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Sunday, January 31, 2010

how do I tell disabled employees they can't have a handicapped parking space?

A reader writes:

I work in a call center of approximately 2,000 employees of which 1,500 are customer service representatives. In order to accommodate such a large staff, we have completely revamped our parking policy. In the past, our CSRs were allowed to park on our main campus for one reason or another. The campus has parking for 410 employees only, so some of our middle managers were forced to parked at one of our two satellite locations. To better align our parking based on role, the company moved all CSRs to one large satellite location which accommodates over 1,000 cars and provides shuttle service to transport our associates to and from. All middle managers and above are now assigned a specific space on campus.

We have also doubled the number of handicap spaces to accommodate our associates in need and they were assigned as well on a first come, first serve basis. How do I say to our handicapped associates, who did not get an on-site space, that there are no more handicap spaces available? Our senior management is totally against saying this right out, and wants me to find a way to say no without really saying no.

The law does require that we provide 1 handicap space for every 25 spaces we have on our lot. That we have done, plus extra handicap spaces have been provided. We are out of handicap spaces and have provided on-site spaces, but not handicap spaces. Now, we have no spaces left. How do we say this in a nice manner?

Why? Why wouldn't you want to provided handicapped employees with spaces that are easier on them?

Is there some problem where employees are pretending to need handicapped parking when they really don't? I mean, in junior high I used to keep an ace bandage in my locker so that I could wrap up my wrist with it and pretend to have a sprain so that I could get out of gym class, but I really doubt that you have a bunch of adults who are feigning disability.

So assuming that you have employees with a genuine need, give them the spaces.

And if you don't want to -- which I find inexplicable -- then there's a little law called the Americans with Disabilities Act that's probably going to require it anyway. Explain that to your senior management who are making this request of you.

If this means that some of your managers have to park in the satellite lot and ride the shuttle, well, so be it. Assign the remaining spaces based on seniority. If the ones who have to take the shuttle complain that they should get a closer space over someone with a disability, that'll tell you a lot about their character.

former coworker hates me; can I apply for a job at her company?

A reader writes:

I'm job hunting and I asked a former colleague about an opportunity at her current job. She wasn't helpful at all. Matter of fact, she changed the subject. I think she doesn't want me working with her, and worse, I think she would speak badly of me if anyone asked about my qualifications. What's strange and most hurtful is that we were once supposed to be friends... at least, that's how she portrayed herself to be my friend while working there. Turns out she wasn't a friend at all.

She isn't really able to speak about my abilities, but I was a target of ugly gossip where we used to work. The rumor monger was a person whom she was friends with, and the attacks were intended to discredit me and my abilities. The rumor spinner and I didn't like each other personally, but I kept it professional by not talking badly about him; he didn’t return the favor. How my former friend fits in is that I later learned that she also contributed to the bad stories going on behind my back while she worked there. She repeated everything I ever told her about anything and added to the stories some things I'd never say. I have nothing to hide, but that is still a horrible thing to do. I never confronted her, because she would deny it, so discussing it kind of defeats any purpose (and I believe in karma). You know the old saying: with a friend like that, who needs enemies? I very slowly stopped communications with her, and never said a word to anyone about the whole situation.

I was hoping that she would have stopped being ugly and in the spirit of laws of attraction, should would try to be a good networking participant, but that isn't happening. I've submitted applications to her employer anyway, because I've been qualified the jobs, but I have a feeling that if they got to the panel for review and she was on it, she would find a way to eliminate me from the process.

Though my former supervisor has given me a fabulous endorsement about my work ethic and quality on my online professional networking profile (and I have a dream of a recommendation from my company's the top executive), I'm not sure anyone from the former colleague's company would go to the site to see them, or give me the benefit of the doubt. I've made peace with her duplicity, but I'm annoyed that I could be left out of consideration, because of her.

Should I try to repair this relationship (because I really need a job), confront her, or should I just continue moving on and stop applying for jobs at her company?

Um, you should stop applying for jobs at her company. Why would you want to work someone with someone who spread negative rumors about you at your last job? She'd be likely to do it again at this one.

You should also stop trying to network with her, as what you've written here indicates that she'd be more likely to harm your efforts than to help them.

Unless her employer is the only employer in a 50-mile radius of you, I can't imagine why you're at all comfortable with the idea of working with her again.

I like that you're trusting and forgiving, but in this case, trusting this person would put you in a dangerous situation. Move on.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

coworker brushes hair with fork, cleans false teeth at desk

A reader writes:

I work for a company that has the FDA (Food and Drug Admin) come in often for audits. Every single thing every employee does can be audited. Therefore, procedures are put into place that must be followed.

A co-worker takes many shortcuts and does not follow these procedures. I have pointed this out numerous times to my team leader and even went to Human Resources at one point. We have an employee handbook of sorts that states specifically that if an employee does not follow certain procedures, it is grounds for terminition. I have been told by my team leader and HR that this is none of my business and to "sit down and pay attention to your own work." Another co-worker and I have documented proof, but no one wants to acknowledge it. Each of us have our own customers and many of them have said specifically they do not want her even to touch their forms.

And as if that weren't bad enough, she has no sense of manners. She has sinus issues and snorts all day long. Ok, I know some people can't help it and yeah, I can probably let that slide. She also talks on the Literally, hours. These are personal calls. Calls to her mother, sisters, sons, friends from church. I know everything there is to know about who did what to whom, who isn't paying child support, who is cheating on their husband...Again, this has been pointed out by not only me, but many other co-workers and again, nothing is done. Supposedly, she has been talked to in 1 on 1 meetings with the team leader, sent emails and also "reminded" in group meetings to limit her personal phone calls. After such meetings, she gets on the phone and complains to every family member she can call about how unfair it is that she has been pointed out unfairly.

Then there is of course the fact she takes her teeth out to clean them while sitting at her desk. She also uses a fork to brush her hair as well as talks with her mouth full of food, even if she's on the phone with customers! She also listens to her radio (w/ headphones on) but has the volume up loud enough for everyone to hear anyway. And she makes these noises that honestly sound as though she's about to have a sexual experience. Most days I feel like I'm working in the porno industry.

