Activating the best of you!

Dear Coach Joan,

It was delightful meeting you on the plane when we were both flying East. And thank you for suggesting that I write in with my concern. My husband is an engineer and in the last few years he’s worked as a contractor which has required him to interview for new positions quite frequently. He’s an excellent engineer but he is on the autism spectrum and has a lot of trouble with interviews. He would like to get a permanent position but again, those are tough to find.

I appreciate any tips on how to help him with interviews and negotiations. I suggested we hire you to work with him one on one but he has too many fears of meeting with a coach.



Dear Lori,

So glad you followed up with me. As we discussed, I have worked with clients who are on the autism spectrum and I feel they are very much like clients who happen to be very shy, introverted people. When it comes to interviewing and establishing relationships on the job, the following skills are really important to learn and practice. I can understand he might not want to work with a new person, a coach, a stranger. But luckily, he has you and I can guide you in some skills areas to focus on:

  1. EYE CONTACT: Eye contact is #1 because it is a necessary skill for all occasions where one has to meet with new people. And it just takes practice. You can really help your husband by reminding him to smile and look right into the person’s eyes, that the new person will also be exploring his face to find that it is friendly and open to conversation. This is a KEY point. Remind him that everyone has some level of apprehension about meeting new people. If he focuses on making the other person feel comfortable, with a warm smile and looking directly into their face with eye contact, it will ease the situation on both sides. Yes, practice, practice, practice. I suggest you start with unthreatening situations like with a waiter in a restaurant or a clerk in a store. First model the behavior for him and then let him try. Over and over and over.
  2. MARKETING HIMSELF: It’s vital that he be able talk to the skills, contribution and impact he can make. That is why people will be hiring him. Work with your husband on key things he is going to say about himself. He must know and practice articulating the top three strengths/capabilities he brings to a work situation. For instance, he can talk about being: (1) a reliable professional who always follows through on his commitments, (2) a hard worker committed to lifelong learning, and (3) his technical/industry specific skills like programming languages that he is familiar with. He could also mention that he worked at certain companies or on certain projects for X amount of time and the key contributions he made.
  3. PAY/NEGOTIATIONS: This is an area that people on the spectrum and shy people often have problems with. They are shy and often uncomfortable about negotiating and asking for money and or other benefits. You need to do the research to find out the range that is appropriate for his skills and talents. Then you must practice having those conversations with him. For instance, if they offer him $20 a hour and his last contract was at $50 an hour, he must practice saying, “I earned $50/hour for the last two-years and that is the normal hourly fee for the work that I do.” And discuss with him what an acceptable range would be. Also, help him to research and prepare  to discuss benefits including insurance, vacation time, flexible hours and other relevant things he wants.
  4. QUESTIONS: Work with your husband to prepare intelligent questions that show he has researched the company, industry and or product/service area. He needs to both respond and initiate questions.

I am not an expert on the autism spectrum but I am familiar with prepping people, including very shy people, and very introverted people, for job interviews. Remember, the most important thing is adequate practice and preparation. Clearly, the interview situation is much easier for people who are natural extroverts, and 75% of people in the USA are extroverts, but for the 25% who are natural introverts, and for those on the autism spectrum, it can be difficult, indeed.

Good luck to you, Lori, and it sounds like your husband is lucky to have you in his corner!


Coach Joan

Dear Coach Joan,

Now that pot has been legalized in California, can we light up at work?

It might make work a whole lot more fun!



Dear Johnny,

Per this week’s passage of Proposition 64, adults in California can now lawfully consume marijuana for fun and

people age 21 and up can now possess an ounce of pot and grow six plants.

However, no mention is made about where people can have their fun….

But I’d like to answer your question with a question:

Can you take a shot of whiskey during break time at work?

The answer is an emphatic NO.

And can you go to work inebriated?

Well, you can, but if your coworkers smell the alcohol on your breath and your supervisors notice erratic work, do you think your career future looks good?

Interestingly, Johnny, you are not the only person to direct this question to me. Many people wonder how far this pot legalization vote goes.

Well, when it comes to any mind altering substances and the workplace, whether they stay in your bloodstream or not, it is vital to know that any erratic behavior that can be traced to substance use, will most probably carry very dire consequences.

The bottom line is this:


When you think of drinking appropriately, say at happy hour, now you can add pot to a happy hour activity.



