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Thursday, April 30, 2009

don't mention your "affluent family" in your cover letter

Seriously, it's really not relevant that you come from an "affluent political family." Why is it in your cover letter?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

too young/immature for a promotion?

A reader writes:

I'm young (19) and work for a video store chain. My store manager has told me she thinks I'm too young and too "emotionally immature" to become a manager. I'm not sure what to think of that. She's said some seriously inappropriate things to me in the past, such as berating me about my lack of religious beliefs and the like.

I'm not sure what to think. I'd really like to become management, I'm more than ready for it performance-wise, I've shown that left right and sideways. She's actually going to hire outside the company and train them from the ground up to be a manager (which is very rare in our company, which promotes within, very very few managers are hired from outside) as opposed to promoting me.

I hate to constantly put her down, but everyone saw it coming, because she's the kind of person who would put the store in a bad place just to be cruel/make a point. I know it'd be better for me to NOT seek anything UNDER her management, but I'm trying to make due with what I've got.

I figured I'd ask what you thought of the situation, and let me know: Is it ageism? Cruelty? Just a wish to keep someone from moving up?

There are a few possibilities:

1. The problem is her. She's not a good manager, has an unwarranted personal issue with you, and/or believes age matters more than abilities.

2. The problem is you. Maybe you are too "emotionally immature" for the promotion, although that kind of explanation is unhelpful in the extreme -- if there are real issues here, she needs to explain to you exactly what behaviors are problematic and what you should change, not just slap a vague label like that on you.

3. Some combination of the above. In fact, if the answer is indeed #2, she still sucks as a manager for not providing you with better feedback.

Now, you're pretty sure that it's not #2. But keep in mind that when an employee is part of the problem, they very often don't see it -- especially when there's a crappy manager around who it's easy to attribute everything to. So keep an open mind about whether she might have any sort of valid point underneath her crappiness.

So how to proceed? Talk to your manager. Drop any defensiveness (I'm not saying you have any, but many people would in this situation ... and if you do, getting rid of it before this conversation will increase your chances of a good outcome here). Tell her that you really want to move up in the company, if not immediately then in the future, and that you'd like her help and advice on figuring out what you need to do to lay the groundwork for that to happen. Ask her to give you candid feedback on how you can begin preparing yourself for eventual increased responsibility.

If she gives you vague, unhelpful answers like "emotionally immature," ask her to help you understand what that means with specific examples. If she just tells you that you're too young, ask her to help you understand how that affects your work performance so that you can work on whatever the obstacle is.

A key point: Be truly open to hearing what she has to say. Don't write her off just yet, no matter how tempted you may be to do so. Even if she's a terrible communicator (which seems pretty likely), it's possible she actually does have useful input to give you. And even if you end up deciding it's not useful, it's still helpful for you to know what she's thinking, so you can make your decisions with fuller information.

Of course, you do have another option, one I probably don't recommend: You could go over her head to your regional manager or whatever system the company has set up for that sort of thing, to explain that you haven't been able to get useful feedback from your manager. But that can potentially backfire on you, so you'd want to proceed very, very carefully with something like that.

By the way, a side note: Berating you about religion is a huge problem -- depending on the specifics, it's probably illegal (there are laws against religious discrimination in the workplace). She apparently doesn't realize that and it would be reasonable to point it out, either to her or someone above her. But again, proceed with some diplomacy on that one.

Good luck!

Monday, April 27, 2009

why you didn't get hired

The job looked perfect for you. The description matched your experience and skills so perfectly, you could almost visualize yourself at your new desk. But now you're staring at a rejection E-mail and can't figure out what happened.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I lay out some of the most common reasons you might not have been chosen for a job, no matter how qualified you felt you were. Check it out.

Friday, April 24, 2009

4 questions with Ask a Manager

Check it out. It's four questions with me, over at William Tincup's JPIE blog.

can volunteering lead to a job offer?

A reader writes:

I've just starting reading your blog (obsessively) and completely love it. I'm about to graduate, completely terrified, and the advice you provide has made me feel infinitely more confident that I might not end up living in a cardboard box clutching my Bachelor's Degrees and sobbing into my UMass sweatshirt.