She says that if you were to come to her and ask her to stop something, she will. However, whenever someone has, she blows up and pitches a huge fit. One day she came to my desk and was very upset because I asked her not to do something that was not procedural. I said it kindly and have witnesses. She stood over me (I was sitting in my chair) and yelled at the top of her voice at me. She and another co-worker got into a shouting match with each other and the Manager of the entire department had to come down and break them apart. Again, nothing is done. I was reprimanded for asking her not to do something against procedures.

I love my job, really I do! But working with her is taking its toll. When she isn't here, the entire mood of the department changes. She is a joke to everyone. Even my team leader has called her lazy in our 1 on 1 sessions. HR refuses to do anything. Management refuses to do anything. What can I do? Just grin and bear it?

I'm not sure what you can do if your managers are uninterested in dealing with it, and she herself yells at people when confronted.

Your real issue here is less about her and more about having management that won't address an obvious problem. It sounds like they've made a decision -- for whatever reason -- to live with it. They've also told you clearly that they don't want to hear from you anymore about it.

I don't know why they've made that decision. Most likely, they're wimps who don't like having awkward or unpleasant conversations with people. Or, it could be that they don't really care about having procedures followed. Or they do care but they're addressing it with her privately and aren't going to share that with you. Or maybe you work for a company that requires reams of paperwork to be assembled over many months before someone can be fired, and they're in the process of doing that.

On the issues of her personal habits, as opposed to her work, it could be that no one has presented this to your manager in just the right way. Framed in a certain way, it could sound petty. It could be more effective to explain that her constant personal phone calls make it hard for you to concentrate on your own work and ask if you or she could be moved to a different area. (You might get her moved and/or your manager might take the info about her phone habits more seriously because you made it impersonal.)

But overall, it seems like your managers, for whatever reason, have heard your complaints and told you to stop raising them. That's the reality you've got to accept.

And you know, you're often going to end up working with people who annoy the hell out of you. It's just the reality of having a job, most of the time. You can keep looking for ways to be direct with her about what she's doing that bothers you, and maybe trying to get your coworkers to weigh in too, but this woman really doesn't sound particularly open to feedback or personal change. Ultimately, you probably have to resign yourself to living with this, as long as you and she are both employed there.

But really, the best way to handle this might be to see her behavior as amusing instead of infuriating. You have someone brushing her hair with a fork and cleaning her false teeth at her desk, for god's sake -- are you really not entertained by this?

As I've mentioned before, my sister always advises me, when visiting annoying relatives, to pretend to be one of the many long-suffering characters in Jane Austen novels who have to be pleasant to and patient with irritating relations. It's remarkably effective; it reframes things in a much more amusing (and bearable) context. If you're not a Jane Austen fan, pretend you're on a sitcom. This advice is good for all areas of life.

Good luck.

old schedule won't work for new job

A reader writes:

I was promoted last week to a lead. I will be relocating to another store shortly in 1 week within the same company to work in this new role.

I am enrolled at a community college and notified my manager of it. She had no problem and took me off the schedule for Mondays. I have only two classes on Monday and I can work every day even weekends. Nobody in the interview process asked me about school or other jobs. It didn't seem like a huge deal because I already had that schedule with my current boss.

My new store manager was told today that I have requested Mondays off for college. She was mad and told me that she would be contacting the district manager to see what will happen, or what she should do. She told me that I need to have open availability and that the district manager will be mad. I might just stay at my store and they will take back the position that I got. My pay has changed and I am ready for the move and don't know what to do. Help!

Unfortunately, you should have mentioned it during the interview process. The people interviewing you probably assumed you were available during normal business hours and that you would mention it if you needed a different arrangement.

It sounds like you assumed that since it was the same company, knowledge of the arrangement would be passed along and it would be fine. I'm not beating you up for that -- I know that people are often kind of mystified about what they do and don't need to raise in these situations. But for the future, err on the side of raising anything at all that's non-traditional, because you can't assume they do know or that something that was fine in one area of the company will also be fine in another.

As for what to do now: It doesn't sound like your new manager necessarily objects to this schedule, but instead that she's concerned the district manager won't like it, probably because it hasn't been done before. Plenty of things can be approved when they make sense, even if they haven't been done before, as long as you make a rational case for them.

So the best thing to do is to explain how it worked in your other position, how you think it'll work in this one, and what you're willing to do to make sure things go smoothly.

However, it's possible that after it's discussed, they'll tell you that it's just not workable in this new role. If that happens, you would need to decide whether you want to turn down the new job, or drop the classes so that you can accept it. But the most important thing is to discuss it candidly now and figure out if it can work for all sides. Good luck!

Monday, January 25, 2010

employer time vs. candidate time - which time zone do you live in?

A reader writes:

Last week I received an email from a prospective employer asking me if their pay range was OK with me and if I was still interested. The pay is lower than what I noted or "desired" on my application. I replied back saying that I was still very interested in the position and that I was looking forward to speaking with them in person. That was last Thursday and I haven't heard from them. Is it too soon to expect them to call me for an interview? Did I say something wrong? Should I send them another email?

P.S. Their max yearly pay is about 20% less than what I used to earn but I'm changing industries (from advertising to non-profit) and living in a city where the cost of living is much less expensive - so I think it evens out. I explained my desire to change industries in my cover letter - I'm going from an ad agency to a museum, I hope.

That was Thursday, and this is Monday. That means that only two business days have gone by.

In the last two business days, I haven't even glanced at most of the applications that have landed on my desk. I haven't even thought about glancing at them yet. I'd like to -- but, like most hiring managers, I've got a bunch of other things clamoring for my attention. I am someone who generally moves really fast in the hiring process, but even for me, two days is nothing.

I know that when you're job searching, time feels like it moves incredibly slowly. And then you get contacted by someone, and time starts moving even more slowly while you wait for the next step. Why haven't they responded yet? What does it mean? What could they be doing all this time? For the love of god, WHAT IS GOING ON?

I know.

But you must chill out.

