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Monday, November 30, 2009

2 petty things

Yes, these complaints are petty, but here they are nonetheless:

1. Please don't address me as "Mrs." in your cover letter.

"Mrs." refers to a married woman (and even then, plenty of them don't use it). I am not married. And if I were, I would be unnerved that you somehow knew that. Either way, I wonder why you're assuming it.

The term you're looking for is "Ms." It's the female equivalent of "Mr." -- in other words, it makes marital status irrelevant.

I'm not rejecting anyone over this, just noting that it's mildly weird. Also weird is that the people most likely to do this are male recent grads.

(For more on this topic, this post over at Clue Wagon has lots of input on this in the comments.)

2. It's not a great idea to apply for a job with me and then add me to the email list you use for mass-circulation of announcements promoting your band, your fundraiser, your side business, your inspirational story, and/or the news article you found interesting this morning. If you do this, it will annoy me and make me wonder why you thought this was appropriate.

If your email program is automatically adding everyone you've ever emailed to your "contacts" list, either change your settings or -- even better -- never send a mass email to your full contacts list.

I told you they were petty.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

how to handle requests for salary history

A reader writes:

I am searching for a new position and more than half of listings require salary history. Not even requirements but history, which I think is completely unjust and I typically do not give out because a) it’s confidential, b) it’s excessive in wanting to know about the applicant and c) if my future salary is to be determined by my past salary, I would be broke for the rest of my life because I was grossly underpaid!

But some companies insist on it, including a few companies I badly want to work at. And since I can’t be unemployed forever, should I…. a) surrender my principles and submit a history and b) if I do, can I slightly exaggerate the numbers? Like I said, it’s confidential and the company cannot ask others about my financial record so they wouldn’t be able to find out.

Well, there's how things should be and then there's how things often are.

Personally, I believe that your salary history is no one's business but your own, and that employers should pay based on their assessment of your value, not what their competitors thought you were worth. And I think that insisting on salary history is the mark of a lazy HR department.

However, the reality is that many, many employers do require it. And some will discard you immediately if you don't provide it. So you have to decide if you want to hold firm on not giving it out and risk not being considered, or whether you're willing to compromise in order to possibly get the job.

If you decide to hold firm, Nick Corcodilos has a lot of advice on how to do it (as well as some impassioned treatises on why you should). You can also try saying that you committed to your past employers to keep your salary confidential, and you need to honor that.

But some employers will end things right there, so you need to be prepared for that. It's possible that this is a sign of an employer who you don't want to work for anyway, but it's also possible that they just have a bureaucratic HR person. So you need to decide how important this is to you and how much risk you're willing to take on.

But one thing you can't risk: lying about the numbers. If you give numbers, they must be accurate, since if they find out later that you lied, employers can and will yank job offers over that, because it speaks to your integrity -- in fact, they can even fire you after you've been hired if they find out you lied in your application materials. And they can indeed find out; some companies actually ask candidates for W2s or other documentation of the numbers they gave, as part of the offer paperwork. So either tell or don't tell, but don't lie.

when you can't recommend a friend for a job

A reader writes:

I have a friend (kinda) who applied for a position at the hotel I work at. It would be working directly with me. I did not and would not recommend her for this position. I know she is not a good fit.

She applied, put my name down, and got an interview. How do I tactfully tell my boss not to hire her? She is not a team player and I know she would not work out. I cannot work with her and we would be working the same shifts. I also know for a fact that she has talked back to her bosses previously. My mom and brother both worked with her and told me it would turn out bad as well.

Well, first, be sure that you really think she wouldn't be good at the job -- and that it's not just that you don't want to work with her. Because if it's the latter, I can't condone standing in the way of someone finding employment based just on a personal dislike.

But assuming that you really do know her to be someone who wouldn't work out well, you can discreetly mention it to your boss. Be specific about why you think that (not just that you know she wouldn't be a good fit, but why), and make it clear that her putting your name down in no way indicates your endorsement.

You can also mention to your boss that you feel awkward about the position you're in, and ask that he handle your feedback with discretion.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

should I include an audio clip with my resume?

A reader writes:

I had an idea which I wanted to bounce off of you. I was thinking one way I could make myself different from the rest of the pack is a quick audio overview of myself; sort of an elevator speech directed at the organization I am interested in. I am looking to apply for consulting positions in Information Technology. I believe an audio file will enhance my resume and cover letter, be very different from the rest of the pack, and show my charisma and ability to speak intelligently.

What do you think? Thanks!

I think no, for the same reason that video resumes are a bad idea: Most hiring managers are spending mere seconds on your resume before making a decision about whether to put you in their yes, no, or maybe pile. They don't want to watch or listen to a whole pitch; they want to scan the parts of your resume that they want to scan, and they want to do it quickly. Video or audio overviews remove that ability.

I also don't think an audio file would necessarily indicate charisma or ability to speak intelligently, because for all I know, you're reading a script that someone else wrote and which took you 20 tries to get to sound like that. I'm much more interested in how you speak extemporaneously, if we get to an interview.

Now, there might be some industries where this might be a better idea ... but I suspect that most hiring managers, like me, would just delete it.

What do others think?

is using "we" in an interview presumptuous?

A reader writes:

In a job interview, I have been asked questions based on scenarios (i.e., "What would you do if..." or "How would you handle..." with specific situations or projects that are actually going on at the organization or are coming up).

I often catch myself answering using "we" as if I'm already part of their team. Is this good or bad? Does it sound presumptuous or confident? Does it matter at all?