My question is this: There's a non-profit company in Boston that I really would love to work for. Their mission is in line with my own passions, I think that working for them would make my work feel truly valuable, and there are a lot of things that I could do there that I think I would enjoy. As a new grad however, I don't know that I have the experience to get hired for them, but I do have the option of volunteering. They have a lot of positions for volunteering, including some office positions to help with things like mailings and filing. I feel as though that might be an excellent way to get a foot in the door; I could meet people at the company and prove my enthusiasm and work ethic first hand. However, I worry that this is pointless either because volunteers are never really considered for paying positions, or because it might even be seen as underhanded because essentially I would be volunteering my time with an ulterior motive.

What do you think? Should I forget it entirely? Give it a chance but be upfront about hoping to land a job? Just go be the best volunteer they've ever had until they're begging to hire me? I should note that I completely understand that volunteering would in no way entitle me to a job, and I would be happy to give my time to a great company even if it didn't work out as I hoped.

Thank you so much for doing what you do! It really makes a difference. Reading your blog makes me feel that I might have a shot at getting to show someone what I am capable of. It's so frustrating to know that on paper you are someone that will just be tossed in the trash, and your advice gives me hope that I might be able to get someone to take a second look. Thank you.

I normally edit out compliments out of some weird sense of ... propriety? But what the hell -- these are so nice that I left them in. I enjoy lavish praise.

Absolutely you should volunteer! And you should tell them that you're hoping to be considered for a paying job at some point. People do this all the time; it's completely normal and you will not look underhanded in the least. To the contrary, they'll welcome this evidence of your engagement in their work.

If you want to work for a particular nonprofit, volunteering is a great, great way to get a foot in the door. You get to meet inside players and form relationships, get early leads on upcoming openings, and you get to demonstrate that you are reliable, talented, organized, efficient, skilled, and all the other things people look for in new hires.

Here's the most important part: By volunteering, you become a known quantity. If I have a candidate who's qualified for a job and she's a known quantity -- meaning that I know from direct experience with her that she's reliable, competent, sane, etc. -- I will almost always go with the known quantity over a marginally more qualified candidate who is a stranger to me. The reason for this is that you simply can never get to know someone as well in interviews as you can by actually working with them. The candidate who seems great in interviews can end up being flaky, disorganized, difficult to work with, all sorts of problematic things that someone can manage to hide during the hiring process. But someone you've actually worked with? You know what you're getting. And volunteering lets you become that known quantity.

(Of course, you have to be a good known quantity. That means you should treat your volunteer work as seriously as you would a paying job.)

By the way, I got one of my first jobs by volunteering. I'd been volunteering in a nonprofit's office for a few months when someone suddenly quit. They knew me and my work, and they plugged me right into the position without ever advertising it. In fact, that job led me on the path that put me in the job that I'm in today.

Go for it. Worst case scenario is that you don't end up being offered a paying job there but you've spent time helping a charity you feel good about, you've made new contacts, and you have additional work to put on your resume (because yes, volunteer work should absolutely go on your resume). Good luck!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

rejecting candidates because of their neighborhood

A reader writes:

During a workshop I attended, an employment counselor mentioned that some candidates can be rejected simply because of their zip code. Apparently, some hiring managers will screen out applications when residences are in zip codes implicating problems, such as being chronically late for work. Is this something you've been aware of?

Not only am I not aware of it, but it would almost certainly raise legal issues if the neighborhoods being screened out happened to have predominantly minorities living there. But legal issues aside, it's obviously a terrible idea.

In fact, this is such a bad idea (and as far as I know, not a normal practice) that I can only conclude that the "employment counselor" at this workshop didn't know what the hell he or she was talking about. I'd love to know what else she told you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

phone interviews: the sanity check

I don't know how I didn't know about Rands in Repose until just now, but somehow I didn't. Go read the Sanity Check, his brilliant essay on phone interviews!

Monday, April 20, 2009

what makes a hiring manager fall in love?

