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Monday, May 31, 2010

boss encouraged me to apply for promotion, then wouldn't interview me

A reader writes:

Recently, my manager decided to introduce a new position that would be in between my current position and his position, basically someone to make sure the daily job functions of me and my coworkers get done at the company's computer support desk. This position was opened to both internal and external applicants, and he encouraged both me and another coworker to apply. 

For some background, I've been with the company for 4+ years and have had many different responsibilities, as well as been depended upon to be one of the top service desk technicians. I have a total of 6 years experience in the field. My skills matched almost exactly what they were looking for, with the exception that I had a 2-year degree while they were looking for a 4-year degree.

In any case, after encouraging us to apply, my boss refused to interview both me and my coworker, and now we will be stuck with someone who does not know anything about the company or how our service desks functions, and worse yet, I will have to be training this new guy. Is this my boss's way of telling me to move on and find something else and should I be as ticked off about this as I am currently feeling?

There's nothing wrong with encouraging you to apply but ultimately not hiring you, but your boss owed you the courtesy of an explanation why. Some people would argue that he also owed you an interview after explicitly urging you to apply -- but I'm going to argue that if he already knew that he had stronger candidates and wasn't going to hire you, it's kinder not to waste your time and mislead you. But either way, he owed you an explanation of why.

I recently wrote about why companies often don't give rejected candidates any feedback -- but it's a totally different story when you're an internal candidate. In this case, courtesy and morale -- as well as your boss's obligation to do at least a minimum of professional development -- mean that you deserve feedback about why you ultimately weren't hired.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons why your boss might not have chosen you, even after suggesting you apply. The most obvious one is that he thought you were strong enough to be in the mix, but ultimately stronger candidates came along. Or, who knows, maybe someone higher than him in the company ordered him to hire a specific candidate, or any other myriad reasons. But no matter what it was, he owed you an explanation.

My advice to you is that you ask him. You don't want to sound bitter; it's like seeking any other feedback, where you're more likely to get better answers if you don't sound angry or defensive. Simply say to him, "Hey, I really appreciated you encouraging me to apply, and I wonder if you can tell me where my shortcomings as a candidate were." It probably wasn't the 2-year versus 4-year degree thing; it could be that they wanted someone with more management experience, or who knows, that you once pissed off his boss, or anything -- you just want to find out. The answer will help you not just understand this particular decision, but should also give you insight into your future prospects at the company. 

He also probably wasn't trying to send you some coded message that you should move on -- or he wouldn't have suggested that you apply in the first place. It's far more likely that he's simply not an ideal manager and mishandled this.

Last piece of advice: You noted that "now we will be stuck with someone who does not know anything about the company or how our service desks functions, and worse yet, I will have to be training this new guy." While it is very, very common to have this reaction when a new manager comes in, do your best to put it aside. It won't help you, and if this attitude comes across to others, it will likely end up hurting you. The fact is, most new managers come in needing to learn about how the company and department functions, and needing some training from the employees they'll be managing. This doesn't mean they're not qualified; it's just the reality of coming into a new management position.

Talk to your boss and get your questions answered. Good luck!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

a reader's happy ending

Warning: There's no question here. Just praise and a happy ending.

A reader writes:

I don't have a question, I just want to say thanks for all the great advice!

I started reading you blog this past fall, after I was laid off. I've been working 15 years in the fashion industry in New York City. I had been pretty happy in my job, so I hadn't interviewed in seven years! So the job search process was pretty daunting, at first.

Your blog was so helpful to me, especially the posts on interviewing. I was never thrown by any questions, because you prepared me for them. I was able to really turn the interviews into dialogues, and figure out if
I wanted to work for them. I was able to identify what I am best at and what kind of culture I thrive in.

I got a job offer on Monday that I am thrilled about! It's a great fit for my background, I will be able to learn so much from my boss. I had long interview (dialogue!) with him and I am pretty sure we will have a great working relationship. The company is very dynamic. And the salary and benefits are great.

I will have a team reporting to me again, so I will be reading and rereading all your posts on managing.

This is awesome. And so are you, for taking the time to write and tell me. And oh, it melts my heart to read about people focusing on whether a job is the right job, rather than just a job. 

Congratulations on the new position! 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

three years of Ask a Manager!

Ask a Manager turns three today. I have no idea how I've managed to keep finding topics to write about for three years or how you all manage to keep finding new twists on the questions you send in!

Here are some of my favorite posts from the last year:

Combatting unhealthy power dynamics during a job search -- the ones in your head

What bad job news were you later grateful for?

Help! I'm getting confusing and conflicting resume advice

Sometimes it's not about you

How to deal with employee performance problems

Which employee should be let go?

How do you survive without a job?

Everyone's favorite: Co-worker moonlighting as prostitute during work hours

And here's a link to some of my favorite posts of all time.

Thanks for reading me! I hope you stick around for another year.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

grad school is not your escape

From a Monday New York Times article on the job market for new grads:
Liam O'Reilly, who just graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor's degree in history, said he had applied to 50 employers -- to be a paralegal, a researcher for a policy organization, an administrative assistant -- but he had gotten hardly any interviews. While continuing to search for something he truly wants, he has taken a minimum-wage job selling software that includes an occasional commission.
"Had I realized it would be this bad, I would have applied to grad school," Mr. O'Reilly said.

Grad school is not a way to prolong the day of reckoning. 

You go to grad school if you want to pursue a career that requires it. You do not go to grad school for the hell of it, or because you don't know what else you want to do, or because the job market is bad and it's somewhere to hide out for a while.

Liam isn't alone in thinking this way. I see countless job applicants with freshly minted masters degrees that they're not going to use, and I see countless people making plans for grad school when they can't explain why they need to.

Grad school is expensive. It's time-consuming. And it generally will not make you more marketable, unless you're going into a field that specifically requires a graduate degree. What it will do is keep you from getting work experience for that much longer, meaning that when you're done, your peers who have been working full-time while you were in school will be more competitive than you. It might also limit you by requiring you to find a higher-paying job than you might otherwise need, in order to pay back those loans (without actually increasing your earning power). And if you apply for jobs that have nothing to do with your graduate degree, employers will think you don't really want the job you're applying for, since it's not in "your field."

Being a new grad entering this job market is scary. I can understand why staying in the warm bosom of academia a little longer would be appealing. But using grad school as an escape isn't a good answer. 

P.S. 50 applications isn't that many for an entry-level candidate, especially when it apparently produced some interviews. Keep persisting!

one of many reasons why I love the Evil HR Lady

There's a brilliant post from the Evil HR Lady up over at BNET, called "It's a Job Interview, Not a Beauty Pageant." Excerpt:
We see the hiring manager as a contest judge who is to be feared and impressed. Instead of thinking, “what would I really do in this situation” we think, “what does this judge want to hear?”
The difference is at the end of a beauty pageant, the winner gets a crown, some money and the the obligation to ride on the back of a convertible in the town 4th of July parade, while the “winner” of the job interview “pageant” gets to spend 40-50 hours a week with the “judge.”
Go read it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

my boss is lazy and doesn't do any work

A reader writes:

I believe that my boss sets a poor example. Our offices are adjoining and during the day I hear her playing video games on her iTouch, making phone calls about mortgage refinancing and car loans, using Rosetta stone software. Sometimes when I stop by her office she has her kindle or ipad open to the latest book she has been reading. She is off every Friday and works from 10-4, at best, most other days. So far this year she has taken 3 two-week "working" vacations. 

But nothing can be done because she is a vice president and owns a 3% share of the company. The founder retains about 90% and some other VPs own 1-2% as well. Add to that the fact that her division brings in about 40% of company revenue and accounts for nearly all of our profit, and she believes her behavior is justified.

Needless to say, this does not result in a great working relationship. It's hard to put in effort for someone who seems to put forth none of her own and who is seldom present. A transfer to another division of the firm is unlikely and I've been looking for another job for some time with no success. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this frustrating and demoralizing situation?

Well, there are many, many slackers out there. This one just happens to be your boss.