I like this question because you clearly over-think things, and so do I, so I like you.

I also like it because I've noticed this before and thought about it myself, and wondered if I was crazy for pondering it, so I'm pleased to hear that others wonder about it too.

Honestly, I don't think it really makes a difference. It doesn't make me think the person is more enthusiastic or invested or confident than someone who doesn't do it, and it also doesn't make me think the person is presumptuous. At its worst, it might sound sales-ish, but it depends on the delivery.

I suppose there might be interviewers out there who don't like it, and so you'd be safer not to do it ... but I wouldn't agonize over it too much.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Why performance reviews deserve a better rap

Performance evaluations often get a bad rap by people who see them as a bureaucratic waste of time.

And, yes, if you treat performance evaluations as a waste of time -- just an exercise you have to get through so you can say it was done -- that's exactly what they will be. But when done right, by good managers, performance evaluations can be meaningful and useful, both to the employee and the manager doing the evaluating.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about why performance evaluations deserve a better rap. Please check it out.

former boss is waging campaign of harassment against me

A reader writes:

I used to be quite good friends with my immediate manager; I met her through her brother, who I was very close to, and for a while we actually lived together. Then it all fell to pieces. On a personal level, we had a falling out (she stole a large amount of liquor from a friend after a party, the second time she'd done this, and when I discovered it, I called her out on it- something I hadn't done before).

She immediately began taking it out on me at work. We lived together, and till that point had commuted together in her car- now I had to find my own way. She didn't have hiring or firing power over me, however she found ways to make my job harder, and make me look incompetent. She developed the habit of eavesdropping at my door when I was on the phone and busting in to scream at me when we were home, so I took to going down the block whenever I had to call someone. Finally, she told me to move out. I thought it was all over, especially after she got a new position at a different company and moved on. I was unofficially promoted, and have been in her old role now for almost eight months.

But it wasn't over. Since she's left, she's waged a personal campaign against me with our mutual friends- this I can handle. What I can't is when it bleeds into the workplace. She's stated that the worst thing that ever happened to her was my moving to this city (I moved for my job under her), and that she wants me to die, or failing that, to move away as no one- professionally or personally- wants me here. She has a good relationship with my boss, who isn't exactly stable herself, after working together for several years, and still has professional contact with our company, not to mention she's still working in my field and has contact with many people I deal with in one way or another. She's approached my boss on several occasions, unsolicited, to express 'concerns' over my competency, my behavior, my professionalism, and my ability to do her old job. She's sent emails after projects my company did that she was involved with, which she knows, if they were actual concerns, should be sent to me as she used to BE me, to all my other coworkers (it's a small team), demanding changes after the fact and blaming me for not reading her mind or jumping at her command (in that situation she was a participant, not a client, which meant my judgement was the ruling factor, not her wishes). Most recently, she's started spewing even more hate filled rhetoric about me (never naming names but it's a small city and she's not a subtle woman) all over social media sites about me- this pops up every few weeks, that she'll start again. She presents herself as the victim who had to deal with me, or a passive aggressive concern. While socially people aren't buying it (she's lapsed one too many times into outright lunacy, not to mention obvious history-rewriting), in professional circumstances I worry she may be convincing.

I have no unnecessary contact with this women. When I deal with her professionally, I am professional and polite. Personally, I have no dealings with her at all. I've made it my policy to just bite my tongue, and not feed into this. However, this has to stop. I'm worried it could effect my current job, and it could have repercussions on future jobs- she was my direct supervisor, after all. Most importantly, my boss would like to bring her back as a consultant for several meetings about a recent relaunch we did- while she helped with the groundwork before she left, this was my baby. I know she's going to tear me apart. Is there anyway I can either make her stop entirely, or at the very least protect myself professionally? Contrary to what she says, I am good at my job. How do you damage control someone this wacky?

Holy crap. Several things:

1. This is why it's a bad idea to cross professional boundaries with your boss -- friendship alone puts you on shaky ground; living together is one of the worst ideas of all time.

2. Read The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker immediately. It'll help you figure out whether this woman is a nuisance or likely to turn into something more dangerous. Seriously, read this; she sounds unhinged and she's saying she wants you dead.

3. Talk to your boss and/or your HR department. Tell them that she is your former roommate, that you had a falling out, and that you are afraid of her -- that she's telling people she wants you dead (!), that she is sending people harassing emails about you, and that she is posting attacks about you on the Internet. Explain that your policy has been to try to ignore it and that you're not engaging with her at all, but that you are (a) afraid for your professional reputation and that of your employer, and (b) afraid that she may show up at the office and cause a scene or worse. Use the words "I am afraid of her."

I'm not a lawyer, but it's possible that your company may have some liability here, since she's your former manager. If nothing else, by warning them of what's going on, they probably incur some degree of obligation not to bring her back as a consultant ... and if you have any credibility at all, and handle this calmly, you'll probably destroy all credibility she has in their eyes.

Any advice from anyone else?

Friday, November 20, 2009

accepted a job; do I need to notify other places I applied?

A reader writes:

I got a job that I really wanted and I'm happy and grateful. My question is what's the best way to let other prospective employers know? These are places where I put in resumes, but haven't gotten interviews. (If I had interviewed for another job and was still waiting, I would call the hiring manager when I got another job offer.)

Some are easy--they have a link on their site where you can withdraw your candidacy. Others had email addresses to submit your resume. Should I email that same address and withdraw? Still others had U.S. Mail addresses to send your resume to. Should I call or email their HR offices and withdraw?

