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Monday, June 30, 2008

how to take criticism without getting defensive

If your manager takes the time to give you constructive criticism, responding defensively is the worst thing you can do. My post at U.S. News & World Report this week talks about what not to do -- and what you should do -- when your boss gives you feedback. Read it here.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

should you be honest in an exit interview?

A reader writes:

I am leaving my job in a few days, on excellent terms. Our HR manager just set up the exit interview and (somewhat to my surprise) asked me to fill out an exit survey. Is this normal? This is my first "real" job, so I don't know.

The survey asks, among other things, my reasons for leaving. Fair enough. However, I'm concerned that the unvarnished truth could damage the terms of my departure. Am I supposed to tell it? My stated and primary reason for leaving is to go back to school, but I've been very unhappy with certain changes in company culture in recent months, such as increasingly long hours (55 is the minimum, 60+ is very common) and the expectation that we all work the weekends. The company has grown faster than we can hire, but these were not the expectations I signed up for. I have a great boss with whom I have spoken in private about these items (my boss agreed but is not in a position to make changes), but I'm not so comfortable talking with HR. At the same time, my coworkers have expressed fear over my imminent departure, and turnover is through the roof. Morale is terrible. Should I voice the concerns of the junior people, or should I just make sure the terms of my departure stay excellent?

Yes, exit interviews and exit surveys are very common. People frequently recommend not being candid on them, out of fear of burning your bridges ... but I totally disagree. As a manager, I know there are things going on that I don't know about, and I rely on people being candid with me so that I can fix things that need to be fixed -- whether it's unreasonable expectations, a tyrannical manager, or whatever. So I cringe every time I see people advised not to be forthright in exit interviews.

That said, you do want to factor in what you know about how your company, and this HR manager in particular, handles honest feedback. Do they have a history of shooting the messenger? If so, they have only themselves to blame if no one is candid with them. But assuming they've seemed reasonably open to feedback in the past, my advice is to be honest about the things that bothered you. And assuming you can do so without resorting to lying, balance it out with comments about things you did like, so that you don't leave them with an impression of overwhelming disgruntlement.

returning to old company

A reader writes:

I have been at my current job for only 2 months. but I am really not happy. I do not agree with my boss' practices and views on how to do my responsibilities (my boss is also the president of the company). Management is a bit disorganized. my responsibilities are not clear, and their timetable is unrealistic. When they hired me, they told me it's because they need my marketing experience because they are technical people, but now my boss wants me to do my tasks his way. I feel that instead of me developing the skills I have acquired in my years of working, I now have to unlearn them. Also some of the practices and ethics I don't agree with, and when I try to explain, I am met with irritation and negativity from my boss.

At first I told myself that this may just be the pains of starting a new job, but I have talked to some of my coworkers and it seems that they have the same issues. That got me thinking that maybe things aren't going to change after all. But since I have just been here a couple of months, I wanted to ride it out, stay a couple more months and see. but I really think I want to resign.

Now comes the dilemma. My previous employer has expressed a desire to get me back. I haven't gotten many of the details but I will have a talk with them soon. All I know is it's a different position from what I previously had there before. I loved that company and the people there. I left because I was feeling the urge to go off and explore a new frontier but when I left, my bosses made it clear that I would be welcome back.

So what does it say about me if I leave only after 2 months? What if i do come back to my previous employer and then I still feel the need to explore? The position they're offering is completely different and a new industry for me, and I'm not entirely sure I want to change careers.

Well, first let me say that if at all possible, I'd first talk to your new boss about some of your concerns and see if any of them can be resolved. As a manager, I'd at least want the chance to know what my staffer wasn't liking before I lost them altogether.

But if that doesn't resolve anything and/or you're determined to leave, keep in mind that you have more options besides just your old company. Don't take the job they're offering just because it's an easy way out of your current situation, or you could find yourself stuck in another position you're not happy with. What I recommend is meeting with your old company to learn as much as you can about the new position. Because you know them, you should be able to get them to paint you a really candid position of the new position, department, obstacles, etc. A word of caution: Go into this meeting as objectively as you can, without having already secretly decided you want to take it. Sometimes when people are desperate for an out, they block out red flags or other important info that might push them in a different direction, so don't fall into that trap.