There are typically two ways people can respond to having this kind of boss: They can either be lazy too, because she probably allows it ... or they can ignore the crappiness of the boss and work hard anyway. If you take the first path, you might get to enjoy some rousing computer games during the day, but you'll squander the opportunity to build your professional reputation and skill set. If you take the second path, you can become known as a hard and competent worker. In fact, because it'll be so easy to outshine her, you might find that you can build that reputation even faster than if she were actually doing her job. There is sometimes enormous opportunity in working alongside slackers, simply by being different.

And having that kind of great reputation pays huge dividends -- even if you aren't interested in promotions at this company, your reputation is what will get you jobs by word of mouth other places. It's worth a ton.

And I want to point out something you wrote: "It's hard to put in effort for someone who seems to put forth none of her own and who is seldom present."  But remember, you're not putting in the effort for her. You're doing it for you. You're doing it because, unlike her, you are someone who cares about doing a good job and has a work ethic and cares about your reputation and professional advancement. It's not for her. 

And if it makes you feel better, she may have a good job now, but what kind of reputation and respect can she have? Her laziness will limit her. Be glad you're not like her.

Monday, May 24, 2010

company doesn't care about building security

A reader writes:

Hope you can help address this pretty strange situation that is occurring in my office. My desk is the closest desk to the side door/parking lot door. Most building foot traffic comes through this door since it leads right to the parking lot/straight to the office area, so it's heavily used. With the way the building is set up, whenever the central air conditioning system is on, the door (which is normally magnetically held shut and opened with an RFID card) is kept open with a gust of air, leading to a whistling/howling sound as air rushes out. This is a minor (albeit annoying) issue compared to my next complaint...

Once in a while, people open the door from the outside without their RFID card. Since the door is held open with the air conditioning gusts, it's sort of expected for people to just pull the door open and walk in. Sometimes, people that come in aren't part of the company.. meaning people can walk in and walk around without anyone noticing. We all have cubicles on the first floor with a 6' wall around us so we don't get to see everything.. just the sounds of the RFID reader beeping, the howling of the door being held open, etc. Yesterday, I heard the door howling so I got up to do my normal routine of shutting the door and making sure it stays shut, I see some unknown person walking out of the building trying to shut the door behind him. I never saw this person before and thought it was strange, so after I closed the door and had a moment to think about it, I went outside to see if I can see if this guy belonged to a maintenance truck or something doing work on the building. Nope, nothing.. guy was gone.

I go to complain to HR about this (as I am the first desk by the door, I don't want people walking in and potentially taking something or worse) and the head of HR just blows it off like I am complaining about the sound (which I have done in the past, to no avail). I tell him that my concern now is with unknown/unwanted people wandering around the office. His response was to start chasing people out of the building. I am not building security nor do I think I should put myself in such a situation. We are a credit card processing firm so we take risks/compliance very seriously and I don't think that leaving a door wide open during the summer would go well with security analysts.

Essentially my question is: What should I do? HR blows this off as me complaining and whining, my manager and his boss work in different countries so they are not witness to this. I am honestly at a loss of what to do about this situation. I don't think I feel safe walking away from my desk and leaving anything behind if someone can walk in and just take something without anyone knowing. Nor do I think I should be the one to confront these people if anything should happen.

HR is probably blowing you off because you complained to them earlier about the sound of the door, and now they think that's your real concern.

If I'm understanding correctly, the problem is caused when someone uses the door, because then the air from the AC system causes it to stay open, right? So the issue is that people aren't pulling the door shut all the way and ensuring it locks shut? One way to handle this would be for the company to crack down on that, and require people to treat the door as a security measure -- which it is -- that they need to utilize properly, meaning ensuring it locks shut each time they go in or out.  Another would be to talk with your building operations management and find out if the AC vent causing the issue can be redirected in a way that will solve the problem. 

You might get somewhere by suggesting these two options to whoever at your company is in charge of security compliance, since HR doesn't care. Frame it as a compliance issue.

You can also explain to your manager what you explained here; just because he doesn't work out of that office doesn't mean he's not capable of processing what you're saying. Again, frame it as a security issue.

But if your company just doesn't care, I'd get a cabinet that locks and keep any personal belongings you want to keep secure in there.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

parents who job-search on their kids' behalf

From this MSNBC article by Eve Tahmincioglu:
“I recently received a call from the mother of a Ph.D. student who was applying to jobs on behalf of the daughter and thought there was nothing wrong with it,” [a hiring manager] said. “The mother asked for suggestions for what jobs she should apply to on behalf of the daughter and I told her none.” Rothberg said the mother was surprised at his reaction. “It had never occurred to her that her daughter should be in charge of her own career, especially as she was in her late 20s and looking for a professional position,” he added.
Or how about this:
Late last year, Lisa Fedrizzi-Hutchins, a hiring manager for an environmental company in New York, made a job offer to an entry-level candidate and asked her to review it and call if she had any questions. “The following day, I received a phone call from her mother because she felt her negotiation skills were far better than her daughter,” Fedrizzi-Hutchins recalled. “She had explained to me that the salary was far too low for her daughter to live comfortably in New York City and wanted to know what we needed to do to bring her salary up.”
I mean, why not go a step further and actually send the parent to work to do the job for you?

I hope that any hiring manager who gets a call like this does the candidate a favor and tells the parent in the sternest of terms that they're completely out of line and doing their kid a disservice by making them the laughingstock of the professional world. Who the hell are these parents?

negotiating an offer to keep existing job

A reader writes:

When a business comes under new ownership and employees receive offers to keep their current jobs, can one negotiate? In this case a larger company has purchased a small business. I'm managing my expectations and trying not to count on even being offered my current salary.

However, when I took this job I took a substantial pay cut (almost 20%) versus my previous position. If I do receive an offer from the new owners, I'd like to request that they match my prior salary. I was told at hiring that because the company was a small one they couldn't match what I was making before. I ended up taking their offer without trying very hard to negotiate. Now that a larger company that has plenty of cash on hand will potentially be employing me, I'd really like to get back to my previous salary level.

Is explaining this and negotiating with the new ownership acceptable, or would I just be marking myself as difficult from the start?

It seems pretty unlikely to me that you're going to get a substantial raise simply because the new owners have more cash.

The way they're going to see it, you've already shown that you're willing to do the job at your current salary, so what incentive do they have to significantly increase it? The only way I can see this being likely to happen is if (a) you're an absolutely fantastic employee, rock star quality, (b) they know this, (c) they think you're going to leave without the raise, and (d) they're highly motivated to hold on to you. 

(One exception to this would be if they raise salaries across the board to bring the company in line with their overall corporate salary structure, which does occasionally happen.)

It's not typical for people who can command a significantly higher salary to take a job at a major pay cut just because the company can't afford more (except in the case of nonprofits, where people have other motivations); most people aren't that altruistic. So the new owners are likely to assume that you took the pay cut for other reasons -- that you just didn't care about the money that much, that you really wanted to do this job or work for this company, that you found the market wasn't willing to pay you what you were earning previously, or whatever. 

So you're not in a very strong negotiating position; you've already shown your hand, that you're willing to do the job at your current salary. 

Furthermore, once you're already on the job, your negotiating power comes from the implied possibility that you might look elsewhere if you don't get the money you're asking for here. It sounds like these are relatively risky circumstances to be making that implied threat; the new owners, who don't know you, probably aren't going to be as highly motivated to keep you as a manager who knows your work would be.

This doesn't meant that you absolutely shouldn't try; you know your circumstances and the nuances of this situation better than I do. But the best thing you can do is to put yourself in their shoes and figure out what a compelling argument to them would be, if there is one; the fact that they have more cash than the old owner isn't it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

call center job misery

I'm calling on the readers' help with this one. A reader writes:

I recently took a job in a call center doing order entry. I'm very overqualified but it's a job and my unemployment ran out so I had to find something with an income. 

As part of being a call center agent, I'm expected to maintain certain stats. One of them is called "accountable time," which means the amount of time you were clocked in vs the amount of time you were logged in on the phone. We're supposed to maintain a level of 90%, which doesn't sound so hard. For a 30-minute day, that gives you 48 minutes leeway, including two 15-minute paid breaks. The problem is that the company uses something called "required time off." This is where the call volume is low and they don't need as many agents answering the phone. I understand why they do that, it's better to send a few folks home early than to lay them off permanently. 

