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Saturday, August 30, 2008

how to find out if your prospective manager sucks or not

In the comment section of my recent post on managers who won't manage, a reader asked: What can you ask in job interviews to find out if your prospective manager is someone who can't or won't manage?

Such a good question, and possibly one of the most important things you can ask in an interview. Here are some ideas of the types of questions that can help you get a sense of how effective the manager is.

* "How will the success of the person in this position be measured?"
* "What are some of the obstacles the department is currently facing and how are you addressing them?"
* "How would you describe the bar for performance here?"
* "Having seen the impact it can have on the rest of the team when someone isn't meeting expectations, can you tell me a bit about how you approach it when someone is falling short of that bar?"
* "How would you and other people who work here describe the culture?" (Listen to references to high standards and a constant striving for excellence.)
* "What are some examples of how that plays out?"
* "What kind of person wouldn’t fit in here?"
* "Working from the assumption that everyone has things they'd like to tweak about their manager, what do you think the biggest thing is that the people you manage would like to change about you?"
* "As hard as it is, I think it's important for managers to transition people out if they're not the right fit. When is the last time the department fired someone for performance-related reasons?" (Yes, this last one takes balls. But if you set it up right, they'll get why you're asking. Just be sure not to seem arrogant or obsessively focused on this in a crazy way.)

Additionally, pay attention to your interactions with other people you come into contact with who work under the manager. Are you impressed with the caliber of those staff? Do people seem happy, motivated, efficient?

Those are some thoughts to start with. What does everyone else think?

will attitude affect references?

A reader writes:

Since I graduated University six years ago, I have worked for a large health care organization in several different roles. Shortly after I started the job that I am currently in, I experienced several major upheavals in my life during a very short time frame. I am not using these events as an excuse, but merely to illustrate the progression of events to present day.

As the months have gone by, I have become increasingly depressed and resentful, in part due to these events and in part due to complete job dissatisfaction and unhappiness. The field I am in (administrative assistant) is not one that I ever wanted to be in. Not that there is anything wrong with this type of job, but I have a University degree and it was never my intention to spend my working life making coffee and recording minutes. Recently, the department I am in experienced a massive internal reorganization, and I was re-assigned to a new area in the same department. All of the above combined has resulted in a severe impact on my mood, and it has unfortunately started to come across in my behavior. I do not bring my home life to work, but there are days when it is impossible to just switch off and not think about anything other than my job, and so as a result I am not as "smiley" and happy as I once was. I am good at what I do; I am efficient, highly organized, responsible, and a hard worker. All of these traits and qualities are ones that have been recognized in prior performance reviews or have even been said directly to me; I am not just trying to make myself sound good. However, I smile very infrequently now, since I am not happy. I am polite - it is not in me to be rude, but I am not happy, and it is quite apparent.

My dilemma is this: I am looking for another job, closer to home, in a different field, and one that I am hoping will make me feel more engaged and fulfilled. Shortly after the internal reorganization, my new supervisor came to me and indicated that while I do good work, people have come to him expressing concerns about my attitude. As I indicated earlier, I am polite. I complete my work on time or early, efficiently, and correctly. But it seems that because I am not as willing to join people for lunch anymore, or to smile as much, that this is being held against me. I was told repeatedly during the conversation that I needed to change my attitude. This too I confess I started to resent, because I understood what my supervisor was saying the first time, and did not feel that he needed to reiterate the same point an additional four times.

Putting aside all the other questions I have, my main concern at this point is what kind of a reference I am going to get. In point of fact, I do not want to list anyone I currently work with as a reference, as I am concerned that they will highlight my short-term unhappiness to the detriment of mentioning all the good qualities that I possess. I have had experience working in human resources, and first-hand experience in interviewing people and performing reference checks, and yet I do not know how to handle the situation I am in. I know that not putting my current supervisor on my list of references can raise a red flag. In addition, I do not want my current employer to know that I am looking, since if he is called and I do not get an offer, I then have to continue working for someone who now knows that I am looking for other work. I do have other references from previous jobs, but the most recent of those is getting on for two years old, and most prospective employers want to speak with someone who has had more recent knowledge of my skills and abilities.

I have been doing some research about what employers can and cannot say about past employees, and frankly I am worried that because of the above circumstances, and my work colleague's interpretation of my attitude, that it is going to negatively impact my chances of getting a new job. I know employers cannot say anything that comes across as specifically malicious, but I feel that there is a very fine line between what a prospective employer needs to know and what is just unnecessarily malicious.

Any suggestions that you have would be most appreciated, as I am feeling very conflicted. The job environment I am in right now is not one where I can thrive, and I am more and more worried that my chances of getting a job which allows me to be happier will not be possible, all because of a few months that are now being held against me as my overall "attitude."

Oh, there's so much here. Let's see:

1. I suspect your resentment is showing in more ways than just not smiling and not going to lunch. If you're that unhappy at having to be there, it's showing, believe me.

2. Being resentful penalizes you in several different ways -- not only does it make you unhappy (which is bad enough on its own), but it actually may be standing in the way of your ability to take action to change the very thing you're unhappy with (your career) if you're concerned about its impact on your references. Double penalty, and in both cases, it harms no one but you. Drop the resentment. Focus on the fact that you're now taking action to do something different. Generally speaking, you have more power than you realize over your responses and emotions and can make the mental shift if motivated to it.

Unless you're depressed, which brings us to...

3. Tell your manager that you've had some things going on in your personal life that are taking a toll on you. You don't need to be specific, but I think it will help things to explain that there's a non-work-related reason for your recent attitude. If he's not a jerk, he's likely to soften his assessment once he knows that.

4. You were irritated that your manager repeated the same message to you several times, when you got it the first time. Often when people do this, it's because the employee isn't showing any indication that she's getting the message. You need to respond in a way that acknowledges what's being said and indicates what you plan to do in response. For instance: "I appreciate you telling me this. Some events in my personal life have affected my mood, and I didn't realize it was so apparent. I probably won't be going to lunch with people much because I'm not feeling very social lately, but I'll try to make sure it doesn't impact my other interactions with people."

5. Now, on to your actual questions. It's very normal when job-searching to request that prospective employers not contact your current employer, since most people don't want their employer to know they're looking. Some interviewers will be content with only contacting references from prior jobs. Others may ask to speak to your current employer, but it's completely fine (and normal) to ask them to wait to do that until they're ready to make you an offer.

6. You say, "I feel that there is a very fine line between what a prospective employer needs to know and what is just unnecessarily malicious." It's not malicious for an employer to talk about an employee's attitude and many reference-checkers will ask about that sort of thing. Reference checks are about more than how the person performed the duties of the job; they're also often about people skills, and this is legitimate.