In this economy, most hiring managers are flooded with well-qualified candidates for any job they post. When I'm faced with an overload of qualified candidates, there are some little things that can make me fall in love with one candidate in particular.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I explain what those things are. Please check it out!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

turnover and morale during a recession

A reader writes:

Like most companies today, we have recently gone through a series of layoffs, budget freezes, cost-containment measures, low morale, and just plain difficult times. We have traditionally been a company that has overflowed with abundance, and our employees are finding it extremely difficult to cope with the complete turnaround to a company that is now struggling. We are seeing some turnover from those employees who "survived" the layoffs, while other employees who have remained with us are simply "putting in their time" with no passion or enjoyment of their job. This is not a fault in the employees, but rather a result of the economic times.

What measures are your company, and other companies taking to try and stem turnover and improve morale during a time when most budgets are "frozen"? That is, how can we work on improving our morale and reducing our turnover without spending money? Communication obviously is key, but I would be interested in what other companies are doing.

I'm interested in hearing others' opinions on this too, including what has and hasn't worked at their own companies.

I tend to believe that the most important thing in a situation like this is to be open and candid. Too often, companies try to hold information close and not let it get out -- but then either (a) employees can tell that they're in the dark and that alarms them, or (b) information gets out anyway, through unofficial channels, and it gets mangled in the telling and/or it comes without the sense of perspective that could have been attached had it come out more openly.

If you're open and candid with employees about the company's situation, worries, and future plans, most people feel more a part of the company, that you're all in it together. You get people offering suggestions and feeling and acting personally invested. Not everyone, of course. But many.

Similarly, I think people get it when you say, "We're not doing salary increases this year because we're focused on protecting everyone's job stability right now. We're going to take care of you with raises once we can do it safely."

Yes, some people may jump ship if they hear bad news -- but I'd rather be honest with someone and let them make the decision they feel is right for them based on accurate information than not. And really, in this economy, most people are worried there's bad news whether they're hearing it from you or not.

Aside from that, I think the most important things at a time like this are the things that are important all along but which plenty of us don't get right -- making sure people feel valued, get recognized for good work, are getting useful feedback, have clear goals, have the resources they need to do their jobs, and so forth.

That's a boring answer though. I know the alternatives might be things like creative recognition programs or new free benefits, but I really think the above is what ultimately makes people feel as secure as anyone can right now and makes them want to stay.

What do others think?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

don't mention your MENSA membership

Don't mention in your cover letter or resume that you're a MENSA member.

Just ... don't.

A candidate just told me that although she's unable to use the program that is a critical component of the job, she's sure she could do the job well anyway, and she added in parentheses: "(I am a member of MENSA)"

It's not convincing, and it's a little obnoxious.

(As an interesting side note, the qualifications for MENSA aren't even all that high, but that's so not the point.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

applying for a promotion vs. going to graduate school

A reader writes:

I work for a large non-profit, and absolutely love my job. My boss is leaving soon, and her position will be available. I have been at my job for a year, and could apply. As much as I love what I do now, I'm ready to learn new skills and am eager to move up the ladder. My performance reviews have been positive and I have a solid relationship with everyone in my department. A coworker recently confided in me that she is applying for our boss' job. I do not want to cause conflict in my workplace, nor do I want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. We all work very closely together. My coworker is more qualified than I am because she has an advanced degree, yet I have a better relationship with our boss' boss. Should I still apply for the job? If I don't get it, how much negative impact could it have on my relationship with my coworker (who would be my new boss)? If I stay in my current position, there is no possibility of a raise or much change in what I do.

An additional factor complicates my decision: I have been accepted to graduate school in another state, but cannot afford to go at this point. The degree I'd have would allow me many more opportunities in my field, but I could not work here and attend school simultaneously. I will likely not hear about financial aid until after my boss leaves and the hiring decision has been made. I have informed my boss and coworkers of this situation. I have the opportunity to defer my admission to the graduate school. Should I accept having debt, or stay another year in my job to save up?

I know I don't have a bad hand, but I'm struggling with what to do. Any advice you have to offer is very much appreciated.