I'm not too thrilled that I took a 40 hour a week job that rarely results in 40 full hours but that's not what ticks me off. What does tick me off is that when they figure out your accountable time, they don't seem to take into account the fact that they send you home early and after you've already taken both of your paid breaks. For instance if I'm sent home an hour and a half early I only have a 39 minute leeway and with just 9 minutes to "play" with that cuts it kind of close when you're waiting for the computer to boot up or adjusting your chair (since we don't have assigned seats, I have to readjust the chair wherever I land that day). 

I'm not normally the type to complain about a simple rule like this or claim something isn't fair but this detail ticks me off. The first week I was on the phones and didn't get sent home, I had no problem meeting this 90%. Since then I've been sent home 3-4 days a week and haven't hit the 90%. And of course you never know if/when you are going to be going home. Further, after my probationary period of 60 days, they look at your performance including these stats (and others, this isn't the only one) and decide whether or not to keep you on. So now I'm worried because of this problem that I might be out of a job once the probationary period is over. (It is an at-will state and I fully understand that I could be fired the day after my probationary period ends for whatever reason they like.) Since this isn't an ideal job for me, I haven't stopped looking elsewhere and I hope something else comes up, but given that I was out of work for so long I fear that I won't be able to find anything and that I'm at the mercy of this company. 

I'm not sure what to do. Do I skip my breaks? Or only go long enough to use the washroom? Is it right for them to make people's job dependent on a statistic that they have so much control over? I've pointed this out to my manager and he just told me to work on getting my number back above 90%.

First, in case anyone else makes the same mistake I did at first: When I first read this, I thought they were requiring you to be at 90% of a full 40 hours, even if they only allowed you to work 32 hours that week. But that's not it; the issue is that you're taking breaks during the day on the assumption that you'll have a full 8-hour day to make your 90%, but then they send you home early without warning, which throws your numbers off.

What do other people there do, people who do regularly hit 90% or above? Do they skip their breaks? Eat at their desks while they continue to work? That's the first thing I'd look at.

It's also worth mentioning that call centers are notorious for being miserable workplaces. I don't know why -- I assume it has something to do with the high turnover meaning that they don't really care about people's quality of life, because they're not making a point of trying to retain people. Therefore, my usual advice about trying to make a rational argument to your manager about how this is impacting you probably doesn't apply, because they probably don't care.

In fact, it could be that they're hoping this system will actually encourage people not to take breaks, which is obviously really jerky.

I'd love it if any readers with call center experience weighed in on this one.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

job rejections should come via email, not via a phone call

A reader writes:

Please pass this information on to the interviewers and managers. I prefer NOT to receive a "thanks, but no thanks" telephone call/message when I didn't get a job. I truly appreciate the relay of information; however, only via email or snail mail. When the phone rings, or I listen to a vague message for me to return a call, my hopes are lifted.

I vote "NO" for a phone call. Please, ONLY call if you will hire me, or inform me about a second (or third, etc.) interview.

I agree that email is better than a phone call for job rejections.

For the candidate, a call puts them on the spot: They have to react to the rejection while they're still in the immediate moment of disappointment. It's awkward. And like this reader pointed out, before it's clear what the call is for, it creates a moment of false hope, and then demands that the candidate pull it together to be gracious about disappointment a second later.

And email is better on the employer's side too, since some candidates will try to argue the decision when it's not up for debate. Or occasionally you get a bunch of anger and vitriol thrown at you.

Of course, this assumes that an employer even bothers to issue rejections at all, when we all know that plenty don't. But those employers are inconsiderate jerks.

Anyone out there actually prefer a phone call to tell you that you didn't get the job?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

is it okay to resign while I'm still waiting for my new job's formal written offer?

A reader writes:

I've been working at a company for the last year and a half, and its been great for what it is-- first job out of college, I've learned a ton, and they've been very nice about working with my schedule. I've been working full-time and going to school at nights to get my masters degree, and they've been great about accommodating that.

I've been offered another position more in line with what my education (and newly achieved masters degree!) is for, and I'm excited to take it. However, until the background check is completed, the formal letter of intent from the new position can't be sent out to me. I know there's nothing in the background check, and that I'm going to be offered the job barring massive catastrophe, but here's the rub:

I've told my direct supervisor about the job offer and my planned final date, and she'd like me to tell our boss this Friday (giving them a little more than 2 weeks notice). I'm okay with the idea in theory, but it makes me nervous to offer anyone *anything* until I have the formal letter of intent from the new job in my hand.

If I know the other job is more or less solid, is it okay to offer notice? Or do I wait and keep my mouth shut?

Do not under any circumstances resign until you have a firm offer in hand. "More or less solid" isn't solid enough, unless you're willing to risk being unemployed over it. 

Until you have a written offer, you don't really have a job offer, no matter how certain you think it is. Positions get cut at the last minute, background checks turn up things that you'd never think would be a problem but the company does, all sorts of crap can happen. 

And if you give notice before you have the offer and then it falls through, your current employer may have already made plans to replace you, or for whatever reason may not be willing to let you rescind your notice (which also happens), and then you'd have neither job.

(Not to freak you out. Chances are that this won't happen, but the consequences are serious enough if it does that you don't want to take the risk.)

So you want to have the offer in writing. I recommend that you:

1. Tell your direct supervisor that you'd like to wait until you have the formal offer before officially giving notice or setting an end date, but that as soon as you do, you will formally give notice and talk to your other boss. Assure her that you'll give at least two weeks notice when you do.

2. Tell the new company that you are excited about the offer and that you will give notice at your current job as soon you have the formal, written offer from them. 

They should implicitly understand that this means that the longer they take in getting you that written offer, the further back your start date may need to be pushed (depending on how far away it is now). 

3. It doesn't sound like you've agreed on a start date with the new company yet, but in case I'm wrong, and one has been discussed: Ask how long they expect the written offer to take. If they give you a timeline that implies you may not have the letter in time to give sufficient notice at your current job, explain that you need to give your current employer at least two weeks notice, and ask if it's possible to (a) push your start date back slightly to accommodate that or (b) get a written offer letter sooner.

As long as you're polite in asking for these things, they should accommodate you. If for some reason they balk, keep in mind that an employer who pushes you to screw over your current boss (and your own professional reputation) by giving insufficient notice, or one who doesn't understand your need to protect yourself by getting a written offer before you resign your old job, is an employer to be wary of anyway.

Good luck!
I recently got to know Alicia Ostarello of StudentStuff after she took issue with some advice I'd given. I had offered some advice for recent grads, and Alicia felt frustrated that new professionals are often assumed to need that basic kind of advice.

Since then, Alicia and I have talked a bit more, and today she put some of that conversation on her site ... which was a very gracious thing to do after a public disagreement!

StudentStuff, by the way, is a site whose goal is to help students get the most out of their college experience. Some of their recent posts include the question of whether college degrees equal jobs (no), what to do when the job hunt gets tough, tips for rocking your summer internship, and how being nice to your professors can help your career.

Check StudentStuff, and Alicia, out!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

boss bans coworkers from eating lunch together

A reader writes:

My sister works in a local government office. Most of the time, she eats lunch alone at her own desk, but sometimes she will eat with some of her coworkers in one of their cubicles.

Recently, one of the coworker's supervisor came to them during lunch and told them that her supervisor ("Betty") asked her to come tell them that they can't eat lunch together (i.e., they can't eat with other people).

No real reason was given, other than "I'm sorry I have to tell you this, but Betty asked me to..." The general consensus amongst my sister and her friends is that Betty feels left out. Though Betty eats lunch with a friend every day, she doesn't socialize much with the staff. (There are some days the office orders takeout or if it's someone's birthday - where everyone in the office eats together).

Just based on what my sister told me (I don't personally know anyone else in her office), it seems a bit like Betty is afraid other workers will think my sister and her friends are being clique-ish. They are all of the same race and when they chat, they sometimes switch back and forth between English and their native (foreign) language. My guess is that if it were a group of racially or ethnically diverse workers, no one would care if they were eating together or not - but that's a different story. In general, there are groups of people who eat lunch together, and there are some people who eat by themselves.

