Tory Johnson Answers Your Questions

April 2, 2007 — -- "Good Morning America" has launched the "Take Control of Your Life" tour with co-anchor Diane Sawyer and workplace contributor Tory Johnson.

As Johnson tours three cities -- Chicago, Atlanta and Denver -- she will answer your questions about how to find better balance between your work and your life.

Question: I'm 49 and haven't worked professionally for 23 years. My youngest child is off to college in the fall and just yesterday I submitted two online resumes for very desirable positions. Should I be invited for an interview, what issues do I need to be prepared to address? How do I convince them that my time away could, in fact, be invaluable life experience and not a detriment to my qualifications and ability. -- Joy Denison

Answer: The first step, Joy, is not to reply on the Internet to land an interview. This is especially true for someone with a large gap in work history. Typically, you'll have to work harder and smarter at landing an interview than someone who has current experience.

Your focus now should be on how to network face-to-face with people who might be able to help you get hired. At the same time you'll work on interview skills. Life experience counts for a lot, but you also need the specific skills they're looking for. Express that you're highly adaptable to new responsibilities and that you're a quick study. Those are two areas where workers are sometimes vulnerable. Rehearse some of the basics and record your answers in a tape recorder to review: Tell me about yourself. What are your greatest strengths? Where do you see your weaknesses? Why should we hire you? Good luck in your search!

Question: How can you effectively work with a boss that you don't respect due to his/her actions? -- Janet Baldeck

Answer: Sometimes you must look for your validation elsewhere, especially if you love your work. Can you get feedback and recognition from your peers and other superiors, not solely from your immediate boss, in order to compensate for your disrespect for him or her? This can often help to diminish how much you're replying on your boss for feedback.

Another option: Pinpoint specific things you don't respect and figure out if there's a way to fix them. If you don't respect that your boss withholds information from you, that is something you can ask to fix. If you don't like that he/she yells a lot at you and your co-workers, you have every right to insist that you're spoken to respectfully. It's wise to have a conversation in which you offer direct examples of behavior that you'd like to see changed so that you can do your job more effectively. However, if you don't like that your boss treats his wife (or her husband) rudely, no matter how much it irks you, that's not something that you can change. There may come a time when you decide you are too unhappy working for this person and you opt to change positions or companies. Not every workplace relationship will be perfect, just as not every personal one is either.

Question: How do you get past being fired? I have had several interviews for which I am more than qualified for but did not get the position. I was totally honest in the interview, but feel that just the fact that I was fired was the deciding factor. I have been in banking for 15 years and do not know anything else. Finances are starting to run short and I need to find a good job. Thanks for your help, Tory. -- Holly Bonner

Answer: Being honest is important, but it doesn't mean you have to go overboard in explaining what went wrong. For example, the banking and finance industry are heavily built on trust and honesty, so you want to be careful about what you reveal and how you reveal it. If you were fired for missing funds, that's going to be difficult to overcome any time soon. You might have to switch gears to a new line of work for a short period.

If you were fired because of a personality conflict, that's something that everyone can relate to. In such a case, you should not go into huge details explaining it. Instead, you can say you loved your work, but as is the case once in everyone's career, there was a personality conflict that you regret. Say you learned a lot from that experience and you are even more qualified now to deal effectively with anything that comes your way. You don't want to paint yourself as difficult to deal with, which is why it's key to say this kind of thing happens once in anyone's career. We all don't love who we work with. Overall, address the issue briefly and move on. Do not get into nitty gritty details and hold back on bad-mouthing anyone. Those triggers will not reflect positively on you. Keep plugging away!

Question: I am originally from Maine and still have family that lives there. I would like to move back, but would like to have a job in place before doing so. I have been sending my resume to employers, but feel as though many wont look at me becuase I am not a local applicant.... Do you have any advice for anything further I can do to look for jobs in an area where you are not currently living? -- Andrea Coron

Answer: Use a local Maine address on your resume, along with your current out-of-state one. Indicate in a cover letter that you visit often, so you're available for interviews, and that you expect to pay for relocation on your own. Don't leave it up to them to assume that you'll do that -- spell it out for them directly. You should also join the Maine chapters of any professional groups in your industry and/or that are specific to the local area you're eyeing. Networking with locals can help to get the message across that you're ready to move back for the right opportunity.

Question: I have worked for a large medical transcription company for five years and have NEVER received a raise, no cost-of-living, incentive, etc. When I have asked about a raise, all I get is "we're working on it." I'm not the only one; none of the transcriptionists in my "office" have gotten raises either, and most of us have been here 5+ years. Where do we go from here? We work at home and have no face-to-face contact. We don't even get expenses for out-of-pocket costs. -- Phyllis Cummings

Answer: I hate to say it Phyllis, but that has happened because you've allowed it to happen. You must put your foot down. Don't threaten to leave until you get another offer lined up, which might be exactly what has to happen. If you allow them to keep saying they're working on it, and you never follow up and you don't hold them accountable, they know they can get away with it -- over and over again.

