Let professional business coach Karen Childress help answer your career questions. Karen shares hints and tips on a host of career issues in this Q&A format.

Question: Is my manager exploiting me?
I’ve been in the IT field for close to two years. I attended a trade school to get sort of a general introduction into the world of computers. Since completing the coursework, I’ve had two jobs in the field, one as telephone support and currently as a PC support specialist.

My present employer, while not giving me a promotion or change in title, has basically handed over maintenance of the network to me whenever the person with the title of network administrator leaves the company—and since I’ve been here, there have been three.

I currently don’t hold any certifications, and I do not have the finances needed to obtain certification. My current employer seems to like the fact that I don’t own any certifications and isn’t encouraging me to go after any.

But to get to the point, would it be unreasonable to ask for more money based on the fact that whenever they bring in a new person, I basically introduce them to the network and fill in after they’re gone? Also, do you think that my employer is using me as cheap labor? I’m afraid I already know the answer to that, though.—WJE

Answer: Ask for the recognition you deserve
This is such a classic situation that there should be a job title for it. The situation you describe should also be a warning for IT managers, who run the risk of losing entry-level employees who feel as if they are being taken for granted.

My question for you is this: How serious are you about your career? If the answer is at least a 7 on a 1-10 scale, then you can’t wait for your employer to appreciate your contributions to the company. You’ll have to make it happen.

First, document what you have been doing for the company the past two years. In other words, write out a job description that actually describes what you do every day. It sounds as though you are quite valuable, and your employer may be using you as “cheap labor” without even realizing it.

Second, calmly and professionally present your case to the company, highlighting what you have accomplished during your time there. Focus on the fact that you frequently function as interim network administrator, and tell your employer that you would like to move up the salary ladder. If you eventually want to be the full-time network administrator, find out exactly what you need to do to achieve that goal and ask your manager how the company can help you reach it.

Of course, your employer may meet even the best thought-out presentation with a lukewarm response. In that case, I’d suggest you consider getting some unbiased feedback about what else might be holding you back, particularly if you are confident in your technical abilities. It could simply be that you are in an organization where there is no good fit for you, or that certifications really are needed to get ahead.

But if your talents and contributions are being overlooked for other reasons, you need to know that now. Think about your career goals and invest in yourself as needed to achieve those objectives.

Make certain those goals—whatever they may be—are aligned with your personal values and interests.

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Question: How should I handle a felony conviction?
Karen, I am a network administrator who is looking for a job, but I have a felony conviction on my record. Most large companies are interested in my resume until they hear about my felony. I don’t really blame them, but I need to find work.

My felony was not related to my career in IT or finances, and it is the only blemish I have. I can produce an abundance of positive references, both professional and personal. Do you have any suggestions for me? Thanks for any help you could provide.—Curt, MCP, CCNA

Answer: Explain your situation
As you prepare for your next interview, make sure you have your reference letters and phone numbers of those references neatly copied and organized in a file, ready to hand over to the potential employer. Don’t offer these references too early in the interview process, but as you’re discussing the situation with your felony conviction, present this file along with a clear and confident explanation as to why you pose no risk to the potential employer.

Depending on your exact situation, you’ll want to emphasize points such as:

  • The conviction was many years ago
  • You’ve been through rehab since the offense
  • You’ve led an exemplary life for the past “X” number of years

Focus on anything that adequately explains the situation and puts the interviewer at ease. You will want to demonstrate that not only are you technically competent, but that you also maintain a stable personal life.

Many people have a preconceived notion of people in your situation, so you’ll want to go overboard to counter any negative image or stereotype an interviewer may have.

In other words, go to extremes when it comes to presenting yourself as polished, professional, and polite. Good luck, and I’m hoping that someone in a quality company will give you an opportunity.