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Monday, December 29, 2008

5 little things that annoy interviewers

Showing up really early for an interview isn't a deal breaker, but it can be annoying. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about five little things that irritate -- but don't necessarily kill your chances with -- interviewers. Check it out here.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

dealing with an annoying coworker

A reader writes:

My boss is my father, and I've worked for him for 4 ½ years. We work in small office with two other employees who work for him. I get along really well with one of them, "Dave"; he's worked with us for about 2 years now. The second of my coworkers, "Kelly," was just hired at the end of this summer. At first it seemed like Kelly and I would get along well, but now it's a completely different story. I don't need to be friends with her, but it's difficult just to even work with her, without going mad.

Kelly is very rude socially. It is clear she doesn't want to be left out of anything. She frequently interrupts conversations I am engaged in with either my father or Dave, and then starts her own conversation. She also regularly interjects her own commentary into conversations she is not involved in. Today, Kelly even commented to me about a matter that I had discussed with Dave, not Kelly, but she was within earshot of hearing about. She will even answer questions that are not directed at her or meant for her to answer. Moreover, Kelly seems to think of herself as an expert on every subject, even if she has little or no background knowledge. Because of all these behaviors, I am constantly biting my tongue around her, but I always end up boiling over on the inside.

I have expressed my frustrations to my father, and while he understands, he has a hard time with confrontation (as do I). He does not want to hurt Kelly's feelings or make her feel badly. She and I are often times the only people in the office for a portion of the day. I would just like her to know how her behavior is negatively affecting me in our very small office. I doubt Kelly is doing these things on purpose. I think (hope) she is just oblivious instead, but she really is driving me crazy. How should I handle it?

First, realize that you will often work with people who you simply don't really like that much. That's the reality of work life. It's highly unlikely that you'll ever find yourself in an office where you aren't irritated by someone in some way.

Next, you are in a small office, which means that everyone's personality traits are magnified. With so few people there, each person takes on a disproportionate influence; everyone's individual traits have far more of an impact than they would in a larger office. It's the nature of a small office.

Furthermore, with only four people, Kelly may not consider what she's doing to be interrupting or eavesdropping. If half the office or three-quarters of the office is discussing something, it even may be reasonable for her to assume it's a conversation open to all.

In any case, you have two basic options: You can be direct with Kelly about her behaviors that bother you, or you can resign yourself to living with them. If you choose to be direct, it means that when Kelly interrupts a conversation she's not a part of, you call her on it: "Actually, Kelly, I wanted to hear what Dave thinks of this." But keep in mind that in this size office, objecting to her participating in the conversation may be rude itself. (Plus, as the boss' daughter, you want to be sensitive to how that might affect the perceived weight of the words.)

Your best bet might be to simply see Kelly's behavior as amusing, rather than infuriating. My sister always advises me, when visiting annoying relatives, to pretend to be one of the many long-suffering characters in Jane Austen novels who have to be pleasant to and patient with irritating relations. It's remarkably effective; it reframes things in a much more amusing (and bearable) context. If you're not a Jane Austen fan, pretend you're on a sitcom and she's the Andy Bernard of the show. This advice is good for all areas of life.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

calling to follow up after applying for a job

A reader writes:

Thanks in advance for your help. I have been applying online for jobs with no success. I never hear back although I am sure to be qualified for the positions I am applying for.

My question is: Is it poor etiquette to call the local company and speak to a manager regarding the position or should I wait for a recruiter to call me? I don't want to jeopardize my chances of an interview by being presumptuous.

It's fine to call -- once. What you don't want to do is harass them, but one phone call a few days or a week after you submit your application is fine. It might sound something like this: "I submitted my application for your __ position last week, and I just wanted to make sure my materials were received. I also want to reiterate my interest in the position; I think it might be a great match, and I'd love to talk with you about it when you're ready to begin scheduling interviews."

