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Article posted: 2/24/2013 9:03 AM

As cuts loom, it never hurts to prepare

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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: So the obvious question has to be: What does the job market look like given the latest round of sequestration discussion? While I am a contractor at a federal agency, I am seriously thinking about testing the waters right now because of the continued banter.

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A: For some employers, I have heard they are really not that affected by the threat of sequestration and they say it is business as usual. For others in the government, they are hedging on hiring due to possible cuts. But many groups have already set up contingency plans for possible cuts or changes in jobs. I think it is always a good idea to have your resume ready and make sure you are marketable, so why not see what the market looks like?

Q: I am debating moving into independent consulting. I'm confident that the number of potential clients I have lined up would make me able to have work for at least 12-15 days per month. However, I'm struggling to figure out how to set my daily rate. I'm single, so I would need to get my own health insurance, but don't know how much that might cost (I'm healthy). I'm not sure what additional taxes I'd be paying when self-employed. Can you direct me to resources to help determine what "hidden" costs I will need to consider as well as how to calculate them?

A: There are lots of resources out there to help individuals start their own businesses. Looking at resources provided by the Small Business Administration or www.entrepreneur.com can be helpful. They actually provide step-by-step instructions for what you can do and what you need to think about. I would also suggest spending some time talking to other independent consultants in your career field to learn their views of the "dos and don'ts" and "hidden" costs, etc. You'd be surprised at how willing others are when it comes to sharing information.

Q. I work for a small company and our president recently decided to change staff titles to better align with those of our clients. I was hired as a director (two years ago), but now I'm an associate. I have 14 years of experience and a master's degree. In my last job, I was assistant director, and I took this job as a step up. I do marketing, while others in my office do project work, so I feel like the president doesn't value my experience or degree in the same way he does the others (who manage billable projects). I am torn on whether to say anything.

A: I would definitely have this conversation with your president since it is important to you and how valued you feel at your job. It also seems important to see how the president sees your job now, since it sounds like the scope has changed. This is important for you to clarify since you may decide you like the new changes or you don't. But, it is best to be clear. Don't feel bad about asking. If you say in a professional manner, "I wanted to meet with you to better understand what you see as the new scope and responsibilities of my job since it seems to have changed," this can be viewed positively.

Before you have that conversation, you could do some market research to see what others in similar jobs are called and what their responsibilities are. Most websites on jobs (careerbuilder.com, glassdoor.com) can share that information.

Q. I work for a health care provider that runs numerous campaigns throughout the year (employee benevolent fund, United Way, bake sales for nursing scholarships, etc.). While it is stated that employees are not required to participate in these various campaigns, departments are recognized for 100 percent participation. The certificates are framed and proudly displayed in my department. Not only can I not afford to support every endeavor, I already support other charitable organizations outside the workplace. But since I am on a team of three people, my lack of participation will mean the department does not get a 100 percent participation recognition. I am feeling pressured to take part. How should I handle this?

A: This is a tough issue. What if you talked with the manager or HR person to see which of the charities are most critical for the firm to support? This might help you narrow it down.

The other thing to remember is that the dollar amount often is not important, but what is important is the 100 percent participation. So, if possible, you might be able to just give $1 to show that you contributed and the team still gets the 100 percent. While that may seem strange, sometimes outsiders measure a firm by the percent of employees who contribute, not the actual dollar amount. The firms that have higher percentage participations can sometimes get more money from outside agencies, etc., so there is some benefit to your firm. But, I would definitely see what you can learn from an HR person. Maybe the firm needs to also look at all the events it sponsors to see how to streamline them so it's not such a burden on employees, especially during tough financial times.

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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