The only way to preserve your sanity in this situation is to make a note to yourself to check in with them in a week and then put it out of your mind until then. If they call you before then, great, it's a bonus. But you will only drive yourself crazy otherwise.

I know there's a dating analogy in here somewhere, but I'm too tired to find it.

Breathe, relax, put it out of your mind.

should you include retail work on your professional resume?

A reader writes:

I just moved to a different state. My husband got a job, so I had to leave mine and move with him. I have had a heck of a time finding work here. I took a retail position to help with bills until I could find an accounting position. It's been three months, and I have yet to find an accounting job. I'm afraid that my three month lapse on my resume looks bad. Should I list my retail job, so that employers can at least see that I have been working? Should I keep it off my resume? I've been given advice both ways: put it on--it shows you're working and humble to take a position lower than your career tier, leave it off--it has nothing to do with your accounting profession and it shows you're desperate for a job. What do you suggest?

This is one of those questions where reasonable people will reach different conclusions. I don't know that there's one right answer, because it depends so much on the person reviewing your resume.

I'm one who thinks that you should leave it off, because it isn't part of bolstering your value in the industry you're seeking work in. A resume isn't meant to be an exhaustive accounting of every job you've ever held; it's a marketing document. If the interviewer asks what you did for that three-month period, by all means, explain -- but I don't think it adds value to your resume.

Also, three months out of work is nothing these days. Any sensible hiring manager won't blink an eye.

Anyone want to disagree?

you're welcome

A reader writes:

My partner and I have just moved countries, which has required me to begin looking for a new job. In my quest, I have been voraciously reading your blog and I am so thankful that such a wealth of helpful information exists in one place. Every single topic is so useful and insightful and I'm excited to put my new found knowledge to the test.

This email is just a short note to say a deeply sincere "Thank You" for producing this. It has made such a difference for me, and I'm sure for the many others who also read your blog. I am recommending it to all my friends and am so appreciative for the difference that your efforts are making in people's lives.

I don't normally post notes like this, but I'm in the mood for some appreciation, so here it is. Thank YOU for writing and saying this; it really means a lot to me to hear. And thank you to the rest of you who have from time to time said similar things. It's why I'm here.

am I annoying my recruiter with weekly follow-up?

A reader writes:

Just before Thanksgiving, I had an initial phone interview with a company. It went well and in the first two weeks of December I was called back for a second and then third interview, as I was up for two different slots in this company. Since then, I was told I was one of the final two for one of the slots. Also since then, the holidays have happened, a [reorganization], and now someone gave notice in the group I was one of the final two for. I've been touching base weekly with my recruiter just to see if there was any news. In my last E-mail with her, she told me she would let me know when something changes. Should I still keep touching base every week or so, or am I becoming an annoyance?

My answer is posted over at U.S. News & World Report. Please check it out!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

coworker wants me to keep a secret

A reader writes:

I've been working at my company for 1 year. It's a small company with a very emotional owner. I was hired to replace a sales rep who had worked for him for 10 years. They had become close friends, but he fired her unexpectedly at the end of 2008 and never talked to her again.

The ex-employee is now working for another company. The owner of my company used to be good friends with the owners of the company she works for. For some reason, he no longer talks to these people either.

One of my coworkers and the ex-employee are very good friends. The ex-employee has been invited to attend a trade show where we will be staffing our company's booth. However, her new employers cannot pay for her hotel costs. My coworker offered to let her stay at our hotel, sharing her room. They have asked me to keep it a secret from my employer.

They made it clear that I can say no to this if I am uncomfortable, but I do feel pressure to say that I will not tell our employer.

I know I do not want to stay at this company for long, but it still seems wrong to do this. Unfortunately, it's a small company and I travel with this one coworker 5 times a year. I do feel she will be disappointed if I don't go along.

In general, there's nothing inherently wrong with offering to let someone stay in your company-paid hotel room.

However, in this case, I think you'd be right to speak up.

There appears to be bad blood between your boss and the former employee, and between your boss and the employee's new company. Offering your boss's enemies a resource that your boss paid for to assist them isn't the smartest move, nor is it ethical. (Enemy may be too strong a word, but the concept stands.) It's true that allowing her to share the room won't cost your boss additional money, but it comes across as disloyal -- and when you throw secrecy in on top of that, it forms a pretty toxic combination.

You'd be better off doing one of two things:

1. Remove the secrecy and say it's fine with you as long as the boss knows. If the boss hasn't shown open hostility to this ex-employee, why not just say, "Hey, Joe, Susan asked if she can room with us at the trade show. Any reason we should say no?"


2. Just tell your coworker you're not comfortable with it. Explain that you wouldn't feel right keeping a secret from your boss, that you can't be in that position, and that you hope she understands.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

a demand not just for salary history, but benefit details too

A reader writes:

How weird do you think this is? After my second interview today, the person in charge of the organization (who I've been corresponding with all along) emailed and said I am their first choice, and can I please send my current salary, info on the value of all my current benefits, including 401(k) contributions, etc, so he can make an appropriate offer. While I understand the current salary question, isn't there a standard "average" of what benefits are worth? I thought that was slightly odd. Of course, I've been out of the interviewing/job offer world for some time, so maybe it isn't!

Ugh. While I appreciate his interest in making you an offer that beats your current package, there's no reason he can't just ask you what your salary expectations are, taking into account things like benefits. Oh, wait, actually there is -- the fact that so many employers think it's okay to base your compensation on what their competitors thought you were worth, rather than figuring out what you're worth to them. I really hate these invasions of privacy, which are designed to benefit the employer and lower the negotiating power of the candidate.

That said, it sounds like you're about to get a job offer, in a terrible market. So congratulations on that!

companies that use "cool" language in job postings

A reader writes:

I'm a recent college graduate living with my parents in a city I really dislike. I have a full-time position in this city, which I realize is a blessing as many of my classmates are working at Blockbuster and McDonald's as they try to find "real" jobs, and the job is a good one. In fact, it'd be perfect if it wasn't in my current city. But it is, and therefore I'm still looking for other employment.