Something like that -- short and sweet -- is fine. What's not fine is something that some job-hunting guides advise: saying that you're calling "to schedule an interview." You don't get to decide to schedule the interview; they do, and it's presumptuous, not "good salesmanship" or whatever those books claim, to pretend otherwise. Someone out there is also advising people to say things like that in their cover letter, which is leading to lots of closing lines like, "I will call you in a week to schedule a time to talk." Ick.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

new boss ignoring traditional schedule

A reader writes:

I work at a company where the company handbook clearly states that the office hours are 9am to 5pm. We do not offer flex-time and everyone in the group works a straight 9am to 5pm.

Recently, we got a new senior manager (not our direct boss but rather the boss's boss) who is quite a micro-manager and who has decided that from now on every Monday for the next year that she is going to come over to our group (she works in a different building) to hold a staff meeting from 3:30pm to 5:30pm.

She is an Executive Vice President and a complete power hungry control freak and she is purposely scheduling the meeting to end after office hours to make some sort of point --- seeing as though she never goes home, has no family, and lives to work.

My issue is such: I have a daycare situation where I MUST leave at 5:20pm each day and not one minute later in order to pick up my daughter in daycare on time since the daycare closes and that is the latest I can leave in order to get there on time.

The problem is that I am being made to feel as though I am a poor performer because I can not do the meeting when in fact this meeting is not one of urgent nature (it's actually a boring, inefficient drawn out waste of time to be honest) --- but rather just a power-tripping micromanager who likes to abuse her power by making her subordinents listen to her every word.

Do I have a leg to stand on if I bring this up to HR? It clearly states in our handbook that the office hours are 9am to 5pm but not sure if that is any argument that is winable. It always seems that the employee never wins.

How do you know that she's purposely scheduling the meeting to end after your regular hours in order to make a point? Is it possible that you're projecting an agenda on to her that isn't actually there? You note that she works longer hours than most, so it's possible that she doesn't realize the impact of her meeting time.

Rather than approach this with the assumption that she is "a complete power hungry control freak" who "has no family, and lives to work" -- a charge rarely leveled against men in the same circumstances, by the way -- you'll likely have better luck if you drop the anger and assume that there's no evil motivation here.

Instead, talk to your boss and explain that this meeting is impacting your daycare situation and ask if there's a reason this meeting must be scheduled at that particular time. Ask if she can intervene with the senior manager to have it rescheduled to start half an hour earlier.

And really, do what you can to drop the animosity toward this senior manager. It's not going to take you anywhere good.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

fired, resigned, or let go?

A reader writes:

I am not sure if I was fired or let go. "My services were no longer needed." After 8 years, they decided to add to my position the duties of company driving in my own vehicle. I was not hired needing a car. I told them I would be glad to fulfill the new duties if they provided a car since mine had high mileage and was unreliable. They told me I had no choice.

I also checked into my insurance and my premiums would have gone up by a third, causing me hardship. They offered what the government gives for mileage and no more.

They asked me if I would change my mind, and I didn't, so they let me go. They did give me two weeks severance pay. Then the HR manager told the board that I quit. I was never written up in the 8 years I was employed and my last pay review was "exceeds expectations."

How to I explain to future employers when they ask me if I was fired?

You weren't fired. And despite what the HR manager is saying, at no point did you quit either. And they're well aware of this, as your severance pay shows -- companies don't give severance to employees who quit.

Let's get clear on our definitions: Fired means you were terminated for cause. Laid-off means that your position was eliminated. Let go can mean either of the two. Resigned means that you voluntarily chose to leave your job.

In your case, they changed the essential duties of your job. I suppose they could try to argue that you effectively quit when you refused to agree to their new terms, but this would be BS, since their terms were significantly different than previously and would have been to your detriment. I think what they did was closest to a layoff. (And you should be entitled to unemployment compensation and so forth -- but you won't get it if they say you quit, so don't buy into their wording.)