So I think your best bet is to just address it head-on: If you're about to get an offer and they want to talk to your current employer (which they may not even ask to do, if you provide them with lots of other references from before this job), mention that you had some personal upheaval in the last year and you weren't as cheery as you normally are, and you know they noticed -- so that the reference-checker is prepared to hear that and has some context if it comes up.

That's really all you can do -- the facts are what they are, and now it's just a matter of providing context for them. Unless your attitude was far more horrid than your letter makes clear, my hunch is that it probably won't stand in your way. However, you should pledge to yourself that you'll never let your attitude at work get to that point again, because as you're seeing now, it ends up affecting you in the end. Good luck!

Friday, August 29, 2008

when your manager won't manage

A reader writes:

I work in a cultural/academic/non-profit institution, and am part of a professional community small enough that I don't wish to identify it, lest one of my colleagues identify *me*.

I should say that I love what I do for a living. It's a calling, I spent a lot of time in graduate school preparing for it. Some days, I really couldn't be happier.

Those are the days when my boss and most of the other people who "work" with me are not here.

There are really more personnel problems than I can reasonably describe, but I'll give you the Top 4:

1) My boss allows an unqualified volunteer to perform a skilled, essential function that he is profoundly unfit to perform. Said volunteer is also inappropriate, indecorous, insubordinate and all-around annoying. He argues with us when we assign him tasks, he comes in earlier and stays later than allowed, wanders the building bothering people, and generally behaves like an unsupervised child. I have repeatedly approached my boss about all of the above issues, and while he agrees with me, he WILL NOT discipline or replace this person. My attempts to correct his behavior are ignored.

2) Another volunteer (also profoundly unqualified for his duties) is incredibly rude to me, and has made sexist, racist, and all-around inappropriate statements to me, to my boss, and to coworkers. I have documented such statements, and have had 4 meetings will my boss about this individual. My boss even agreed with me that this person should be terminated…then I went on vacation. When I came back, he was here, and here he remains.

3) A member of the paraprofessional staff is insane. She does no work, and is so horrible that she actually drove away her gifted and qualified supervisor. Despite no specialized training in our field (and a part-time paraprofessional position), she feels she is entitled to order around/abuse the professional staff, and she refuses to learn simple tasks like changing toner in the photocopier (and I mean REFUSES. As in "I will not learn how to do that, so stop trying to teach me."). She's also a classic whiner who complains about problems, but refuses to do anything to solve them, even when given tools and support. She's worked here over 20 years.

4) The boss will not deal with any of this. It's almost like these people have something incriminating on him, the way he lets them get away with murder.

I love the people I serve, and the one employee I supervise. But I feel trapped. I can't absorb Problem #1's duties, since we're already so understaffed. I feel I've done everything right with Problem #2, but to no avail. I wait anxiously for Problem #3 to retire. I pray Problem #4 wins the lottery and retires in Tahiti.

For my long-range career plans, this job is perfect, but the people are making me homicidal.

Thanks...just the venting feels good at this point. Keep up the good work!

You don't have four problems. You have one big problem: your boss.

You can try to reason with him and plead and use logic, but ultimately there is only one thing that solves the problem of working under a boss who is afraid to take action. I'm sorry to say that it's this: Leave, and go to work for a boss who is willing to do his or her job.

I know that's not an easy solution. But in my experience, it is the only long-term solution.

Your manager is profoundly flawed, in a way that nothing you do can fix. He is allowing his desire to be nice and avoid unpopular/difficult decisions to trump his fundamental obligations as a manager -- obligations like holding the bar high and expecting people to adhere to it, warning them when they're falling short, and taking action when warnings don't work.

And what is happening to you now is the irony that all such wimpy managers spawn: In their quest to be liked, the opposite happens. Because problems go unresolved, good employees get frustrated and end up hating them.

Are there short-term solutions? Maybe. Depending on your relationship with your boss, you may be able to badger or cajole him into taking action on some of this, or to give you the authority to handle it. Or you may be able to find discreet ways to go over his head to bring the problem to his boss -- but if he's being permitted to get away with this basic abdication of his duties, chances are good that the boss above him is the same flawed type.

But in the long-term, absent a boss who will make him do his job (likely having to push him through it every step of the way), this stuff isn't going to change. You have a boss who isn't interested in or willing to do his job. To have long-term happiness, you're going to need to find one who is.

All that said, there is one good thing about a boss like this: They provide inspiration for the rest of us, as a model of what not to do. I worked for a boss like this early on in my career, and I ultimately quit over it. It's no exaggeration to say that having worked under someone like that has formed the foundation of my own management philosophy and approach. Now that I manage other managers, I make sure none of them do this to their people -- we say the hard things, have the uncomfortable conversations, and take the difficult actions. And I'm convinced everyone -- even the people on the receiving end of those tough conversations -- is better off for it.

So admittedly, your letter tapped into a major obsession for me. And perhaps others would tell you to stick it out, let it roll off your back, blah blah. And that's certainly an option. But if you find yourself a manager willing to manage, the impact on your quality of life can't be overstated.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

coded HR language?

A reader writes:

I have been in the search for a job for the past 9 months. I have had interviews and I have successfully been able to get my resume in front of hiring managers. As with any job search I have also received my share of rejections. I have noticed in a number of the rejections a phrase "while your qualifications are impressive." I am wondering is this some subtle HR phrase with a message? Is it because they do the math and realize I am a mature candidate, or do they think with my background experience they cannot afford me, or am I reading too much into this?

You are reading too much into it. I say that phrase to everyone we reject, even if they're straight out of high school and have no qualifications whatsoever. It's just standard boilerplate for trying to soften the blow of a rejection.

Monday, August 25, 2008

chutzpah of the entitled

Liz Handlin has a great post up about the chutzpah of people who take advantage of the time and expertise of people in their network (or even people not in their network) and don't bother to express any sort of appreciation.

This resonated with me because of some irritating experiences I've had lately. Here's the thing: I do this blog for free, on my own time, because (a) I have an apparently pathological need to share my opinion, and (b) it's incredibly gratifying to help people figure out how to navigate the sorts of sticky situations we talk about here. Sometimes people write back to thank me for the help, or to let me know how their situation turned out, and I love love love that. It feels awesome.

Here is what does not feel awesome: When I spend the time to send someone a private response not intended for publication (sometimes an immediate one, because their situation is time-sensitive), or when I spend not insignificant time giving them feedback on their resume or cover letter, and I hear ... nothing in response. Literally nothing. It's rude. And it's bizarrely common. (And it is not smart; I will go way out of my way for you if you express appreciation, so you should at least be machiavellian about it, if for no other reason.)

So go read Liz's rant and make sure you are never, ever doing the sort of thing she describes.

why "Sexy Mama" won't get hired

Last week, I received a resume from "Sexy Mama." As in, that was the name that displayed in the "from" field of her email.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about six reasons a resume might go straight into my trash can. "Sexy Mama" is one of them.

