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posted: 11/25/2012 7:03 AM

Career Coach Q&A: Advice on age discrimination, job market

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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. Here are some excerpts:

Q: I am in my 60s working a part-time job, but need full-time work. I have a MS in computer science and recently did a certification program to upgrade my computer skills. I have sent out tons of resumes but have not heard anything. What do I need to do? I see the same jobs that I applied for six months ago are still posted on Craigslist. I hear that there is a need for IT people but I think companies only want to hire young H1-B [high-skilled foreign] people.

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A: While it is great that you sent out resumes, it would also help to get connected on social media sites like LinkedIn. This would enable you to reach out to others directly online. Also, are you restricted in terms of where you work? If so, this could limit your options.

Q: For the past few years, I have maintained a full-time day job and done additional work on the side. I get paid more per hour for the side work, but because of my day job, I am limited in the amount of time I can spend. I am mainly available weekends and evenings. At some point, I would love to make the switch to only working the side jobs. I know that initially I wouldn't have enough work to keep me busy full time, but hopefully, that would change. In the mean time, how do I maintain the balance of the two jobs and grow the amount of side jobs in the pipeline?

A: Most people have to eventually make a choice because they have trouble balancing both. I think you have to set a goal regarding financial issues and when you can move to the side jobs. It would help if some of them were more stable so you could count on some consistent income (assuming that is important to you). That would enable you to feel more safe in leaving your day job.

Q: I'm sending out resumes and custom cover letters for jobs that I feel that I am qualified for but usually hear nothing back (or get a thanks, but no thanks). How do I know if it is me or the market?

A: You never know unless you ask. Maybe you can follow up with some of the firms you are most interested in (and have sent a resume to) to let them know you sent a resume and ask for some feedback. The other possibility is to have others (career professionals) review your resume to make sure it best reflects you and is as professional as possible.

I think resumes can only do so much. Today, you have to follow up with the key firms you are most interested in working for, and you really need to try to connect (personally or via social media) with individuals from those firms.

And here are some great tips, courtesy of a reader: If you are not getting responses to your resume, perhaps the issue is that you are sending out "tons of resumes" rather than targeting jobs that are a good fit for you and your skills. Many of the jobs on Craigslist are there for HR to collect resumes not for currently available positions. Try looking at job boards for specific fields/areas of expertise.

Q: I'm a new federal employee, and Combined Federal Campaign requests and reminders are coming fast and furious. I have received multiple signup sheets (including one that was clipped to my time card), brochures and email reminders. The CFC coordinator for our office makes over twice what I do and is much higher up on the ladder than I am, which makes me feel like contributing is an edict from On High, instead of a choice. I donate heavily and fundraise for causes I believe in, and do significant research regarding those causes, all on my personal time. I do not wish to route my money through my employer, as I think this is an uncomfortable overlap between my personal and professional lives. Is it possible to be a CFC conscientious objector while keeping my professional reputation intact? Or do I suck it up and kick in a nominal amount so my office gets a plaque?

A: Clearly, you should follow your own conscience about this. Could you ask someone in the firm (maybe someone in human resources) to describe the benefits of employees' contributions to the employer? It may be that the firm is measuring its participation rates, and that this helps the firm in acquiring resources that will help all employees. But you would need to check this out. I think getting a little more information might help here. Then, do what you think is right for you.

• Joyce E.A. Russell is the vice dean and 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 and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.

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