I know there's a legal term for what they did and it's escaping me. Anyone?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

asking for a raise during layoffs

A reader writes:

I work in the home building industry and well, you know what's going on in that market right now! The admin assistant was let go because my company can't afford to pay her anymore. I am a very efficient worker and so I am now doing my jobs (I already wear many hats in the company -- AP/AR clerk, operations assistant, website management, and Green EnergyKey Program Director) as well as hers!

They told me there is no guarantee that they will be able to keep me, although we are closing a good number of houses lately and this directly affects my probability of staying. I feel that now is the time for a raise if there ever was one. I am very stressed and working much faster than usual, to the point of being in a frenzy at times. There is so much to do that it doesn't all get done. Can I and should I ask for a raise?

Probably not. Your company is laying people off and already told you that they might have to lay you off too. They're looking for ways to cut costs, not increase them. Unfortunately, they reality of the job market right now is that so many people are out of work that they could probably hire someone for less than what they're paying you to do everything you're doing. (Whether they would be able to keep that person once the market picks up is a different question.)

There's an argument to be made that there's no harm in asking, but there actually is a risk, no matter how small, that they might be frustrated that you don't understand the financial situation they're in, and that that could make them more inclined to add you to their layoff list. I'm not saying that's fair or reasonable, but I don't want to advise you to do something that could jeopardize your job in this economy. This is just a really bad time, and my general advice is that those of us with jobs should hunker down and ride it out.

Anyone have a different opinion?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yahoo!'s leaked layoff memo

Check out this leaked copy of the instructions Yahoo! sent to managers for conducting their 1,500 layoffs last week (courtesy of Valleywag).

There's much to cringe at here, but I think the worst is this: "Yahoo! will not ask for reimbursement from the employee on any repayment obligations (relocation, sign-on bonus), provided the employee signs the Supplemental Release."

So apparently if someone chooses not to sign the release (which, for those who haven't had the lovely experience of dealing with layoffs, is a form releasing the company from any legal claims, generally required to be signed before severance pay is released), they'd need to repay relocation expenses? After getting laid off. Lovely.

I'm (sometimes) sympathetic to businesses that need to conduct layoffs. It sucks, and sometimes it's unavoidable. But it's probably the most important time to go out of your way not to be an ass. Yahoo! forgot.

how to write a perfect cover letter

I love cover letters. And yet few candidates are willing to indulge my love with a well-written, customized cover letter. Some of this is a belief that it doesn't matter (shameful!), but some of this is that people genuinely aren't sure how to construct a good one.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I give some tips on writing an awesome cover letter. Read, comment, spread the word to job-seekers you know.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

where does mentoring pay off the most?

I've written before about how much I like informally mentoring people, and it's generally an instinct that kicks in when I spot someone of a particular profile: young/relatively new to the work world, smart, motivated, and promising but inexperienced. And it seems obvious why -- their talents seem worth investing the time to give them some extra guidance and attention, to help them really flourish. And often they don't yet know that there's something special about them, and it's rewarding to help them spot and harness it.

But it occurs to me to wonder if it wouldn't actually be better to apply that kind of time and attention to a different type of person instead -- the struggling rather than the obviously promising.

Do we seek out those with star potential because they'll benefit the most from our help -- or is it possible that it's actually less about that and more because we like to see ourselves in them, or that it's so gratifying to watch them blossom and feel we played a role in their success? Maybe we'd actually have a more significant impact if we made that kind of time investment with someone who doesn't have obvious star potential, someone who doesn't appear to be a natural candidate for grooming.

After all, the clearly promising ones are more likely to find their way regardless of our help, although perhaps our help gets them there faster or more smoothly. It's the not-so-obvious candidates where mentoring and extra attention might really make the decisive difference.

I suspect this isn't a novel thought at all to many people, but it was a semi-epiphany for me.

Monday, December 8, 2008

resigning without 2 weeks notice

A reader writes:

Six months ago I was laid off from my job where I was a salaried employee with benefits. Since then, I have found employment freelancing for a media company where I am paid hourly with no benefits. The people in my position do not have a contract or a set schedule so you never know if you will be working a 2 hour shift or a 20 hour shift. Frequently we receive day-of notice that there is no work for us that day. If I were working 40+ hours a week, I wouldn’t mind so much, but lately, the work has slowed down to a point where in the past month I have been working 4, 8, 12 hour weeks.