A position recently popped up in the same industry (software), doing pretty much the exact same thing that I do now in my dream city. I was really excited as I clicked on the link to read the job description and was immediately turned off by the language the company used. The first sentence of the description is that the company is "looking for its next rock star for its marketing team." Now, in my experience any job description that uses language like "rock star" or "all-star" is a scam so I started to look into them. They seem to have a legit Web site as there are multiple demos of the software targeted towards customers, there are press releases archived that can be verified through a simple google search and a strong partner portfolio.

I can't tell if I'm thinking this company is too good to be true because it seems like it'd be a perfect fit for me in the perfect location and I'm just turned off by their poor choice of words, or if it really is too good to be true.

What are your thoughts on companies who try to act cool and find "rock stars" for their team?

I don't think it indicates a scam. In fact, I think there are a lot of companies out there trying to liven up their ads and using non-corporate sounding language like this.

As an example, I think Starr Tincup does it especially well. Of course, there are companies that try to do it and fail and instead just come off sounding cheesy. But really, it's just an ad. Apply, talk to them, get a feel for what their culture is really like. You'll pick up a lot more during the interview process than you will from their ad.

what should I make of this very nice HR person?

A reader writes:

I recently had an interview with a company, and I ended up being late for the interview. I know this is a huge no-no, but I called them about 10 minutes before I knew I would be late, because I was lost. I left an hour before the interview and the drive was 15 minutes, but between finding parking and being the victim of a lot of one way streets, I ended up being late.

The HR rep contacted me five minutes after I was late because no one answered when I called. I explained that I was lost and had tried to call. She understood completely and said it happened a lot. I ended up getting there a half hour late, but they offered to reschedule, because they wanted to have more time to talk to me. Also, the HR rep gave me a tour of the office, which was incredible, by the way.

I've never had it happen where the company rescheduled an interview with a candidate who was this late, and even offered to take them on a tour of the office. Would you say this is a good sign of how interested the company is in me, or are they just being nice?

Hard to say, could go either way. I'm leaning toward it indicating that they have a pretty strong interest in you, but it could just be that you encountered a very nice HR person.

Either way, thank her profusely when you return for the rescheduled interview!

Anyone else want to read anything into this?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

was boss wrong to share restructuring proposal with me?

A reader writes:

Recently my boss (boss #1) shared a departmental restructuring plan with me that included a potential promotion for myself and a demotion for my superior (his peer; boss #2). My other boss has been a mind-blowing disaster; blowing deadlines, showing up late, can barely write an e-mail above kindergarten reading level, etc., the list goes on. Her performance has forced up to pick up slack and we have grown to share our frustrations with this situation.

Boss #1 has been telling me about a restructuring plan that will make him director of the department, promote me to an associate director from manager, and demote her from director to associate director. He recently shared with me his written plan and asked for feedback before presenting to the Executive Director and CFO. My initial reaction was that he shouldn't have shared the plan with me unless it was taken seriously by senior management, rather than a "wish list."

When he returned from the meeting with senior management, I took him aside and asked if he could share the response with me and he said, "I don't know what's going to happen with the title changes, but they understand that someone needs to keep a closer watch on her." And that was it.

My question is was this appropriate to share with a subordinate? It has made me feel somewhat duped by false promises that were never that strongly encouraged by upper management. Perhaps I'm taking this too personally, but what am I supposed to think about this?

This is an interesting question. On one hand, your boss clearly respects your opinion and wanted your thoughts and insight on what he was thinking about proposing. That's a good thing. On the other hand, I agree with you that he set you up for false hopes and should have gotten aligned with senior management before talking to you. It sounds like he hadn't even taken their pulse on the subject.

So while I agree that he should have talked with them before talking with you and that he handled it clumsily, I think the real question is, what's the best way for you to look at this? You could stew about your boss's error -- or you could focus on the fact that he respects you, believes you deserve a promotion, shares his thoughts with you, and is aligned with you on the problems with boss #2.

Bosses will always make errors, because they're human. But look at the other pieces that this one showed you.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

can I list work for my father on my resume?

A reader writes:

I graduated university back in August last year. Since then, I've mainly been filling my time job-hunting and working for my dad since I moved back home.

My question is, would a recruiter look unfavorably on this if I were to list this on my resume? Even moreso since his business's address and phone number is the same as our home address, and I am not getting paid for this. I am currently back in community college taking classes during the day, but if I don't list the work I've done with my dad, I have a pretty big gap of nothing from August to December, and I can't imagine that would be good at all.

I think you should list it. You're doing actual work for him, right? It's legitimate. If you want to be completely safe, you could add "family business" in parentheses so that no one is taken by surprise later. But you really shouldn't feel weird about this.

That said, you don't want to use your dad as a reference. But listing the work is fine.

current employer won't give me a reference

A reader writes:

The company I work for has a no-reference policy. From what I can gather, it's because the managers I work for aren't permitted to speak about my performance on behalf of their area managers.

I have worked for the company for 2.5 yrs and have performed well, risen to supervisor, and have received prizes for doing so. However, I didn't finish high school and have wanted to get more qualifications.

I asked my managers if they could write me a reference for my college application, and they said they'd write a character one. I brought in the form and they informed me they couldn't write that as head office told them it would be in breach of the aforementioned reference policy (it took them two weeks to inform me of that). I then asked what they could do within those parameters. They then told me they could give me a reference that was very basic, giving details of how much I'm paid, how many hours I'm contracted for and title within the company etc. Three weeks after I handed them my college application and they have put it off for ages despite me being on their case all the time to ask them to get it done.

I have contacted them outside of work hours asking about it, and they've told me that they're still writing it "off their own backs" and have implied that I should be grateful they're doing it at all. On top of it all, because of all their delays and recent snow I haven't been able to contact the University about the problem.

Am I asking too much of my employer? Are they within their rights not to right me a reference at all, even a basic one?

I'm one of the longest serving members of staff and feel I deserve more.

Are they within their rights? Sure. Is something else going on here? Yes.

That something else is one of two things:

1. They don't feel they could honestly give you a good reference, and they're too weak to come out and tell you that.


2. They're rude/inconsiderate/lazy/jerks/all of the above.

If they felt they couldn't give you a good reference, they should have just explained that and not jerked you around. And what's this business about saying they'd give you a "character reference" rather than a performance reference and then not even coming through with that?