Please check it out, and as always, I'd love your feedback in the comments over there!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

do employers look at every applicant?

A reader writes:

After realizing that some employers receive hundreds of online applicants, I get the feeling that many of the employers are not even opening my e-mails.  Do employers look at every e-mail applicant?  How can I grab their attention in a subject line?

It depends on the employer. I look at every resume (granted, some only for 10 seconds, but that's because it doesn't take long to know they're not the right match), and I keep looking at them all until I've made an offer and it's been accepted. Other employers stop looking after they have a certain number of strong candidates. Some (generally large) employers use computerized programs that scan resumes for key words, and then send those (and only those) on to a human to review.

I wouldn't try to go for an overly creative email subject line -- I'm not a fan of subject lines that sound too much like a sales pitch. In fact, the only time an applicant's email subject line has ever swayed me one way or another is when it's when it's made a negative impression; I think something simple, like the name of the position, is best.

But others may feel differently, so bring it on in the comments!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

abusive interviewer extends job offer

This letter from a reader is long but worth it:

My career experience has mostly been in the military, but I have recently completed a college degree in physics with a minor in education after stopping work to stay at home with my daughter. Currently, I am working as a high school science teacher, but I’m not happy with this career. Over the past 6 months, I have been sending out my resume to companies that are hiring entry level engineers.

I’ve been looking to make sense of what happened during a recent interview that resulted in a job offer. I submitted my resume and went through a large company’s application process to end up with an in-person interview, which was great. After the 10 minute interview with the HR director, who told me that I would interview with two supervisors in the department who were looking to fill four different jobs at varying levels, I was picked up by one of the department supervisors I was to interview with (I’ll call him Joe), and we went for a 50 minute tour of the workplace. During the tour, Joe was asking interview questions, and he seemed like a knowledgeable and reasonable person to work for. I really liked Joe. We discussed the positions he had to offer and how those positions related to my experiences and education. Although Joe’s job openings were entry level engineering and below, I was still interested in accepting one of those positions if they were offered. After all, I am looking to change careers, and I’m expecting to pay my dues to make this happen.

Next, Joe told me that we would meet with the supervisor (we’ll call him Jerry), who had a higher level engineering position open. After arriving at Jerry’s office, Jerry began to interview me. During the interview, Jerry asked me what sort of job I am looking for. Upon hearing my answer, he told me that his job opening is not for me. Jerry went further by stating that he really didn’t understand why I had applied for a position in that department because none of their work had anything to do with my background or education. At first, I thought Jerry was just asking the question to see if I could relate their work to my experience and education, which is quite straightforward. I have no problem relating my experience and physics education to the type of engineering practiced in that department, so I politely told Jerry how I felt my experience and background fit with that department’s mission and work. Upon hearing this, Jerry told me that he took a physics class once and failed, so he didn’t see how physics had anything to do with engineering. I explained where I felt physics and engineering meet and how an education and laboratory research experience in physics has helped develop my critical thinking and problem solving skills regardless of the problem set before me. Jerry continued with his mantra that physics has nothing to do with engineering and this is not the job for me.

As Jerry wrapped up his end of the interview, he commented about my current job as a teacher. He told me that his wife is a teacher, and only lazy people teach. I had to work hard to keep my jaw from hitting the floor on that comment. Jerry said that his wife only teaches because she has the summer off, and that certainly would not happen in this company. I told Jerry that I am well aware that the rest of the work force does not have the summer off or even more than one week of vacation for most people. Again, Jerry simply responded by telling me that the job is not for me.

The interview ended with Jerry asking me if I would rather work for him or Joe. There was no way I was touching that one with a ten foot pole, but I did have to say something. If I told Jerry that I would rather stick with a job I can’t stand than work for him, then I would have disqualified myself from all four job openings. Jerry, Joe, and the employees they supervise work on the same floor of the same small building, so I would have to see Jerry and work around him daily. I concluded by stating that I felt that I could work with either of them because I enjoy working with and get along with others. When problem solving, another person’s perspective can stimulate new and interesting solutions. I really expected Jerry to tell me that the job is not for me one more time just to jam his point across.

One month later, I received a call from HR offering me an engineering position for quite a bit more money than I expected. This was two weeks after Jerry had claimed he wanted his new employee to start. Not even thinking about the possibility that I was being offered the job with Jerry, I verbally accepted the job offer. I was told that I still had to electronically sign the contract after reviewing the terms of employment. While sitting at the computer reading through the contract, it occurred to me that I might actually end up working for Jerry. I called HR back to inquire as to who was to be my supervisor. To my dread, she said Jerry. I confessed to the HR rep that, although I was grateful and excited about the job offer, I did not understand why Jerry wanted to hire me because he told me that this job was not for me. Sally, the HR rep, proceeded to tell me how I qualified for the job because of my physics degree and that Joe thought my military electronics experience made me a perfect candidate for the job. She said nothing about why Jerry wanted to hire me. I questioned her about what Jerry thought because he really seemed to discourage me from proceeding through the employment screening process. She told me that she would ask Jerry and get back to me, but she did not. I even told her that I was on a time budget because the school was gearing up to present us with the next year’s teaching contracts. I really didn’t want to put my principal in the position of signing my contract and breaking it soon after. I like my current supervisor. I just don’t like my current career. I waited for one week, and my teaching contract for the next year was presented to me.

Having a definite job and only having a job offer that was not even through the screening process helped me choose to sign my teaching contract and decline the engineering job offer in writing. During the week that I waited for Sally to get back with me, I emailed and called her to inquire about the answer from Jerry and reiterated that my deadline for signing my teaching contract was rapidly approaching. The day after I declined the engineering offer, Sally from HR called and stated how Joe, not Jerry my prospective supervisor, thought I was perfect for the job. Sally said nothing about Jerry.

I am completely confused about how I was offered a job with Jerry in the first place. He made a point of telling me at least a dozen times that the job was not for me. I was certain that my interview with Jerry would not result in a job offer, at least not a job offer to work for Jerry. He told me that I am lazy. At one point, Jerry even asked me if I was dumb. How did those comments from him end up as a job offer one month later?

Secondly, I am not sure if I have burned my bridge with HR in this company. Sally from HR sounded really upset when she called and left her message after I declined the position. I haven’t heard from her since. Although I would never attempt to apply for another job with the same department in that company, I am interested in applying for engineering positions in other departments in the company. I was impressed with the company overall, and my college thesis laboratory research is directly related to work this company does. Would I just end up sending my resume to a black hole and wasting my efforts?

Jerry is one or both of the following:
1. a jerk
2. someone who believes in stress interviews

I tend to believe that #2 is often a subset of #1. A "stress interview" is where the interviewer deliberately acts uninterested or even hostile in order to find out how the candidate responds to stressful situations. Whether they should be used at all is up for debate, but if they are, they should only be used where it's relevant to the job at stake -- litigator, say, or air traffic controller. I don't believe in them at all, since I think there are other ways for a good interviewer to find out how a candidate handles stress, and they don't exactly do a lot to sell good candidates on the job.

