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Friday, October 30, 2009

coworkers are having an affair - should I say something?

A reader writes:

Our office is rife with gossip regarding a married man in our office and young single co-worker. The man has a brand new baby at home and knowing that he is having an affair behind his wife's back is rather upsetting to some of us on moral and character grounds, but also it is making us uncomfortable (wife drops in sometimes) and is a distraction. They are not in a boss/reporting relationship but are peers.

In addition they seem to take long lunches, are constantly using email and microsoft communicator company software for endless chat sessions even though it's not permitted for private activity. It's bad for morale for all of us to be working full stop and see them goofing of a good part of each day.

Does HR care about such things? If they can't be reprimanded for being causing full blown gossip epidemic, they could at least be disciplined for wasting company time? I am on the same work team with them and have difficulty looking them in the eye sometimes.

You have two different issues here: (1) Your coworkers' affair is making you uncomfortable, and (2) your coworkers are slacking off. You need to treat them as two separate issues.

Regarding the affair, if your company doesn't have a policy against fraternization, then these two probably aren't violating any actual rule. And I'm not sure their affair is really their coworkers' business -- if indeed there even is an affair; it sounds like no one knows for sure, although they're displaying the signs of at least an emotional affair.

You can certainly keep a chilly distance from people whose behavior you object to, but I wouldn't recommend confronting someone you don't seem close to about something that you don't know for sure is happening and which really isn't your business if it is.

I suppose if you're determined to address this in some way, regardless of the above, the best way to do it might be to tell the man (since he's the married one) something like: "Hey Bill, I wanted to give you a heads-up that there's a lot of gossip going around about you and Beth. I'm sure there's nothing to it, but that kind of thing can really affect someone's career, to say nothing of rumors getting back to your wife, so I wanted to make sure you knew."

The slacking off is a different issue. If it's impacting your own work, you should talk to your manager about what you've observed. If it's not -- well, if your management team is at all competent, it's going to be noticed and addressed at some point.

But again, if you're determined to address it in some way, you could just be straightforward with the two perpetrators: "Hey, we're working our asses off over here, and it's starting to feel like you're on a date. Could we get some help?"

But overall, I think you want to be clear in your head about what is and isn't your business. Sometimes things are irritating and offensive, but still not necessarily ours to get involved in.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

employer won't give job references

A reader writes:

I have recently been on two interviews with a company. "When can you start" and "will this salary be acceptable" have been discussed.

My issue is that my former employer of 12 years has a strict reference policy that only allows them to confirm dates of employment and salary. I provided additional references at the potential new employer's request, one former employee of my former company who now runs his own company, and a current client and current supplier of my former company, as well as a former co-worker of my former employee.

It seems that my potential employer is not aware of this growing trend of strict reference policies and we keep going back and forth: "I still haven't heard back from this person, or that person you provided." "Can you provide more?"

I've been searching for a year with no results and I fear my references situation may be part of it. I did not leave my former employer on bad terms, just felt I need to move on and better myself.

What can I do? I feel like I'm being held back because of this procedure of my former employer and this will affect any future tries at employment. I feel stuck and not sure how to proceed. Can you advise me?

I'd be concerned if a candidate couldn't get a former employer to give her a reference. Yes, many companies do have the type of policy you described, but I've never -- and I mean literally never -- had a problem getting someone at those companies to give a reference anyway. HR may stick to those policies, but the actual managers usually don't. And I would be very surprised if a former employee who shone on the job didn't have past managers jumping to help her.

Have you tried reaching out to your former manager(s) directly, despite what the company says its policy is?

Also, you said that the new employer is telling you they haven't heard back from the references you did provide. That's not a good sign either. Have those references told you that they're able to provide you with a good reference? And that they're available this week (as opposed to out of town, for instance)? You want to prep your references beforehand, to make sure they're going to speak well of you, as well as simply willing to return the calls promptly.

If a candidate told me that they weren't able to get any past manager to serve as a reference (despite the reason) and the references they did give me either weren't getting back to me or weren't in a position to be able to really speak to the quality of the person's performance (which can be the case with peers), I'd consider it a red flag.

I think you do have a reference problem here. I don't know if it's because your references aren't particularly enamored of you or if it's because you haven't been hands-on enough in managing the process, but I recommend being more aggressive in figuring it out. Specifically:

1. Contact your former manager(s) and tell them your job offer is contingent upon the company being able to speak with them. Ask for their help.

2. Contact the other references you offered and say, "The employer is becoming concerned because they haven't heard back from you, and my job offer may be on the line. If you're not able to serve as a reference for me, would you let me know so I can find alternatives?"

3. If all else fails, ask the new employer if they'd accept (hopefully glowing) past performance reviews in lieu of speaking with your manager.

Good luck.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

what can't you not do, part 2

I once wrote an article in Maxim called "The Best Damn Pick-Up Guide Ever."

It was quite bad, filled with terrible advice and embarrassing animal metaphors (required by my editor). And if a young man ever approaches you in a bar by "accidentally" hitting you with a pool cue, he might be following my advice and I apologize.

I enjoy, though, thinking about the way many people find that certain threads are constantly present throughout their professional lives: in my case, a certain bossiness about whatever happens to be my area of expertise at that stage in my life.

I wrote about this in a post a couple of years ago:
What can't you not do?

What about you? What are the common threads that keep popping up in your professional life? Are you taking full advantage of them?

Monday, October 26, 2009

job seekers: stop sharing an email account with your spouse

Are you one of those people who shares an email address with your spouse (like I don't understand why people do this at all. (Email accounts are free, after all, and even if you don't care about privacy, maybe your friends who are emailing you do.)

But if you're job seeking, you really should open your own account, with a name that doesn't sound like I'm emailing two people when I correspond with you.

Prohibitive? No. Slightly odd? Yes.

how to deal with inappropriate, annoying coworker

A reader writes:

An acquaintance recommended me to his boss who, after several interviews, brought me on board. I really enjoy my job and my colleagues and I have received a lot of positive feedback from my boss. However, I am starting to have concerns about how well I am dealing with my (now) co-worker who passed my resume along.