At this point, I would give up on getting a reference from them and find a way to complete your application without them. Even if they come through with the bare bones reference they're not promising (pay, hours, and title), I don't think that's something likely to be useful for a college application anyway.

I would also start seriously questioning what kind of people you might be working for, and feeling good about the fact that you're on your way out of there.

Monday, January 11, 2010

questions to ask someone who has the job you just got promoted to

A reader writes:

Do you have any ideas for questions to ask someone who already has the role that you just got promoted to?

Great question! Here are some that come to mind, and I hope others will join in with their own suggestions:

* What surprised you about the role that you didn't know when you first started in it? What was different from what you had expected?

* What are the biggest challenges you face and why?

* How can you tell when you're being successful? How do others measure your success?

* Is there any recent history in the department or job I should be aware of?

* What advice do you wish someone gave you when you first started?

* What advice do you have about working with other departments/people that this job interacts with a lot? What things should I be sensitive to?

* What are the most common requests that come your way?

* What are the most common problems you encounter, and how do you handle them?

* What were the big things you are trying to achieve this year?

* What things are worrying you?

* What's the best approach to working with our manager? What does she like and dislike? What's hardest about working with her? What's the best thing about working with her? What surprised you about her?

What suggestions do other people have?

when your manager values face time over results

A reader writes:

My wife just finished interviewing for a promotion within her company and was given some unusual career advice from the vice president of her division. My wife was told that even though her working hours are 8am to 4pm, that she should not be so quick to leave work at 4pm. She was told that she should stay late once and a while to give the impression that she's a "go-getter" even if all of her work is finished.

My wife responded along the lines of, "I do my work when I'm here (as opposed to screwing around) and the company should be happy that I don't waste valuable time chatting and taking smoke breaks during the day forcing me to stay later to finish my workload."

Why should my wife stay late if her work is finished? Why should someone who works diligently during the day, hitting her goals and getting excellent scores on her reviews, be forced to stay late just to impress on someone that she's a hard worker?

The advice of her VP got me thinking...has staying late at work become mandatory for career success?
Under that premise, wouldn't someone surmise that efficiency is not the key to recognition but rather dedicating more time to the job is the way to career success?

Has it become mandatory? No, of course not. But it might be unofficially mandatory at her particular company, which would be a sign that her particular company has a silly culture and/or that her manager isn't very good ... probably both, although it's possible that the manager is fine, but saddled with stupid expectations from above and is trying to clue her into those.

The best case scenario here is that the manager is trying to convey to her that she needs to find ways to make her results more evident to those who care about them. But it's more likely that your wife simply works at a company that focuses on face time over results.

If I had a manager tell me this, I'd do the following:

1. Say something like, "I have really high productivity. When I'm at work, I'm focused 100% on work and nothing else, and I'm churning out results because of it. In fact, you've commented in the past on how productive I am." (Obviously you have to tailor this to fit the situation; if you're not incredibly productive, this doesn't work as well.)

2. Then say, "Being that productive allows me to work a reasonable work week, and that's important to me. I'm not sure if you're telling me that you'd like to see higher productivity from me, or if you're more concerned about perceptions from other people. If it's just perception, let's figure out how to make perceptions match the reality of the situation."

3. If the manager then told me that she agreed I was kicking ass, but "the company" expects people to put in longer hours, then I'd say: "Has the company considered the retention implications of valuing hours worked over actual results on the job?"

4. And then I'd consider whether I wanted to stay there.

Not everything stupid or annoying is worth quitting over, of course. Finding another job is a pain, and it comes with its own risks -- the new employer might be reasonable on this issue but even more frustrating in some other area. Plus, there might be enough your wife likes about her current job (the work, the pay, the coworkers, the benefits, whatever) that that stuff trumps this.

So ultimately, your wife needs to take the results of this conversation with her manager and, if she didn't find it satisfying, decide whether she wants to (a) suck it up and put in some extra hours on occasion, even though it's ridiculous, (b) not put in those extra hours on principle and deal with whatever consequences that has for how she's perceived, including possible impact on future raises and advancement, or (c) leave. Any of those are legitimate decisions.

can "volunteering" become "consulting" on a resume?

A reader writes:

I'm eager to get your opinion on a suggestion a recruiter gave me recently. She had me list my marketing volunteer work as "marketing and PR consulting" on my resume to give me more recent work experience. (I was laid off just over a year ago.) I actually have helped a couple of local charities with their social media strategy, marketing, and PR quite a bit over the last year. I did update my resume as she requested, and I got the interview. I gave the interviewer more detail, including the name of the organizations and the fact that my work was unpaid. The interviewer seemed to like it, though in the end I did not get the position. I'm trying to decide if I should make the change permanent and add it to LinkedIn as well. It's tricky, because I don't want to be misleading, but I think this could give my efforts a boost at this point.

My answer to this question is now up over at U.S. News & World Report. Read it right here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

weird behavior during salary negotiations

A reader writes:

I have a question about something I ran into in a previous job than the one I am in now:

I had an interview for a job and returned home afterward. Only about two hours later, the HR manager called me and asked if I could come back to the office. It wasn't until I drove back to their office that same day, that they then offered me the job. Then things got extremely weird and uncomfortable.

They brought out papers with their offer on it and I politely asked if we could discuss it. I was in a room with the HR manager and my future boss. I brought up extremely valid points to renegotiate the salary. Then everything took a turn. They justified such a small salary by saying that I lived at home with my parents. (Though true, this seems completely irrelevant to me and there was no way that they could know that except for my age at the time - 22 and out of college. I lived at home with one parent until I could find another place and I still paid rent, utilities, etc.) Then they justified such a small salary by saying that I was on my parents' health insurance. (This was completely untrue. I was not on anyone's insurance except my own which I paid for.) I politely corrected these misconceptions but they didn't really seem to care. It was as if they had made up a story in their heads about who I was and what they owed me based on that.