Even if I didn't think I had much chance of getting a call about some of these jobs, I don't want to waste HR's time, and I want to be polite. However, if they discarded my resume immediately on receipt, it seems a waste of their time to contact them and withdraw. What's the best way to handle this? I've applied for a lot of jobs over the last few months!

Congratulations on your new job!

I agree that you should notify anywhere that you had interviewed with (including phone interviews) that you're withdrawing from consideration -- because it's polite, and because you might be taking up a slot in their finalist pool that someone else could have.

However, convention doesn't really require you to notify places where you've just sent your resume and haven't yet heard anything.

But it's still a nice thing to do, if you choose to. I'd send an email rather than calling, for all the reasons I normally recommend email over calling (less of an interruption, more efficient, blah blah). I'd also just do it with the places you've applied in the last couple of weeks, not going back months. (Places that wait a long time to contact candidates should know that some of them will have accepted other offers meanwhile.)

But again, there's absolutely no obligation or even any expectation that you'll do this if they haven't asked you to interview.

Also, you are very polite to even be thinking about this -- many of those places you applied to don't even bother to tell applicants they've been rejected, so thank you for showing them how courtesy works.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

how not to pitch a blogger: for publicists

Thank you, but no, I do not want to receive a free copy of your book to review, or interview the author who you're promoting, or reprint your press release about your product.

As you may notice from reading my blog, I've never promoted a book (well, except my own), interviewed an author, or reprinted someone's corporate-promotion-masquerading-as-career-tips. But you didn't know that because you didn't bother to even glance at my blog before you wrote to me to ask me to promote your client.

Yes, I'm going to rant about PR people now. The ones who are flooding my in-box with press releases that aren't relevant to me, about a dozen a day.

This is what bugs me: Of course it's easier for publicists to simply lump all bloggers into one group and treat them all the same, rather than taking the time to look at my blog and realize that it makes no sense to pitch me. But doing so makes it abundantly clear that they value their time and interests far more than my own: They have no problem interrupting people with an email that is of zero value to them, because they're solely working to advance their own interests. Which makes them essentially spammers, just cloaked in a veneer of respectability.

Now, someone might counter that with: If you have a blog, you're putting yourself out there and asking to be pitched, by nature of your existence -- just like a newspaper can't complain when people send it press releases.

But I would argue that blogs are different. I don't get paid to write this blog. I do it because I want to, but that means doing a lot of work for free. Why would I give space here, in what I've worked to create for free, to a publicist who wants to promote something to make their client a profit? You might as well ask me to display your company's billboard in my living room.

Of course, I can and do just hit delete. But it's still really annoying to see this behavior, and they're not doing their clients any favors.

Monica O'Brien has a brilliant post on this here. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

no one told me my coworker was fired

A reader writes:

Yesterday I found out through coworkers that one of our managers left/was fired (closer to the latter, I think... I have heard he was in a "you need to show improvement in three months" situation which ended this week). His name is still on his office, and his things are still here, but he is definitely gone--after confirming with a coworker, I sent him an e-mail wishing him well and have heard back from him.

My thoughts on the matter are definitely biased by the fact I really liked the guy, as did a lot of the people who worked under him, but I am writing to ask what communication is proper from an employer after an employee is let go in a situation like this? I am angry that there has been no word from my employer--this is someone I worked with on and off for the past year and a half! We were not working together recently, but I did not like finding this out through "office gossip" and it makes me uncomfortable that management is not willing to communicate that this employee no longer works here. Within what time-frame would you expect to be told of a coworker's firing? Or is it appropriate not to communicate this?

Our office is about 60 people (the company is 300-400), and we frequently get office-wide e-mails. I was very frustrated yesterday, because I wanted to reach out the employee, but did not want to do so mistakenly in case the rumor was false. I know decisions like this are usually made with a lot of planning--is there some reason I'm missing why other employees can't be informed afterwards? When employees leave under other circumstances we usually have a little ice-cream social goodbye meeting ("Office Space" style) which makes it hard to take when one employee just disappears.

Yes, employers should let other employees know as soon as possible. Not only is it completely weird not to for the reasons that you cite, but there are also practical reasons that demand it -- for instance, you might still be transferring calls to the person, or sending them work.

However, for some reason, a lot of employers really struggle with how to do this gracefully. I worked at one place that would never announce it -- one day the person's desk would just be empty and it was clear that they were Not To Be Spoken Of Again. This place also fired a ton of people, so it of course the company's bizarre handling of it quickly became a morbid joke among all of us, and whenever anyone was out sick or even just late, speculation would be rampant.

Anyway, in my opinion, the way to do it is to let people know quickly and directly, along with information on how things will be handled while the position is vacant. For instance: "Jim's last day was today, and we wish him the best. Until we hire a replacement, Linda will be handling his accounts, and please talk to her if you have questions about specific projects Jim was working on."

But it's often going to be awkward anyway. In my experience, there are two ways people react when a coworker gets fired: They either think "I saw that one coming" (or even "it's about time") or they're shocked.

When people saw it coming, it usually doesn't cause much of a ripple. But in cases where coworkers are shocked, it can be really be rattling. When you're shocked, keep in mind that most people don't advertise it when they're struggling in their jobs, and good managers are discreet about it too. So even though the firing came as a surprise to you, it probably didn't come as a surprise to your coworker. It's pretty rare for someone to be fired without any warning (except in particularly egregious cases, like embezzling or, say, punching someone). In most cases, the employee has had numerous conversations with their manager about whatever the problem is and what needs to change. And if the employer is at all responsible, the person has also been explicitly told that they could lose their job if the problems aren't fixed.