On the flip side of that, maybe this new position would satisfy your desire for new frontiers -- with the benefit of getting to come back to a company and people you love.

That said, why not also look around at other positions at the same time? It won't hurt, and you might discover a completely new option that you like even more. It's better to be able to pick from an entire menu of options, rather than confining yourself to only two. Good luck!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Carnival of HR

The Carnival of HR is up over at the Evil HR Lady. Check it out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

no, you cannot sue ... but you can negotiate or quit

A reader writes:

I work at a highly respected multi-billion dollar aviation corporation. This company has been in a long-term project that I have been involved with for nearly seven years.

During the duration of this project, I have been "on loan," along with several other employees from various business areas. Our various official job titles and compensation levels have remained tied to our home departments and our "real" jobs. None of us are doing our normal job functions, our job responsibilities are significantly different and in general are broader in scope than our contemporaries and yet we do similar functions within the special project group. We have a significant base pay imbalance across a small group of people, all with similar new responsibilities. All of us have attempted at one time or another to interview within the company for positions outside the special project group and not once has anyone been successful in these attempts. We have been attempting to get the management to create permanent jobs in the department, since the project will continue to require long term support for the foreseeable future.

What sort of legal recourse do we potentially have? Is there any way to force the company to release us back to the business or properly compensate us for the lost career opportunities we have apparently suffered?

I'm not a lawyer and there may be additional details we don't know about that could change this answer, but unless you have a contract with the company that has been violated, I don't see anything legally actionable here. Assuming there's no discrimination based on legally protected classes, when a company isn't paying you what you'd like, the recourse you have is not the law, but rather your status as a free agent who can walk away.

If I may rant for a moment: People are way too quick to assume they can litigate when their employer does something unfair, jerky, or stupid. The law does not protect you against unfair, jerky, or stupid bosses. It does protect you against being treated differently because of your race, gender, religion, or membership in various other protected classes.

Okay, rant over. And it wasn't really directed at you. This misunderstanding is everywhere.

So. You guys have put up with unfair treatment for seven years. It's good that you're asking the company to correct the situation, but you should figure out if you're prepared to walk away if you don't get what you want, or something close to it. You can't make the company do what you want; all you can control is whether or not you choose to accept what they're offering you.

Sometimes when people are in these situations where they are angry and feel mistreated, they lose sight of the fact that they do (usually) have options. If you don't like what's being offered, go out there and see what other offers the world has for you. You might find one you like a lot better -- or you might decide that you'd rather stay put, despite the current terms. But you'll be picking it deliberately, rather than just accepting it by default.

By the way, when negotiating, it doesn't hurt to let them get the sense that you're willing to walk (especially since after seven years, they're probably feeling complacent). Just be reasonably subtle about it: Don't come across like you're making a threat; decent managers will pick up on the hint. Good luck!

didn't give full two weeks notice

A reader writes:

I quit my first job out of college after staying at a company for a year because I found a new opportunity. However, I did not give a full two weeks notice. I told my manager the day he came back from a vacation and by that time, I had to start my new job in a week and a half. He was very upset and asked if I could stay a week longer but I wasn't able to and I didn't want to start my new job on a negative note. It still haunts me to this day. I have learned my lesson and this time around, I gave a two month notice to my employer that I am quitting to go back to school.

When looking for a job in the future, how negatively will this affect me? And what could I do to not jeopardize future opportunities? Should I bring this up before a background check is conducted? I am sure that my future employers will find out about what happened at my first job when doing background checks because I am ineligible for rehire.

Oh jeez. Penalizing you for giving two or three days less notice than they would have preferred is silly, especially since it would have been a full two weeks if your boss hadn't been on vacation. Believe me, I am huge on giving lots of notice -- like months and months -- but two or three days really doesn't amount to much in the larger scheme of things.

You can explain this to future employers if it comes up, by explaining it exactly the way you did here. Any reasonable employer isn't going to hold it against you.

Should you bring it up ahead of time? If you're sure the reference isn't going to be a good one because of it, then yes. You could say something like, "By the way, I had glowing reviews from my boss at that job, but I was only able to give a week and a half notice rather than a full two weeks when I left, since he had been on vacation earlier. He wasn't happy about it, and I do worry that it could color that reference. I've always given lots of notice ever since." And if you can offer another reference from that company who can speak to your work there, that would be good too, although not strictly necessary. (In fact, sometimes merely offering it in this sort of situation is reassurance enough, even if they don't call the alternate.)