1) He takes a lot of small liberties (taking stuff from my work space without asking, sitting on my desk while talking to other people, reading my emails over my shoulder, playfully yanking my pony tail) and occasionally bigger ones (failing to tie up loose ends, fully complete projects, and help out with office wide initiatives and then becoming really openly indignant when asked to follow through or pitch in). I don't see him taking those small liberties with other co-workers, however everyone in the office has had to deal with the some sort of fall out when he does not pitch in when needed.

2) He's made comments to suggest that he feels I owe him. Whether it's because he thinks he secured my position for me (in a conversation completely unrelated to these concerns, my boss explicitly stated that she made the hiring decision independent of his input) or because we knew each other socially before we began working together, I am not sure.

I think he's a smart, albeit eccentric, guy with good intentions who just lacks self-awareness. I feel he should be more respectful to me as his co-worker, but I am worried that if I call him out on it, I will look uptight and uncooperative or petty and over dramatic. In the past, I've gently reminded him that we are co-workers and our relationship/behavior needs to reflect that, but he just laughed it off. Am I being overly sensitive? Is there a graceful and firm way tell him that he needs to cut this out?

Well, some of this sounds like stuff you could ignore if you were determined to. But I can also see how it could get really annoying. (Yanking on your ponytail? Really?)

If you do choose to address it, you have two choices for how to go about it: You can do it all in one catch-all conversation, or you can just ask him to stop every time he's doing one of these things.

If you do the big-picture conversation, you'd say something like this: "I know I've mentioned this a couple of times, but I think you didn't realize that I'm serious about it. You do a number of things with me that I don't see you doing with anyone else in the office, and it makes me uncomfortable. I'm talking about things like sitting on my desk, reading my emails over my shoulder, and even pulling my hair. I'd like you to stop." Then, if it continues after that, you say it again: "Bill, I asked you to stop doing this and you've continued. I'm serious about wanting you to stop it."

Or, alternately, you can skip the big-picture conversation and just be assertive each time he does this stuff. For instance: "Bill, would you mind not sitting on my desk? It makes it hard for me to focus." .... "Please don't read my emails over my shoulder." "Bill, you're reading my emails again, and I asked you not to do that." (Followed by turning around in your chair and staring at him until he stops.) .... "Don't pull on my hair." (On that last one, if he gives you a hard time about objecting, you may need to point out that unwanted physical contact, after you've asked for it to stop, really crosses an inappropriate line.)

I get that you don't want to come across as uptight. But his behavior is so inappropriate, and he apparently is so oblivious to that, that he's forcing you into being more direct. Most people would have taken your hints already and stopped. Because he's chosen to ignore you and laugh about it, he's the one causing the situation to become a bigger deal. So you shouldn't feel weird or guilty about telling him assertively that you're not okay with this. (By the way, this is a very common tactic of pushy/aggressive people -- by ignoring lower-key comments, they'll force you to eventually say something rude. They're counting on you to not want to be rude and thus to let the behavior continue.)

Now, on the issue of his performance problems -- not completing projects and so forth -- that's a performance problem that needs to be dealt with by his manager. If it's affecting your work, you should mention it to her. Otherwise, that's his own performance that's suffering.

And regarding him possibly feeling like you owe him because he recommended you for the job -- let him think it. You know it's not true, and so does your boss, so don't worry about what he thinks. But don't let that make you more accommodating of his bad behavior. Stand up for yourself.

5 reasons to turn down a job offer

In this economy, it's easy to feel like you should jump at any job offer that comes along. But doing that could land you in a job that would make you miserable and could even harm you professionally. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I discuss five reasons to consider turning down a job offer. Please check it out!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

taking notes in an interview

A reader writes:

I have an interview next Friday. Is it weird or considered rude to take notes?

When I'm interviewing, I am desperately trying to stay alert, listen, take mental notes, and think of my response to the dreaded behavioral questions (I HATE those!) at the same time. I am pretty darn organized -- I love my notes, calendars, and lists. I always come prepared to any interview with a physical list of questions, I've just never actually written down notes because I didn't want to seem like I was too stuffy or wasn't flexible, which I definitely am. Most people seem to like that I come with a little notebook, but still being unemployed for so long, you start to wonder if even little things like that might hinder you getting a job you're well qualified for!

I think taking notes is great, as long as you're not doing it at the expense of the natural flow of the conversation or causing long pauses while you write. (Presumably you don't want to write down every single thing, though, but rather just those things that you want to use in some way later.)

I suppose it's possible that some interviewer out there might not like this, but that would get into the realm of interviewers who are going to penalize you for other perfectly reasonable behavior, and you don't want to work for them anyway.

should I correct my boss's awful grammar?

A reader writes:

I have a senior manager who has dreadful grammar. He mispronounces well-known company names that are also clients. He rarely enunciates the plural of words (which makes his usual team greeting "hey you guy!" irritating and confusing). He sends emails with multiple and repetitious grammatical errors. I'm itching to correct him but fear the feedback will not be received well because my colleagues have tolerated it for so long. On the other hand, I struggle to take him seriously when I need to decipher what he's saying.

Should I say anything or should I learn to live with it?

Without knowing anything else about your manager, I'd say you shouldn't say anything. Presumably he also does this around his manager, and it's that person's job to address it. For your own sake, I'd skip creating the awkwardness that could result if you tackle this yourself.

You could probably address the issue of mispronouncing company names, though, by posing it as a question. For instance: "Oh, is it pronounced 'ama-zone'? I've always pronounced it 'amazon.'"

Other than that, I suppose you could suggest that your group start proofreading each other's work, but then you'll be making everyone else jump through a hoop that only he needs.

Overall, I'd just resign yourself to it. I love grammar like little else, but he appears to have been able to advance despite this, so this isn't the worst thing in the world.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

restaurant's ridiculous sick leave policy

A reader writes:

I work at a small family-owned/operated restaurant. It's managed by the owners, who seem to have some really strange rules.

