leaving a new job a few weeks/months in? I realize I'd be burning any bridges with my current employer. My current job has shown a few warts in the first few weeks and the federal job would be a great opportunity for me. I realize many people would be thankful to have such a "problem."

A: This is a tricky issue. Of course you can leave at any time, but staying in a firm for only a few weeks really does not look that great on your resume. Some might interpret this as not having commitment to a firm. Can you talk to the federal agency to see if they can keep a position open for you longer? They will appreciate your willingness to not leave your current employer in a bad way by leaving suddenly.

Q: I had a boss who repeatedly divulged sensitive personal and professional information about her employees to their colleagues, routinely dropped the ball on tasks, regularly took credit for her employees' accomplishments, belittled her direct reports, and, through her lack of time-management skills and follow-through, often made her employees look bad. When I left the department (largely because of that boss), I reported all of this to her manager, who was next in my chain of command. My ex-boss has not only kept her job but is now applying -- and being seriously considered as a candidate, I believe -- for a new position of much greater responsibility in the company. I think this would be a disaster for the organization. And, on a more personal level, she would once again become my manager. I can't imagine enduring another couple of years under her "leadership." Should I raise my concerns to the hiring manager evaluating the candidates, or to HR? Or should I just look for another job?

A: I would definitely raise these issues with an HR person. Or, do you have a mentor in the firm? Someone high enough up that they would be willing to listen to you? I would not start looking for another job just yet, especially if you enjoy the job. But, I would definitely talk to someone about this. Is there anyone on the search committee who you can talk with about this person's leadership style?

Q: I have been in my organization for several years, but I've never been good at networking within the office. I know my immediate co-workers, but very few people outside of that group. I feel this limits me when it comes to new positions and opportunities in other departments. What advice can you provide on networking within one's own organization?

A: Do you have a company list or website with people's names on it? If so, you could start by learning more about other departments and who works in those departments. That way, when you see people around (in lunch rooms, elevators, restrooms, walking past them in the hallway), you can use their name to say hi and just stop them for a moment to say "remind me, you work in [blank] department. How's it going in there?" Starting out small, just by learning who people are and acknowledging them is a good first step to building relationships. Also, can your boss put you on cross-functional project teams so you can meet and work with other people from other parts of the organization?

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