But I do wonder if the reference is going to be as bad as you think. It wouldn't be a bad idea to call them and ask, so that you know for sure.

By the way, if you need to give notice and your boss is on vacation, give your notice to someone else -- HR or, if you don't have an HR department, your boss' boss. Less than ideal, yes, but then you can't be blamed for not giving appropriate notice. People will understand why you wanted to alert them right away and not wait. And most of them will appreciate it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

9 ways to start your new job right

How you handle your first few weeks on a job can set the tone for your entire stay at the new company. Here are nine ways to set yourself up right:

1. You might be overwhelmed by all the new information: Don't freak out about it. I have a theory that you can only retain one third to one half of the information that's thrown at you during your first day on a job if the environment is a fast-paced one. This is normal. Eventually it'll all come together.

Want to read the rest? Head on over to U.S. News & World Report, where the full column is posted.

check in on new people

Do you check in on new employees? Do you ask them how they're doing, what they might need, how you can help them, how things are going in general? Not once, not just on their first day, but multiple times, throughout their first weeks?

You should.

A semi-new colleague told me today that he'd never experienced that until this job, and that it made him willing to come to me about things he wouldn't have raised otherwise, and that it made him believe that we actually cared and weren't just giving lip service to it. Because I am a huge geek about such things, this made my day.

Really, go down the hall to that new guy's office right now and ask him how things are going.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

unfair raise practices?

A reader writes:

I changed jobs 2 years ago. When I made the switch, it was an increase in responsibilities (middle management), but my salary did not increase. The reputation and stability of the company and the new job was very interesting to me. Last year (year 1), I received an above average raise - raises are dependent upon performance. This year, although my performance was solid, I received a below average raise. The rationale I got was that my salary is much higher than my peers and I effectively have less responsibility.

I have never heard of such a practice, so I was wondering (1) if this makes any sense and if other companies have this practice and (2) what I should do about it?

I wrote back to this writer and asked if anything had been said about performance issues or ways that they'd like her to improve/evolve. She replied, "Yes -- but nothing out of the ordinary -- just some things to work on. I had high praises for my strengths. She said that my performance was 'solid' and that based on it I would have gotten the average raise if my salary weren't so high."

Okay. So do other companies have this practice? Yes. But that doesn't mean it's a fair one or that it's not negotiable.

Salaries for similar positions vary within a company for all sorts of reasons -- one person negotiated better than another when hired, one person was hired at a time when the market was flooded and thus salaries were lower, another person was hired when the market was tight and thus salaries were higher, and so forth. The reality is that each employee negotiated the terms of their offer individually and there will be variations. The company may want to later go back and even out the differences, but by doing so, they are effectively undoing the offer you negotiated for yourself.

I do see their side of it; their thinking isn't insane or anything, but it's based on what's best for them, and you need to advocate for what's best for you.

So here's what I would do in your shoes. I'd go to your boss and say: "I understand what you're saying, but I accepted the job at a particular salary point, with the understanding that future raises would be based off of that salary, reflecting my performance. By now adjusting my salary based not on performance but instead based on the salaries you've negotiated with others,we're effectively undoing the original offer that brought me here. I'd like my raise to be based on my performance."

The subtext of this, of course, is: "I wouldn't have accepted the offer otherwise and if you change it on me now, I may decide to leave." You're not saying that explicitly, because you don't want to make threats (nor do you want to be bound to a course of action) -- but you don't need to say it explicitly, because your manager will worry about it anyway.

Now, this may work and it may not. No matter how right your argument, companies can and do turn down raise requests all the time. But it's worth a shot -- and of course, if they don't budge, you always have the option of looking around at other jobs if you decide to. (On the other hand, there are factors to consider beyond money, like how much you like your job.) Good luck, and please let us know how it turns out.