I have expressed my concern to my boss about work being so slow lately. She keeps telling me that it will pick up, but things keep falling through (due to reasons beyond her control). She assures me that it will pick up in January. I love my boss. She took a chance on me when a lot of people didn’t and I have learned so much from her, which is why I don’t want to burn this bridge.

I am considering moving back home which is in another part of the country in order to save money. But with the holidays approaching (and my company being closed for nearly 2 weeks around Christmas and New Years) and the current economy, I can’t hold out much longer. I would like to cut my losses while I still can. Is there ever a situation where it is acceptable to give less than 2 weeks notice? And if so, how do I quit on good terms so that I can work for this company again in the future?

This is one of the few situations where it might be okay to quit with less than two weeks notice -- because your company is giving you little work and little notice of what your work (and thus your pay) will be like day to day.

I recommend simply talking to your boss. If you've made up your mind to leave and it's just a question of timing, just tell her that your finances have made it impossible to stay. Ask for her guidance on the question of whether you could leave with only a week (or less) of notice and whether it would be a problem or not. With the company about to close for the holidays and work so light, it might be a non-issue to them. Just ask.

And if she tells you that they really need the two weeks notice and can't be flexible, then you can figure out from there how much of a hardship it would be to you to give it. If she makes it clear that two weeks is expected no matter what, and you really can't give it without significant hardship, then just be really apologetic, even mortified, and explain that there's been so little work that you're now in dire financial straits and need to take this opportunity while it's in front of you. Sounding genuinely sorry often makes people want to cut you some slack.

Good luck!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

crazy, shouting, crying, bullying boss

A reader writes:

I am a working for a 69-year-old woman (owner of a small company) who feels threatened by me. She is highly insecure, and though I have been kind to her, she consistently tries to bully and manipulate me into confrontational (and totally irrational) conversations. The partner in the office noticed her feeling threatened and thinks she is trying to get me to leave. I have only been with the company 5 months and have had great successes with the partner in the short time I have been there. The partner gave me a raise after 3 months.

It seemed to have escalated after I witnessed her and the partner having a shouting match and her in tears. She cries a lot, takes everything personally, shared too much personal information with me, badmouthed the partner to me, all in spite of my asking her to respect those boundaries several times.

How can I handle a crazy boss and maintain my cool? Everyone seems to walk on eggshells around her or roll their eyes. I would love your insight on how to handle this.

There aren't a ton of good options. My first piece of advice is probably the hardest to swallow, and it's this: It's her company; she's the owner. This means that she's entitled to be as crappy of a boss as she wants (and it sounds like she's a pretty crappy one), if that's the sort of business she wants to run. But you are also entitled to choose not to accept those conditions and go elsewhere.

People who bully and manipulate and generally behave like asses are highly unlikely to change, especially with no one above them to insist upon it.

Of course, in this economy, it may be harder to just walk away than at other times. So if you can't leave quickly, the following may help:

* Ask the partner who likes you for advice on handling the situation.

* Ask the owner herself for feedback and things she'd like to see you do differently. If nothing else, you might get some insight into her thinking, which is useful even if her thinking is utterly insane.

* Accept you have a crazy boss and that you need to play along until you can put the real solution into action, which is to leave. Sometimes simply accepting it and realizing that you won't get anywhere by struggling against it can actually make situations like this more tolerable. But it's an unhealthy environment to be in for a long time, which is why ultimately, you probably should plan to find a boss who doesn't cry and bully people.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

6 ways managers mess up performance evaluations

Performance evaluations inspire a special sort of dread—not just among employees but also for the managers who have to write them. Over at U.S. News & World Report yesterday, I wrote about six mistakes managers commonly make in the process. Please check it out here!