If you think you want your boss' job, you should apply. However, be prepared for your employer to tell you that they can't consider you for it unless you're planning to put off grad school for longer than a year. They're probably not going to want to move you into a new position with management responsibilities if you're going to leave a year later -- there's going to be a learning curve and you're not going to really hit your stride in any new job for six months or so, so it wouldn't make sense for them to train you if you're going to leave so quickly. So you'll likely need to choose between this job or grad school for the time being.

How do you choose? By how much you want each option. And by how likely each is to get you to wherever you want to go. You say grad school will make you eligible for many more jobs -- but might this promotion have a similar effect?

In any case, if you do decide to apply for it, you should tell your coworker yourself before she hears it from someone else. You're going to feel weird about telling her you're both competing for the same job, but just be straightforward about it. Tell her you think she'd do a great job at it and will welcome her as your new boss if that's how it shakes out ... but that you feel like you owe it to yourself to try for it too. If you both handle it maturely, it'll be fine. (And if she does end up getting the job, she's far more likely to be worried about you feeling weird about it than to have any negative feelings toward you.)

And hey, if you end up as a boss, you're going to have to deal with all kinds of weird and awkward situations, so consider this training.

Personally, I think you should go for it. But I have a bias toward work over school.

update from laid-off reader -- being nice pays off!

Remember the reader from this post last month, who wrote in asking about whether she should send a thank-you note to her boss to thank him for the opportunity she'd had with him?

She just sent in this update:

I wrote to you on March 2nd asking if it would be proper for me to send a thank you note to my boss after getting laid off, because I felt bad for him/his company and I loved the job. Well I wanted to let you know it certainly paid off, because after 5 weeks off I was the first one hired back!!!! (And the only one so far.) Thanks.

What great news! This is awesome.

Monday, April 13, 2009

the right time to resign

Can you resign when your department is in the middle of a huge, important project in which you're playing a key role? Will leaving at a "bad time" hurt your relationships or references in the future?

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I answer a reader's question about this. Please head on over there and check it out! (And leave your own thoughts in the comments on that page.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

are bad references stored in a database?

A reader writes:

When I recently applied for a job, I gave my former boss' name on an employment form as supervisor. I was under the impression they would check only my personal references and limit discussions with my former company to dates, salary, job role.

However I am under the impression my former boss gave me a bad reference. I plan not to list him next time, but I wonder if it stays in a database for these 3rd party reference checkers. If my next target employer uses this same 3rd party, I am worried they may say what happen with the last potential employer. Can I assume they start fresh on each background check?

I know there is always a risk they can locate my old boss, but I am more concerned about the database piece.

There are weird assumptions in this letter.

First, good reference-checkers will not limit themselves to just the formal list of references you provide. They will call former managers, listed or not -- and sometimes especially those not listed, since they know the omission may have been intentional and thus notable. (After all, the list you hand over is of course the people likely to present you in the best light, and they want to see you in brighter lighting.) And they won't confine their questions to dates of employment; they'll ask what you were like as an employee.

The only thing typically considered off-limits in reference-checking is your current employer, so assume everything else is all fair game.

As for some sort of universal database for reference-checkers, I know of none. Good reference checkers want to ask their own questions and hear the answers first-hand so they can judge tone, inflections, and so forth. That said, I suppose that if a company uses a third-party reference-checking firm, and then you later apply to another company that uses that same firm, you might be already in their database. I don't use third-party reference checkers, so it's outside my knowledge range. But it's probably irrelevant for the reason above.

If you have a potentially bad reference in your past, here's a previous post on how to handle it. Good luck.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

battle between old employees and new

A reader writes:

The company I work for as the HR manager first of all is a small, family-run business and has employees who've been with us since day 1 (25 years ago) and have been loyal and worked long and hard to help us get to where we're at today. The problem is times and attitudes have changed since then - but they haven't. There's a serious conflict of old versus new - and behaviors that may have been overlooked 20-odd years ago are proving to be unacceptable but hard to break now. As a result, there's a serious rift in the office between "us" and "them," the "old" versus the "young/new."