Friday, June 20, 2008

horrified at feedback from boss

A reader writes:

I was recently passed over for a promotion in favor of a lesser qualified coworker. I thought I was doing the right thing by soliciting feedback from my manager but her feedback was confusing and vague. She told me that I am "insensitive" and when I asked for examples she cited examples from last year, such as an email that I wrote that she felt was blunt, and she said that "it will take 10 years for you to live it down." I have addressed the email issue already and would like it dropped. She also told me that I do not have a realistic idea of the workplace. I have over 20 years of experience with some of it being in Fortune 500 companies. I am upset about the promotion stuff but I am horrified at the feedback. I feel like I was blindsided as this came from nowhere. The feedback was solicited by me, so if I didn't ask, the manager would not tell me any of this. Any suggestions? Right now I feel like quitting but I need to get a new job first. Do you think this is an attempt to get me fired or is she the one that has to worry, as I am reporting these comments to her manager and HR?

Okay, first, there's a good chance that your manager sucks. I don't know what was in this email you wrote, but unless you sexually propositioned the CEO in it and cc'd the whole company, it's not going to take 10 years for you to live down. More importantly, that's just a crappy comment for her to make, since it doesn't have redeeming constructive value. Also, the fact that she didn't give you any feedback until you asked for it is a terminal mistake for a manager. Managers are there to give feedback.

That said, it's entirely possible that despite her shortcomings as a manager, she's right that you're too blunt and insensitive. I'm not saying that you are, just that it's possible. It's worth listening with an open mind when people give you feedback, even when they're inept in some ways. Don't allow yourself to dismiss her input out of defensiveness or the fact that you have 20 years of experience; after all, we all know people with plenty of experience who still have blind spots and major issues. Possibly most people.

So consider that she may be right, or partially right. At a minimum, you have learned that you are considered too blunt for this particular workplace. Maybe you'd be too blunt for most. Maybe not. But we know now that she thinks you are for this one.

You have a couple of choices about what to do with that. You can decide it's a bad fit and look elsewhere. You can decide she might be on to something and try to soften things. If you have past or present colleagues who you trust to be candid with you, you can ask them for honest input on whether you're too blunt.

You asked if this sounds like an attempt to get you fired, and I don't so. If your manager was thinking about firing you, she'd be giving you feedback, believe me. Of course, it's possible that she's so passive and the company is so poorly managed that she could one day fire you out of the blue without any feedback first, but in general competently run companies explicitly tell people if there are things they need to do differently in order to keep their jobs.

Last, you mentioned that you're going to report her comments to her manager and HR. I wouldn't. You will significantly harm your relationship with your manager, and what she has done -- while inept -- is not the sort of thing you should go over her head on. Instead, I'd talk to her directly. Say something like: "I appreciate you being candid with me when I asked for feedback last week. I hadn't realized that I had created that perception, and I'd like to know that you'll tell me when there are things you'd like me to be doing differently. Could I hear from you more regularly about how I'm doing, especially if there's something I need to change?"

Now, some people will say that you're just opening the door to more criticism from her by doing this. My response to that is that she thinks what she thinks regardless of whether or not she tells you -- and you're much better off actually knowing about it, since it's essential to you being able to make good decisions ... whether those involve modifying the way you approach your job, looking for a new one, or whatever.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

why I don't like "employee of the month" programs

A reader writes:

What are your thoughts on Employee Recognition programs? Examples: Employee of the Month, Year, etc.

We rely on feedback from peers/managers to "nominate" employees for Employee of the Month and lately have been getting very little participation in said program. The prize shouldn't matter since the person "winning" doesn't nominate himself! The driver is: how do we get workers to observe more, care more, etc. so that they would notice colleagues going above the call of duty and nominate them for the recognition? Or is the idea of "I" over "We" an issue?

Honestly? I'm not a fan of those programs. I've never seen them carried out in a way that doesn't feel contrived or a little cheesy.

Recognize employees who are doing a good job in ways that really matter -- with strong evaluations, great raises, good management, new challenges (if they want them), and ongoing positive feedback. I think employee-of-the-month-type programs are typically used as a weak substitute for more meaningful retention strategies. What you want are great managers who forge strong relationships with their strong performers, who make sure they feel valued and have the tools needed to excel at their jobs, who ensure that high performance is reflected in employees' paychecks and career progression, and who are assertive about addressing obstacles standing in their employees' way (such as unneeded policies, the slacker colleague down the hall, or whatever the obstacles may be).