If we are sick, it is our responsibility to find someone to cover our shift. If we cannot find someone to cover our shift, we are to a) show up to work or b) provide a doctor's note. About 6 months ago, we had to sign a waiver stating that if we have a fever, diarrhea, and or vomiting, we are NOT to come to work.

This past week, we had a girl who was sick who called everyone who had the day off to cover for her, but nobody could do it. So, they have now posted a memo telling us that if we are sick and can't find anyone to cover our shift, we are to provide the boss with the names of everyone we called and the reason given for not being able to cover their shift. As far as I am concerned, it's my day off and it's nobody's business what I am doing, nor do I feel obligated to provide anyone with an explanation as to why I can't cover them on my day off. What can we as employees do about this? (Besides quit, I know that.) Is it just me, or is that just asking WAY too much out of your employees?

No, it's not just you. The people behind this rule are insane. And short-sighted and jerks.

I know that a lot of restaurants put the responsibility of finding someone to cover an already-scheduled shift on the employee. I think it's lame and it should be the manager's responsibility to get the shifts covered. People get sick. It happens. It's unfair and unkind to make a vomiting employee call all over town to try to get someone to cover for her.

I know that the reason for this type of policy is that they don't want people calling in sick when they really aren't, so they want to create a high bar to faking it -- but there are far better ways to handle that, through this little thing called good management: If someone is calling in sick at the last minute enough times that it's passed a reasonable point, the manger should handle it as a performance problem, explaining that they can't keep scheduling the person for shifts if they don't get more reliable. Instead, their current policy screams "We don't want to bother with having to be managers."

As for what you can do about it: Well, you can complain to the management. You'll have better luck if you do it in a group with other employees. You can also stop answering your phone on your days off if you think it might be a shift request. But ultimately, a manager who comes up with a policy like this is going to come up with plenty of other ways to screw you -- so I'd walk, and tell them why.

Friday, October 23, 2009

should I send flowers after a job interview?

A reader writes:

I was just wondering if you think it's a good idea to send flowers after an interview for a thank you.

It's a nice thought, but no -- it's too much.

I know it can feel differently, but an employer is not doing you a favor by interviewing you. They are hoping that you will be the right match for their open position. The relationship -- although I know it never feels this way -- should be a roughly equal one. You are both having a conversation to try to figure out whether you'd each like to embark upon a relationship, one that you'd both benefit from.

And there's a less abstract argument against it too: It could come across as a bit desperate, because it's too strong of a gesture.

Stick with a thank-you note.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

job searching? check your spam folder daily

This was the subject of my very first blog post, but a friend's recent experience has inspired me to repeat it:

If you're conducting a job search, check your spam folder every day. A surprising number of emails from employers can end up in there. You may be sitting around thinking that no one has gotten back to you when in fact there's a response or two in your spam folder right now. Go look.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

will taking a pay cut now harm my earning potential later?

A reader writes:

Going on so many interviews lately for jobs that I am well-qualified if not overqualified for, I keep getting salary responses that would pretty much allow me to break even. Whoopidy doo.

If I ended up taking one of these jobs that pay way below what I was previously making and stayed for a year or so, would it potentially damage my chances of getting a significantly higher salary when I switch positions? Do companies base what you will make with them based on what you previously made (along with their budget and your skill sets, of course)? I was always taught that when you change jobs, you should never accept less than what you were making before. Based on the economy and job crisis, I'm not sure if that is even legit at this point.

The answer will be quite unsatisfying: It varies.

Some companies will demand to know your salary history and will resist giving you a substantial increase. Others -- the more sensible ones, I would argue -- will base their salary offer on the market, and could care less what you were making previously.

However, I suspect that, as you point out, the economic crisis may be rewriting the rules on this. There are a lot of people who are in the situation you describe and who will be taking pay cuts due to the sheer awfulness of the current climate. When the economy picks back up, those people should presumably be able to find jobs at higher salaries again. I think it will be quite normal to explain to a prospective employer that -- like many people -- you took a lower salary when jobs were scarce, but that you've always used the market to inform your salary expectations, and the market now says that a reasonable a salary for this job is in a higher range.

If an employer doesn't get the logic of that, I question whether they're an employer you should want to work for anyway.

By the way, there's also a school of thought that says your salary history is no one's business but your own. I tend to agree. An employer should pay based on their assessment of your value, not what their competitor thought you were worth.

Monday, October 19, 2009

did boss trick me into resigning?

A reader writes:

I work at a small company for now. 3 and a half people (the half being a part time contractor). There is no HR. The boss is HR.

I have had several therapy sessions trying to figure him out. My therapist thinks he is an attention-deficit narcissist. He won't apologize, take responsibility, or listen. He disregards years and years of software engineering common knowledge, experience, and wisdom. He think it doesn't apply to him or something.

I am an unruly employee. I have been outspoken in an attempt to bring our company out of the stone age and do things better. My boss will not listen. I tried everything and finally exploded.

We mutually agreed verbally that I would become a contractor and change our relationship. I would send a resignation letter, he the contractor paperwork, basically the same rate, la di da.

I sent him a PDF copy of a resignation letter where I wrote the signature using Microsoft Paint (basically) and sent it to him.

He informed me this afternoon the contract stuff may not be a possibility.

I have been looking for a month and a half to get out of this job and now I'm obviously going to have to. However, I feel like I've been totally screwed. His idea of how we were going to proceed changed after I sent him a letter.

Do I have any recourse until I find another position?

First, you may want to rescind your resignation. Of course, you clearly need to get out of there anyway, but I'm assuming you'd rather do that on your own timeline rather than his, and it seems like your resignation was clearly part of an overall plan and not something you would have offered without the contracting agreement.

So let's clean this part up first. You want to do this both in writing and in person (because doing it only in writing comes across as too aggressive -- you want it to be primarily an in-person conversation, followed up by a written document). In both cases, you basically want to say, "My resignation of my staff position was offered as part of our plan to switch me to a contracting role and was contingent upon that plan. As you've indicated that plan is no longer a certainty, I want to make sure we're both clear that my resignation is be triggered only by a contracting arrangement, as we previously discussed."