To answer your first question, about how someone so rude to you ended up making you a job offer: If it was a stress interview, you apparently passed it. If Jerry is just a jerk, he likely treats lots of people this way and his treatment of you didn't have much connection to his actual opinion of your qualifications. Or Jerry hates everyone, but Joe pushed for you to be hired.

Regarding whether you have a chance with this company in the future, I think you certainly could, but you need to explain to Sally why you turned down the offer. Tell her that you got the strong sense in the interview that you and Jerry had very different communication styles and since Jerry told you multiple times that you weren't right for the job, you didn't think an offer to work with him was the right one for you. Explain, however, that you felt you clicked with Joe, that you are impressed with the company, and that you'd love the opportunity to work with them in the future.

Thoughts from anyone else?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

lying in an interview - should you be concerned?

A reader writes:

I recently left my job. Management was unethical and abusive, so I decided to concentrate on my job search full time. Despite the negative environment, I left courteously, giving 2 weeks notice and helping to tie up loose ends.

I am now under consideration for a great job, but I have a problem - I fibbed on my resume and said I was still employed there. I know this is wrong, but I've found I'm more desirable as a candidate if I am still employed. In the past, when I've been unemployed, I couldn't get an interview, because I assume the prospective employers saw me as "desperate." I cannot risk that in this economy.

I assumed that any prospective employer would not contact my current employer, but I am still concerned that they will find out when they ask me for my references. If it helps, I have 2 references from this former job that can vouch for me (they were senior to me on my team) and I have an excellent (honest) record for the rest of my history. Unfortunately, the HR assistant asked for my "current" supervisor's name during the first interview. I was honest with the sales director about my supervisor being abusive and it not being a good idea to contact him (I also told him I can provide another reference at the company). I'm still concerned that HR is going to call my supervisor and find out I resigned 2 months ago. Should I be concerned?

Uh, yes.

I think you might not be looking at this clearly. Let's put this a little more starkly. The facts are these:
- You left your job for a reasonable reason.
- You lied on your resume, and you believe this is justified because it would make you look better to employers.
- You lied again in the interview.
- Your lie is one that is easily discovered in the course of a routine reference check.

I'm sorry to pile on when you're in a bad situation, but of course you should be concerned.

If you had just written "2002 - present" on your resume, you could pass this off as an oversight, something you forgot to update before sending out your resume. (Sketchy, but you might be able to get away with it.)

But because you lied in the interview, saying you were at a job you actually left two months ago, it's clear that you deliberately tried to mislead them. Lying in a job interview is a deal-breaker, because of what it says about your integrity. (Speaking of integrity, you don't even seem to regret the lie, only that you might get caught.)

Accept that you're probably not going to get this job and move on. Correct your resume before you send it out again. Whatever your concerns about how it might look that you're unemployed, they're trumped by how it looks when a prospective employer finds out that you're someone willing to lie.

Monday, August 18, 2008

telling your boss about a slacker coworker

A reader writes:

How do you express concerns about a slacking co-worker to your boss without coming out sounding like a jerk? There is a co-worker in our office who can work hard when they want to, but also likes to spend quite a bit of time visiting with other employees. This same person expects others on the team to "offer" to help with work not finished. In trying to gently point out that if less time was spent visiting and more time working, then maybe help wouldn't need to be offered, the silent treatment is given and makes for an uncomfortable work environment. This person is also extremely critical of what is perceived as others' mistakes or not following through on an issue, and is almost always guilty of the same thing. Now this person wants to re-arrange some of the work assignments so their work load will be lightened, but I have a problem with that when if more time was spent working and less time visiting there wouldn't be a need to re-arrange.

First, excellent job in not giving away the slacker's gender. However, for ease of discussion, I'm going to decide he's male and refer to him as such. No slight intended to the men.

Okay, I'm going to break this down into two questions: how to deal with his attempt to push his work onto you, and how/whether to talk to your manager about him.

1. In dealing with his attempt to get others to help him finish his work because he wasted time goofing off, just politely refuse. Be nice about it and don't try to teach him a lesson by explaining that he created his own situation, but simply don't let him pressure you into doing it. Sample refusals: "I'm sorry but I'm slammed with deadlines." "Wish I could help but I've got my hands full." And so forth. By not helping him cover up the results of his slacking, you'll make it easier for your manager to spot what's going on.

And along similar lines, who are these employees the slacker is spending so much time visiting with? If they have the same objections you do, can you get them to stop enabling him? Ideally, when he stops by to chat, they'd be too busy to talk.

2. On the question of how to talk to your boss: Some of this depends on your relationship with your boss and what she's like. (Yes, I'm assigning genders at random.) If you have a good relationship with her and she's known to value directness over protocol, I'd just tell her straight out: "Hey, I'm not sure if it's appropriate to raise this, but I'm concerned about how often Bob tries to get me to take on his work. I'm happy to help when it's needed, but I see him chronically spending an enormous amount of time socializing rather than working, and I feel like he wouldn't need my help if he focused on work more. Can you give me advice about how to handle this?"

Notice that this is couched in terms of asking for her advice on how you should handle it, rather than you dumping it in her lap to handle. If she's a good boss, she's going to handle it herself anyway -- hopefully by paying more attention to how Bob is spending his time and addressing it with him if she sees that there's an issue. But by asking her advice, you make it less about "tattling" and more about seeking her guidance.

Of course, there's still an element of tattling in it. But tattling shouldn't always get a bad rap -- there are some things you should tell your manager about. Even the most perceptive manager won't see everything that goes on, and when someone is taking advantage of that, it's nice to be clued in.

Not every manager agrees with me on this, but personally, I appreciate it when a good employee gives me a discreet heads-up about something I might not have known about on my own. Of course, they need to realize that my take on it might differ from theirs, but as long as they're okay with that, I'm always grateful to be filled in on something that might be a problem.

Good luck, and please let us know how it goes.

what to do if you think you're about to get fired

Often, when someone is having serious performance issues and in danger of losing their job, they simply do...nothing. But if you're getting signals that your job may be in jeopardy, doing nothing is about the worst thing you can do. At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about some ways to take control of the situation and turn it into something more manageable. Please check it out, and as always please leave your own thoughts in the comments over there!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

can I keep my internal interview from my manager?

A reader writes:

I have been selected for an interview with a different department in the same building. Is there any way to keep my current supervisor from finding out about it? I'm fairly certain she'll make my current job even more of a hell if she finds out, and especially if I don't get the job and have to stay put a while longer. HR does not announce interview schedules so someone would either need to leak it to her or she would need to ask HR directly. Any advice?