I know that's not the answer you're looking for, but it may be worth asking what the goal of the program is supposed to be and whether there are other ways to achieve it. You could also ask the employees themselves why they don't seem interested in the program and what they'd like to see in its place. I suspect you'll hear something similar to the above. Good luck!

quitting after only six months

A reader writes:

First I would just like to say I am a frequent visitor of your blog and have gleaned a lot of helpful information from it, so thank you. Secondly, I was wondering if you could provide some insight about the appropriate amount of time to stay at a job you dislike. I've been at my job for six months now and really do not like it. My manager and co-workers I interviewed with did not misrepresent the position in any way, I just feel like it is not a good match. I also have not received any negative feedback and had a pretty good 90-day review. However, despite all this, I feel very uncomfortable in my position. The majority of the clients I have to deal with are very demanding and difficult to manage. I feel, however, that you should give a job at least a year before moving on. In fact, I have a nine-month internship on my resume and I'm always asked in interviews why I was there for such a short period of time until I explain it was an internship that ended. Because I receive that question so often, I don't want to add another "black mark" to my resume, so to speak. Any insight you have would be greatly appreciated.

I have two suggestions:

1. Have you talked to your manager about the things you're not feeling comfortable with? He or she might be able to help. Frequently when people are unhappy with some aspect of their job, they suffer silently rather than speaking up. Not every problem is surmountable, of course, but quite a few are, and even if you're convinced it's not worth raising, you might be surprised if you give it a shot. Of course, it's also possible that there might be nothing he/she can do -- because it truly is just a mismatch, or because the manager isn't particularly adept in such situations, or whatever. Which leads us to...

2. I'd wait three months before you start looking for another position. Your job search is going to take some time, so if you start when you've been in your present job nine months, you'll likely have been there a year (if not longer) by the time you leave for something else. Three months isn't all that long to stick it out before you start looking, and it'll position you better to have the full year-long stay to point to.

But really, if your manager is even the tiniest bit approachable and competent, talk to her about the discomfort you're having. Good luck!

Monday, June 16, 2008

pre-planned vacation when job hunting

A reader writes:

I was laid off without warning two weeks ago. Luckily, I have some interviews lined up. Trouble is, I was planning on going to a wedding around the July 4th holiday. The wedding is on the 6th, and it's out of state, so I'd need the 7th off to travel. Is there any way I can ask for that day off of work when I don't even have a job yet? I'm afraid that if I mention it in the interview, I won't get the job because I'll sound like I need time off all the time. But if I wait until after the interview, I feel like that's dishonest. Is there any professional way to ask for that day off without hurting my chances at the hire? If so, when should I bring it up? Thanks for any suggestions you have. I've been tearing my hair out.

Leave your hair alone. This sort of thing happens all the time and employers aren't going to be put off by it.

Don't bring it up in the interview stage; it would be premature then. The time to raise it is once a company makes you an offer. At that point, just explain that you have pre-existing travel plans that will require you being away during the 7th and ask if this would be okay. Offer to take the day without pay if you won't have accrued vacation time by that point. 99.9% of the time, this is going to be a non-issue to the employer. (Especially since you're only talking about one day. This same advice would apply even if your pre-arranged trip was for a week, but one day is nothing.)

Seriously, this happens all the time. It's not an issue. (It can, however, be an issue if you don't bother to mention it until after you start. Mention it during the offer conversations.)

how to follow up after an interview

One of the most common questions I get asked is whether, when, and how to follow up after a job interview. Following up in some way is nearly essential. Yes, you can get a job without it, but if you're in competition with other top candidates, following up to reiterate your interest when the other candidate doesn't can sometimes clinch the deal for you. My column this week at U.S. News & World Report looks at how to follow up well.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

should you play the sympathy card at work?

Liz Wolgemuth at U.S. News & World Report explores the question of whether you should play the sympathy card when asking for a raise. I'm quoted.

Friday, June 13, 2008

informational interviews

Public service announcement: "Informational interview" is not code for "sneaky way to get a job interview."

If you ask me for an informational interview and I tell you that my schedule is crammed right now but I'd be happy to answer any questions by email (since I can do that when I find 10 spare minutes at 11 p.m.), the correct response is to thank me and email over your questions. It is not to say nothing and disappear.

If you ask me for an informational interview and I agree to meet with you, you are not supposed to use that time to try to get a job with me. If you would like me to hire you, lying about your reason for meeting with me is not a good start.