Say this nicely; don't be adversarial. Go into it with the mindset that of course he understands you need to formally retract this, since his plan changed. If you're adversarial, he'll be adversarial. If you're not, he still may be, but the risk goes way down.

Now, I suppose it's possible that this was all some master plan of his to obtain your resignation under false pretenses, but I doubt it. First of all, most people just aren't that conniving, and secondly, it wouldn't help him that much anyway. You could still collect unemployment, for example, just by explaining the situation. So there's not much benefit to him in doing it this way, unless it's that he knew his alternative was to fire you and he's one of those people who go through all kinds of contortions to avoid firing someone.

But while it's likely that this wasn't a nefarious plot, I would still be braced for the prospect that he still thinks it's time for you to part ways, whether or not you become a contractor. It sounds like the relationship has been a contentious one. And you want to leave as well, but you want to do it on your own timeline, once you find another job.

I recommend that you talk to him about a plan for a smooth transition, one in which you continue to keep your responsibilities covered, perhaps prepare training materials for a replacement and so forth, and give him time to search for the right person, while you conduct your own job search. Many managers will be very open to this solution, and it can end with all parties reasonably content with the outcome.

But if he makes it clear that's not an option, you should try to negotiate severance and come to an understanding about what he'll tell prospective employers who call for a reference.

And in future jobs ... don't explode. That never goes well.

how to handle defensive coworkers

If you've ever worked with anyone who is chronically defensive, then you know how hard it can be to talk to them about practically anything -- because they argue, they don't hear what you're saying, and sometimes even lash out at you or others. As a result, most people end up avoiding them entirely, since interactions can be so unpleasant. That means problems go unaddressed, and the people around them feel like they can't get their voices heard.

But there's a secret to defusing someone's defensiveness and having a less difficult and less emotionally charged conversation. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I give advice on how to handle defensive coworkers -- and it really works.

Please check it out and leave your own thoughts in the comments over there.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

should I include a job I was fired from on my resume?

A reader writes:

I was just terminated from my job. I was five days before being off probation and two days away from my first big job event (I plan and run conferences). Without any prior notice, meeting, or confrontation, I was ushered into my department head’s office and told that in order to make a strong team, she needed to let me go immediately. I asked if there was any particular cause or option for a re-negotiation, but was told that since I was still in my probationary period, they were within their rights to terminate me at any time. At that point security came in and ushered me to my office to collect my things and leave the building. It was all quite dramatic.

Of course, I understand the rules. I am, however, at a bit of a loss on how to move on from here. I had been out of work for five months prior to this position and worked there for 2.5 months before being terminated. In those weeks I did not rack up any accomplishments I would typically list in a resume -- summer is a downtime for conferences. And, until I receive a copy of my file with my termination letter from HR, I do not want anyone contacting them. I also cannot speak to what happened or how I plan to improve whatever it was they found lacking in my performance until I have a better explanation, if I ever am to get one.

So, my question is, do I leave this job off my resume, which shows that I have been out of work since March? Or, do I include it? I don’t know if I ever will find out the "real reason" I was fired, and I know that a short stint in this job looks suspicious. I would be suspicious of me. Or, does being out of work, even in such an economy, look worse?

Leave the job off your resume.

It was only two and a half months, which means that it's not useful in showing any real accomplishments or advancement. And in addition to not doing you any good because of that, it will actually do harm -- by raising questions about what you were fired or left so soon. Those are questions that can be addressed if it's absolutely unavoidable, but it's better to never raise the questions at all if you can.

In general, I'd suggest leaving any short stints like this off a resume, unless there's a way to paint them in a flattering light (and to do so honestly). For instance, short-term consulting is fine. But leaving after two months because of fickleness or dismissal aren't things that strengthen your candidacy.

Your resume is not required to be a comprehensive accounting of how you spent each month of your professional life. It's understood that the whole point is to present yourself in the strongest light.

Now, of course you may get questions about how you spent a period of time that your resume left unaccounted for. In your case, you had already been unemployed for five months before. You didn't say why, but let's assume for the sake of illustration that you were laid off. When asked about the period of time since your last job, you would simply say that you, like so many others right now, were laid off and have spent the time since job-searching and doing ____. (Fill in the blank with freelancing, caring for family members, taking a class, or whatever happens to be true in your case.)

Regarding your question about whether being out of work looks bad: Show me a hiring manager who hasn't been spending her days talking to strong candidates who are out of work because of the economy, and I will show you a hiring manager who just started her job this morning. Great candidates who are unemployed have become normal right now, unfortunately. Any hiring manager who would discard a candidate for being out of work right now isn't living in reality (and is a jerk you don't want to work for anyway).

So leave that job off your resume, and good luck.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

firing an employee of 27 years

A reader writes:

My husband is a wonderful dentist, but has not been exactly the best manager. He has a small office with one employee who has been there for 27 years. When she started 27 years ago he sent her a general confirmation letter that stated her salary at the time and time off. The rest was pretty general.

I am a computer consultant who came in to update his office. What I have found has been unbelievable – to both me and my husband. The books were off by $9,000, recalls weren’t being made, etc. On top of that, she can’t even understand the fundamentals of computers so she can’t do many elementary aspects of her job.

She has blatantly ignored instructions I have given her, she has lied, and more.

She is good with patients. That is her redeeming quality.

I think we should fire her. I have documented everything. After the last conversation, I wrote everything down and asked her to sign or to write her version that we could staple to the appraisal. She refused to sign and did not write up anything.

My husband is concerned that she will try a lawsuit since she has worked there so many years. I say she doesn’t have a ground to stand on.

I know people can collect unemployment if they are incompetent. How about if they have lied or if they have just ignored instructions?

Since we sent her the initial employment letter – is she still considered “at will” or is she under contract?

Your husband is worried that she will file a lawsuit based on what? You're allowed to fire people for being incompetent, or for pretty much any other reason you want, as long as that reason isn't discrimination based on a legally protected category (race, religion, sex, disability, etc.). That's not to say that some people don't file frivolous lawsuits, but there's nothing you can do about that, and you certainly can't be held hostage to a bad employee by fear of that.