But that's a tangent. Back to your question: Anyone want to shed light on what's up with those companies that fire people and then don't announce to the remaining staff that the person is gone? Are they too wimpy? Suffering from misplaced fear that they'll get sued if they say the wrong thing? Something else?

Monday, November 16, 2009

employee potluck lunches, with allergies

A reader writes:

I am a third grade elementary school teacher and our school holds a "potluck" lunch for the staff every other Friday. Due to my numerous and severe food allergies, I have politely excused myself from attending these gatherings and therefore I do not sign up to contribute.

Since the economic downturn, it has been decided that sign-ups will now be by the entire grade level, rather than by individuals signing up, to keep costs lower. (We have 60 staff members, so it does get expensive to bring food for that many people!) The seven other teachers on my grade level are now expecting me to contribute, even though they are well aware that eating potluck food could jeopardize my health and I still would have to bring my own lunch anyway. Do you have any advice for me in this "sticky" situation?

Why the hell is the school having so many potlucks? Every other week?! I'd be curious to know if the majority of other teachers like having them be so frequent, or if others feel put-upon as well.

I would simply talk to the other teachers on your grade level and explain: "I'd love to participate, but I have so many food allergies that it would be an enormous imposition if I expected others to accommodate me. So I'm going to be skipping them and hope you guys understand." If you really want to soften it up, add in: "Maybe we can do our own occasional lunches on a smaller scale sometimes, although I totally understand if dealing with allergy restrictions is more of a hassle than people feel like taking on."

Notice the words that were used there? You're bowing out for their convenience, so that they don't have follow your allergy restrictions when they cook. Never mind that they obviously hadn't been planning to anyway; this reframes it in a way that should be easier for everyone to swallow.

Also, let's take this opportunity to broadcast a public service announcement to everyone in a position to influence this stuff: Biweekly workplace social events of any kind are too frequent -- and if you're going to do it anyway, under no circumstances can you hold it against people if they choose not to participate. If you want to expect people to attend and frown upon it if they don't, try twice a year. Jeez.

how much can you change your manager?

One of the most common themes in the questions people send me is: "How can I change my manager?" Or, how can I make her stop this annoying habit, or not be a jerk, or learn to manage her time better?

The answer is: Maybe you can't.

And rather than stewing in frustration for months or even years, it's better to determine whether the thing that's driving you crazy is ever going to change. If not, your quality of life will be much higher if you stop focusing on how much it irritates you and, instead, choose to accept it, and decide how you want to respond.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about how and why to do this. Please check it out!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

coworker moonlighting as prostitute during work hours

A reader writes:

My co-worker is a very open person and tells me to cover for her every time she has to leave the office. Our boss and manager are not here half the time so when they are not, my co-worker leaves either early and/or takes a really long lunch. At the beginning, the excuse for leaving early was because of a date. But she later told me that she's actually sleeping with people for money. She comes back all proud, telling me how much money she made in an hour.

I am no one to judge what my co-worker does and it doesn't bother me, but it does start to annoy me when I have to pick up the slack. When our boss gives us work to do together, I end up doing most of the work.

What really got me upset was when my co-worker was having sex with a client in our public restroom. I don't care what my co-worker does in their personal life but when this person is having sex for money during working hours, then it starts to affect me because I have to finish the work she never got around to doing because she was out of the office most of the day.

I don't know how to tell my manager. Should I even say something? I need guidance and advice.

Wow, this is by far the most titillating letter I've ever received here.

I'd just be straightforward with her and tell her: "I don't care what you do in your personal life, but while you're off making money, you're leaving me to pick up the slack here. You're putting me in a bad position, because you're asking me to cover for you and you're leaving me with more work."

If that doesn't change anything, then warn you that you're going to stop covering for her. And the next time she leaves with work undone, tell your boss that the work is undone because your coworker was out most of the day.

Personally, I wouldn't tell the boss why -- you don't need to explain to your boss how she's spending her time away from the office, only that she is indeed away.

But I do recommend that you take all of the steps above immediately. If your coworker gets caught, and it comes out that she told you what she was doing, you risk being seen in conspiracy with her. Good luck!

hours cut, workload increased

A reader writes:

I was recently hired as a Personal Assistant/Office Manager at a non-profit organization and I love my job!

However, there is one issue. During the interview process, I was told I would be working 24 hours a week. Once they called me and said I was hired, I was told (in the same conversation) that the position had been changed to 18 hours a week due to finances. I accepted the job and have been there almost a month.

The previous Personal Assistant who retired has trained me and still volunteers there a couple times a week. I have realized that my boss is expecting me to perform the same amount of work in 18 hours that previously was done in 24 hours a week, AND take on new responsibilities such as designing artwork for banners, and other various time consuming tasks. I am having trouble keeping up even though I am experienced, have been trained and fully understand my duties.

My lack of time is not because of a learning curve. The previous person in my position told me that she doesn't know how the heck I will accomplish this in 18 hours a week. I handle the finances so I can see that there is wiggle room in the budget, but only by cutting back on other things. They have already saved money by hiring me at a lower hourly rate than my predecessor.

There are two possibilities here. Either:

1. Your boss is guilty of sloppy thinking -- knowing she wants to save money and just hoping that this plan will make it happen, without thinking through how it'll actually work to cut the hours by 25% while increasing the workload.


2. The previous assistant was really inefficient, and they'd been unhappy with how little she was accomplishing. In looking at the workload, they felt it reasonably could be done in fewer hours per week, and with more work on top of it.