These older individuals constantly butt heads with the newer ones and it has gotten personal on several occasions. Ultimately, it ends up adversely affecting the customer, which is of course a huge concern for management. The relationship that management has with these older persons is also a personal as well as professional one so it makes the situation even more delicate. The newer ones have genuinely tried to make amends but to no avail, and it's breeding hostility, resentment and all round bad faith and mistrust.

Management is at its wits end. We've spoken with both sides on several occasions. We've tried to impress upon the older staff that they should take the lead in setting things right (this hasn't happened). The younger decision-makers (like myself and my husband) are really of the opinion that we'd rather get rid of 2 people than lose 6 - but upper management feels very uneasy about letting these people go because of their long-standing relationship.

What's the next step now?

When I first received this letter, I couldn't tell whether either side had an actual performance problem, or whether it was just a case of the two sides not getting along with each other. I wrote back and asked, and the letter-writer responded that the older side has an attitude problem that often affects performance since both sides are dependent on each other for any given job.

So. Why is management at wit's end? Management has authority to change things; it's just choosing not to use it.

Your management is uneasy about letting long-term employees go. And they should be uneasy, based on the way they've handled this so far. Up until now, it sounds like you've tried to persuade the problem employees that they must change, trying to coax them into it -- instead of set clear, non-negotiable standards and setting clear consequences for not following those standards. So far, your employees don't believe your demands have any teeth, because by allowing the behaviors to continue after multiple conversations, you've signaled that you're not willing to enforce those rules. It wouldn't be fair to fire them without having explicitly told them that was a possibility.

Instead, someone (you or whoever in the organization has the authority to do it) needs to sit down with the problem employees (individually, not as a group) and tell them clearly what must change and what the consequences will be for not changing. Give specifics about what you need them to do differently, and explain that their jobs will be in jeopardy if they don't meet that bar. For instance: "We've talked about this in the past and we haven't seen the changes we need. It's now at the point where I need to tell you that if we don't see significant, immediate improvement in this area, we would have to let you go. You've been a good employee and I hope you will be here for many more years, but that won't happen if we don't get on the same page about this."

If they argue with you, nicely explain that this isn't their decision to make, and that if they're not able to work happily under those conditions, this may not be the right job for them. See this post for some ideas on this.

By the way, if your upper management won't agree to this -- if they won't agree to set and enforce consequences -- then they're choosing to live with the problem. If so, at that point, you should all stop being all wit's end because a deliberate decision will have been made to accept the behavior. And for all I know, maybe that's a reasonable decision; maybe the problem is annoying but not bad enough to warrant firing. Plenty of problems fit that category. (And maybe you want less serious consequences instead, like telling them it will affect future performance evaluations and raises.) But either way, you all need to get on the same page about it: Either there are serious consequences or there aren't.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

laying off a good employee

A reader writes:

Due to the recent economic downturn, I am obliged to fire one of my best employees: he is proactive, his work is always sharp, he is a team player, and he is an evangelist of the vision of the company, not only in his department but in the entire company. Unfortunately we are currently in "survival mode" and his position (software developer) is not fundamental for the survival of the company. So I have to let him go.

I'm not only sad because I'm losing a great person, but also because I don't want to lose his trust: he is at the top of my list when we will start hiring again - hopefully in a few months... But how could he accept the job again after we clarified that his position is not fundamental for the company's survival and therefore he could be let go again?

Well, first, make sure you don't say you're firing him, since that implies he did something wrong. You're laying him off. Firing is for cause, whereas a layoff is about eliminating the position.

Now that that's out of the way... well, this sucks. And all you can really do is tell him what you've said here. Tell him all the reasons you value him. And tell him the reality that you're being forced into by finances.

You should also tell him that he's at the top of your list when you're hiring again. You're right that he might be hesitant to return because he'd question his future job security. But he deserves to be able to make his decisions with full, complete, honest information -- and yes, his decision might be not to return in the future, if he judges it's not the best move for him. But all you can do is be straightforward with him, give him as much information as you can, and respect his decisions.

