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posted: 7/28/2013 7:03 AM

Career Coach Q&A: Resume tuneup, extracting constructive feedback

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

Unemployed attorney

Q: I had a number of short-term (less than one year) positions since graduating from law school four years ago. I have interesting work experience but am competing against other fourth years with only one prior company, and new graduates. How do I combat the psychology of employers that I am a bad candidate, particularly before the interview stage?

A: How does your resume look? You might want to make sure someone reviews it to make sure you are setting yourself up in the best possible (yet honest) light. If you think employers are looking at your resume and seem confused as to why you have not had a stable job since your graduation, then you need to make sure to address their concerns preemptively. Your resume could list a summary statement at the beginning that speaks to your diversity of experiences. In addition, build your network as best as you can since this will help you more than anything. Make sure you have a strong social media profile that people can review. Would your previous law professors be willing to help you with references and meeting employers? Reach out to them as well.

Apparently I can't take a joke

Q. I have a very charming, funny boss who jokes around with everyone in the office. He recruited me heavily for a few years, and I finally took a management position with the company a few months ago. My issue is that he routinely (weekly) makes comments about how lazy I am, how surprised he is that I bothered to show up for work, how he isn't sure what I actually do there. I've tried several times (over lunch, in his office, via email) to follow up with him about these comments, asking if he was serious and requesting feedback on my performance. He laughs it off and says he was just joking and that I'm too serious. Yet he never says anything positive about my work and the "jokes" continue. I am definitely not someone who needs constant praise to do my job, but his comments and lack of feedback on my performance leave me feeling unsure of what he really thinks, and I'm considering taking a new job. Any advice for getting him to tell me what he really thinks?

A: You are definitely OK to set up a meeting to get some feedback. Make sure that an "official" meeting is set up (not just a time when you catch him in his office). Make sure there is at least an hour set aside for this meeting so you know it will be taken seriously. Then, make sure you are prepared. Think about (even write down) what you have done so you can share this with him in case he has questions about your performance (assuming he does not see everything).

In the meeting, you can tell him you wanted to gain his perspective on how things are going and wanted to hear from him about things you were doing well as well as any areas for improvement. You should also use this as an opportunity to share with him that you wanted to hear his views since he sometimes makes statements that lead you to believe you are not doing what you need to be doing on the job. You did not say whether he makes these comments in front of others, but if he does, you really need to let him know that this can make your job more difficult (since it lowers your credibility).

When to throw grenades

Q. I'm leaving my job in a few weeks (have already given notice) and have been asked about doing an exit interview. My department is rabidly dysfunctional. My manager is completely unable to make decisions or respond to staff requests for clarification, so projects are delayed and then staff are written up and blamed for our manager's inability to focus or provide guidance. Morale is terrible. Due to office politics (manager is friends with the head boss), it is extremely unlikely that my manager will be removed from her position. But I also feel like someone needs to speak up.

A: If you decide to do an exit interview, I would stick to facts -- things that people can see. For instance, if many people have taken sick leave, then you can speak to this issue as a symptom of morale issues. If there are delays in projects, then you can share insights on why those delays occur. I don't think you have to let them know this is the worst department you have ever worked for (you could if you felt you had total confidentiality with the person you are meeting with), or bring a lot of emotion into the discussion.

Making a strong counteroffer

Q. In my current position, I feel as if my skill sets are stagnating and that without drastic changes in higher levels of the organization, I will not be able to climb the ranks. Nevertheless, this job pays well and it's very comfortable. That said, I've been approached by another company; I interviewed and shortly thereafter was offered a job. However, the numbers they gave me just aren't high enough to justify the jump into the great unknown. What's the best way to make a strong counteroffer without insulting the company making the offer? I feel the number I've been given should be about 8 percent higher, minimum. Do I counter with a number that's 10 percent higher and hope they come down to 8 percent? Or do I just shoot for the 8 and hope for the best?

A: Do you have any market research to back up your request for another 10 percent? You should make sure to look at the salaries for the job you are considering (look at,, or other websites).

Assuming you have the market data, it is also a typical rule to ask for a little more than you want to try to get what you really want. So, asking for 10 percent to get the 8 percent is generally a better strategy. Also, you can make the case that they need to offer you more to make the move from your current position. Most employers understand that people do not want to change jobs and make the same amount of money or just a little more.

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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.

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