“Ask Pat”
From Pat’s Daily Column at
The Boston Globe’s Career Website

Question: What’s the best way to define your skills to decide what’s the best job or field for you?

Answer: There are really two questions in this one. Before you can decide what field is best for you, an assessment of your skills is necessary. Then you can match your skills with different jobs. There are several good “inventories” that can help you to determine your strengths. These are tests that are either self-administered (like the ones in Bole’s book “What Color Is Your Parachute?”) or given by a career counselor. If your local community college or university has an open career center or you are an alumnus, then these skill inventories can be free. If not, then you will want to check your local phone book for career counselors and call around for the best prices. Always check with the Better Business Bureau before writing that check! After the skills inventory come tests for your primary interests, personality characteristics (the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a good example), and work values. Then you can compare the results with various job requirements to decide what field is best for you. The same colleges/universities and career counselors mentioned above will have computer programs that can do that for you electronically.


Question: What’s the best way to give your notice without “burning bridges”?

Answer: That depends. Are you leaving because you are angry or upset about something in your current job? Then you might not want to risk saying something negative in person, so a letter is your best bet. If you feel you can control all of your negative feelings, then in person is fine. The key is not to say or write anything negative. It doesn’t accomplish anything and only “burns bridges” that you could use later for networking or rehire. Focus instead on the positive things you have learned or experienced on the job. Politely tell your boss that you will miss the relationships you have developed during the past how-many-ever years but you have been offered an opportunity for growth and/or more money that you can’t refuse so you must resign effective on (date).


Question: How do I ask my boss for additional job responsibilities to prepare me for a management position?

Answer: You ask! I believe in building straight-forward, honest relationships with supervisors. Let your boss know that you are interested in taking the path to management and request that he/she mentor you. Take every opportunity to learn, strive to do more than is required of you, and be proactive. Don’t wait for work to be handed to you, go looking for new challenges. Whenever an opportunity arises for a company-sponsored seminar, training, or tuition assistance, use it to grow. Then, you will stand out in the crowd when the opportunity for a management position arises.

Question: I am looking for an entry-level position. Should I use a headhunter to help me with my job search?

Answer: As a general rule, headhunters are more interested in people who have developed a reputation in their respective fields and rarely represent entry-level positions. You will have more success using classified advertisements, networking, temp agencies, and the Internet in your job search. Once you have established yourself, however, you should begin to develop relationships with a few key headhunters in your industry as a way to move up while you are still employed.


Question: What is the proper way to tell your boss that he/she does not treat his/her employees equally (or favorite one employee over another)?

Answer: Actually, there is only one good way, and it’s hard for most people to do. A confrontation is not likely to change behavior and will probably hurt your chances for promotion. A confrontation would go something like this: “You are always giving Jane the best assignments and it makes me angry.” If you use “I statements” instead of “you” statements, you will have better luck. For instance: “When you give Jane the best assignments in the office, I feel hurt because I perceive that you are favoring her over me. Is there something I can do to change that?” You may be surprised that your assumptions about why your boss was giving “Jane” the best assignments were all wrong. If you open this can of worms, you should be prepared to accept criticism if there is something about your performance that is at the root of the favoritism. You should also be prepared for no change at all! People can’t change other people; they must change themselves. You might serve as a motivator or catalyst, but that’s all.


Question: What are the best ways to prepare for an interview?

Answer: The best way to prepare for an interview is to be, well, prepared! Research the company, its products, culture, and competitors. Be ready to provide concrete examples of how you can contribute to the company’s bottom line. Practice making eye contact, systematically relaxing muscles when you begin to feel tense, and smiling even during tough questions. Think about both your strengths and weaknesses and be prepared to let your personality shine through. Remember, people hire people they like. Your interviewer isn’t meeting with you to judge your qualifications. You already passed that test before being selected. The interviewer is really trying to decide if he or she likes you and thinks you would fit with the company’s culture. Be confident, not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, and your interviewer was in the hot seat at least once or twice him/herself. Read the job description (or advertisement) for the position and be prepared to answer questions about every skill listed. When the question, “Tell me about yourself,” comes up in the conversation, don’t talk about your life history. Instead, be ready to highlight your special skills and attributes. This is your chance to sell yourself, but as every good salesperson knows, you have to know the “product” you are selling inside and out.


Question: How do I choose a mentor?

Answer: Select a mentor who is a good match with your personality, someone with whom you can develop a bond, and someone more seasoned than you. Since the goal of a mentor is to coach you, to develop your skills, and to help you understand the “ropes” in a company or industry, pick someone who has been successful in your areas of interest, someone who knows more than you know. Then invite that person to lunch or coffee. Get a feel for how willing the person is to share information. Not everyone is cut out to be a mentor. You may have to try this with several people before you find a “fit”. Some companies have formal mentoring programs with questionnaires that make this process of clarifying goals and matching interests easier. If your company isn’t one of them, you may need to be persistent, but you will be well rewarded at the end of the relationship . . . sometimes with a promotion!


Question: I am having problems making some career decisions. I was thinking of finding a mentor. Where are the best places to find mentors?

Answer: Start within your own company. If you would like to gain some insights into a different side of your business, look for key individuals in other areas of the company. However, a mentor doesn’t necessary have to work for your current employer. You can also look for possible mentors in industry associations, alumni organizations, or on the Internet at expert sites like www.guru.com or www.allexperts.com or in newsgroups. Don’t forget writers, journalists, and speakers who can provide you with insight into your industry.


Question: I am having problems getting along with my fellow employees. Can you please give me some advice as to how I can solve this problem?