Now, normally I would advise you to see if you can figure out why this woman's performance is so bad. Does she need additional training? Better guidance on priorities? Some other sort of help? Plenty of struggling employees can be turned around. However, in this case, it sounds like there are deeper problems, particularly in light of the lying and the refusing to sign the appraisal (which indicates she's deeply out of alignment with you and not doing anything constructive about it, at least not from what I can see here).

Frankly, if she's lying about things, that's grounds for firing without a warning. But this woman has worked for you for 27 years, so I recommend proceeding a bit more deliberately that that.

Sit her down and say something like, "We've had some recent conversations about some serious performance concerns, and I haven't seen the improvement that we discussed. I need to let you know that these issues are now at the point where your job is in jeopardy. We will need to replace you if these issues aren't immediately corrected."

Be explicit about the fact that she's in danger of being fired; too often managers mess this step up because it's hard to tell someone their job is in danger. Believe me, it is much kinder to say it explicitly than to give no warning. Tell her explicitly: "Your job is in jeopardy. We need to see immediate improvement or we will need to replace you." Do not hint around; come out and say it.

While you're not required to explicitly warn someone before firing them, this post explains why it's a good idea.

From there, you don't need a long, drawn-out probationary period; if there's going to be improvement, you're going to see it quickly. Keep a close eye on her, and if you're still seeing serious issues a week or two later, then it's time to take action. Read this post for specific advice on how to conduct the firing.

Regarding unemployment, she'll likely be eligible for it. To prove her ineligible, you'd have to show deliberate misconduct, which you probably can't do here. (But also, why fight her on unemployment? You're firing her; showing some compassion in this area is not just kind, but also smart -- angry ex-employees denied unemployment are more likely to harass you with frivolous lawsuits.)

Regarding the initial employment letter 27 years ago, it sounds like a pretty standard at-will offer of employment. Unless she's signed a contract with you somewhere along the way, or unless you have an employee handbook that says employees are anything but at-will, she should indeed be an at-will employee, meaning that you or she can terminate the relationship at any time.

Good luck!

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You reach a certain degree of success as a blogger and you start getting inundated with requests to review and promote various products. I have a form letter I use to turn these requests down because I have no interest in using this blog for that purpose. (I did once compile a list of things I like, but that was mainly stuff like iced tea and the pygmy slow loris.)

However, I'm making an exception today because I tried this product out, was impressed, and it's being offered to you for free as a special offer.

If you're an HR rep or manager who is looking for an anti-harassment training program, keep reading. If you're among the first 15 to respond, you're going to get a really good program free for a year.

You know how a lot of harassment prevention training programs are either really dry or really cheesy? I tested out a new one from Etheon this weekend, and it's none of that. In fact, it's totally different: It's an interactive and pretty damn engaging approach to helping users understand workplace harassment issues. It's a Web-based training program using streaming video, drag and drop exercises (sort of like those old "choose your own adventure" books), and particularly modern harassment scenarios. The production values are pretty high, and they even got a Hollywood movie writer to write their scripts.

What I liked most about it is that rather than just a dry delivery of the facts, they show you videos of actual scenarios (pretty realistically done ones) and ask interactive questions to help users learn to spot problems. They don't just give you the answers -- they walk you through a variety of applications of harassment law and help you learn to apply the law yourself. There's a module for employees and a module for supervisors, and they're both really well done.

Michael Hockman, Etheon's founder and CEO, gave me some background on where this all came from: "I had worked for the competition for a number of years and was very unimpressed with the learning experience and level of interactivity in their courses. Often the learning content focused on outdated scenarios, the course design looked like it was taken from a PowerPoint presentation, and the law was preached to users. Interactivity was limited to quizzes on the law and digital photos or animated cartoons. With the Etheon solution, my vision was to create a solution that taught learners how to spot issues in the workplace and respond to them professionally, while at the same time engaging learners with the material."

If you're interested, here's what to do: Email Michael Hockman at and let him know you read about his product at Ask a Manager. The first 15 people to respond to him will get to use the product free for one year, for employees employed at the time the agreement starts, for up to 1,000 employees. (In other words, new hires aren't covered, and companies with more than 1,000 employees would need to purchase additional licenses.) At a cost of about $50 per person, this is potentially a big savings.

Go forth and email Michael...

Monday, October 12, 2009

can I forward my husband's resume to my own contacts?

A reader writes:

First, I’m not one of THOSE wives, I promise.

My husband was just laid off and is starting a job search. I work at a nonprofit, so I know lots of people in different industries who don’t know my husband at all. A member of a community organization that throws a benefit for us each year is also a VP at company that he’s interested in applying for. So I know the guy, but I don’t KNOW the guy.

I want to pass on my husband’s resume or approach my contact in some way about my husband’s job search, but because of the warnings from you and Evil HR Lady, I’m really aware of the dangers of making my husband look like he can’t run his own job search. How would you handle this?

I think this is different from what I wrote about in my last post, the one on not submitting a contact's resume to random strangers on his/her behalf. In this case, you know the people you're sending it to, so there's a personal connection.

Just make sure that you really are passing it along to people who know you, at least a bit. And ensure that your cover note doesn't make it sound like you're asking them to do you a favor -- but rather that you might be connecting them with someone who can help them.

In other words, don't write something like, "I've attached my husband's resume. He's out of work and really desperate, so please take a look and see if you can use him."

Equally bad would be getting into a long explanation of what he is and isn't looking for in his next job. Leave that discussion to him to have for himself.

But something like this would be fine: "I know you're often looking for people with (fill in skill set here), and it occurred to me that you and my husband, Ron, might both be a match with what the other is looking for. If the match isn't right, no worries at all, but I thought I'd pass it along in case the fit is right."

