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updated: 11/24/2013 7:39 AM

Career Coach Q&A: Dealing with a shared office, other workplace questions

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Career Coach Joyce E.A. Russell answers questions from readers.

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Q. After several years of having my own office, I am now sharing a space with a new employee. This is because of some new hires and newly created positions. One of the new positions is my new boss -- this is a good thing, I like her. But old boss (new boss's current boss) made the decisions about the office configurations. I have been here for eight years, and nobody else in my level shares an office. I told the new boss that I feel a little underappreciated -- the nature of my work sometimes requires writing, which requires concentration, or rehearsing presentations, which I can't do in a shared office. Do I suck it up or become a squeaky wheel?

A: I can understand your concern if you need some quiet to work. Of course, it is also easy to understand the other side as well -- if there are office shortages, they need people to share. Can you think about other solutions to this issue? I ask that since sometimes it is helpful to think of a possible solution to the problem and then share it with your boss when you go in to talk about it. Can anyone newer to the firm share an office with other new employees? What about those who are doing jobs that do not require writing or quiet for concentration?

Q. On many job applications, or after a first interview, I am asked to submit references. I comply and request that I be alerted when references will be contacted so that I can let them know. At this stage I still alert my references because I can't be sure that a potential employer will give me advance notice. Many times, however, the employer then decides they don't have funding for the position or puts it on hold or some other lame story. I feel badly and like I'm abusing my references. What can I do?

A: There is really not much you can do about this. Most people who serve as references know this might happen and they do not overly worry about this. They know this is part of the game -- sometimes they are called, and sometimes they are not called. They also know that the job market can change. I think you are doing all the right things in this case.

Q. Do you know any books or resources to help me learn to take more initiative in my work? I'm in a position that's a little above an assistant and I think my boss is looking for me to be more assertive in moving past just supporting him, if that makes sense. A lack of confidence has always been an issue with me. I have a hard time visualizing myself as more than an assistant but really want to!

A: Good for you to be thinking about this -- that shows great initiative already! It is important, too, since leaders often cite initiative as one of those very valuable attributes that they are looking for in their employees and potential stars.

One thing you can do is to learn more about your field so you can anticipate the kinds of things your boss may want you to do next. Is there a professional association in your field that you can join so that you can attend conferences or events? This would enable you to learn more and to network with others in your field.

Also, are there others at work in your field or the next job higher where you can get some mentoring regarding what other things you can be doing? Sometimes just meeting with them can be inspirational regarding what other things you can do.

Q. I know that I have a promotion coming up in three months. Do you have any tips for assuring the highest bump in salary feasible? I like my company, and this is a rare opportunity to get the salary bump that's often only achieved when you job hop. I want to fight for every last penny!

A: Yes, this is a good time to try to see what you can do in terms of a raise. You should make sure you have documented your performance so that you can illustrate what you have accomplished. Often a boss will not know all of the things you are working on and how successful you have been on all those initiatives.

Also, you should look at salary data to see what your job would be worth in the external market. You can review sites such as careerbuilder.com, salary.com, glassdoor.com, payscale.com. The goal is to see what you are worth on the market so that you have some research regarding what you should be making.

Another important thing to think about is your BATNA -- your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. In other words, what will you do if you do not get the raise you desire? Think about your BATNA. Is it attractive? Have you looked at other opportunities just to see what you are worth on the market? Even if you like your company, sometimes having other offers from competing firms enables you to get a larger increase (raise). Of course, it is best not to threaten your employer with this. It is just important for you to at least know what you are worth in the market.

• Russell is the vice dean of the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Programs offered by the school. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership, negotiations, and career management.

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