Does an employer have the right to dictate who you eat lunch with, and more importantly, should they? The lunch break is 30 minutes, unpaid. There is an area with a fridge and microwave, but no chairs/tables to eat at so everyone eats inside their cubicles (no rule forbidding this).

On the one hand, I guess they can make rules about this because you are on company property. And cliques in the workplace are bad. I hate them. On the other hand, I think this is silly. It's one thing to tell workers to limit their congregating during work hours. But this is a lunch break and it's unpaid.

I think I would ask management to clarify the policy regarding lunch. How am I supposed to follow rules/policies, when we aren't told until we "break" them? (At least, these "rules" on lunch are not written down - they have official policies on dress code, work hours, etc).

Can they do this, legally? Yes. But that's a very different question than whether they should.

I'd be interested in knowing the reasoning for this rule. If you're all in cubicles and there's no other place to eat, it's possible that having a group lunch in someone's cubicle is disruptive to people nearby who are trying to focus on work.

But if this is the case, that should be explained to you, so that you're not left thinking that it's some arbitrary edict imposed for no good reason. In fact, the bigger problem than the rule itself is that it was just dumped on you with no explanation, so it made it seem heavy-handed and obnoxious.

It's also possible that Betty did explain the reason to the supervisor who approached you, and that supervisor is the one who erred when she didn't share it with you.  So until you know otherwise, I'd be wary of assuming that the rule was made because Betty feels left out. That would be so over-the-top petty for a manager that unless you truly have reason to believe this, I wouldn't jump to that conclusion.

Why not simply ask? Sometimes people get so caught up in this sense of "us versus them" when it comes to dealing with their managers that they make things a lot harder (and more dramatic) than they need to be. Just ask:  "Hey, ___ mentioned to us that we shouldn't eat lunch with each other, and that surprised me, so I was wondering what was behind that request." 

Then come back and tell us what she says.

can I get my new managers to listen to feedback?

A reader writes:

I work at a fast food place. I took the job because it was literally the only one I could get: I have a college degree and some professional experience, but not much, and I really needed a job. I've been promoted here, and that's good, and up until now the place has been very tolerable and even fun.

However, we've recently come under new ownership. The new franchisees are changing just about everything. We used to work for the only food place that offered health benefits to regular employees, even part-time ones. Now, all benefits (including employee discounts) are gone, and every little thing, from the way we take drive-thru orders to the dress code, is different.

Some of this I can understand. They want to make money. But some of the new rules are just ridiculous. Customers are getting angry (the new owners won't even let the napkins be stored in the dining room; customers have to come to the counter and ask for them. This is a major pain in our asses and the customers know what the new owners think of them). Pretty much all employees hate the new owners and are looking for other jobs.

My question is, to what extent can I do something about it? I'm a shift lead at one of 22 stores they now own. They claim to value employee feedback and retention, but their position on benefits betrays them (seriously, if they let employees have 50% off while they're working, they recoup the cost of the ingredients, so they're not even losing money!). I've written two letters about specific issues (one an employee incentive program and the other a note on some dress code issues), both done very professionally and deferentially, and have received no reply to either. To what extent is this feedback simply annoying to them? To what extent can I truly hope to change policy over 22 restaurants?

Yeah, you're probably annoying them. That's not because feedback is annoying, but because their silence indicates that these people in particular aren't into hearing it.

Now, good managers would want feedback, especially from someone on the front lines who has a different vantage point than they do, and especially when they're making a lot of changes, some of which will likely play out in ways they didn't anticipate, because that's what happens with change sometimes.

And good managers would also respond to feedback in some way -- even if they consider your input and decide they disagree, or that there are other priorities that trump your points, or whatever. Greeting it with silence pretty much sends the message that they don't care to hear from you, no matter what you have to say.

So no, I don't think you have much chance at changing things, because they've indicated they're not interesting in hearing it.  

My advice is to use the experience as a good case study in managing change. If you look at it from a distance and try to be objective about where they're probably coming from, I bet there are some good lessons in there about why bad changes get implemented, how good changes can be ruined when the communication about them is mishandled, and other interesting aspects of managing major business changes. Sometimes living through bad management can teach you a lot.

Friday, May 14, 2010

can I ask my employer to lay me off?

A reader writes:

I work for a major financial services company. I no longer wish to work for that company but don't want to just resign. The company has been laying workers off and is planning more layoffs. I don't want to feel like a sitting duck. I also want to leave and focus on a non-competing business that I recently started. Should I ask for a package because I wish to leave? I am hoping to get some perks and professional references if I seek a package. What would you advise?

You're planning on leaving regardless, right? If so, you have nothing to lose by approaching your manager about the possibility of being a voluntary layoff in the next round. If they're planning to do layoffs anyway, they may be relieved to get volunteers and you could save someone else from being cut.

That said, there's no guarantee that they'll accept your offer. If yours isn't a position they plan to cut, it doesn't make sense for them to lay you off. So you should be prepared for them not to take you up on it ... and, depending on the culture there, it might be awkward hanging around much longer after you've told them you're ready to leave. But it sounds like you want to leave either way, anyway.

If you're close to your manager and have a relationship of trust, you might be successful running this by her off the record and getting a better sense of how this proposal is likely to be received. Good luck!

P.S. I'm asking the Evil HR Lady, who has more experience with layoffs than me, to weigh in too.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

coworker keeps staring at my chest

Employees hitting each other, a coworker wetting his pants, and now this -- is it just me or have the letters really taken a more bawdy turn around here lately? In any case...

A reader writes:

I just started a fantastic job working as a legal assistant to General Counsel for a small (60 employee) company. I absolutely love my work, my boss (who is possibly the coolest attorney I know) and most of my coworkers. I say most of because one of them is causing me a bit of discomfort, and I'm not sure what to do about it.

I'll say this in the most delicate of terms: I am a fairly large-breasted woman. I cover them appropriately during the workday, but it's not always as effective as I'd like it to be, and I understand that even in the most professional of environments, sometimes, people will look. It happens, and I don't take offense to it in most cases, because in most cases, it's generally pretty rare. But there is one particular employee, a manager who most of the higher ups like, including my boss. In fact, my boss plays poker with him - hence why I can't exactly talk to my boss about this particular situation.

This employee, we'll call him John, REALLY likes to stare at the chests of every young woman in the office, myself included. And when I say stare, I mean full-on, lower-your-eyes-and-even-your-head, talk-to-the-chest STARE. If it were just once in a while, again, I wouldn't really think much of it, but it's very difficult to work with this manager (which in my position is a frequent occurrence) when you can feel him trying to get a glimpse down your shirt. It really is VERY obvious, and it makes most of the ladies extremely uncomfortable. I'm not a very easily-offended person, and I suppose I'm not even so much offended here as just... squicked out.

I don't want to take it to HR, because that's a bit extreme for what I'm almost sure he doesn't realize he is doing. In addition, I don't know that my boss is the person to talk to either, given his friendship with the manager and my general uneasiness with going "higher up" at this point. Do you have a recommendation of how to handle this situation at a more personal level, short of wearing turtlenecks all year long?

Men, please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think guys who do this are generally oblivious.

There are all kinds of options to clue him in, from body language (pointedly crossing your arms over your chest), to worriedly looking down and asking if you have something on your shirt, to saying something direct ("my eyes are up here"). Hell, you could even send him an anonymous note telling him that many women in the office have noticed him staring at their chests and this is his chance to stop it before someone complains. 

One other option: Are there any women at his level or higher in your office? Discreetly mentioning it to one of them and asking if they can handle it without making a big deal about it is an option too.

And you should keep in mind that HR is of course an option as well, although I'd share your instinct to try to handle it directly first.

Whatever option you choose, you should say or do something, because it's making you and others uncomfortable. 

What do others think?

And I'll promise we'll get back to the more staid letters from here on out.

coworker is wetting his pants regularly -- what do I do?