You want to be sensitive to the fact that other people may feel awkward about the fact that the candidate is your husband, so do what you can to make it clear that you have no expectations of special treatment. In other words, write a short, professional note that doesn't sound like you're asking for a favor and you'll be fine.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

submit your own resume -- don't have a friend "help" you

I recently received this email (identifying details removed/changed):

My name is __ and I am helping a friend of mine find a new position as is he is a recent graduate. His name is John and he is looking for a position whereby he can work within a nonprofit setting. He recently graduated from __ with a Bachelor's Degree in History. He is open to entry level positions and is available to interview immediately. Feel free to contact him directly if you have an interest in speaking with him. Thanks!

To be clear, I don't know the sender of the email.

Curious, I wrote back to the sender and asked what his relationship was to John's job search. He replied:

He recently relocated to the area so I told him I would help him with his job search.

This. is. such. a. bad. idea.

Think about it: This reflects badly on John. He can't even conduct his own job search? It's one thing for the friend to send John an ad and suggest he apply for it; that happens all the time. But then John needs to be the one putting the effort into reaching out to the employer. Since he didn't, I'm left wondering why. Is he lazy? Is this email really from a mother/girlfriend trying to run his job search for him? (That happens.)

Plus, as I've written before, employers want to know you're interested in this job in particular, not just any job. This guy doesn't even know about the existence of the job. Yes, it's true that I'll sometimes approach non-applicants myself who I think might be good for the job, but those are people whose credentials are so strong that it makes sense for me to try to recruit them. This rarely applies to recent grads without work experience.

Don't do this to your friends.

As a side note, this is totally different from forwarding someone's resume to a personal contact of yours -- someone you actually know -- and saying, "Hey Joe, this good friend of mine might be perfect for your opening. He's applying through your normal channels but I wanted to tell you I think he'd be a great fit for you guys because ____." That's networking, as opposed to making your friend look lazy/uninterested.

how can I get a boss who doesn't like me to recommend me for grad school?

A reader writes:

I work for a small business, 9 total including 2 CEOs and myself. I am the top performer in the company, the only system expert, and considered the operational "backbone."

My boss is a genius, but she is an abusive bully. She also hates me. I'll be honest, I am not the easiest one to manage. If I see a problem that will cost the company too much money and possibly our reputation, I'll be direct about my concerns often with no sugar-coating. I have acknowledged my weaknesses and have made considerable efforts to change. My boss, on the other hand, is still the same abusive bully.

I am planning to apply for grad school in the next few weeks. How do I get my boss to write a letter of recommendation for me? Even though she hates me, I work for her at $20,000 less than my worth, I am very reliable, and she may not be able to replace me exactly. Although I feel she owes me, I still do not know how to approach her.

I wouldn't ask her for one at all. You want your recommendations to come from your strong supporters, people who can really make a case for you.

Even if she agrees to write you the letter, it doesn't sound likely that it'll be more than lukewarm, and lukewarm letters can be damning. "She works for me for less than she's worth and she's reliable" doesn't exactly make a glowing recommendation.

You want your recommendations coming from someone who will really go to bat for you, arguing your case for you.

Find someone else to recommend you.

Friday, October 9, 2009

is my old manager sabotaging my job search?

A reader write:

I recently retired from a job that I had been at for more than 30 years. For most of that time, I had the same manager. In the last few years, we had a new manager and it was no longer a happy place to work. During that time, I ended ended up almost doing all of the new manager's job for her.

This new manager was a nasty person and although I remained professional and managed to get through it all, I feel they are now making it difficult for me to secure new employment. To make along story short, I feel I am being "blackballed" by this person and that they are not giving me a good recommendation, even though I worked there for so long and had nothing but excellent evaluations, and did a good job.

I am now looking for another job. Since July, I have applied to over twenty jobs and have yet to find employment. I have been called in for at least five serious interviews, but still have not secured jobs which I know that I am qualified for.

I guess my question is this. How do I circumvent what my past employer is doing to me and find employment? Should I contact jobs I did not get after a successful interview and tactfully ask why? Please help me, and I am becoming frustrated.

I don't think we have reason to think that your past manager is giving you a bad reference. It's been three months and you've applied to 20 jobs -- in this job market, that's not a particularly high number.

There are 6.3 unemployed workers to every one job opening, according to recent numbers from the Labor Department. Compare that to the 1.7 unemployed job-seekers per opening that we had back in 2007. What do those numbers mean? That a ton of great candidates aren't getting hired, even when they apply for jobs they're qualified for and even when they do well in interviews.

As I've written here before, hiring managers are rejecting a lot of great candidates right now, candidates we'd happily hire if we didn't have so many others just as qualified to choose from. That means it might not be you, and it might not be your past boss. It might be the math.

But if you're convinced you have a reference problem, you have a few different options (and you could do any or all of these):

1. Call your old manager and ask what kind of reference she's able to give you.

2. Have someone else call her and do a reference check on you. There are companies you can hire for that purpose, but it's cheaper to just have a friend do it for you for free.

3. Explain to prospective employers that you got along well with your manager for 30 years, but during your last four years there, you had a new manager who you didn't mesh well with. Explain that you can give tons of other references who can speak glowingly of you (including your 30-year manager, right?).

But I'm telling you -- 20 job applications and three months isn't that much in this economy, and that might be the real issue.

interviewer said they would hire me if I weren't pregnant

A reader writes:

I recently interviewed for a position that I was recommended for by the Director. We had worked together previously, he knows I'm a good fit and very qualified so he put my name before the hiring manager. The interview went great, everyone got along swimmingly, but then the hiring manager said something along the lines of, "Well, let's address the elephant in the room. We can't hire you and have you go out on maternity leave." The team all agreed that I would be a great fit if only I were not pregnant.

This blows my mind.

a) I was under the impression that this practice is illegal.

b) There's no way in the world that playing this card would do me a bit of good. What, are they going to hire me because I threatened them? If I say a peep, I'm toast. But then they also made a hiring decision based on me being pregnant, which is also equally as uncool.

What would you do?

Yep, it's illegal all right, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The only exception to this would be if they have fewer than 15 employees, since Title VII only applies to employers with 15 or more people on staff.