If you ask me for an informational interview and I agree to meet with you, you are not supposed to look at me blankly and wait for me to lead the conversation. You are supposed to come prepared with questions about the industry or whatever it is that inspired you to ask for my time in the first place.

Oh, and you're also supposed to arrive on time. And if we meet over coffee, you're expected to offer to pay. I will end up paying, but I expect you to try to, since you asked me to do you this favor. And you're supposed to send a thank-you afterwards.

Please abide by the above, or I am going to stop doing informational interviews entirely.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

company dragging its feet on hiring

A reader writes:

I had an interview May 6th, which went well, and I was told by the hiring manager that she would like someone to start the first week in June and that I would hear the outcome by the next week. Two days later, HR called and asked me to come in for a second interview and to bring three references. So on 12th, I met with HR on another interview. The HR rep said she would check my reference and get back to me by the end of that week, and she had me sit with another HR person to go over benefits.

A whole week went by and I heard no word, so I decided to call on May 21st, hoping that she would be able to tell me if the job was gone or on hold. I left a message. HR called back 5PM Friday May 23rd. She apologized that she did not get back to me, but said she would check references next week and that I should alert my references, which I did.

I happened to speak to my reference the following Wednesday and no phone call or message had been left for them. I called HR that afternoon and she seemed surprised that I called and seemed to hurry me off the phone, saying she was going to call me and that she is checking my references and would get back to me. Here we are now on June 11th, with no references checked and I have received no phone call or letter telling me the situation.

What would you do? Call her back? Call the hiring manager to see if the job is gone? How would you feel if this happened to you? Am I wrong in wanting to find out why I was led on by this HR generalist? What did she tell the hiring manager?

I cannot shake this situation and I keep feeling foul play is at hand. What do you advise me to do? At this point I will not accept the job, but have the right to know what happened and put closure to it.

Well, if you really won't accept the job at this point, I wouldn't put any effort into following up, but I wouldn't advise that route.

What seems likely is that the HR rep and the hiring manager are on different pages about the start date. The hiring manager said she wanted someone to start by early June, but the HR rep clearly isn't operating on that schedule. Maybe that's because she's legitimately overruling the hiring manager (managers often underestimate how long a thorough hiring process will take), maybe you're her second choice candidate and she's waiting to hear back from the first choice, or maybe she's just not that good at her job. Regardless, you won't help yourself by sounding pissy with her.

This is what I would do: Email the hiring manager to reiterate your interest in the job and talk about how excited you are by the prospect of it. Then say something like, "Julie (or whatever the HR rep's name is) told me the process is taking longer than you had originally planned, and I'd love to get a sense of your timeline if you have one." But don't sound like you're complaining about the process; you're simply seeking information within the context of reiterating your interest and excitement.

You could also email the HR rep with something similar, but the advantage of sending the note to the hiring manager is that she may put some pressure on HR to wrap up the process (if indeed they're dragging their feet) and she may give you some info you haven't been able to get from HR.

Now, are you being treated poorly by this company? To the extent that they're not giving you updated information about their timeline, yes, but not to the extent that you should be suspecting foul play. I also wouldn't refuse the job because of this. Hiring often takes longer than people originally think it will. Yes, they should update you when a timeline they gave you changes, but the (annoying) reality is that many, many companies don't. I would be much more concerned if the problem were with the hiring manager rather than HR, since that would tell you something troubling about your future manager, but in this case it seems to be specific to HR (based on what you know so far, at least).

You're worked up, and I get it -- it's frustrating. But take a deep breath and relax. Continue your job search, don't put too much mental energy into this job until you find out if there's even going to be an offer, and eventually you'll hear something one way or another from this company (even if it's months of silence, which says something in its own rude way). Good luck!

Monday, June 9, 2008

10 ways to make your employees love you

Last week, my U.S. News & World Report column was about ways to make your boss love you. But this week's column turns the tables and looks at ways managers can earn the affection of the people they manage. You can read it here.

Friday, June 6, 2008

granting and denying vacation requests

A reader writes:

I'm a new supervisor of a small software team. I'm responsible for granting and denying vacation time.

I often find myself in a situation where an employee would like to take a random day off... say Friday. They will often bring this to my attention the day before.