A reader writes:

I found your blog while searching for help with a very uncomfortable and embarrassing problem. My co-worker has started wetting himself during work. I'm not kidding, this is not something to joke about as it could be a sign of serious health problems.

He wears beige colored pants and around the middle of the day, when he stands up, you can see a very large stain running down his pants. To make matters worse, he does not wash his pants, so one can see dried urine stains from previous days - by Friday it's pretty bad.

What do I do? It's very uncomfortable, it doesn't smell good but besides the selfish thoughts of how it makes me feel, what about his health? Shouldn't someone say something to him, based on health concerns alone?

I've mentioned this to his manager, he refuses to do anything. I've mentioned it to the HR director he said he would take care of it. Yet the problem persists.

Please advise - this is not something that is a very common problem so not getting much help by googling it.

Um. My first thought is that there's no way this guy doesn't know that it's happening, but I suppose it's possible that he really doesn't. But it pretty much has to be a medical problem, right? 

My next thought is that HR didn't handle it even though they said they would because they're too uncomfortable, which is a lame cop-out, and you should go back to them and tell them that they're doing this guy a disservice by allowing this to become a noticeable thing in the office.

Normally I would say that if you are at all close to this coworker, you could consider talking with him yourself ... but realistically, few people would have the balls for that, and anyway, this is a job for HR and they should do it. How about enlisting your own manager in helping you push for them to handle it?

You might also show HR this post, which has tips for talking to an employee about body odor, and there's some stuff there that could be adapted. 

One thing I mention in that post is that I think when there's something really awkward to be addressed, it helps to think about how you'd want it handled if it were you. But I really have no idea how I'd want someone to say this to me (and I'm feeling pretty grateful to have bladder control just thinking about it).

What do you guys think?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

employee hit me, manager won't do anything

A reader writes:

I work as a supervisor in a call center-like environment. Technically I am a low level manager, but I am essentially powerless. My job is to keep work flowing to our operators consistantly from our various sites and be the communication hub between our sites, keyers, my superiors and our outsourcing company. I am supposed to be listened to, but if I am not the only thing I can do is go to my immediate superior, who then goes to his immediate superior, who is the first one with "manager" anywhere in his actual title. I am basically powerless unless I can convince those above me with actual power to act, and those above me dislike confrontation.

The other day, one of my employees was doing some work for another department. That department's supervisor came over and asked her to stop keying the work for a minute while she explained the plan for the day. The employee answered "No." This exchange repeated, and then I stepped in. I told my employee, again, to stop keying. She said "No." I decided this was enough and pushed the "ESC" key to exit the program. While I was stepping back, this employee grabbed my wrist and slapped my hand, and told me to "never touch my keyboard again." I told her that I would not have to as long as she listened to me when I gave her instructions. She again said "No."

After stewing in my seat for a few minutes, I went and reported the entire situation to my supervisor who reported it to his manager. This manager talked to a couple people who witnessed the incident and then spoke to HR. The next day I was asked by the employee this whole thing started with, "Are we gonna have a good day today?" As far as I'm concerned, this whole thing reeks of insubordination, something we were specifically told to report by the higher ups.

Anyway, the situation was "resolved" by having the employee sign a letter that was put into her permanent file. As far as I know, this particular employee has many letters in there already, and I do not feel it is getting the message across. Anytime I have spoken to the manager who handled this, I have been told the issue is closed. I do not feel that this is a satisfactory resolution, and have been advised to speak with HR directly, and at least try for an apology from the employee. Do you think it's worth the effort, or am I just going to get shut down again? I don't really think I want to work in a place where coworkers can strike each other in anger and not be dealt with in a meaningful way.

Everyone is in the wrong here -- the employee, your managers, and, to some extent, you.

We'll start with you, because your managers are a larger issue that we'll get to in a minute.

First, given the way you described your pretty powerless role, I'm not even clear on whether it was your role to intervene when the employee was ignoring the supervisor who told her to stop keying. But it definitely wasn't a great strategy to lean over and press her "escape" key, or to start bickering with her in front of others ("I told her that I would not have to as long as she listened to me when I gave her instructions").  When an employee is being insubordinate, the thing to do is to talk with them privately, let them know the behavior is unacceptable, and let them know what the consequences are if it continues. Your actions here were the actions of someone who isn't confident in their own power -- and understandably so, since your company has put you in a position where you're expected to oversee work without any actual authority. The way you handled this signals "I don't have more effective tools at my disposal."

I think you need more clarity on the boundaries of your role. Does your manager want you to deal with performance issues like this yourself, or just report them to her to handle? If you're supposed to deal with them yourself, are you actually expected to get them resolved or just to start the ball rolling (with someone else stepping in if this first-level intervention doesn't work)? It sounds like it's more the latter. This is, frankly, kind of a stupid position to put you in -- it would be more efficient for them to give you some real authority. But they've chosen not to, and so you need to work within those bounds.

I suggest that you talk to your manager and ask explicitly how she'd like you to handle insubordination or other performance problems if they occur in the future. Tell her that what you'd like to do is to speak with the employee privately about the issue and explain to them what the bar for performance or behavior is, and where they're falling short. Ask if that's appropriate for you to do. If not, find out what it is that you're supposed to be doing in these situations. But if she says yes, then you two should talk some more to get aligned on what the expectations are of your employees, how serious problems have to be before there are consequences, what those consequences are, and how they will be enforced. Right now, at a minimum, you guys are not on the same page about this -- clearly.

You also need to talk specifically about this employee, who is being rude and insubordinate to you. Find out from your manager how much of this behavior will be tolerated. You don't want to go blind into this situation and then find out after the fact that your managers won't support you. You need to know ahead of time when and how they'll have your back -- or even if.

Now, as for your bosses ... where to begin? Letting one employee slap another? Allowing open insubordination? I mean, they suck, clearly. Either they don't particularly care or they're afraid of setting and enforcing consequences. Either way, they're bad managers.

And either they've put you in a situation where they haven't given you the tools to do the job they're telling you to do, or they've horribly miscommunicated to you what that job is. So yeah, you have bad managers. You should try what I suggested above, but keep in mind that these people suck, so the results that you can get are probably limited.

By the way, that idea about asking for an apology from the insubordinate employee? Don't do that. Forced apologies are silly and meaningless. What you need from her is respectful interaction with you in the future -- but that goes both ways, which is why you need to change the tools you're using with her too. Good luck.

interviewer gave me a typing test for a non-clerical job -- and then canceled the rest of the interview

A reader writes:

I'm job hunting again and recently had a really embarrassing experience during an interview. The interview was for a job in the industry I work in, but in a very different role. The day before the interview I read up on the company and the industry and I went into the interview feeling fairly confident.

When I got there, the hiring manager met me and escorted me an empty cubicle and told me to take a typing test, and then she would meet with me and the head of the department I'd be working in. I was startled. No WPM requirement was listed on the job posting, she never mentioned any type of testing when we scheduled the interview, and the job was not presented as a clerical position in the ad. I have to confess, I'm not a good typist, but it's never been a requirement for any of the jobs I've had. Long story short, I bombed the test, the interview was cancelled and I was escorted out of the building. I was rattled, but thanked her for her time and left.

Since then, I've done some online typing tests to improve my skills. Here's my question, is it acceptable for me to ask when scheduling other interviews if tests will be given? I don't want to make a bad impression before an interview, but I want to be prepared.

That's ... weird. I'm curious about what type of job it was. I'm a big fan of having candidates simulate the work they'll actually be doing on the job, but I can't imagine giving a typing test for a non-clerical job. 

I think you can ask about this beforehand, but you want to be careful about how you ask. If you don't use the right wording, you might come across as less than confident in your skills. I would say something like, "I'd like to prepare for the interview ahead of time. Can you tell me how many people I'll be meeting with, whether there'll be a period for skills assessment tests, and so forth?"

That said, I don't think you're likely to run into this a ton.

more advice on how not to be nervous in job interviews

I love this comment from Rebecca, on the topic of how to not be nervous in interviews:

Remember that all employers/bosses basically want to know the same three things:

1. Can you do what we want you to do?
2. Will you actually show up when you say you will, and do what you say you're gonna do?
3. Will you be a pain in my butt?