Actually, that's not all you can do. You can also help him in the way you handle the layoff. Specifically:
  • Tell him as soon as possible. Don't leave him in the dark now that the decision has been made.
  • Be as generous as you can in his severance package.
  • Continue his health insurance if you can, for as long as you can.
  • Help with job-hunting leads, including setting up introductions to others who may be able to help.
You're not alone in going through this, and neither is he. Good luck to both of you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

reporting a coworker

A reader writes:

I work at a wealth management firm for very high-profile clients and I've found myself in the middle of a ethically tough situation.

One of my co-workers, who has grown to be a relatively good friend, has revealed to me that he's begun to date a woman who was in our office doing our internal audit. Our firm hires her firm to review our own books. I already thought this was a bad lapse of judgment, but not my place to say something to our office manager.

At lunch on Thursday, he revealed to me that the auditor had shared with him everyone's salaries as well as how the partners' profit share was distributed. They have only been out a couple times and I feel that she is a complete idiot, for lack of a better phrase, for sharing this about a client.

I feel like I should report this breach of confidentiality on the auditor's part, and my friend for asking her for this information and "feeling good" that he now knows this.

I have been at this company nearly a year and feel I'm doing an excellent job, my friend only started 6 months ago and has had a few performance issues.

I'm also afraid to implicate myself and possibly risk my own position because I did not stop him immediately from sharing information with me - I did not know the scope of what he had found out and was interested at first, but once I realized what I was listening to - I told him to stop and I did not want to know anymore. However, I respect the partners of our firm and have a vested interest in its success and feel regardless of my position, I need to report this serious breach.

Do you feel I need to report this to our office manager, and should I let my friend know beforehand that I will be reporting his conduct? We have not spoken much since Thursday, but he does not know that he disturbed me with his and the auditor's actions.

Wow. The person really in the wrong here is the auditor, much more so than your friend. And I do think that you should let your manager know that the auditor who the firm has hired is disclosing confidential information. It's appallingly bad judgment, not to mention being against every code of conduct that industry has, etc. It's also really bad judgment for her to be dating someone at the place she's auditing; it creates an enormous conflict of interest.

As for your friend, while he's behaving like a bit of a tool, he hasn't done anything so egregious that you need to report it. Lots of people wouldn't refuse to hear this kind of info if it's being offered up; his biggest error was in repeating it to someone else and thus spreading it further, but once salary info gets out, it tends to get repeated.

If you need to mention that you heard about the auditor's indiscretion from him, then so be it -- but your complaint should be about the auditor, not your friend.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

the Ask a Manager book for managers is here

It's here! My book, Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results, is now available.

The book is geared toward nonprofit managers because that's what my co-author, Jerry Hauser (former COO of Teach For America and current head of The Management Center), and I care about most -- we want to see more nonprofits being effective instead of just well-intentioned. But there's little in here that I wouldn't recommend to any manager.

Our goal was to create an easy-to-use manual that would help managers get better results by equipping them with hands-on, practical advice, covering what we think are the most important areas for managers to master -- from delegating tasks, to setting and holding people accountable to clear goals, to hiring and firing, to staying organized and using your time effectively, to managing your boss. We also included a bunch of tools, like sample scripts for conducting performance coaching or a firing.

Here's the table of contents:

Introduction: The Job of a Manager

Section I. Managing the Work
Overview: Sharing the Burden
Chapter 1 Managing Specific Tasks: Basic Delegation
Chapter 2 Managing Broad Responsibilities: Setting and Using Goals
Chapter 3 Managing the "In-Between": Building a Culture of Excellence
Chapter 4 Managing the Day-to-Day Work of Your Team: Structures to Bring It All Together

Section II. Managing the People
Overview: It's All About the Right People
Chapter 5 Hiring Superstars
Chapter 6 Developing People
Chapter 7 Retaining Your Best
Chapter 8 Addressing Performance Problems

Section III. Managing Yourself
Overview: Becoming a Manager
Chapter 9 How to Exercise Authority Without Being a Wimp or a Tyrant
Chapter 10 Time and Systems
Chapter 11 Managing Up