So what you need to do is talk to your boss and figure out what's going on. Say something like this: "I know this position was recently cut by 25%, from 24 hours to 18 hours, but from what I understand, the workload wasn't cut at all. In fact, it seems like the workload has actually been increased. I'm concerned about my ability to do in 18 hours what Ellen was doing in 24 hours, plus having more work on top of that. So I wanted to find out from you what the thinking was with my position: Were you thinking that Ellen wasn't as efficient as she could have been, and so therefore the cut in hours shouldn't matter if her replacement works at a higher level? Or is there something else going on that I'm not seeing?"

Now, your boss may say that Ellen wasn't inefficient at all, but that money is tight and so they were just forced into cutting the hours. If that happens, tell her that you understand and would like to talk about what changes to make to the job so that the workload matches the cut in hours. If this is what's going on, she probably hasn't fully thought through the reality of the situation, so you may need to be explicit: "On the face of it, I'm not sure it's realistic for me to take on the same workload as she did with fewer hours. Did you have ideas for how that would work?"

Assuming that she doesn't, you can then respond with something like: "I see a couple of possibilities: I'd be happy to increase my hours to get it all done, or if that's not an option, I have some suggestions for projects to remove from this role."

If she's not willing to remove any projects from your plate, then you say, "I'm concerned about setting myself up for failure here. I can certainly keep all of this on my plate, but I think we're in agreement that it's not realistic to do the same amount in less time, so clearly some things aren't going to get done. I'd rather talk about what those items should be, so that we're deliberate about it, rather than just having things fall through the cracks or be a rush job that isn't high quality."

On the other hand, if it's option #2, and Ellen wasn't performing at a high level, then your boss's expectations might be reasonable. If your she tells you that, try to take it with an open mind and see how things go over the next few weeks. Look for efficiencies (if Ellen trained you, maybe her training wasn't the best), cut out time-wasters, and see if you still have a problem on your hands. If you do, then you go back to your boss and raise the issue again.

Good luck!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

company wouldn't interview me because I was 5 minutes late

A reader writes:

Yesterday, I was scheduled for a very much anticipated interview with a well-known airline for a customer service position. I know in my heart that this company would not only be an honor to work for, but that the position would be a great fit for me!

The interview was scheduled for 3:00 p.m. I left home in ample time to arrive. The problem was that I encountered traffic due to an accident on the freeway. I did not telephone for fear of being rejected from the interview process. I managed to get off the freeway and take an alternate route. I arrived at the guard's gate @ 3:00 p.m., I was allowed into the parking lot, made into the front door/reception desk (this took maybe another minute or two); then I was told that "it's 3:05 p.m., and because I was not there at 3:00 p.m., that they could not see me and would not allow the interview. I explained the circumstances but it was apparently of no interest to them

Feeling like this was a bad joke, I was absolutely devastated. I know my watch and car clock is set to the radio station time and is accurate. As I was heading to my car, I looked at my watch and it was just 3:04/3:05. All the preparing I did and anticipation I had has been crushed. I want to get in, I want to work for this company. Who knows when they will have another opening in Phoenix?

What, if anything, do you think I can do right now to somehow get into an interview? I just know that once I get an interview, they'll love me, they'll agree that I would be an asset to their team. This circumstance is not customary, it was a circumstance that simply happened.

Yes, it simply happened, but you made choices that contributed to it: You deliberately chose not to call, and you also didn't allow a buffer for the possibility that you'd hit traffic -- two things you could have done differently.

However, that doesn't change the fact that refusing to interview you because of a five-minute delay is pretty harsh. (Especially from the airline industry -- insert obvious joke here.) We've discussed the question of how late is too late in the past, and very few people thought that a couple of minutes deserved a flat-out rejection.

Still, though. I can't quite get my head around why you decided calling them would be a bad idea. You call in that situation because it's the courteous (and safe) thing to do.

As for what you can do to get an interview, well ... maybe nothing. But if anything is going to work, it's writing a flawlessly professional and apologetic letter reiterating your strong desire to work for them. Don't make excuses, take responsibility for it, and find some convincing way to assure them that this was out of character and a one-time aberration. It still may not work, but it's probably your best shot.

There's also the question, of course, of how much you really want to work for a company that handled a five-minute delay this way. Screening procedures go both ways, you know.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

trouble fitting in with coworkers

A reader writes:

I have been working at a software company for a little over a year now. I like the company, we produce a product which I like, the mission statement is very focused on making a difference in education, and the culture of the overall company is very relaxed and employee centered (jeans and free lunch!). In addition to this, we continue to profit and grow despite the awful economy. The pay is decent and I see opportunities for advancement.

That said, I don't feel like I fit in with my department. When I first started, I was very eager to fit in, work hard and succeed within the organization. Most of the people in the company seemed normal and nice as I met them, but I noticed that the people in my department seemed.....odd. Some of them didn't make eye contact or return greetings, others had loud, overly casual ways of speaking and acting (bodily function jokes, casual swearing). As I worked more within my department and ate lunch with these folks, I noticed more behaviors that I didn't know how to respond to. More sexual/sexist jokes and comments (mostly by women), gruff and/or condescending tones of voice, moody personalities, trash talking of other departments, political bickering, etc (one guy even sent racist jokes to me). I even heard a couple people talk about how us newer folks were getting paid too much. Much of the more crass behavior was by only certain individuals, but overall the culture seems weird and unprofessional to me. Some of the quieter ones are real quiet and nervous around me. The director of my department is very hands off, and seems depressed and is sometimes very moody. Some of the people are fine, but I just don't have much in common as far as interests or worldview.