This is tricky. In a lot of companies, she'd be almost guaranteed to find out. (In fact, in a lot of companies, policy would require that she be told.) And hearing from someone other than you that you're interviewing for other jobs in the same company is likely to go over less well than hearing it from you.

If you're really desperate to keep it from her, I'd say that you should mention to HR that you're concerned about a bad reaction from her if she finds out and ask for their assistance in keeping it confidential for now. Ask them point-blank if that's something they can do.

But prepare for the possibility that it may leak out regardless. Be ready with an explanation that will control any fall-out from her as best as you can -- it's an opportunity you can't resist, you love the company and love the idea of your career progression not taking you away from it (and by extension, also love her), blah blah blah.

On the other hand, maybe her reaction won't be what you fear. I've noticed people tend to be far, far more nervous about telling their boss they're leaving or thinking of leaving than they actually need to be. Unless your boss is crazy or totally unprofessional (both of which are possibilities, of course), she should handle the news like a grown-up.

Let us know how it goes!

how much does industry knowledge matter? (not at all)

When hiring, how much does knowledge of your industry matter? It's a nice bonus, but in most cases it shouldn't be a driving force behind your hiring decisions. But too often I see hiring managers over-valuing this sort of knowledge, and hiring the wrong candidates.

If you hire someone smart and motivated, they will learn your issue or industry. Hire for the things you can't teach, like intelligence, work ethic, communication skills, integrity, and whatever non-teachable skills the open position truly requires. It may take your new hire a little extra time to get up to speed, but once that happens, he or she will blow away that mediocre candidate whose main advantage would have been starting out with industry knowledge.

I've been thinking about this because I was recently talking to someone who was hesitant to hire a seemingly great candidate because the guy didn't have any knowledge of or experience in the area they work in, and the job -- sort of a spokesman/grassroots organizing role -- would require him to quickly learn the topic inside and out. He was nervous that the candidate wouldn't be able to learn the area thoroughly enough, largely because he'd made a similar hire last year and that candidate had never managed to master the topic.

He, like me, is all about having candidates do simulations or exercises related to the work they'd be doing on the job, so he was contemplating asking the candidate to cram to learn the topic and then do a mock question and answer session with him on it. I advised him against it, because no candidate is going to be able to learn a complex, nuanced topic in a day or two, and he'd be testing the wrong thing; it wouldn't provide a realistic feel for how well he would do after spending a month on the job learning the issue.

What my friend should have been looking to test for was a specific type of smarts: whether the candidate could learn a complicated issue and make a compelling, intelligent argument for it, whatever that issue is. So why not take an issue he already knows well (you could let him pick or maybe there's something obvious from his background) and have him debate that instead? This would give a much better feel for how his brain works on a subject he's comfortable and familiar with -- it would reveal whether he can make compelling arguments, respond logically, shoot down straw men, be persuasive without being a jerk, etc. If he can do that for one issue, it's reasonable to assume he can learn another issue and do the same thing.

It seems to me this leads to a good way to evaluate what will actually matter on the job, and avoid making hiring decisions based on factors that really will only matter for the first month or so. Assuming you're not hiring for a position that truly requires a particular knowledge set (like, say, a pharmacist or an engineer), smart people will learn what they need to know. Test for smarts and hire for smarts.

Alltop's new HR section

Hey, check out Alltop's new HR section. (And big thanks to Alltop for including me in it!) If you don't know Alltop yet, it's pretty cool -- they aggregate what they consider to be some of the top sites in a bunch of different categories, and display those site's five most recent headlines. It's a great way to find new sites in topics you're interested in.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

interviewing with a funder of current employer

A reader writes:

I have a job interview on Friday with a grant-making foundation. I currently work for a non-profit organization that is funded (in part) by this foundation and has a long-standing relationship with them.

While I enjoy the work that I currently do, and love the mission of the organization, the work environment has been incredibly unstable for many, many months due to a litany of financial issues. The organization is incredibly cash poor and we literally worry about where payroll will come from on a month to month basis. This has been an ongoing problem and is my primary consideration in my decision to explore other opportunities.

Because the foundation I am interviewing with funds my current employer, I am at a loss for how to respond to the inevitable question as to why I'm seeking a new job. Honesty - saying that there's been gross financial mismanagement and the organization is in a precarious position - could have dramatically negative consequences for my current employer in terms of future funding, which I would hate to see. But the truth is that this really is the single and biggest reason for my job search.

How can I be honest without damaging the reputation or the future of my current employer?

I think you can be honest about the fact that the organization is struggling financially without alleging financial mismanagement. Being concerned about the organization's financial stability is a legitimate (and smart) reason to be looking around at other jobs -- and you likely won't be telling the foundation anything it doesn't (or shouldn't) know. Assuming it's a major funder of your organization, it likely has some idea of the group's finances, although likely not the nuanced picture you have.

If the interviewer asks you for further details about the group's finances, you can simply say you don't know details (assuming you don't work in fundraising or accounting) but that you that know that the group, "like so many nonprofits," is struggling with money problems. This is a reasonable approach, since the interviewer shouldn't expect you to share dirty laundry about your current employer.

(Be aware, however, that if you end up working for this foundation, you'll have to figure out whether you have an ethical obligation to fill them in on the mismanagement at this organization, as it receives their funds. I would say to do so only if you are absolutely sure that your perceptions are correct, and that you have sufficient information to be confident in your conclusions.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

earning less than slacker coworker

A reader writes:

I have been working for my current company for five years now, and have moved up substantially over those years. I've been promoted at least four times, given more and more responsibility each time. I love my job, I feel as if there is limitless room for growth, and have become an essential/integral part of the company. My problem is, I believe I am being taken advantage of as far as salary is concerned.

Being sensitive to our company's size, financial constraints, budgets, etc. in the past, I have let it slide, not giving it too much thought based on the fact that I 1) really enjoy the work that I do and the company I do it for, 2) am lucky to have such a job in today's economy, 3) actually believed I was being compensated based on performance. However, in the past six months, especially after a recent performance review, I realized that I am definitely not being paid what I am worth and need to step up. (Speaking, of course, in comparison to co-workers within the same company, not related positions in the market.)

Here's where the problem lies: I started out at entry-level, basically data-entry. Soon after, I was requested to take a higher position. They brought on someone to fill the old position, nothing more. Due to excellent performance, I was soon again promoted to an entirely different department working as right hand to an executive. Neither time did I receive a pay increase to go along with these new responsibilities. To make it worse, the person hired to take over my first, data entry position, was hired at $6,000 more than I had been making... to do less than I, at this point, was currently doing.

And I let that slide for a while. Time goes by, I am handed even MORE responsibility, while said employee holds the same position, and nothing! Our annual salary increases are a flat percentage across the board, so at this stage in the game, they are still making more than me. They hold no regard for company hours, come in late, leave early, take off without prior permission, waste ridiculous amounts of company time on personal phone calls and personal emails (I have actually logged it!), cannot hold to deadlines and cannot handle many tasks without hand-holding. As well, they have to come to me for approvals/direction a good part of the time, so they are technically at a lower level on the food chain, albeit slightly.