And you're also right that threatening them with legal action isn't likely to endear you to them. Even if they hired you out of fear of a lawsuit, it's hard to imagine you're going to have a good working relationship with these people after that.

You asked what I would do, which is different from what you can do. You can file a complaint with the EEOC, which investigates charges of pregnancy discrimination.

But it's not what I'd do, although it's an option for you. What I'd do is this: I'd get back in touch with them and say, "Look, I've been thinking about our conversation, and I need to say this. I don't think your staff realizes that that not hiring someone because she's pregnant is actually illegal. It violates an explicit prohibition in Title VII. I'm not saying this to bully you into hiring me -- I think that ship has sailed -- but I do think it's really important that you and anyone on staff involved with hiring know about this law, so that you don't find yourself in this situation with another pregnant woman in the future. I'm not litigious and have no interest in pursuing this, but I felt I needed to say something, because I'm sure you must not realize it."

And then I would move on.

I'd handle it that way because I don't want to work somewhere that feels like I threatened them to get the job. And I don't want to get a reputation for being litigious, because unfortunately that has a way of closing some doors that I'd rather have open. Does that suck? Yes. But this situation is fraught with trade-offs, and that's the one I'd choose.

But you'd be well within your rights to pursue it legally if you wanted to.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

should employers respond to job-seekers' post-interview thank-you notes?

A reader writes:

What's the etiquette of responding to a job candidate's thank you note? Is this the right thing for employers to do?

Every time I go for an interview, I always send out a thank you email, normally on the same day. Some companies/people I interview with were kind enough to respond to my thank you, but mostly just don't. From past experience though, it never really means anything as far as whether or not I get the job, since I got jobs from the non-responsive companies, and did not get jobs from those who responded. But when companies/people respond to my thank you notes, even if I didn't get the job at the end, it always gives me a positive impression about them.

What's your take on this?

You know what's weird? I went years without ever being asked this question, and now I've been asked it numerous times in the last two months. I can't figure out why. In any case...

I do not think courtesy demands that employers send a thank-you in response to your thank-you. I think of it like gift etiquette, where if someone sends you a thank-you note for your gift, you're not expected to then send them a thank-you for their thank-you. If you were, it could become an endless cycle, and we would all just keep thanking each other over and over and have no time to watch Top Chef.

(And imagine if you had to do it with thank-you's that arrived by mail rather than email. It would get time-consuming.)

That said, it's certainly a kind and gracious gesture to reply to a candidate's thank-you note. When I have the time (which isn't always the case), I'll sometimes reply with something like, "It was great meeting you as well, and we'll be in touch soon." But again, I think this is optional, and I wouldn't read anything into it when employers don't do it.

Anyone want to argue that it's obligatory?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

why do employers run credit checks on potential hires?

A reader writes:

How widespread is it to look at a job applicant's credit history when considering them for a position? Why is this done? It seems like a complete invasion of privacy and a means to see how much salary you "really" need.

For a young person starting out in their career, I have a great credit score, but tons of debt. I am very responsible in paying my bills, but I don't see why this information should be available to anyone other than myself. And for those who are also unemployed and don't have a good score, what a horrible catch-22.

Shed some light please?!

It used to be that job seekers would only encounter a credit check if they were applying for a job that involved handling money or having authority over money. Some employers are now starting to use them more frequently -- but certainly not all or even most.

For positions handling money, credit checks are done to see if you have a pattern of handling money responsibly, or whether you have a checkered history that might impact your integrity and reliability when it comes to the company's cash.

For other types of positions, some people think that a credit report can show patterns of poor decision-making or lack of responsibility -- using it almost as a character reference.

Personally, unless the position handles money, I think credit checks are an invasion of privacy and the sort of over-reaching and abuse of power that really irks me to see in employers. Not only that, but I don't know of any research indicating a correlation between good credit and strong job performance, so I think the whole practice is suspect.

(By the way, Liz Wolgemuth has a great article here about a bill that was recently introduced in Congress to prevent private non-financial companies from running credit checks on job candidates.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

recruiter I met at career expo asked me on a date -- what do I do?

A reader writes:

A Big 5 recruiter I met at a career expo asked me out on a date.

We met at a career expo in New York. I was looking for a job and networking, he was there as a speaker. He approached me 3 times throughout the daylong conference, once to say hello, the next to say we should talk more, and then the third to tell me I was beautiful, that I made a memorable impression, and asked if he could take me out to lunch. I was caught way off guard, was in super networking mode and said "sure," not wanting to say no because I didn't want to eliminate the possibility of a business/networking meeting.

I'm feeling it was inappropriate and that he took advantage. Bottom line though is that he works at a Big 5 consulting firm and I need a job.

I'm not even sure what question to ask here because I have so many. I guess the most important would be:

1) How do I approach him via email to say that I would like to meet to discuss potential opportunities at his firm? Do I pretend as if he never asked me out? What if he brings it up? How do I address it?

Or should I be asking 2) Should I email him to meet and discuss professional opportunities?

or 3) I'm feeling it was highly inappropriate for him to be representing his company in such a way. Should I write the company a letter?

Disclaimer: It's possible there's more to this story than what's here, but I can only answer it based on the details presented. But I have a feeling it's going to be controversial.

In my opinion, from what you've said, it sounds like this guy wasn't approaching you as a professional in a networking way, but rather was simply asking you out on a date -- like any other guy who might approach you in the course of your day who you don't work with. He just happened to meet you at a career expo.

He doesn't seem to have mixed his messages at all, such as combining romantic interest with business overtures or insinuations of professional help. It sounds like he was pretty clearly making a social overture only.

Now, is a career expo the wisest place to do this? No, because most people there are in a business mindset -- which, as your experience clearly demonstrates, can lead to confusion and crossed signals. He can think you clearly understand he's asking you on a date, and you can think that because of the venue in which it occurred, there's a networking possibility.