As far as asking for a slightly larger salary, one of them finally said, "Well, when I was right out of college, I made less than $18,000 per year at my first job, lived with my parents and lived off of credit cards for the first two years." I didn't see at all how this story was related to me, especially since he graduated from college in the eighties. This was my first time negotiating a salary and I truly needed a job, so I accepted their offer of just $1,000 more on the salary. Needless to say, this was a horrible experience and I started the job with a very, very bad taste in my mouth.

I would really like to know what your take is on all of this and what advice you have for future negotiations. Especially:

- Is it odd for an employer to interview you and call you to return to the office that very same day? They didn't call, offer it to me and let me think about it. They only asked if I could come by, put me in a room and made their offer.
- Is it odd that they offered me the job in person and not on the phone?
- How do you handle such inappropriate comments and assumptions during a negotiation?
- Was any of this behavior normal and I should know this now and accept it so that I don't expect better treatment in future negotiations?

I realize now that if they were asking things like that, they probably were a company that I didn't want to work for. I really needed a job, though. I have since left and it was truly a horrible job with a very corrupt company. The job itself was very impressive but I only lasted five months in that atmosphere. It was a toxic environment.

I am now in a great job with wonderful people. I would just like some help knowing what's right/wrong in negotiating a salary and accepting a job offer. I feel like all of this was not normal but perhaps it's more common than I think.

No, this was all weird.

Assuming they know things about you they they don't know, like your living arrangements: Weird.

Justifying a salary offer by what they assume your expenses are: Weird. (And irrelevant; your expenses are none of their business, just like your expenses aren't a way to justify it when you want more money.)

Assuming you're on your parents' health insurance: Weird.

Suggesting you live off of credit cards: Weird.

Offering you the job in person rather than over the phone: Inefficient, but not unheard of.

There are a bunch of red flags here. I can't tell if they were pushing you for an answer right then and there in the meeting, or if you just didn't ask them for time to think it over, but if they were pressuring you for an on-the-spot answer, that's another red flag (the biggest of all, in fact -- that is always a bad sign).

As for how to handle it -- well, interviews are a two-way street. Just like they wouldn't have offered you a job if you had conducted yourself really weirdly throughout, you should be very cautious about accepting an offer from any employer that behaves weirdly itself. It's highly unlikely that the weirdness is somehow confined only to their hiring process -- and indeed, you found that out after you started working there.

So my advice if you encounter a situation like this in the future is to (a) thank them for the offer and tell them you'd like a few days to think about it, (b) do some research if you haven't already on what the job should pay in your area and at that level, and (c) call them up and counter with a higher number if you feel it's warranted. If someone refuses to give you time to think over an offer, run. If someone tells you that you should accept a low offer because you live with your parents, politely respond that your expenses are not a factor in how much your work is worth. And if an employer seems to be unprofessional, rude, or unfair in its dealings with you as a candidate, assume it's going to only going to get worse once you're employed there.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

when a recruiter asks for your height, weight, age, and marital status

A reader writes:

I sent a resume to a recruiter and he then sent me a survey to complete. The survey was laden with questions that are illegal to ask in the employment process. Yet several friends of mine said this is how employers are bypassing EEO requirements. They simply use an outside firm and say, "We want an unmarried male under the age of 30 with the appropriate height and weight." They can't advertise this but they can certainly tell the recruiting firm they want this profile in a candidate. As an older career changer on the stocky side, I tend to rather sensitive about questions about my marital status, height and weight.

I stated this in my response to this particular recruiter and I was amazed by his email to me, which follows:
Thanks for responding - in reference to your comments - we don't discriminate for any reason - it is illegal to not hire someone because of their answers to those questions...frankly, we don't is just information that many times we are asked by clients - it may open a door, not close one. We are not the enemy, we are your best ally - we try to get you in the door.

I'm amazed that people fill that information out in every other walk of insurance forms, license forms, census.. etc.. and they never complain.
This reader forwarded me the questionnaire he was asked to fill out. Here are the questions it contains, in its entirety:

1) Current or most recent base salary? Bonus earned? Auto program?
2) Do you own your home? Are you open to relocation? Any location preferences?
3) Are you married? Children?
4) What is your birth date? Health? Height? Weight?
5) Why are you looking for a new opportunity?
6) If separated from company – separation date?
7) Any special parameters you want us to keep in mind for your search?
8) Any other information you feel we should know that is not on your resume?

As I've said before, the act of asking about things like marriage, children, and age isn't illegal, but considering the answers in an employment decision is. So it's just stupid to ask them, and anyone who's done hiring and ever talked to a lawyer doesn't use them. (In the U.S., that is. I know they're not uncommon elsewhere.)

This questionnaire is amazing. Who is this recruiter? (Also, how stupid is he? If he really wanted to know this stuff, he could figure most of it out in person through casual conversation.)

I especially love his last paragraph, defending himself. You fill out this information on insurance forms (where it's, uh, relevant), so why not turn it all over to him too? And why not throw in a naked photo while you're at it?

Anyone want to take a whack at this guy? Or defend him?

Friday, January 8, 2010

must I shave my beard to get a job?

A reader writes:

I am currently looking for employment in the fields of engineering and mathematics.

I am educated, well spoken, well presented, male and I have facial hair. This is not "stylish stubble" or due to laziness; it's a full beard.

What are your (and your readers') thoughts on beards at the point of interview? I appreciate it is "cleaner" to be freshly-shaven, but I (and my wife) like my facial hair and (especially this time of year), I would like to keep it.

I suspect that your reply may close with the note that if a company were to reject me due to my facial hair, perhaps that isn't the company for me but this does not apply - I need to find employment as soon as possible.

I've become predictable apparently, because yeah, that's what I was going to say. So I'm glad you preemptively told me that that's irrelevant here.

Assuming your beard is neatly trimmed and not some sort of ZZ Top style monstrosity, I think this is unlikely to be an issue. Can I promise that you won't encounter a hiring manager with an irrational bias against beards? No, just like I can't promise that you won't encounter a hiring manager with an irrational bias against tall people or people with throaty laughs. But overall, in the vast majority of industries, a neatly trimmed beard isn't likely to be an issue.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

dealing with ignorant coworkers

A reader writes:

I grew up in a very poor neighborhood. Every time people at my office start talking about their background and where they grew up, I tend to avoid the question by changing the topic. I can't relate to everyone in the office. I still have a lot of family members who live in the same area as well. Coworkers make jokes and comments about poor people all of the time and I find the remarks very offensive.