The department is very close (they often each lunch and socialize together) and when I try to talk to them casually or at company events, I feel like an outsider. Most of them are close to my age (mid 20's to early 30's), but many of them talk about pretty boring stuff or are of the unprofessional type described previously.

As a result of all this, I stopped eating lunch with these folks and I don't really socialize with them outside of work. When I try to, I still really feel like an outsider. I want to move up to something more at my level professionally (it's pretty entry level, this is my first job out of grad school) and get out of my department as soon as I can, but am I hurting my career by not eating with these folks or socializing with them? Some of the most unprofessional are moving up the most in my department! The department director said during my interview that he likes people who see the job as "more than a job" and that the department is very close, so I have the impression that hanging out with my coworkers is expected. I can't stand eating with them and I would not want to spend time outside of work with most of them.

Well, wanting to spend time with them outside of work or sharing common interests isn't really the right litmus test for whether they're good coworkers. If you find yourself in a job where you do, you're really lucky -- most people don't find that. It's a bonus, not something you should expect.

Some of the behaviors you described are things that are truly unacceptable in the workplace (racist jokes), but a lot of them are things that you're likely to find almost anywhere you go: gruff tones of voice, moodiness, shy people who don't make eye contact, people you just can't relate to, and, in most places, casual swearing.

Please don't ignore the racist jokes. Tell the perpetrator you don't see humor in it, and if he persists, talk to your boss or HR department, because not only is he offensive, but he's almost certainly violating a company policy (as well as possibly harassment law, depending on the details).

But for the other stuff -- well, this is the work world. You'll probably be working with a lot of people you don't really click with your entire life.

On the question of whether you're hurting your career by not eating lunch with them -- it depends. Some workplaces -- but not most -- do have cultures where that's expected. I don't think you should feel pressured to eat with them all the time, but it wouldn't kill you to join them occasionally -- and if you go into it with an open mind, you might find that it helps you. Having good relationships with your coworkers can make it easier to get things done (because conversations are easier/more efficient when you have a comfort level with each other, people are more likely to go out of their way to help you out, etc.). You may also be part of work-related discussions over lunch that are useful to you.

I don't think you should feel obligated to socialize with them outside of the work day, but it's reasonable to attend the occasional office happy hour. I mean, you don't need to go camping with these people, but an hour for drinks after work? Do it from time to time, for the same reasons as the occasional lunch.

You don't need to be best friends with your coworkers, but I think you'll be happier if you let your guard down a bit.

Do your work well, maintain pleasant (not BFF) relationships with your colleagues, and you'll be fine.

Monday, November 9, 2009

will tattoos prevent me from getting hired?

A reader writes:

I have a couple tattoos, 2 that are visible, one on my wrist and another on my forearm. They aren't large or obscene. I also have my nose pierced with a small stud. I do have a good job, that I've been at for 6 years, and I got these "decorations" while working here. I am currently looking for a new position and wondered if having visible tattoos will hurt me from getting hired, although they can be covered up by long sleeves. What do you think?

Depends 100% on the company. Some won't care, some will. Some industries would see right past it or even welcome it, and some would frown on it.

Unless you're in a very creative field, I'd cover the tattoos up during the interview and definitely remove the nose ring -- just as part of dressing appropriately formal for an interview.

But, on the other hand, if it's very important to you to get a job where things things don't matter, then you can always keep them visible and assume that it'll be a good screening mechanism for ensuring that you end up in the culture you want. Do you want to work for someone who would have a problem with your tattoos and piercing? If not, take that into account.

5 signs you might be a bad coworker

I get a lot of email from people who are being driven crazy by their coworkers. In most cases, I suspect the coworkers have no idea that they're even doing anything irritating.

At U.S. News & World Report today, I wrote about five signs that you might be the one pushing your coworkers to the limits of their sanity. Please check it out!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

upset with size of raise

A reader writes:

I'm on my 6th year of working with the same small nonprofit. I haven't moved up or down. I've stayed at my same position.

Every year they do an evaluation, and every year I get the same raise, 1.5%. Since I have been working here, I have taken on more than my requirements. I have shed blood, sweat, and tears at this company.

I had asked for a 3% increase on my recent evaluation and was denied because I didn't "supervise" anyone. Is this honestly fair? I also received my A+ IT Technician Certification before my evaluation when I had asked for the raise. My manager denied my raise because she said that other employees in the company that received any type of certification were not given a raise. Is it really fair to base my job and my responsibilities against someone else in the company?

Salaries are based (or should be based) on market value. In the nonprofit world, sometimes that's also balanced against what the organization can afford to pay; many people accept lower salaries at nonprofits because they feel the work provides other rewards.

1.5% is low, even for nonprofits. This could mean one of several things:

1. Your employer tries to get away with lowballing employees and hopes you'll accept it, but might give you more if you present a strong case for it.
2. Your employer tries to get away with lowballing employees and won't budge regardless of the strength of your argument.
3. Your employer, like many nonprofits, is struggling with funding and can't give you more even if it wanted to.
4. Your employer is open to giving larger raises, but doesn't believe your performance warrants more.

I have no idea which of these is going on here, but what I do know is that you need to ask different questions when you next talk to your manager about this. Ask directly: "What would I need to change about my performance to get a higher raise?" Maybe it's not even possible, who knows. Ask and find out.