Answer: What is at the heart of the problem? Who owns the problem? Ultimately, you can only effect change in your own behavior. You can’t change someone else. That means it is up to you either to change yourself (if you are the problem) or to change how you are reacting (if the other person is the problem). Counseling is always an option. If the problem is outside of your control, you can always take it to your boss. There are several good books on the market that deal with resolving conflicts at work. For more information, check your local bookstore or Amazon.com for these titles:

Resolving Conflicts at Work: A Complete Guide for Everyone on the Job by Ken Cloke, Joan Goldsmith, and Kenneth Cloke

When Sparks Fly by Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap

Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace by Ron Zemke

Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together: A Pioneering Approach to Communicating in Business and in Life by William Isaacs


Question: I live overseas and I am planning to come to the U.S. during the summer to work. Where can I find information on visas and work permits?

Answer: For a U.S. visa and work permit, apply at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country, and do it quickly! Summer is nearly here. If you are a student, your college or university may already have U.S. internships arranged and can help you obtain the necessary paperwork. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) administers immigration and the U.S. State Department issues visas. Technically, someone wanting a summer job in the U.S. is not an immigrant, but the same rules apply. For more information on the process, check the following Web sites:



Question: What is an e-folio?

Answer: An e-folio is an electronic portfolio, which means that you either have the following information posted on a personal Web site or you have created a CD-ROM or floppy disk with the same information:
     1. Your resume
     2. A general cover letter
     3. Personal photograph or professional icon
     4. Testimonials to achievements (letters of reference, pictures, newspaper clippings, etc.)
     5. Diplomas or other credentials


Question: I am a computer professional and have been hopping from one project to another in different companies. Will it hurt me to show these jobs and their dates on my resume?

Answer: No, job-hopping in your industry won’t hurt you. In fact, it may even help you find your next job. Technology companies actually like candidates with diverse backgrounds. You bring a wealth of knowledge about a wide variety of technologies and even about their competition! Every project you complete is unique in some way and adds depth to your resume. The dynamic nature of technology today has caused hiring managers to focus on your skills rather than the length of time in any one job.


Question: Is it okay to negotiate a better salary after an offer has been made?

Answer: Absolutely! In fact, a recent survey showed that 82% of HR professionals expect to haggle and 90% believe salaries are negotiable. Don’t hesitate to ask for non-cash or fringe benefits that will bridge gaps in cash compensation.


Question: What paper color should I use for my resume and cover letters?

Answer: Conservative colors and textures are always the safest, unless you are trying for a job in a highly creative industry (advertising, graphic design, art). You can never go wrong with white linen or bond paper. Natural white, ivory, very light gray, and other muted colors run a close second to white. Avoid papers with designs and watermarks since they don’t fax, copy, or scan well.


Question: Should I try to keep my resume to one page?

Answer: That depends. Everything in the resume business depends! The general rule is: recent graduates one page, most people one or two pages, senior executives and professionals two or three pages, doctors/professors/nurses use curriculum vitae that can be as long as they need to be (my record was 11 pages!).


Question: Do I have to send a cover letter with my resume?

Answer: Always send a cover letter, even when an advertisement doesn’t request one. The only exception to this rule is when sending a resume by e-mail, which is intended to be concise. In that case, simply write a few sentences at the beginning of the e-mail message telling your reader the name of the position and where you heard about it. Then highlight a few key qualifications and paste your DOS text resume into the e-mail message screen.


Question: What is the difference between salary history and salary requirement?

Answer: Salary history is what you have been earning in the past. A salary requirement is the compensation you would need to move into a new position. Never ignore a request for either a salary history or salary requirement.


Question: Do I list my salary history on the resume or cover letter?

Answer: Show your salary history in the cover letter and not on the resume or a separate sheet. There is no need to give a lifetime of salaries in a cover letter, either. Simply address the request for a salary history with something like: "As your advertisement requested, my salary history has been in the range of $45,000 to $50,000.


Question: How do I handle a request for salary requirements in my cover letter?

Answer: If an advertisement requests a salary requirement, then you should always address the question in your cover letter. Make the sentence as generic as possible, however. Say something like, "My salary requirements would, of course, depend on benefits and perquisites, but I would expect something in the area of $50,000."


Question: Is a thank you letter really all that important?

Answer: According to a recent survey, less than 20% of applicants write a thank you note following an interview. Of the recruiters surveyed, 94% said that a thank you letter would increase the applicant’s chances of getting the job or at least stay in the running, provided the applicant is otherwise qualified. Fifteen minutes of your time and a first class postage stamp is a very inexpensive investment in your career!


Question: How should I look for jobs online?

Answer: First, search sites with job postings specific to your industry and geographic preferences. For instance, if you are looking for a job in Massachusetts, check local newspaper sites, like www.careerpath.boston.com. Then check industry specific-sites such as, www.execunet.com, www.6figurejobs.com, www.careers.wsj.com (executives). From there, move to the national databases, including www.monster.com, www.careerbuilder.com, www.yahoo.hotjobs.com, and the list goes on. Check these meta-sites for lists of job banks and resume databases: www.jobweb.com, www.jobtrak.com.


Question: Should I have a home page resume on the Internet?

Answer: That depends. Are you a Web page designer, artist, model, actor, photographer, musician, sculptor, cartoonist, animator, or graphic designer? Then you can benefit from the photographs, graphics, animation, and sound that can be part of a home page. Otherwise, a home page resume is not an essential part of your job search strategy. HR professionals have so little free time that the chances of your resume being found by a casual Internet surfer are minuscule. You can direct hiring managers toward your home page for more information, if you like, by listing your Web site address on your resume.


Question: What is a portfolio?

Answer: A portfolio is a powerful marketing tool for your job search. It contains concrete evidence of experience, accomplishments, skills, and unique talents. It is an expansion of your resume that you take to an interview (or a performance evaluation meeting in your current job) to justify your accomplishments, knowledge, skills, and abilities.


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