So push a bit: figure out if it's smarter to go to the boss alone or if you should all join together as a group to demand a higher, fair wage. If they say they're working on it, ask for a firm timetable and go back to them at that time. Put your request in writing. Include research on current salaries for your type of work in your geographic area, so that you can help build a strong case. Smart girls talk about money and they ask for what they know they're entitled to. I'm rooting for you!

Question: How do I find a legitimate online job that I can do out of my home? -- Francisca Slocum

Answer: We've created a list of options to get you started on the "GMA" Web site. We can point you in the right direction and give you ideas, but in the end only you can decide if an opportunity is right for you.

Some things to keep in mind: The Internet is loaded with scams. If an ad says you don't need any experience or any skill, but you can make up to $1,500 a week, stay away. There's no legitimate way to earn that kind of money without skill and effort. If you can't talk to a live person to answer your questions about the highs and lows of the opportunity, don't send money.

Evaluating home-based positions requires a healthy dose of common sense. On the "GMA" site we offer some food for thought before committing to any one opportunity.

Question: Hi Tory. My question for you: I wanted to know if there are Web sites that are free for women to apply for free government grants to start a first-time business. I have been told that there are sites, but every one I've checked out you have to pay for the information. -- Diann Ruscitti

Answer: There are three great resources that I highly recommend: The Web sites Countmein.org, Score.org and Sba.org offer extensive information, free personalized mentoring and access to answers. You'll be able to find information on various loan, grant and other financing options to determine which are best for you based on the type of business you're starting.

Question: I don't have a success story yet, but soon hope to. I am a new mother of a 4-month-old and I am working my normal job now part-time form home. They are not going to let me continue from home, and I am in desperate need of finding work from home. This is my situation. I had my daughter back in August and could not imagine leaving her for someone else to raise. I feel like I need her as she needs her mother. I am doing the breast-feeding thing and I can't pump enough to leave her, (if I want to continue breast-feeding) and a lot of workplaces won't agree with taking breaks to pump, so I would not be able to pump on demand. I have always wanted to be a stay at home mom, but we can't make it on my husband's income alone. Please help. -- Melissa Voiles

Answer: Turn that feeling of desperation into action. If you're absolutely positive that your current employer won't accommodate you, then it's time to look for an alternative. (Before you close that door, however, you should meet with your manager to talk about the benefits of keeping you given that you know the ropes.)

While it's never an easy time to job search, especially with a new baby, don't allow fear to paralyze your efforts. Start networking with friends and family to find out who they know who works from home. Look at the options offered on the "GMA" site regarding home-based opportunities.

You shouldn't overlook regular employers that support nursing moms -- either with lactation rooms or an understanding about breaks for pumping. Even though your company may frown upon giving you such breaks, there are many employers that would surely support your needs.

And finally, you may find yourself thinking of ways to start your own home-based business. Many women have taken this path after having children and recognizing that they don't want to return to traditional positions, yet they must generate income for their families. It may suit you too.

Question: Help! I am recently divorced (52 years old) and I am having difficulty earning a good income! At this point in time I am again attending school to get my Masters in Reading and also working as a special education aide. I am lost, frightened and overwhelmed with everything! I need direction, advice and encouragement to continue this uphill struggle. -- Phyllis Byczek

Answer: You're not alone. Your worries are common, but I can assure you that many women have overcome the same challenges and are now thriving. You're a smart woman who can no doubt join their ranks.

The first step is to make an appointment with your career services office at the school in which you're enrolled. Ask them to help you chart a plan of networking, interview prep and research on employers that hire out of your program. Connect with alumni with the same degree you'll be getting to see what they're doing work-wise and to establish relationships and generate job leads. Adults return to school to further their career options and earning potential, so you must hold your school accountable to deliver on that mission.

It would also help you to join a professional networking group in your area so you can learn how other people are networking and searching, which will boost your confidence.

One other thought: When looking for work, you need not identify yourself first and foremost as a divorced woman. Instead the first words should be about your enormous skills and capabilities and goals. Don't let age or marital status define you as a professional!

Question: Tory, I have left a great job because I was unable to be balanced. How do I tell potential employers (at interviews) without sounding like I'm bad-mouthing the former employer or not wanting to work hard? -- Karen Loughman

Answer: Focus on the wisdom and maturity of recognizing the value and importance of company culture and fit. You can rave about your former position -- great job, great people -- and also briefly admit that at the time you weren't able to achieve the balance you and your family needed, which was disappointing. For example, sometimes this occurs when a new baby arrives or when an elderly parent requires attention or when a family illness mandates all hands on deck.

Do your research in advance to learn about the employers you're pursuing to confirm that they operate in a flexible culture. Ask prospective bosses and managers about their philosophies on balance or ask them to describe a typical week, including the hours and schedules staffers tend to maintain. You can ask them to describe the typical after-hours and/or weekend requests. You can be discreet in your line of questioning, and the answers will often reveal enough information to determine whether or not you will enjoy such an atmosphere.

Above all, be clear that you have dual goals: to be an exceptional professional who takes great pride in her career and a devoted mother/wife who is committed to maintaining a nurturing home for her family.