You asked whether any of this is fair. Fair means compensating you according to your value to the company, based on your contributions there. It's not really about what your coworkers earn or who has what certification. It's about the employer's assessment of your value. If you disagree with that assessment, you have the following choices:

* Ask for more -- but this must be presented as the case for why your accomplishments warrant more, not just longevity or certifications.

* Accept it and stay.

* Or, if you don't you don't like the salary you're being offered and the employer won't budge, go out there and see what other offers the world has for you. You might find one you like a lot better -- or you might decide that you'd rather stay put.

Good luck.

how to manage an employee without enough work to do

A reader writes:

I have an employee who for the past few months has said that she doesn’t have enough to do. I am not the type to give out busy work. It is perhaps that she has mastered her job and should move on to something else with another company? We are a small company -- 6 people. I am not sure what to do.

So you have an employee who has mastered her job and has time for additional work, and you want her to move on?

Is there nothing else that your company could benefit from having done since she has free time?

Of course you don't want to give her busy work, but surely it would benefit your company to have the chance to get to do things that people normally don't have time for.

I don't know where her talents or interests lie or what your company needs, but why not ask her to figure out what projects or responsibilities would be useful for her to take on? It's a small company, so she's probably intimately familiar with its inner workings and should be able to come up with ideas about where there are needs.

Maybe the company could use better documentation of its various procedures, or better training materials, or, hell, a Twitter account to communicate with customers. I don't know since I don't work there, but she has the time to figure it out -- let that be the first project she takes on.

(I should also note: I'm assuming that you're convinced that her job would be a full-time job for most people, and that she's unusual in being so fast. If that's not the case, then you need to take a hard look at how you have your staffing structured.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

did boss misrepresent vacation policy?

A reader writes:

I work at a small start-up company, and when I accepted the position my boss represented one of the perks as "we can be informal about vacation days." I'm not a slacker and didn't plan on taking advantage of it, but understandably I was happy about the attitude.

However, in the seven months since having worked here, I've taken a total of 2 vacation days for long weekends (I started accruing after 3 months), and 1 sick day. Every time, my boss has had a very "You're slacking" type of attitude and seemed unhappy that I was taking time off. Another employee here (who granted is more senior than I am) took a 2 plus week vacation in a foreign country and seems not to get any flak at all.

My boss even asked me to fill in HR forms for the two vacation days (we have a parent company with an HR dept), and said it was the first time he had even seen the forms. In other words, the other employee hasn't reported any of his time off.

I feel that the disparity in treatment is unfair, even if the other employee is more senior, and that the company's attitude was misrepresented as least as far as I'm concerned. I've been working just as hard and putting in as many hours as everyone else here. Should I bring it up with my boss?

Yes. You need to find out what your boss' expectations are and how this is all supposed to work.

I'd say something like this to him: "I want to make sure I'm on the same page as you about time off. I might have misinterpreted, but I got the sense that you might have frowned upon the three days that I've taken off since I started. Three days in seven months doesn't seem excessive to me, but I wanted to check in with you and find out what your expectations are about how time off is handled."

It's possible that by asking about it directly, you'll find out that he really doesn't object to you taking a reasonable amount of time off (time that you note you have accrued, after all -- i.e., earned). Maybe your boss is just grumbly when people do because it stresses him out, but he doesn't expect to stop you from doing it.

It's also possible that you'll find out that yes, he did indeed misrepresent the time-off policy when hiring you. Or that he has some unspoken expectation that you won't take any vacation during your first year. Or all kind of other unreasonable possibilities that you can only really find out about by asking him.

Here's another possibility: Maybe his concern wasn't with your days off per se, but with your timing. For instance, if you were taking vacation days in the midst of an urgent project, that could explain his reaction. You're at a start-up; workload tends to be high and there can be a no-time-off ethos during certain periods.

Or maybe when he told you that people are informal about vacation days, he meant that people will take a day off if they work over the weekend -- but you hadn't done that when you took yours. Again, it's a start-up, so who the hell knows what's up, but it wouldn't be shocking to have that be part of the culture there.

In any case, no matter what the explanation is, the answer is to ask. Ask with an open mind, non-defensively, and see what he tells you.

If his answer reveals definitively that he misrepresented the policy when hiring you and/or that he doesn't really want to see you take time off ever, then you need to address that head-on. Again, do it politely and non-defensively, but assertively and straightforwardly. For instance: "My understanding is that I earn three weeks of paid time off a year, and I accepted the job with that understanding. I think it's important for people to have occasional breaks from work, and I know it helps my productivity. I want to respect the company's needs too, of course, so what times of year are better ones to take it?"

By the way, I'd leave your coworker out of it, since really this is about you and the treatment you get, period. For all we know, your coworker negotiated special arrangements for vacation time; whatever is going on with her is irrelevant to the real issue here -- which is whether or not you and your boss can get aligned on how this is going to work for you.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

which job should I take?

A reader writes:

I have a temporary job working for a federal government agency as a clerk. I have been offered a promotion. The new position would raise my salary from $30,000 to $38,000. Accepting the position would require moving from the large city I currently live in to a much smaller place about 300 miles away. I have never been there and know no one who lives there. The person I would report to is a jerk. I am not sure I could do the job. It would be a challenge. Both jobs, the one I have now and the one I would move to, are temporary and would last about a year.

Reasons to take the new position: (1) More money (2) Better job title (3) One year in the new job would allow me to compete for better jobs with the federal government in the future. (4) Could lose credibility with current management if I decline.