Conclusion: Personal Attributes of a Great Manager

And here are some quotes from readers:
"Managing to Change the World gives remarkably helpful and practical advice about important management strategies and skills in the nonprofit world. This book is a treasure with sound guidance on how to achieve organizational excellence." -- Heather Booth, founder and president, Midwest Academy

"This book captures the nuts-and-bolts of management in a comprehensive, insightful, and practical manner. What a great resource for both nonprofit and for-profit managers." -- Les Silverman, director emeritus, McKinsey & Company

"Our country needs more than good ideas and strong policies, we need leaders with the management skills to implement change effectively -- this book shows them how." -- Erica Payne, progressive strategist and author of The Practical Progressive: How to Build a 21st Century Political Movement
And hell, if you still want more, you can read the first chapter here.

You can buy Managing to Change the World here. Tell your nonprofit-y friends! Buy it anonymously for your incompetent manager!

the "burn your bridges" girl digs herself in deeper

A follow-up to yesterday's post on that ridiculous advice not to care about burning bridges: She's now posted a video response, making the same argument. Prepare to be really pissed off and disgusted.

Update: She also seems to have deleted the comment I left there. Twice.

Since she deleted my comment over there, I'll repost it here. This is the comment I left there that got deleted:

Rebecca! This digging yourself in deeper is crazy.

I've gotten my last three jobs through personal connections too. But on no planet would I tell people that they don't need to worry about references from past jobs. Even if you get your foot in the door through a personal relationship, it can turn out that the CEO or hiring manager happens to know your old boss, and your old boss mentions the bridge you decided to burn. Why take the risk, when it's perfectly easy to function in a way that does NOT burn bridges? What gain is there for people to squander good references when it's normally so easy to maintain them, and none of us know when we might be glad we did?

You found something that worked for you a couple of times. Good for you. You may have gotten lucky. That doesn't make it generally good advice.

As a side note, what do you think qualifies you to give out this advice? You don't seem to have significant (or maybe even any) experience doing hiring for multiple employers. You seem to be speaking out of your ass, no offense. I'm sorry to be harsh, but you are giving people harmful advice that could have a real and negative impact on their careers, and after multiple people pointed out how awful this advice was yesterday, you've now decided to dig in and defend it (without adding any new or cogent arguments, to boot).

It's an abusive use of the platform you have. Job-hunters deserve better.

She deleted that comment and sent me this email in response:

I appreciate your perspective and I've been nothing but nice to you on your blog, and am not offensive towards you and your opinions. I delete comments that I deem are inappropriate, which yours is on several counts. Also, you're misunderstanding a lot of what I'm saying. That's cool, but not when you comment in such a manner.

Thank you.


Personally, I think deleting comments is off-limits, unless they're spam. If you're going to put ideas out there, deal with the response like a grown-up. Otherwise, why have a blog?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Brazen Careerist gives bad advice again

Once again, Brazen Careerist has run a post giving terrible job advice, written by someone who has no expertise in the topic.

Brazen Careerist started as a good idea -- a site where 20somethings can learn about career topics from their peers. It was started by Penelope Trunk, whose writing I admire and who I love to read even when I disagree with her. But while Penelope herself is smart and savvy, many of her writers over at Brazen Careerist aren't. The site has gone terribly awry and is clearly more interested in being provocative than in giving good advice.

The latest today is a post arguing that "don't burn your bridges" isn't good advice. The author argues that you don't need to worry about burning bridges when you leave a job because "cool jobs" won't require references (!), among other ridiculous arguments.

At this point, Brazen Careerist is routinely doing its readers a disservice by allowing people who don't know what they're talking about to dispense terrible advice to people who might take it seriously. I want to remove it from my news reader, but it's like a wreck that I can't look away from. I wish it came with a clear warning label on it though.

can you appeal a job rejection?

Every few weeks or so, I'm contacted by a job candidate who asks me to reconsider our rejection of his or her application. This almost never works -- actually, I want to say "never" but there's one very, very limited case in which it might be okay to do.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I write about why you generally can't appeal a job rejection, and the one time where you can. Please check it out here and leave your own thoughts in the comments over there.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

laid off and then asked back

A reader writes:

I was laid off after working 2.5 years with a company I adored. I was devastated. I kept in contact with coworkers and was persistent about letting my Branch Manager know of my desire to come back.