You and the interviewer have to work together to answer #1, because they don't know exactly what you can do, and you don't know exactly what they want.

Meanwhile, as long as your interviewer is reasonably sane, #2 and #3 will be answered simply by you showing up on time and being polite, friendly, and professional. (You would be stunned by how many people really don't do this.)

So really, as long as you behave professionally, the only thing you have to do in the interview is collaborate with the interviewer to figure out whether you're right for the job.

(It's true that the interviewer/company might not be reasonably sane -- but since you can't control or prepare for that, there's no sense worrying about it. Only worry about the things you can control.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

how can I network with a potential employer in front of my boss and coworkers?

A reader writes:

I've worked at a very small non-profit for nearly 2.5 years. It was my first "real" job out of college and I've learned a ton. I'm ready for a new challenge because I've realized that I will never move up within this organization - it's simply too small and there's nowhere to go!

I had a preliminary interview with an HR manager last week who said speaking with me was like "hitting a home run." She forwarded my information to the hiring team, who will be in touch hopefully this week if they're interested - first for another phone interview, then an in-person interview in another state. Good, right? The position would be a Project Manager at a much larger (national!) non-profit. Here's where it gets tricky. Coincidentally, a Project Manager from this organization is visiting my current employer late this week to do a workshop with the youth we serve. I'll be there, as will my coworkers, my boss and lots of other people involved in the process.

I feel like it would be beneficial to make a connection with the Project Manager while she is here - i.e. let her know I've applied for a job with the organization and made it through the first round of interviews. Is there any way to do this while not raising any of my coworkers' eyebrows? No one knows I'm job hunting/planning to leave. If I am able to talk with the Project Manager, how could I make our conversation most beneficial?

I would send the project manager an email ahead of time, tell her that you work at ____, where she'll be this week, and let her know that you're in the interview process for a job with her organization and would love to speak with her if she has some time while she's in the area. Be sure to say that your current employer does not know that you're thinking of leaving, and tell her that you'd appreciate her discretion in that regard -- but that if she has some time for coffee or lunch while she's around, you'd love to get the chance to talk with her.  Do not bury the "they don't know this yet" part -- you want to make sure she doesn't overlook that!

If you're able to talk with her privately while she's there, I'd ask her about the work she does and the culture of the organization. She has the same job title as the position you're applying for; if she does the same work you'd be doing, this is a great opportunity to pump her with questions about what the work is like. (And be sure to make a good impression, as you can assume that she'll relay her impressions back to her office.)  Good luck!

how to turn down a job offer

A reader writes:

I know you write a lot about rejecting candidates for job offers. Do you have any sound advice for the best way for a candidate to reject a job offer when it's not the position for them?

As always, straightforward is good. Thank them for the offer, but say that you've decided it's not quite right for you. Say you hope there's opportunity to talk again in the future, if that's true.

If there's a specific reason that you're comfortable sharing -- such as salary or job duties -- you should. If they know what didn't work for you about this offer, they may approach you about something that's more appealing to you in the future.

And tell them quickly. If you know you're not going to take the offer, don't drag it out. Their number-two candidate may be waiting anxiously for a "yes."

and the contest winner is...

The winner of the worst interview contest is ...

Jennifer, who ended her interview covered in poop. (Please note that the last time I ran a contest, the winner worked e.coli into her answer. Are you seeing a pattern here?)

Jennifer, please email me and I'll get you hooked up with your prize.

And thank you to everyone who shared their interview horror stories!

how can I stop being so nervous in job interviews?

A reader writes:

I have approximately ten years of administrative and clerical experience. On the other hand, I interrupted the career trajectory in order to pursue a baccalaureate degree. Now that college is over, I am rusty with interviewing (my skills are not due to temporary assignments). During the couple of interviews I have received, if an EMT read my physiology, I probably would be rushed to the emergency room. In addition, my nerves affect my answers. My answers are rambling and lack expansion.

I am not sure how to solve this issue. I am ready for a career position, yet I feel a sense of capitalistic urgency due to student loans. I seek your wisdom and advice.

I know of only two solutions to this:

1. Practice. Practice the crap out of it. This could be anything from writing down interview questions and making yourself answer them out loud, over and over and over, until your answers fly off your tongue automatically, to practicing with a friend playing the role of your interviewer, to seeking out professional help from a job coach who will coach you on your interviewing skills. I think that the more you practice, the more comfortable you'll feel.

2. One of the reasons that some people get really nervous in interviews is that you feel like you're being judged ... and worse, judged by someone who holds all the cards, someone who has something that you really want (a job opening) and who may or may not deign to give it to you. The power dynamics are all screwed up. That's nerve-racking. You can combat that a bit by changing the power dynamics in your own head -- by remembering that you may not want to work for them, for all you know, and that part of the point of the interview is to allow you to collect your own information and decide if you even want this job or these coworkers.

By the way, doing this may even make you a more attractive candidate, totally aside from the issue of your nerves. As an interviewer, when I can tell that a candidate is interviewing me right back -- and isn't just hoping for an offer without truly considering whether or not this job is right for them -- it's really appealing.

What other tips do people have for overcoming interview nerves? 

Friday, May 7, 2010

is my transgender coworker using the right bathroom?

A reader writes:

I have a question of how/if/when transgendered coworkers get to be treated as such in the workplace. Specifically, there is a man in our office (widely known as such) who wears women's clothing, hairstyles, shoes, makeup, etc. every day, and refers to himself as "she". Some women in the office have been claiming that his use of the women's restroom constitutes sexual harrassment. Employees of both sexes have claimed that if he is male, he's violating company conduct and dress codes by wearing women's clothing to work.

The problem is, we have no idea if he is fully transgendered, ie, with a legal right to be treated as female in the workplace, or if he's just a guy that likes to crossdress and use the wrong restroom. We have no way of knowing what his "legal" gender or even his name are; he goes by a female name but no one knows if that's what's on his official employee documentation. I'm sure HR would balk at being asking to reveal an employee's "real" gender, but how else can the rumors and dissent be calmed? 

It seems to me that if someone wants to be treated as transgender, they should get to be. I don't think there's a litmus test that involves coworkers making them "prove" anything.

But I also know very little about this issue, so I asked Dr. Jillian Weiss, who has researched and written extensively on transgender issues in the workplace, for her guidance on this situation. She says she's never heard of a situation where an employee just suddenly starts crossdressing and using the opposite sex bathroom; normally, there is a process, agreed to by the employer. She raised the possibility that this may not be a real situation, but we'll proceed as if it is, because either way, it's an interesting issue to explore.

Dr. Weiss explained that the answer to the question posed here depends greatly on the laws of the city and state where the situation occurs, but in jurisdictions that do have gender identity anti-discrimination statutes, none impose any medical or surgical requirements to qualify for workplace protection. In other words, when there are laws protecting trangender employees, what matters is how that person has decided to self-identify (male or female), not what their legal or biological gender status is.

Now, to the direct questions raised, she says (emphasis mine):
It is important to note that the situation presented is very unusual, because almost all employees who transition on the job notify their employer, which in turn notifies co-workers of the new gender, name and appropriate pronouns to be used in the future. Most employers have a meeting with co-workers to explain the company's non-discrimination policies and how they affect the workplace in the situation of gender transition on the job. It's extremely unusual to hear of a situation where a co-worker starts wearing clothing of the opposite sex and starts using the other restroom without any notice to employer or co-workers.  
More significant, then, is the legal principle that the law generally accords employers the right to set the terms and conditions of employment. In the two court cases that have addressed the question of bathroom use by transgender workers, both in Minnesota, the rulings have indicated that the employer has the right to set whatever policies it would like with regard to its transgender workers. The federal district court in Minnesota upheld the right of an employer to allow a transgender employee to use the bathroom of the new gender, and specifically noted that co-workers have no cause of action for sexual harassment. In a separate case, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the employer's right to deny the bathroom of the new gender to the transgender employee. Thus, it is usually up to the employer to decide what is best.
The key fact here is that employers usually do not know the medical history of their transgender employees, nor would such knowledge be helpful in determining the best policy for the organization. For those who have objections to transgender persons using public restroom, the problem usually lies in the fact that the person transitioned from one gender to another on the job, thus creating a situation of visible androgyny. The fact that the transgender worker had certain medical procedures usually does not alleviate the concerns of those who object and, as I pointed out, does not change their "legal" gender. 
What is much more important than questions of whether someone is "really" transgender is the attitude of the employer and co-workers. In thousands of companies where a person has transitioned on the job, a positive workplace environment has been preserved where people of good will work together. Discussion of company policies and a meeting with co-workers to discuss the new situation can be helpful in addressing questions and concerns that co-workers may have. The situation posed by our reader illustrates the types of problems that can occur in the absence of this forethought.
She also notes: "The question of whether someone is 'really' transgender, or what their 'legal' gender is, cannot be answered because our society has a patchwork quilt of social norms and legal regulations that make this area of the law fairly unintelligible ... It is worth noting that the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, now pending in Congress and given a fair chance of passage, would aid in this because it would include definitions that would apply country-wide. That would be very helpful to hapless human resources managers across the country who often face these questions."