Here's where it gets sticky: At my last performance review, I received the same 5 star evaluation, praise, and acknowledgment as years past, knowing I have earned every last drop of it. When it came down to my boss revealing the raise number, I expressed my frustration, and got this response: "If you feel that you aren't making what you are worth, you have to remember, it's because you started really low. It may take you a while to build up to that magic number."

The question: Is his response justified, knowing what the other person makes? What can I do/say to point out this fact, without becoming an annoyance? Can/should I state that I feel it isn't right that I am making far less than this person despite performance? I want to point out not only said employee's slacker attributes, but the fact that they started at the SAME level as me, yet make more than I do.... while still holding FAR LESS responsibility! I can not see any reason this is justified, and am at wits end every day when they stroll in an hour late and head straight to their personal email while I am working my back end off nine hours straight a day! Can you offer any advice, a plan of action, suggested research?

Depending on the typical practices of your company, you might have a pretty good change of getting this remedied ... but do NOT bring your coworker into it. It's absolutely frustrating to see someone doing a worse job than you and getting more money, but for better or for worse, managers do not respond well when employees use a coworker's salary as the basis for a raise request.

If it helps at all, keep in mind that there are lots of reasons why someone might have started at a higher salary than you did in the same job: one person negotiated better than another when hired, one 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, so don't get too hung up on that.

What you want to focus on is getting the pay that you deserve for the work you're doing now, totally independent of what your coworker makes. The argument you want to make to your boss is that your salary should be based on your current job, not on the one you started in. If they had hired you off the street for your current position rather than from within, they would have negotiated a salary with you from scratch, not based it off your old salary. Say this to your boss, and then say this: "I believe that my performance and my contributions warrant a higher salary. This company has been wonderful about rewarding my performance with increased responsibilities and increasingly responsible positions, but my salary does not reflect that. I am asking you to reevaluate my salary in the context of my current position, my performance, and the company's overall salary structure."

Will it work? Maybe. This company likes you. They have given you multiple promotions and excellent reviews. And it's not a crazy request. On the other hand, some companies are (a) stingy and short-sighted or (b) stymied by bureaucratic rules that make it impossible to go outside preordained salary structures. But it's worth a try, and there's nothing inappropriate about it.

Good luck, and please let us know how it goes!

boss hiring second person to do same job

A reader writes:

I work in an entry-level, dues-paying job. As could be expected, the experience I'm getting is great and will directly help my future career development, but the salary is very low. (I don't really have "disposable income," unless my student loan payments count.)

My boss just told me that she wants to hire a second person to do my job, to start in two months. She went to great pains to explain that it's not because my performance is unsatisfactory. She wants a second assistant partly in order to get more work done faster, and partly so that she doesn't have to start from scratch with a new assistant when I go back to school for an advanced degree (which will be in a year).

I can't argue with her second point, but there's a problem with the first point: there is really not enough work for two people to do. I stay on top of everything my boss gives me and have never finished anything late. I would be able to handle an increased workload, so I wondered if it'd be worth offering to take on whatever "more work" she has in mind in exchange for a raise. I think she'd jump at the chance to save money on hiring a whole new employee, but I have no idea how to frame the question without sounding like I'm desperate for more money or like I've been sitting around doing nothing the whole time I've worked for her. Really, I'm not sure if I should even mention such a crazy idea, since I'm in a boot-licking job with no direct advancement potential (normally in my field you'd work such a job for 2-4 years, then go to grad school, then return to work and actually be on the ladder). But I'd hate to see my boss hire a second assistant and then have both of us sitting around bored. What do you think?

First, the idea that she wants to hire a second person in two months so that she's not starting from scratch when you leave in a year is odd. This doesn't sound like a job that requires 10 months of training. So either she's not thinking this through very well, or something else is driving this.

If your boss wants to add a second person to get more done faster, you offering to take on extra work won't necessarily address that, since you presumably can't double your speed. But if she didn't really mean faster, and really just meant more, and you have the time to take on all or most of that more, then yes. But are you sure that you do? It's possible that she has entirely new projects in mind, work that isn't currently on your plate, and so the first thing to do is to find out specifically what she envisions this second person doing.

If it turns out she doesn't plan to add to the existing pile of work but just thinks two people would handle it better than one, and if you believe you can do it yourself, then sure, speak up. But here's the problem: If you tell her, "hey, I could do this all on my own," then it would be reasonable for her to expect you to, sans raise. It's reasonable to expect you to work to the best of your ability, without you tying it to a raise.

That said, if you're doing a great job now and can legitimately argue that taking on the additional work would raise your stress level or increase your hours in a way beyond what simply comes with the territory, then I think you can tie that to a raise request. Or you could ask for a title change or something else that would show increased responsibilities in a way that could benefit you when you're job-searching in the future.

Monday, August 11, 2008

you are high maintenance and full of yourself

A reader writes:

I was asked what my salary range was and researched and sent an email to my prospective employer. He sent me back an email stating that it was too high, so I sent him a email back just asking him what was an acceptable range. At that point, he sent me back three paragraphs bashing me, stating that I was high maintenance and full of myself. How do I respond to that email??

By telling him that you're sorry you couldn't term to terms and wishing him the best of luck and then running far, far away, and counting your blessings that you didn't end up working for him.

Even if you were off-base in your salary range, his response was totally unacceptable. Telling you that you're high maintenance and full of yourself?! If he treats a job candidate like this, imagine how he treats employees who ask for a raise. Seriously, you do not want to work for this man.

The proper response when a candidate names a range that the employer feels is too high is: "That's higher than the range we've budgeted for this position, which is ____, and which we settled on for the following reasons. Is our range prohibitive for you?"

This guy is an ass. Good riddance to him. And if you were inclined to post the full text of his email here, I think we would all enjoy seeing it.

7 signs your interview went well

So you've had your job interview, and, as you wait to hear from the company, you keep replaying the interview in your mind and wondering how you did. But is there any way to know until you get an offer or rejection? No signs are 100 percent foolproof, but over at U.S. News & World Report today, I offer seven indicators that the interview went well. Please check it out and offer up your own thoughts in the comments over there!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

regrets about turning down an offer

A reader writes:

In mid-June, I applied for a job with company A, and also one with company B at the end of June. Company B's interview process went much more quickly than A's, and B extended me an offer in late July. I turned down the offer because I felt I would've been happier at company A - much better rapport with the people I interviewed with, and a chance to gain experience in a new area - and thought my chances with company A were good.