Finally I landed a new job. But, 3 days later, my Branch Manager gave me an offer. I REALLY don't know what to do, stay or go.

I have tried to weigh the pros and cons in going back to my old company. Pro: It was a part of my life, I adored the company and I have the chance to return. A position I finally could be proud of proving my dedication and productivity. Con: fear/stability, I ask myself are they going to lay me off again? If so, I've lost my new job too and thus am unemployed again.

For new position I just accepted, the pros are that they are a stable company, in business for years, no competition. The cons here are: high expectancy of having 5 demands to complete at once whilst receiving 5 more, resulting in massive reaming. I can't do 5 things at once...sorry... (I'm not one that enjoys "reaming" and I don't have it in me to "give it back as it's dished out to me.")

Bottom line... Go back to the job I loved and take the chance of getting laid off or the company going belly up? Or stay at new employment and take the chance of being let go or leaving because of frustration?

If this were me, here are the factors I'd base my decision on:

* What's going on with your old company financially? It's reasonable to ask them what's changed since they laid you off. If you leave a new job to return to them, are they willing to guarantee you (in writing) that you won't be laid off again over the next, say, two years?

* What are your chances of success at your new job, the one you're currently at? Based on what you wrote, it sounds like it might not be a good fit for you ... and maybe that you might not be a good fit for them. If you think their demands are unreasonable, there are two things that could be going on: (1) they're unrealistic, or (2) they're not unrealistic; it's a company that strives to be exceptional and thus looks for employees who can and will work at a faster pace than what you were used to at your old company. If it's #1 and they've been operating that way for a while, they're unlikely to change. If it's #2 and you prefer a different pace, they will expect you to adjust or you may eventually lose the job. So you need to be brutally honest with yourself about whether this job is right for you.

Based solely on your letter (which obviously can't give me all the relevant details), I hear alarm bells about your fit at your current job. So at a minimum, please explore those as part of your decision.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

accepted offer without asking about salary

A reader writes:

I'm fresh out of college, just got hired at my first "grown up job." I'm supposed to start training next week but my bosses haven't gone over pay with me.

The job is selling ad space in a magazine. They told me I would have the option of commission only or base plus a lower commission. They told me the commission only plan was 20% commission, but they never told me what the base was.

My mom thinks I'm an idiot for not addressing this yet. How do I politely inquire about this and my other questions like being reimbursed for travel to training, etc?

You're not the only person who forgets to ask this when accepting her first job -- often just out of excitement/relief at getting a job offer -- but you definitely need to. In the future, never accept a job without agreeing on a salary first! Even if you secretly are going to accept the job no matter what the salary is, you don't want them to know that -- it destroys any negotiating position you have.

At this point, you've already accepted it so it's unlikely you can negotiate, but you do need to find out what the salary is and decide if it's acceptable to you or not. Call up whoever your contact has been at the new company and say something like, "I feel silly not having asked this earlier, but I just realized we never got into the specifics of pay. We discussed commission, but what is the base pay?"

Also, know before you call what answer would be a deal-breaker for you. If the number is absolutely too low for you and you're not willing to accept the job at that salary, ideally you'd be prepared to raise the issue then and there, by saying something like, "That's definitely not what I was prepared for. Is there any flexibility there?" Again, because you've already accepted the job, you can't go into this planning to negotiate it higher -- but if they give you a number that you're not willing to work for anyway, you might as well see if you can get it higher before politely telling them that you're not able to accept at that salary.

Regarding being reimbursed for travel to training, are we talking about standard commuting costs or something like being sent out of state for training? If the latter, they should cover it, but you should find out up front, so ask that on your phone call too. But if it's something like 100 miles or less, generally you'd cover that yourself unless they offer otherwise.

And as for general advice, don't be afraid to ask this stuff. An organized employer will raise it themselves, but plenty overlook it -- so you shouldn't feel at all weird about speaking up and asking whatever questions you have at the time that an offer is made. Good luck!