Her answer makes a lot of sense to me, and as is so often the case with workplace issues, it comes down to being open and straightforward. If we do have all the facts here, then the employer has mishandled this badly, by not addressing this or giving people any guidance and instead leaving it to be dealt with by "rumors and dissent." And the employees themselves aren't handling it well -- but it's hard to be surprised by that, because society really hasn't taught people how to respond to issues of transgender. Far from it.

I recommend that the letter-writer point out to her HR department that this needs to be handled more proactively and refer them to materials like the following to get them started:

- Human Rights Campaign's workplace gender transition guidelines (this page includes links to the gender transition policies of companies such as Ernst & Young, Chevron, and Boeing)
- Dr. Weiss's model letter from management
- More resources from Dr. Weiss for managers of transgender employees

what was your worst interview?

When I was 21, I interviewed for a job as a "bulletin board administrator." This was in 1995, when the Internet was just starting to become mainstream, and online "bulletin boards" were as common as blogs are now.

I had never used the Internet.

But the 21-year-old me was an idiot and I figured I could fake it. In a fit of embarrassing hubris, I read book about online bulletin board systems the night before and thought that would probably be sufficient.

The interview, needless to say, did not go well. And I'm pretty sure that I didn't even know enough to be mortified at the time.

We've all had interviews we just never should have been in ... or interviews where they could have gone well if only we hadn't somehow turned into a huge tool upon walking in the door ... or interviews that were ruined because our interviewer was a total ass.

I want to hear about them!  Click over to my contest page to learn about the giveaway I'm running for everyone who leaves their worst interviewing story below.

And then go to it and entertain us with your stories.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

coworker won't stop sulking after I turned down a date

A reader writes:

I moved to my current role in late November last year. Many of the other employees have known each other for years and socialize together out of work. In principle I prefer to keep my work and personal lives separate, but I will go to lunch from time to time and to the 'yay we met our targets' drinks.

The problem. One of my male colleagues has taken a fancy to me and asked me out. There is no policy against dating your colleagues where I work, just not your direct supervisor/ee. However, apart from the fact that I don't care to star in the office gossip mill (there seems to be what I would consider a LOT of over-sharing going on), I have spent enough time around him in the last five months to know that I am not at all attracted to him.

The first time he asked, I had no interest in either him or the show, so declined and told him that I preferred to keep my social life well away from work. Unfortunately, this apparently was not enough, as he asked me out again two weeks ago, proferring tickets to a concert the following weekend. This time, I told him that I was sorry if my previous statement had been ambiguous in some way, but I was really not interested in dating him and not to ask me again.

To make matters BAD rather than just a trifle awkward, it appears i) that this was a crushing blow to his ego and ii) that he told his confidants at the office what he was planning to do, in the expectation that I would be delighted with his offer. I found out this when I was asked on the Monday in a 'nudge and wink' fashion how I'd enjoyed the concert on the weekend. Further, one of his confidants attempted to reproach me for turning him down, to which I told her that my personal life was really not her business. However, ever since then the Unwanted Admirer has been wandering the office like a huge dark cloud, sighing and glaring, and pointedly avoiding talking to me even when I am the best person to ask a question of.

Frankly, this just convinces me that I was right not to date him and that office relationships in general should be approached with extreme caution - if he's still behaving like this two weeks after I turned down a date, what would he have done if I had dated him and broken it off? However, we still have to work together and our mutual boss, who has been out on leave, will be back next week and will want to know WHY he is behaving like this. I realise that the action to which I feel most inclined - whacking him about the head with a file and yelling 'PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER' - would not help and would probably get me fired. What alternatives do you suggest?

It's always interesting when someone's bad behavior just serves to confirm that you made the right decision.

Also, good for you for telling him unambiguously not to continue his overtures. People often aren't straightforward enough about this kind of thing, assume the person should read their cues, and then are upset when the person doesn't.

Anyway, as for what to do:  I'd say to ignore his sulking, treat him completely professionally, and figure that if he wants to look like a fool, that's up to him. (I suspect this is what you're already doing.) 

And if your boss asks you why he's being such a douche to you, you don't need to protect him from his own bad behavior: It's fine to say, "It started after I turned down a social invitation from him, and I'm hoping it'll be short-lived."

For that matter, you don't need to wait for your boss to ask. You could go to her yourself and give her a heads-up about what's going on. You sound averse to drama, but remember that this isn't your drama -- it's his.

It's also worth mentioning that -- at least if you're in the U.S. and you work for a reasonably large company -- your HR department would probably put an immediate stop to this if you told them about it. While the date requests themselves don't sound like harassment in the legal sense, his behavior since then does raise some harassment/hostile workplace issues. (The legal concept of a "hostile workplace" isn't just about being hostile, so simply being a jerk doesn't qualify. However, when that hostility is linked to hitting on you, it can.) HR isn't going to play around with this kind of thing, and it might help to have boundaries clearly spelled out for him by someone in a position of authority.

That said, it doesn't sound like you do feel harassed, but rather like you're just annoyed at this guy's childish behavior, so this may not be an option you want to exercise. (By the way, be prepared for the possibility that your boss may feel obligated to involve HR if you tell her, in case it does raise potential legal issues for the company. And if that happens, again remember that it's not your drama, it's his.)

And as a side note, I will also add: Trust your gut too. Given how immature and egocentric this guy sounds, if you have any fear about retaliation resulting from you talking to your boss/HR, mention that to them in the same conversation. Don't ignore your gut on this kind of thing.

What do others think?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

recruiter won't answer questions and wants to rewrite my resume

A reader writes:

I saw a blind ad (no company name provided) and sent my resume and introductory email. Within an hour, I received an email expressing interest by a recruiter followed by a voicemail. The initial email said “your resume is great.” I sent an email to the recruiter and asked if I could have the name of the company so that I could research it before we spoke by phone. I received a response saying that the company would not allow its name to be revealed until an interview was set up. Okay, I thought, but I was not happy to be unprepared. 

During the phone interview that followed, none of my questions were answered – remember, this company wished to remain anonymous, so nothing was discussed about specific job duties, size of team, first few projects, how work would be evaluated, etc. Remember, so many in the job search world always say “prepare and have questions ready.” Well, I was unable to prepare for this phone interview. But, at the end of the 20-minute phone interview, the recruiter asked for my resume in Word (I had sent it in PDF), because she wanted to re-do it. She said it was “flat, hard-to-read, and not easy to follow.” Excuse me, but in her first communication, the resume was “great” – her word. Would you have sent her the resume so she could have “re-created” it?

At this early stage, I can see her not wanting to get into something very detailed like specifics about the first few projects you'd be working on -- but she should have given you solid information about the job responsibilities and reporting structure. How are you supposed to know if you're interested in investing any time without this basic information? This goes back to employers (or in this case, a recruiter) feeling that they have all the power and that job candidates should simply be happy to get a chance to be considered. It's BS.

However, if these were questions you were asking simply because you felt that part of making a good impression was having questions prepared, well, obviously she's not concerned about that. But if you were asking questions because you're trying to determine your interest level and if it's worth your time to proceed or not, then you're perfectly entitled to hold firm on that before investing further time.