I revealed it at a previous job and the barrage of questions were upsetting. I've heard everything from "Did they rob people there?" to "Did you hear any gunshots?" One person gasped and gave a look of astonishment.

I tried to stay positive and say don't judge everyone by their background. There are smart people in poor neighborhoods trying to do well with their lives and I'm an example of that. I have struggled with this for quite some time and am not sure how I should handle this. Maybe I'm being too sensitive about this. What is the best way to approach this subject when people ask in the workplace?

What the hell is wrong with these people? Please don't let this make you feel self-conscious. These people are sheltered and clueless. Do they not travel? Do they not see that the majority of the world is poor?

Part of me wants to say that you should educate them by explaining that most poor people are just like them, just with less money, and part of me wants to say that you should educate them by giving them a withering look and the finger. (The first option will be more effective.)

Or you could handle this is the same way I'd advise handling a racist comment: Look genuinely puzzled and say, "Wow. What would make you say that?"

Thoughts from others?

you, doing something good

As someone who has always worked for nonprofits, this is a cause near to my heart:

The Taproot Foundation has a new campaign encouraging people in pretty much any line of work to contribute their professional talents to nonprofit organizations.

People usually think of pro bono work as just being for lawyers, but there's no reason that you can't contribute your skills pro bono no matter what you do -- marketing, lobbying, HR, design, plumbing, whatever.

If you work in HR, you could offer your expertise to a nonprofit to advise them on how they could improve their hiring processes or retention rates, better leverage the skills of their current employees, or ensure their policies cover their bases legally. If you're a designer, you could help a nonprofit develop their brand or design materials. And so forth.

Taproot offers this advice: "If you're interested in doing pro bono work, you should first take a look at your professional strengths and think of a few specific tasks you would enjoy performing or deliverables you could offer. Then approach the manager or volunteer coordinator at a nonprofit you respect or already volunteer for and have a conversation about your talents and their specific needs to determine if there is a good match. The key to pro bono is the commitment of cultivated, professional skills instead of unskilled labor. Oftentimes, pro bono volunteerism can have the greatest long-term impact for the nonprofit."

As a bonus, you'll also be expanding your network at the same time you're improving your community. And if you're currently unemployed? Now you've got something on your resume and a bunch of new people who want to help you.

Learn more here and here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

how do you handle bad employer behavior while job searching?

Back in August, I posed the question: How late is too late for a job candidate to arrive for an interview? It generated interesting comments from interviewers on how much lateness they'll tolerate and why, and from job seekers with thoughts of their own.

Yesterday, a reader named bawigga contributed this comment:

To flip the tables a bit, as we speak I'm waiting for my third round interview call with a company. Every call I've had with this company is late. The first was a no call/no message. The HR rep said they got busy and rescheduled for the next day. That time they called on time. The second round was half an hour late calling due to timezone differences. Now I'm on the third round call and they are exactly 1 hour past call time. The HR rep is in EST, interviewers are in MST and I'm in CST. This is a very reputable company in my industry, but this is starting to throw up some red flags for me.

Part of me wants to think that these are busy people who have to take time out of their busy schedules to interview potential candidates, but at the same time, this could be a reflection of how meetings and punctuality is all the time at this place.

I'm a big believer that the way you're treated during the interview process tells you something about how you'll be treated as an employee. Maybe this isn't intentional rudeness, but then it's incompetence/disorganization. It doesn't bode well.

On the other hand, it's possible the problems are confined to HR and wouldn't impact you much working in some other department if you got the job. But I'm pretty skeptical that a great culture would produce this.

So what do you do in this situation (assuming you have some options and aren't desperate, which is going to have to become my standard disclaimer in this market)? Part of me thinks the answer is to go through the process with them, patiently putting up with this, and if you get the offer, you can address it then as you think about whether to accept or not. Why not say, in a conversation about the offer, something like: "I always think you can learn a lot about a company's culture by their hiring process. I noticed that scheduled calls with me during this process were nearly always significantly late, and sometimes didn't come at all. Mistakes happen, of course, but how common is this kind of thing in your culture?"

It'd require a certain ballsiness and a willingness to irk them, but I'd love to see the results ... especially if a lot of candidates starting calling employers on behavior like this, once they got to the offer stage.

backing out of a promise to be a reference

A reader writes:

How do you renege on a promise? I gave a problem employee a promise to be a reference and even wrote one up for her. I am new to management and came by it unprepared. I became pregnant last year and am now a new mom and running a small retail store.

Last year I hired an employee for sales, all the red flags were there, but I hired her anyway.

Two months ago after several transgressions, I fired her for strange behavior like giving her girlfriend access to my email (her girlfriend emailed me abusive emails whenever I reprimanded the employee), and finally when confronted she raged, yelled and threatened. So, I fired her.

Here's my dilemma: Out of misguided sympathy for her rough life and dire home situation. I promised her a reference letter. Now, that a week or two have passed, I am not feeling comfortable with this promise. She has since continued raging and escalated to texting my family asking "why aren't they friends with her on social networks" and explaining how she shouldn't have been fired.

I am uncomfortable with her behavior in a criminal sense (although I doubt I'm in any danger) but she's not acting rationally.

How do I renege on such a stupid promise and make my mistake less damaging than it already is!!?

I have received a call already from a employer asking me to call back. I want to speak the truth in a way that will minimize my ex-employee's reaction and maintain peace as much as possible.

Oh dear. Well, you probably don't need me to tell you this now, but don't promise a reference when you don't think you can be a good one.

In this case, I would recommend contacting the employee -- in writing, not via a phone call -- and very politely saying that while you wish her the best, you are uncomfortable with her behavior since her termination and no longer feel that you would be an effective reference for her. Tell her that you're happy to confirm dates of employment, job title, etc., but that you'd prefer that she use other references for more detailed information. If you want to, you can explain that contacting your family wasn't appropriate and you wouldn't be able to speak to her professionalism as a result.