Question: What is the best way to present a VARIETY of skills: landscaping, budgeting, purchasing, negotiating -- all the stuff a remarkable wife does? -- D. Johnson

Answer: Not just a remarkable wife, but a remarkable future employee too! Develop sections on a functional resume that focus on each skill and create a couple of versions, if needed, to tout various skills and strengths.

For example, if you want to use the budgeting, purchasing and negotiation skills to land a position as an office manager or bookkeeper, you don't have to highlight your landscaping abilities unless you're applying to work at a garden shop or similar environment.

Be able to provide back-up details. For example, with budgeting skills, what software proficiencies do you have? Can you share bulleted highlights detailing your success with negotiation? A strong functional resume not only lists your capabilities, but it showcases your track record of successes in these areas too. Good luck!

Question: I am a longtime stay-at-home mom (11 years and counting!), but would like to begin to contribute to the family income. I have an MBA from Duke University and a Psych-Education BA from Mount Holyoke. How can I use my Marketing/Advertising/Business background to help bring money into my home while staying at home? I am very literate on the computer and have logged hundreds of hours running PTA committees at my elementary school. Thank you. -- Mary Nardone

Answer: Start by assessing your skills and abilities and getting them on paper. Because of the gap, you'll want to create a functional version of your resume, not a chronological one. Join industry-specific associations in your area to connect with professionals currently working in your field. Tap into alumni connections -- even those you don't know. You share a common bond of graduating from a specific school, which is enough to form an initial connection.

And perhaps most importantly, hit up the people you've worked with in your PTA days. Most likely many of them are in positions to hire you or to refer you for opportunities.

Consider starting with project-based or freelance work, because it's typically easier to land those assignments after a gap. Once you have a couple under your belt, it'll help pave the way to apply for full-time staff openings if that appeals to you. Now that you're ready to get back into the game, have some business cards printed because you'll have to do lots of networking face-to-face. Simply posting your resume online and sitting back won't work.

One final resource to consider: Aquent.com is one of my favorite companies because of their commitment -- and success -- in placing high-potential women like you in contract positions. This could be a key step in building current experience. Good luck!

Question: I want to know how I can work for someone who is constantly changing her mind, does not plan any more than a week or two in advance, and is disorganized. How can I continue in such an environment and still keep my job? I am so frustrated and depressed to the point that I am ready to snap. I love my job. -- Becky Evaristo

Answer: Try having a candid conversation with your boss. Start by saying how much you love your job and how committed you are to continued success and advancement.

It's important to offer this positive praise before moving on to the more challenging topic. Try to offer specific examples of when she's changed her mind and shifted gears and how it's impacted you.

For example: "I'm more than happy to shift gears as business needs change, but of late it seems that we're changing course without any strong reason. Last week I spent several hours focused on X project, as you requested, only to have you say you wanted something completely different with no apparent reason."

Then offer a constructive solution: "I'd respectfully request that you consider the directions you're giving so that neither of us are wasting time or energy on work that simply need not get done. This will enable me to deliver the best possible results for you and our department, which remains my top priority."

Avoid making personal attacks, such as "You drive me crazy" or "You're really depressing me." Keep it focused to the business needs/issues -- and always end by reiterating your respect for her authority and your desire to do right by her.

And finally, if she refuses to change, you may have to think about moving on. The reality is that not every workplace relationship works for everyone. Just as two people don't always get along in a personal relationship, the same is true in professional ones as well. What you dream of for a boss could be someone else's nightmare and vice versa. I wish you great success in what I know is a difficult conversation.

Question: What are some tricks to actually getting interviews with work-from-home companies? I've applied to a couple of them and haven't heard back. What am I doing wrong? I'd love to be able to stay home with my son and work, but it doesn't seem to be working out. Thanks. -- Heidi Leigh

Answer: Since the majority of companies that hire home-based workers are counting on applicants' exceptional computer skills, the first step in the process is to complete a flawless online application. This means paying attention to little details like not using all caps and not being sloppy with spelling and punctuation. It also means being super thorough and responding to all required questions.

If you do that -- and you meet the basic requirements -- there's a good chance you'll progress to the next steps, which in some cases is a phone screening. If you fail to pass the online application, it'll be difficult to move forward. If you're confident in how you've done with the online portion and you know you meet the requirements, try calling the 800-number(s) listed on the company's Web site. Let the company know you're very interested in working for them and ask what they believe you're realistic chances are.

Ask the company to describe the hiring process -- how soon are people called, how long does it take to get hired, and are they hiring now in your area. Some companies don't hire in all states all the time. Their needs may change month to month geographically, so it's important to ask about that first.

Another option is to search message boards and networking sites to find people who work for the companies you're interested in joining. Just like with traditional positions, having an internal referral can help you get in front of the decision makers.

Finally, be sure you're not relying on too few options. Sometimes people apply to just one or two places and put all their eggs in one basket. If you're determined to work from home, be sure you've got lots of sticks in the fire. Good luck!