A lot here depends, of course, on how desperate you are for a new job. If you're not and you feel you have plenty of good options, there's no reason that you need to indulge her if you don't want to. It's completely fine to say, "I can appreciate the employer's need for confidentiality at this stage, but before I can move on to an interview, I'd want to know more about ___." But you need to be willing to risk losing the opportunity over it.

As for this resume re-write, at a minimum you should make it very clear to her that no resume can be sent out as yours without you having signed off on it. I'm a little worried that she's going to make changes that you wouldn't approve and send it out without you even seeing it. Regarding the contradiction of first saying it was "great" and later criticizing it, it's possible that she meant that your experience is great but the resume needs some work. And it's absolutely possible that she's right. But I'd proceed with some healthy skepticism until you have a better feel for how she works.

Any recruiters out there want to weigh in?


Here's a tip: If you're writing to busy people and asking for them to answer questions for your master's project, which is due five hours from the time of your email, you are already screwed.

how do I avoid my evil boss's going-away party?

A reader writes:

So my horrible boss is finally leaving (and the villagers rejoiced). She's doing it in a remarkably unethical way (we're going through some restructuring and she's submitting all her plans as if she's staying: once they are approved, committing the company to certain things that give her more flexibility, she's going to quit before the ink is dry), but regardless, she's out. And I couldn't be happier, as she's been a complete nightmare to work for on so many many levels (not to mention I'm the one going to be stuck holding the bag when she leaves).

Until of course, she asks me to help plan her going away party. I as a rule loathe these events and I'm wondering: If you work in an office environment where cake, heartfelt speeches and tears are the norm, how do you gracefully avoid them without looking like a pain? 

My office mates have the ability to be groaning about someone for literally weeks but the minute a sheet cake with "best wishes'" appears, out come the waterworks and "I've learned so much from you!" and "I'm going to miss you so much!" As soon as the forks are washed, the bitching recommences. I know my boss is going to expect fireworks, cake, presents and speeches. How do I, without looking like a heartless goon, NOT be forced to celebrate her wonderful achievements and contribution to my life in front of people, including clients because she is inviting basically everyone we work with in any capacity? I'll have to work with these folks afterwords - is it better to suck it up and smile and force some tears as I give a sentimental speech and endure her hugs, stand in a corner and fake intestinal distress so I can run away 20 minutes after arriving the strains of "ding dong the witch is dead" in my head, or do I just not attend at all? Is there an option I am not even seeing?

This ... is not a problem. This is an hour of your life that you'll just tolerate because you don't want to burn bridges and maybe you'll want a reference from her one day.

You don't need to fake-cry. You don't need to give a speech. If asked, you say, "I'm not one for speeches." You show up, you smile, you wish her good luck in whatever she's doing next, you eat some cake, and you go back to work.

Seriously. This is just work, not family drama. This is work. You don't like your boss, she's leaving, that's good, behave professionally, get paid to eat cake for an hour, the end.

That was an easy one.

Monday, May 3, 2010

coworkers don't like me because I'm younger

A reader writes:

I am 22 years old, I have a degree and I am a Marketing Coordinator for a franchise.  Now I work with two coworkers and my boss, all of who are in their mid 30's.  My boss has proven to be a great boss,  until now.

The two coworkers I work with have known each other since they were 19, go on smoke breaks together and know all the same friends.  So of course I don't fit in so much already.  I've worked here for 6 months and I guess I thought I might start to fit in by now, but that is not the case.  One coworker in particular does not want me to fit in ever and she makes a point to let me know that.  One day she'll be kind to me and the next she's well a complete "B"!  Trying to kill her with kindness hasn't worked and finally I talked with my boss about the situation, due to the fact that I was going home crying half the time.  He said that my age was a factor in the way they all acted around me, that they don't know how to act around me.  They wouldn't hang out with me outside of work because we wouldn't have anything in common, so they don't know how to act around me at work.  

He also assumed, with these thoughts in mind, that I wouldn't know what marketing layouts he would want so he has been asking someone outside of the company (his same age) to do designs instead of me.  

Since this conversation,  one coworker has not talked to me at all.  I don't want to work at a place I am not wanted but I need the money!  My boss said he would talk to me later about the issue and has not.  What should I do?  I don't think it is right to be treated like crap because I'm 10 years younger than everyone. Is it age discrimination when I am young?

This is a letter where I can't actually tell what's going on. When I first read your letter, my immediate thought was, "Wow, they're focused on your age when they're the ones acting like babies." But then, on a second reading, I realized that there's not actually much here to support that they're behaving badly. You're definitely interpreting their behavior as poor, but there aren't many specific details supporting that. I mean, yes, you've got two coworkers who are good friends and that's making you feel left out, but there's not a lot here indicating that there's much more going on beyond that.

So with limited information to go on, all I can say is that one of two things is happening:

1. Your coworkers just haven't particularly bonded with you.  If the issue is that they haven't embraced you socially ... well, not everyone clicks and not everyone has to. You may never "fit in" with them in that way, and that's not uncommon. What matters is that you all work together reasonably well regardless. In this scenario, I think you're a little too hung up on age, and probably attributing too much to that, and your boss was probably just trying to smooth it over, maybe a little inartfully.


2. Your coworkers are actually being rude, obstructionist, or otherwise inappropriate with you. If this is the case, your boss should let them know that they're expected to work constructively with all employees, period. And if this is the case, excusing their behavior because they're older than you and wouldn't hang out with you outside of work is weird and irrelevant.

But again, I can't tell which of these scenarios is actually happening here. But I do know that you're not really helping matters yourself. Going home crying because your coworkers haven't embraced you is giving them way too much power over your quality of life. The reality is, most people have to deal with coworkers who they don't really click with. Do your job and don't take their attitudes personally. If they're rude to you, that indicates that something is wrong with them, not you.

The part about this that troubles me the most, though, is your boss outsourcing design work because he assumed that you weren't experienced enough to know what he'd want. Now, it's possible that he knows he's going to get better work from a more seasoned designer, and he never intended to assign the work to your position since it's filled by someone more entry-level. But is this supposed to be part of your job? Is it work you were led to believe you'd be doing when you were hired? Is it work you should be doing? These questions really, really matter, and again it's information that I don't have. If the answer to these questions is yes, then you need to talk to your boss about this. Tell him it concerns you that he doesn't feel you're ready to handle this component of your job and ask him what he'd need to see from you in order to feel comfortable giving you a chance at that work. Maybe his concerns aren't about your age at all -- maybe by talking about this you'll find that they're based on something more legitimate. Or maybe not. But you do need to talk about it and get a better grasp on what's going on here.

Last, regarding age discrimination, in most states age discrimination laws only apply to people 40 and up. But I think that's a red herring anyway -- this isn't about age. It's about what you can and can't expect from your relationships with your coworkers, and it's about building a better relationship with your boss where you're better aligned on mutual expectations.

update from reader despairing over job market

Do you remember this reader from December? She was a recent grad who wrote in despairing over the job market. She'd done everything right and still wasn't finding a job. Here's an update from her: 

I know you always post updates about people who have written in. I wrote to your blog in December 2009 and would like to let you know how I am doing. I have only been on one interview since December 09, and unfortunately I was not chosen for the position. The interview went great, but I think they were looking for someone who has a bit more sales/B2B experience. On the bright side, I am currently a volunteer in the IT branch of a government agency. Although the position is unpaid, I am using it as an opportunity to network with other professionals and gain new experience in web development/Dreamweaver. Most importantly this is an opportunity for me to get out of the house, and the doldrums. 

I would recommend to any of your readers who are unemployed to volunteer. It will lift your spirits, help you connect with others and add some much needed currency to your positive karma fund. There are always government agencies to choose from, plus others like So Others May Eat, Dress for Success and even museum docents. This road has not been easy and I'm light years away from where I would like to be. However, I would like to encourage others in my situation. I know what it feels like to weighed down by unemployment. One of the best things you can do is get up and get out! Thank you so much for your advice and I wish all my fellow job seekers out there the best of luck!