Our workplace has generally been very flexible. One particular employee is a long-time friend of mine, and he feels as if he should be allowed to take a day off here and there if there's nothing going on. I feel as if it puts me in a difficult situation where if I have employees that can take days off with an informal request the day before, that it sets a precedent that is difficult to deal with. What's the norm in terms of advanced notice for time off? What should I expect?

Well, why would setting that precedent be difficult to deal with?

It seems to me that the way to decide whether or not to grant a vacation request -- whether it's last minute or not -- is by looking at what impact it will have on the work that needs to get done. That's the precedent you want to set.

And last-minute days off can sometimes work well with that: For instance, you had a really productive week, got everything under control, and now realize that you could take Friday off without impacting much. You often wouldn't have been able to know in advance that that was going to happen, but common sense tells you that you could do it now.

Now of course, if an employee asks you on Thursday if she can have Friday off and you know that she has work due on Friday that can't reasonably be delayed, that's a different matter. So is a situation where the nature of the work demands that you have a certain number of people physically present (such as, say, teaching or customer service), in which case last-minute requests may prevent your ability to keep your area running smoothly.

But basing your policy on actual impact, rather than on rules for rules' sake, will be a real benefit to your employees.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

naming salary requirements

A reader writes:

I’m interested in applying for a job that asks for my salary requirements to be stated in my cover letter. This feels like a loaded question: if I shoot too high, am I pricing myself out of a job? If I shoot too low, am I condemning myself to be underpaid? I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter and look forward to hearing from you soon.

If you can avoid listing a specific number in the letter, do. You don't want to ignore the request entirely, because you don't want to look like someone who ignores instructions, but you can answer it in your own way. For instance, you could say something like, "My salary requirements are negotiable and depend on the total compensation package, including benefits." Honestly, that's a reasonable response to a question that isn't entirely reasonable at this stage.

Here's my take on it: I get why companies are asking this -- they don't want to waste their time if you're wildly out of their price range. That's perfectly legitimate, especially if what they're able to pay is on the lower side of the normal range for the position (since then they have reason to worry about that issue). But if that's the case, then I believe that they should post their range and let applicants decide if they're interested or not.

Of course, most places don't do that. But they should.

Which doesn't help you any. So back to your question: Give a vague answer like the one I suggested above in the cover letter. But know that once you get to the phone screen, you're likely to be asked again. You can try the same tactic then, but at that point they're likely to push you to give a number and if you refuse, you risk coming across as obnoxious and/or simply getting cut from the running. I'm not saying that's right, just that it's the reality.

So you have a couple of choices: You can try to turn the question around and ask them, "What range did you have in mind for the position?" Some interviewers will tell you and some won't. (Again, silly, but the reality.) If they press for a number, one option is that rather than talking about the salary you're looking for, you can say what you're currently making -- "I'm currently making $X, with an excellent benefits package, and like anyone, I'm looking to increase that if I move to a new position." Or, you can just answer the question -- tell them what you're looking for. Do some research, know what comparable positions in your geographic area pay, and throw out a range based on that.

Some people will oppose these last two options, because they say you should never, ever throw out a number first, it puts you in a weaker negotiating position, etc. There's truth to that, but there are also situations where you simply have to name a range. I'm sure there are some people who are such master negotiators that they're able to refuse to answer the question without irritating the interviewer, but I've never encountered one. In fact, the (very small) handful of people I've seen try that have ended up coming across as overly aggressive game-players. So perhaps it comes down to how confident you are about your skills in this area and the vibe you're getting from the interviewer about her tolerance level for that sort of thing.

But if we can stop talking about what works and instead talk about what would be fair: Companies who want to talk salary before they're ready to make an offer should be ready to talk about their own range. They don't do so because if you're willing to accept a lower offer, they want to get you for that lower price. But that's lame: If they lowball you now and you figure out later that you're underpriced for the market, they risk losing you over it. They should tell you the range they plan to pay, deal with the consequences, and put an end to all this drama.

good management wins

Okay, so there's plenty more to it than good management. I just wanted an excuse to link to this old post from February.

Monday, June 2, 2008

10 ways to make your boss love you

Want to become your boss's favorite? My U.S. News & World Report column this week suggests 10 habits that, if cultivated, will have your boss showering you with lavish praise. Read it here. And I hope you'll weigh in on the "he/she" issue raised by the first commenter on that page; I'm curious to know what others think.