But aside from not choosing his venue very cautiously, the fact remains that this guy wasn't approaching you for professional reasons and he didn't pretend to be. Assuming that he approached you for a date and just a date -- not a business meeting -- you should handle him like you'd handle any other guy who approached you for a date. If you're interested in getting to know him socially, go. If you're not, decline.

You should not go out with him just in the hopes that you can spin his romantic interest into a professional opening for you, because that's kind of gross and unfair. However, you could be straightforward with him about the nature of your interest -- in other words, tell him candidly that you're not interested in a date but that you're really interested in his firm and would love to talk to him about business. (Of course, be aware that he may tell you he's fine with that when he really just intends to try to persuade you to change the nature of your interest.)

But without that conversation to get aligned on terms, you would be naive to accept his invitation in the hopes of keeping it strictly business, because that's not the invitation he has extended you. If you want to try to network with him, you can invite him to do so. But the invitation he's issued isn't for networking.

And no, you should not report him to his employer. Unless he was mixing business with a come-on, this is none of his employer's business, and it doesn't sound like he was. He's not a coworker or your manager, he wasn't interviewing you, he wasn't approaching you about business, and it doesn't sound like he exploited his job to influence you. He's just a guy coming on to a woman, like a million other guys every day.

What do others think? I'm bracing for someone to say that because he was a speaker at a career expo, he was obligated to be in "all business" mode, but in my experience, those events often have a substantial social component to them.

Monday, October 5, 2009

should I take a one-month, seasonal position that's far from home and won't pay me much?

A reader writes:

I have been unemployed for 6 months. I keep going on interview after interview -- all well prepared, well researched, well rehearsed and thought they all went extremely well. Then, nothing. Last week, I had three interviews that all went really well. The third I was offered the job on the spot, but I asked for some time to consider the offer based on the following:

1) It's seasonal.
2) It's only a month long.
3) It's 35 miles one way.
4) The pay will have me break even.

Of course, I did not tell him that.

The two other jobs SEEMED interested in having me back for a second interview/ skills test (I'm a visual merchandiser, its not uncommon to be asked to "show 'em whatcha got" in store) before they hire by the end of the month. I'm concerned that if I take the seasonal job I won't have the time to interview elsewhere. I also don't want to say yes and then later back out, I don't like burning bridges. However, my unemployment is running out and the seasonal position is the only one that has solidified itself.

Any advice would be much appreciated! Thank you!

I'm having trouble seeing the advantages of taking the job. There's apparently no monetary gain, as you say you'll break even on the pay. So it's short-term, and without any financial gain. Plus you might even come out behind, since you said you won't be able to continue interviewing during that time.

Is this job prestigious? Likely to add significantly to your resume and/or help you build important connections that you would not otherwise have? If so, those are valid reasons to take it despite the above. But if the answer to both those questions is no, then I have to wonder what you'd gain from it. It almost seems like at that point you'd be taking a job just for the sake of being employed -- but not for any of the reasons you actually want a job, such as monetary gain, professional advancement, etc.

If you decide to turn it down though, I recommend explaining to the employer that the numbers don't work out for you -- that you'd just be breaking even. They may surprise you and make you a higher offer once they hear that, so it's worth mentioning.

Good luck!

saying thank-you after getting job rejection feedback

If you ask someone who rejected you for a job for feedback about how you could do better next time and that person takes the time to respond, you really, really should follow up with at least a "thank you."

Giving that feedback is not obligatory, and many employers ignore those requests. If someone takes the time to help you, that person is doing you a favor. You should thank them.

When I take the time to help someone with feedback and get silence in return, I remember it.

5 ways managers fail at delegating

Delegating effectively is one of the most important things managers do, and it's also one of things people struggle with the most.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about five of the most common ways managers fail at delegating. Please check it out and share your own thoughts in the comments over there.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

reopening salary negotiations after accepting an offer

A reader writes:

11 months ago, I accepted a job in the nuclear industry (Company X). At that time I was unemployed. The offer was contingent upon the issuance of a security clearance. Clearances take anywhere from 2-3 weeks to 2-3 years. In such situations, people either travel, volunteer, enjoy the free time, or find a job. Luckily for me, I found another job immediately, not really pertaining to my field, but it's higher pay, 20% more to be exact.

I was informed by the issuing agency that my clearance is about to be issued any day now from, and the next step would be that Company X will discuss my start date. I really want to start my new job, but I am having second thoughts since my current job pays much more.

I know that the #1 rule is never to discuss or negotiate job terms AFTER formally accepting an offer. However, this offer was made a year ago and a lot happens in a year! I also know that these clearances cost a lot of time and money for the company (8K-15K). I feel guilty to open up negotiations, but I also know that they need me more than I need them, since they invested in me and have been waiting.

Should I address salary negotiations given that it's been a year and that I am currently employed?

I wrote back to this reader and asked if he/she had signed a contract. The response:

Now that I think about it, I should have signed the contract (a condition mandated by government agencies to pursue security clearances, I technically have to be an employee-on-stand by).

However, instead I verbally accepted the offer. They were more concerned about my paperwork for the clearance, and I now think that they forgot to wait on my signed contract. I believe the HR lady has committed a blunder by processing my paperwork without my signature on the offer.

Okay. If you didn't sign a contract, then it sounds like legally you're free to back out.

Ethically is a different story.

You accepted this job at a particular salary, knowing that there would be a long wait while your security clearance was processed, and knowing that the company would spend $8-15,000 getting you that clearance. Now that your clearance has been obtained, the ethical thing to do is to set up a start date and not try to negotiate.

Frankly, if I were this employer, and you tried to negotiate at this point, I would be so disgusted that I would probably pull the offer, unless I were desperate. It shows a lack of integrity.

So I wouldn't count on being able to negotiate successfully anyway. You should see your choices as taking the job you committed to, at the salary you accepted, or not taking it at all. And if you don't take it at all, account for the fact that you will burning a bridge, and you may run into someone from that company in your professional future. Do you want to be seeking a job offer from a different company some day and discover that the person you burned is a decision-maker there?

So not only is honoring your commitment the ethical thing to do, but it's also probably the smart thing to do.

What do others think?