Now it's 2 full weeks later and I have not heard back yet from company A. This is somewhat expected as the hiring person (the director of the program) seems to be very busy with her other responsibilities. After she extended me a second interview for example, it took about 2.5 weeks and a fair amount of follow up and persistence on my part before it was scheduled for mid-July.
She keeps giving me dates of when things are expected to happen. For example, they expected to make a decision by end of July, but those deadlines are never met, thus causing me to need to follow up constantly. I did let her know about my job offer (no response), and continue to express my interest in working with her organization. She has given me her work cell phone, office phone, and email contact info and I have made use of all 3, but its been very difficult getting a hold of her. I have not been told that the position has been filled or that I am not in the running.

At this point, I'm starting to worry and regret my decision to turn down the offer from company B. I not sure if I would've been happy there but having a job and having financial security looks great right about now and much more important than happiness and whatever else I was holding out for. I feel that the hiring person from company A is very genuine and that she is truly swamped with other responsibilities. At the same time, I feel very frustrated and foolish to an extent for continuing to wait on them and investing so much effort into following up.

What do you think about this process?
I have began searching for other openings already, and last week noticed that company B reposted the same position. I'm assuming that their second candidate did not work out either and am wondering if I should write to them and see if they'll re-extend the offer to me. What are the rules in regards to this? Truthfully, I am not sure if this would be the best environment for me especially in comparison to company A but I am at a point where I just want to be working already.

Juggling this sort of thing -- an offer from one company while you're waiting to hear from a different company you think you'd prefer -- is really tricky. My usual advice when that happens is to let the other company know that you've received an offer and ask them if there's a way to expedite their timeline, if they're interested in you. But you did this and got no response, so then what?

Here's what I can tell you, based on my own experience as a hiring manager. (As a disclaimer, the hiring manager at Company A may think entirely differently from me, so factor that in.) If a candidate is high on my list, I don't want to risk them accepting another offer. If a candidate who I was interested in told me that they had another job offer, there is zero chance that I would not get back to them. Generally, I would try to speed up our process, but if that weren't possible, I would at least explain to them what factors were holding things up on our side. So because she didn't respond to you, and continued not responding to your other attempts to contact her, unfortunately that indicates that it's likely that they're not seriously interested at this point, and you should move on. If they contact you at some point in the future, great. But don't make plans around it.

As for the position re-opening at Company B, you should consider this totally independently of the position at Company A. If you had never learned about the position at A, would the job at B interest you? If you don't believe the job at B is right for you, I'd keep looking. But if you think B could make you happy, absolutely call them up and tell them you'd like to re-submit yourself as a candidate for the position. Be prepared to explain what has changed since you turned down their offer and why you're now interested (it shouldn't just be "I need a job").

And of course, the lesson here is: Never, never, never count on a job offer until you actually have it in hand. Things change, other candidates come along, plans for the position evolve. Counting on an offer you don't yet have is the job equivalent of never making plans with your friends because you hope that cute boy might ask you out and you want to be free if he does ... but with much more serious repercussions.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

fear of abusive former boss giving reference

A reader writes:

Due to a very emotionally abusive work environment, I decided I could no longer wait for another offer (I had been trying for several months with no success), as my physical and mental health were imperiled, and quit my job. But now I face the very, very uncomfortable situation of potential employees wanting to contact my former employer (a perfectly reasonable request, but which is terrifying me at the moment).

I try to head this off at the pass by providing numerous references from distinguished people I have done work for, as well as listing on my resume all the awards I have won for my work and my substantive responsibilities and accomplishments. My work was extremely well thought of by my colleagues and other superiors at this place (a large university), as well as people I did outreach work with in the larger community, and I have references, if I need them, from more than a dozen people (including my former director before the current director I had so much difficulty with).

But the problem is none of these people will be the one a potential employer talks to; it will be with her.
If I check "no" in the box where an application asks "may we contact this employer?", it will look like I am hiding something or that I was somehow at fault for a situation gone sour (I did, in fact, make several mistakes in reaction to her behavior which I truly regret, and did my best to honestly confront and atone for, but it was really a no-win situation, no matter what). But if I say "yes" and they phone her, she will undo all the goodwill and good works I achieved in this position, which many, many people will vouch for.

I have since been doing some very interesting and rewarding freelance consulting in the meantime, but my clients aren't really traditional "employers," although I know they would say wonderful things about my work, too. So what can I do here? Can I legitimately put down these clients as "employers"? It just seems dishonest; the fact is I worked almost four years at the university (most of the time under the first director - but he has left), and if they call, it will be she they will talk to, no one else.

This director has continued, months after I have left, to malign me to my former employees and my colleagues in other departments (I remain close with many of them, and HR knows about this, as they have complained to them about her unprofessional and unstable behavior), gave me such an outrageous and slanderous performance evaluation that there was a formal, written protest to HR by my colleagues when word got out (one of my outraged employees overheard the whole evaluation and told people), and now there is a push to get her removed from her position (and not for her behavior towards me, believe me), but all that still doesn't help me. What do I do to address the question, "May we contact this employer?"

Okay, first, yes, you can absolutely list your freelance clients as employers. Just explain that you were freelancing and they hired you to do work for them.

On the bigger question of how to handle the "may we contact this employer?" question, say yes. Then do the following:

1. Contact your old employer's HR department. They presumably know the history. Explain that you are very concerned about what the director may say if called for a reference and that you are concerned about her standing in the way of you obtaining employment. The HR department is going to be familiar with the potential for legal problems here, and will probably speak to your old director.

2. Explain to prospective employers that you (and many others) had a personality conflict with this particular director, but that you can supply tons of other references who can speak glowingly of you, including your former boss for that same position, who was your boss for most of your time there. (And you should definitely track down that old director and use him as a reference; it will help counteract any concerns this raises.)

I actually think you are very well positioned to handle this smoothly. You have tons of other great references, you didn't work under this boss very long, you have an HR department at that employer that can probably handle this for you -- I think this is going to work out just fine for you.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

belligerent rejected candidates, part 3

Here's a conversation I had with a rejected job applicant today. He left me a voicemail inquiring about the status of his application, and I checked and saw that we had sent him an email two weeks ago to let him know that we would not be able to consider him for a position. Feeling bad for the guy, I broke my own "no rejections by phone" rule and called him back to tell him. Here's what happened:

Me: We sent you an email on July 22 to let you know that we wouldn't be able to further consider you. I'm sorry you didn't get it! Sometimes emails inadvertently end up in a spam folder, so you might check there.

Candidate: I don't have a spam folder.

Me: Well, I'm very sorry you didn't receive it. In any case, we'd certainly welcome an application from you in the future if we have other openings you're interested in.

Candidate: But I don't have a spam folder. So where is the email?

Me: I'm not sure. I'm looking at a copy of the email right now, and it went to (redacted) email address.

Candidate: That's my email address, but I don't have it.

Me: I'm not sure what happened. I have a copy of the email here, so I know it was sent on our side. In any case, I'm sorry we weren't able to move you to an interview.