Be as polite and nice about it as possible ... but also be prepared for her to continue attacking, possibly even more so. It sounds like it's probably unavoidable; you can't always get an easy/pleasant outcome, no matter how much you'd like one.

And then stick to that policy if you do receive reference calls. Simply explain to the caller that you're not able to provide information beyond dates of employment, job title, and responsibilities. They will press you to go further; you are entitled to decline to.

That said, some people might say that you should give a full and candid reference, explaining all the bad behavior she's indulged in. But in doing so, you'll be effectively going to war with this employee, and I don't think you want to do that. I suppose you could add something like, "Her behavior since leaving has made me reconsider my ability to serve as a reference," and then decline to provide details -- but you said you want to keep the peace as much as possible.

marital status in a cover letter

A reader writes:

My husband and I moved to Denver from New York in May 2008. We are now headed back to New York due to my husband’s job situation. I am starting to send out resumes to find a job in NY, and in my cover letter I want to address why my current job is located in Denver though I’m applying for jobs in New York. Currently, I have the following paragraph, but I’ve read that you shouldn’t disclose any personal information about age, marital status, race, etc. in a job application/cover letter:

"I should clarify that I am currently in the process of moving back to Manhattan after a move to Denver due to my husband's work. He is being transferred back to New York in early 2010. I will be in town January 14-20 and should be permanently resettled in New York shortly thereafter. I don't require relocation assistance and would be able to start within the standard 2-week time frame should an offer be made."
Do you think this is okay? I’m not sure how to explain the situation without mentioning my husband.

I think this is fine, but I also think it would be just as fine if you removed "due to my husband's work" and the sentence about his transfer. You make it so clear and definite that you're moving in a specific timeframe that I don't think you need to get into the whys in order to be convincing.

Anyone want to disagree?

Friday, January 1, 2010

what bad job news were you later grateful for?

Sometimes bad news is really good news, although we don't know it at the time.

For instance:

* You're fired from a job and as a result end up in one that's far better for you.

* You don't get a job offer from the company you hoped would give you one, which means that you're free to accept the offer from your dream company a month later.

* You don't get the job and later hear that the boss is an abusive tyrant.

With so many people dealing with bad news in their job search, I thought it could be interesting to hear what bad news you've encountered that you later were grateful for. Any stories from you guys?

company halted offer due to criminal conviction - which I disclosed

A reader writes:

I recently interviewed for a position, and before I was scheduled for an in-person interview, I was asked to fill out an official application. I did so, being completely honest in the background questions that I have a misdemeanor on my criminal record. They had the usual disclaimer saying "this is not necessarily a bar to employment, but lying about it is." I have always taken this to heart, and was up-front on the application.

When they called me a few days later to schedule the in-person interview, I was so happy to see that my record was not going to be a deal-breaker for them. I went for the interview -- an all-day affair with 10+ people, including a C-level executive -- and it went splendidly. I was even happier when they requested my references a few days later and started checking them. I was sure an offer was being crafted at that moment.

All of a sudden, I get an email saying "call me right away" from a senior HR person, no one I had interviewed with. She said my candidacy was being immediately withdrawn due to my criminal record. I was shocked, and told her that I was fully honest on my application, and had assumed that when they processed it and scheduled my interview, that they were implicitly saying they had read everything on it and found it to their satisfaction. She admitted, yes, this was the way it should have worked, but another HR employee had "let me slip through" when they shouldn't have. She said "you never should have made it as far as you did," and even disclosed that someone had been fired for this "oversight"! I pointed out to her that everyone I interviewed with saw me as the best candidate, that the supervisor had gotten to the reference-checking stage, but to no avail; she claimed that no matter who had wanted to hire me, even with the CMO's endorsement, I was not eligible.

My question is: Since they admitted fault by firing the HR person, can I sue for "failure to hire," or some sort of breach of contract? I am in a sense being denied this job, which everyone involved wanted to hire me for, because of their admitted mistake.

I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think you have a case. There was no contract, and companies are allowed to decide not to make an offer at any time for any reason as long as it's not based on a legally protected class. Not everything that's frustrating or dumb or incompetent is illegal.

(Also, if you want other companies to seriously consider you for a job, suing the ones that seriously consider you and then ultimately decide not to hire you isn't exactly going to entice other employers to put you through their hiring process, lest you sue them if you don't ultimately get the job.)

That said, their rule itself might be illegal if you live in one of a handful of states that bar employers from using criminal conviction as a basis for refusing to hire someone.

But assuming you live in one of the many states that do permit this, here's the rest of my answer:

Companies are staffed by humans, who make mistakes. The unfortunate reality is that we're all at risk of being affected by them, including job-seekers. You can be told an offer is coming, only to then learn that the position has been canceled and no one had told HR yet, or that the CEO vetoed your hire because she didn't like your background even though everyone else did, or whatever.

However, in your particular situation, I would recommend asking the hiring manager -- not HR -- whether there's any way to have an exception made, because your criminal record is solely a misdemeanor. Even better if you can say that it's only a misdemeanor stemming from something minor years and years ago. I don't know what your crime was, so that last part may not work, but play up whatever you have to your advantage there. For instance, an arrest for civil disobedience at a political protest is far different from an arrest for shoplifting -- and an arrest decades ago is far different than one last month. So make the case to them for why they shouldn't lose out on a great hire for something that ultimately doesn't impact your strength as an employee.

And take your case to the hiring manager if you can, rather than HR, because HR is often (but not always) focused on rules, while hiring managers are often (but not always) focused on results.

But if that doesn't work, all you can do is move on.

Now, was the company wrong to overlook this information and waste your time? Yes. Should they at a minimum apologize to you for this and not act like you did something wrong? Yes. Is their rule illogical to begin with? Sounds like it, especially if it allows for no case-by-case judgment.

But the world is full of incompetent people, and some of them hold positions of power when it comes to hiring. If you can't go around them to get the decision changed, you just have to move on -- and maybe you just dodged a bullet, because who knows what other inflexible rules they may have that would have made your life hellish as an employee.