Coach Joan

Dear Readers,

Many of you have  read the recent lawsuit against the upscale restaurant in Napa, The French Laundry. Thomas Keller, the owner of the restaurant is being sued by an employee who worked for him at his NY restaurant who had a verbal offer to move to California and work for him here. But once she got here, pregnant, she was fired. All of their agreements were done verbally so  it comes down to a he said-she said. It all could have been avoided had they put their terms in writing.

It was entirely coincidental that just yesterday  I wrote about the importance of getting all employment terms and conditions in writing to avoid problems down the line. So let this be a lesson to all of us. For all employment agreements, from promises of promotions, to base salary, to bonuses, to frequency of performance evaluations, to commission structure, to agreements for vacation time, for any and all agreements, PUT IT IN WRITING.

That way, you have a paper trail of documented agreements. You can avoid misunderstandings, disappointment, and the most painful and expensive development –  lawsuits.

Yes, readers, make sure all agreements are in writing. We live in a litigious world and must do all we can to avoid more lawsuits. Once you go in that direction you lose money, time, goodwill and risk being blacklisted in your industry.

With good caution, please heed this advice.

Coach Joan

Dear Coach Joan,

The good news is that I just got a job offer after a long, six month job search. I am in professional sales with a strong track record, but have a 10 year gap due to taking time to raise my children, while doing part time work in a family business. Many prospective employers gave me the feedback that the gap was unacceptable, so I was delighted when an offer finally came in. The bad news is that in my haste to accept the offer I realize that the terms discussed in the interviews are not the same as the terms I agreed to when they called with the verbal offer. The base salary and commission structure are lower than I remember hearing.   I’ve agreed to start the job in a week, but what should I do about the discrepancies in compensation? If I call them back, I fear that I might lose the opportunity.

Thank you in advance for your advice.



Dear Pat,

Yes, it is very good news, indeed, that you have received a job offer and you are to be congratulated on your perseverance in moving through a long unemployment period. Congratulations on selling yourself into a new position. You must have conveyed confidence and competence, and that is not always easy after one has had a long period away from full time employment.

And I am hoping you get to read this article before you start your job. For other readers who may be in a similar position, please take careful note. Many conflicts and problems can be avoided if your employment terms are crystal clear. In my career coaching practice I see many problems coming from verbal agreements that were never put into writing. Employees have been promised promotions and bonuses only to have their managers leave the company without a paperwork trail to support the promises.  I am strongly encouraging you to have all agreements with your employer, from initial job offer, to promises made during performance reviews, to be put in writing.

And we only need to look at a current and local employment situation to see how important it is to have all employment terms in writing. This is the story about the pregnant employee who moved out to California for a job at The French Laundry restaurant who was presumably fired when they saw she was pregnant.  I am assuming the employee did NOT have  a written agreement or employment contract. If she had, I doubt this problem would have escalated as it has.

It IS vital, especially for a sales position, or any position beyond a basic hourly job, to get an offer letter from the employer with the terms clearly and fully explained. In fact, there is often an offer letter and then a formal employment contract as well.

The kinds of things that need to be included are:

  1. base salary
  2. commission structure with any and all details of percentages and amounts spelled out
  3. any bonus programs with dates and any measurable goals spelled out
  4. a clear start date, required hours, any specifics on the option of working at home
  5. benefits, including health, vacations, time off, possibly a car, a computer and other equipment
  6. your manager, the reporting structure and the scope of your territory
  7. other things relevant in your company, industry or the specific job

Pat, I’m sure you’ve heard the term, ‘well begun is half done’. Well, it definitely applies in this case. You don’t want room for conflict or problems. You want all the terms clearly spelled out. My advice is to respectfully ask for a meeting with either HR or the hiring manager to get the terms clarified and in writing.

It is not a good sign that they have changed the terms of the agreement from when you initially met to when they made an offer.

If you meet with your prospective employer and find out that in fact, they have lied to you, you are lucky to find out their lack of integrity now rather than later. You don’t want to work with a firm that does a ‘bait and switch’.

But without the terms ever have been in writing, perhaps you misheard? You might also want to refer to the employment web sites like, to see if any employees have noted problems with that company. In fact, one of my clients had verbally accepted an entry level sales position but when he read comments on Glassdoor from several former employees who said they were ripped off by the company, he researched further, found out they were a disreputable company and  he rescinded his acceptance.

One would like to think that all business agreements could be made based on a handshake but unfortunately, that is not a wise move. It is safer and better for all parties to have very clear, written terms.

Pat, see if you can email or call the employer and respectfully ask for a written employment contract.

Perhaps in the written contract you will see the original terms offered. If not, contact them to discuss the discrepancy.

All the best,

Coach Joan