Candidate: So you're not considering me for any positions?

Me: No, I'm sorry, we're not.

Candidate: Whatever. (Hangs up.)

Lovely. So I'm thinking, well, at least our screening process works and we rejected this guy right off the bat.

Two minutes later, my phone rings again. It's him.

Me: Hello?

Candidate: Is this because I listed (name redacted) as a reference?

Me: I'm not sure what you mean.

Candidate: I listed (name redacted) as a reference and then he told me that there's bad blood between him and your organization.

Me: No, it's nothing like that. We have a very competitive hiring process and generally have many well-qualified candidates to choose from. We only interview the top few who are the best matched with the position.

Candidate: So you're really not going to interview me?

Me: No, I'm sorry.

Candidate: (Hangs up on me again.)

Seriously, what is wrong with people?

See also: Job rejections and vitriol and Job rejections and vitriol, part 2

50 days, 4 interviews, a consultancy offer, and a missing contract

A reader writes:

I’m a consultant and I have been looking to join a larger consultancy. In hunting around, I found one... on its face, the organization seems to be perfect. My personal philosophy meshes well with their stated philosophy, etc.

I sent off an unsolicited e-mail, asking if they needed someone like me. Their CEO responded in 3 days. Over the course of the next two days, I talked extensively with the first interviewer. By day 7, I’d spoken with him at length and he passed me onto another interviewer.

Three days later (day 10), the second interviewer got in touch... We went on to speak that day. They also asked me to fill out two “team” psychological/personality inventories. I completed them that afternoon.

Five days after that (day 15), the first interviewer e-mailed to say that he wanted me to talk with two others on their team and to scheduled the next interview. Three days later (day 18), that interview was scheduled for the following afternoon.

Day 19 was interview three. It also went well. I didn’t want another long delay, so I e-mailed the first interviewer to tell him things went well. Four days later (day 23) I got a response saying that that was great... and that I now needed to talk with interviewer four.

At this point (day 24), I e-mailed the CEO again, as he had asked me to keep him abreast of how things were progressing. I told him that this was a gauntlet interview process. He e-mailed back to say that I’d not seen anything yet... that interviewer four was killer.

Interview four happened on day 28... and I received an e-mail on day 29 responding to my latest thank you with notice that they were going to start checking references.

On day 35, I sent a note to interviewer four, making sure that things were progressing well and that they were getting the info they needed from my references (I knew that they’d been talking with my references as I was getting feedback from the references after each call).

Nine days later (day 44), I finally talk with the CEO. He is interested.... but now wants to hire me as a consultant for the first few months to “try before he buys” me as a full-time employee. I tentatively agree, stating that I’m really on the market for full time work... but that as long as we were moving forward towards full time employment, I would be happy to work for him.

He seemed pleased and told me that he’d have someone on his staff get me a contracting agreement via e-mail to get us going.

One day later (day 45), and I received an e-mail from that staffer asking for my contact details to fill in on the template agreement. I responded almost immediately. I didn’t get anything back by the end of that day, so I e-mailed to make sure he received my info. On day 46, he wrote to say that he’d been having e-mail difficulties... that he now had my info (I had to resend) and that he’d be preparing the agreement.

It’s now 5 days after that (day 50) and I’ve not yet received the document.

Quite frankly, at this point, I’m more than a little frustrated. I obviously have continued to look for employment (thank god I didn’t stop when I had the first great conversation almost 2 months ago)... but this seems a little excessive. I don’t want to get snippy and send off an e-mail I might later regret. I’m looking for an outsider’s perspective on timing and pacing to know whether I’m being unreasonable in thinking that they’re REALLLLLLLLLLY slow.

I have a couple of thoughts and none of them are all that conclusive:

1. On one hand, they're not being all that slow in terms of response time. You got an initial response to your resume in three days and an extensive first interview within one week.

2. On the other hand, they appear to have 72 steps to their interviewing process. I'm actually all for being thorough, but I do think that when you have an extensive process like this, you should tell the candidate what the process will be at the start. You shouldn't have been left in the dark on that.

3. The "try before you buy" thing irks me for the same reason. This should have come up earlier. I might consider asking them, "Is this typical or is there something about my candidacy that has you less certain than usual?" The answer might be interesting.

4. All that aside though, the only thing that really bothers me about the timeline itself is what has happened at the end -- the delay in getting you the contract. I would contact them and ask for an ETA and explain that if you're going to accept the position, you need to begin wrapping up other commitments, and imply that you're not able to stop your job search until that contract is signed.

There could be a perfectly innocent explanation -- the guy preparing the contract has been out sick, swamped with other work, or whatever. But they owe you a status update, at least. If you can't get that out of them, something smells bad. But at this point, I wouldn't draw any conclusions just yet -- just keep sniffing around and remain skeptical.

Monday, August 4, 2008

5 bad pieces of career advice

I'm sometimes unnerved by some of the bad career advice that gets repeated over and over in job-hunting guides and career columns. At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about five particularly bad pieces of advice that I cringe every time I see. Head on over and leave your own additions in the comments.

Friday, August 1, 2008

fired worker badmouthing company to current employees

A reader writes:

How would you deal with a terminated employee who keeps calling active employees here on the job to speak badly about HR? It is sadly at the point where she is making things up and defaming the abilities of the HR team by spreading rumors. Any advice?

I would probably do nothing.

If you try to prevent her from reaching your employees, you'll look heavy-handed and like you have something to hide. It will actually add credence to her story, which is the opposite of what you want.

Let her rant. You'll be taking the high road, many employees are going to be annoyed by her, and she'll end up discrediting herself in the eyes of a lot of people. Who wants to be called at work by a former coworker who wants to complain about HR? Most people are going to think she should move on.

But here are two subpoints to consider:

1. If there's any grain of truth to what she's saying, make sure you do consider whatever her beef is and decide if you should be doing anything differently. Don't discount her points just because of the way she's handling herself.

2. If you feel you have to do something, you could make your managers aware of your side of the story so they can combat any rumors among their own staff. One of the really annoying things about terminations is sometimes you'll get an employee who complains loudly about being "unfairly" treated, telling coworkers the firing came out of nowhere and had no grounds, while you know her performance was abysmal and she was given numerous warnings and chances to improve. Since very few people tell their coworkers, "Wow, I'm really doing a bad job" or "I did get three warnings before they let me go," the fired person's coworkers often have no idea that the firing was handled fairly and was for good cause ... and because of privacy concerns, the manager usually isn't going to announce the details, so coworkers often hear just one, twisted side of the story. One way to combat this is to fill your managers in on the other side, and then figure they'll at least be able to give others the sense that there's another side of the story.

But really, I'd probably advise doing nothing. If your remaining employees know the company to be fair, that personal experience is going to carry more weight than the rantings of one disgruntled former employee.