Reasons not to take it: (1) New boss is a jerk (2) Not sure I would like the job (3) Expense of moving (4) Not familiar with the new town I would live in (moving from metro area of 4 million to a city with 100,000 population)

Should I accept the new job?

I can't answer this for you because ultimately it's about what weight you put on each of these factors, but I can point some things out that you should consider as you make your decision:

* Since the new position only lasts a year, are you only planning to stay in the new town for that year and then move again? If so, are you comfortable with a second move so soon after the first?

* You're not sure you could do well at the new job. If you fail at it, how will having a professional failure affect your career outlook afterwards?

* You're not sure you will like the new job, and you already dislike your new boss. So you'll be living in a town where you don't know anyone, with a boss you dislike, and a job that might not be your thing.

* On the other hand, it's only for a year. Are you someone who can stick out a less-than-ideal situation for the pay-off at the end? And how sure are you about that pay-off at the end?

* Are there other ways to advance your career in the ways that you want without making this particular move? Is this really the only available path to get you there?

As for losing credibility if you decline the move, people decline to move to new cities all the time. If your boss doesn't understand that, he's an ass anyway.

Looking at the factors above, it's not a move I personally would make. But it all depends on how you weigh the issues above, not me.

What do others think?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

boss constantly misses our meetings

A reader writes:

I work as analyst at a nonprofit organization in the IT department. One of the things my project manager has asked me from the beginning when we started working was to have a bi-weekly status meeting. For the first couple of months, these meetings were happening on time and scheduled. Lately for the last 6 months, my manager keeps rescheduling and saying he'll get to another time but never does. It makes me feel like my time isn't important enough to him.

Should I mention something to him or just let this slide?

Definitely mention it! But give him the benefit of the doubt about what's going on; he's probably not putting you off because he thinks your time is unimportant, but rather because he hasn't stopped to consider the impact on you.

Talk to him. Tell him that getting a chance to talk every two weeks is important to you, and ask if there's a way to have the meetings happen more reliably. Would it help to change the day they're scheduled for? Or would he be more able to make them happen if you both committed to a particular day without nailing down a specific time period, so that he has a larger window of time to make them happen? Or something else?

You can also be more assertive about following up when the meeting doesn't happen. The day after a missed meeting, go back to him: "Jim, we didn't get a chance to meet yesterday. Do you have a few minute to talk this morning?"

Sometimes people just need to be reminded about things like this, or hear that it matters to you. For all we know, he may be assuming that you're relieved to have fewer meetings. He also might have concluded that you have things under control and is deliberately being more hands-off with you because he trusts you -- but if so, the two of you should get aligned on that, so you're not left to wonder what's going on.

Talk to him.

Monday, November 2, 2009

you don't really want an informational interview

I've said this before, but apparently it's time to say it again.

When I'm asked for an informational interview, I'll generally explain that my workload usually prohibits that but that I'd be happy to answer the person's questions by email.

The person is then never heard from again.

This tells me: (a) The person didn't actually want an informational interview and was hoping to turn it into a job interview without my consent, and/or (b) the person wouldn't have had any plan had I agreed to meet, and it would have wasted my time. Oh, and perhaps also (c): The person is randomly asking for people's time without a real need or desire for it because they read somewhere that informational interviews will help them in their career, and thus isn't very considerate.

If you're asking for an informational interview, you need to have a plan before you make the request. And if once you get a response, you realize that you're without a plan, you need to come up with one. Otherwise you end up making a pretty bad impression, and those are hard to overcome.

should I give advance notice that I plan to resign?

A reader writes:

I've worked at a large non-profit for 4 years. I've recently interviewed at another non-profit and expect that they will make a job offer soon. I'm concerned about how I'll resign if offered the new job, and I'd appreciate your advice based on the following:

* My manager and vice president constantly say they don't want to be blind-sided by resignations; they want to be involved in employees' decisions to leave...

* Former colleagues who resigned without advance conversations with management were told they've burned their bridges, they're disloyal, etc. (These individuals worked here for 3+ years, gave 2+ weeks notice, and were model employees.)

* I'm amicable (but not close) with my boss, and I would jump at the chance to work in this new job if it were offered. I have no desire to remain at my current organization.

Would you advise me to tell my boss I'm looking to leave in the coming months (with no firm job offer in-hand)? If not, how do I involve her in my "decision-making process" to leave? I do not want to burn bridges or be perceived as unprofessional. Please advise.

Ha. Your company is funny. And also liars.

The first two points are in direct contradiction to each other: Managers who react badly to resignations give up any right to expect employees to give them more than two weeks notice.

Managers who get significant amounts of notice when an employee is thinking about leaving are managers who make it safe for employees to do that. That does not mean attacking people when they resign.

For instance, as I've written about before, I've always tried to create an environment where employees know they can safely alert me to their plans to leave soon, without having to worry about being badgered or pushed out early, and as a result I've rarely had employees give only two weeks notice; in fact, I've had employees give as much as 10 months notice at times. But it's solely because they've seen how other people giving long notice periods have been treated. Otherwise I'd have no right to expect it.

So while I'm sure your managers want advance notice and "to be involved in employees' decisions to leave," the reality is that they're making it impossible for you to do that. And there's no need for you to stress over that; this situation is of their own making.

What people do tells you a lot more than what people say. Believe their actions. And their actions in this case say you'd be a fool to alert them that you're thinking about leaving.

6 things you can learn about a company through their interview process

As a job seeker, you can learn a ton about a prospective employer, both good and bad, by watching how they handle little things during the hiring process.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about six of those things. Please check it out.