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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

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Monday, December 27, 2010

it's on

I'm moving to Wordpress on Monday, and it's going to be awesome.

But this means that if you subscribe to my posts in an RSS reader and haven't yet updated the feed, you're going to stop getting my posts. Like, today. The updated feeds are:

Other than that, the move shouldn't cause much disruption on your end.

P.S. It's not too late to take advantage of the holiday coupon to get 40% off my e-book, How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager. Put in this discount code and you'll get a massive discount:  holiday2010

You can read the whole description of the book here, or buy it here:
                       Add to Cart

Sunday, December 26, 2010

where are they now: update #18 - uncomfortable stalking employers

Remember the reader who was frustrated that people kept advising her to aggressively call, call, call any employer she was interested in? I didn't really have advice for her other than to explain why her instincts were exactly right and in fact people who advise job-seekers to behave like stalkers are doing them a disservice. Here's her update.

I didn't get a lot of chance to practice what you've been preaching... the job market is still awful. Resumes and applications went out and there wasn't much response. I figured I was doomed, but set about to using the unemployed time and savings to finish my graduate work.

Then in October, I heard back from a shot-in-the-dark application I'd filled out for $LARGE_AWESOME_WEBSITE earlier in the summer. I jumped at the interview, and it rocked. I got them, they got me, it was a little interview of serious awesome. It's in the next big city over, so it took a couple of hours to get there and back. Upon getting home, I sat down at my computer to check email and send out the thank you to my interviewers because I was bound and determined to get that job, and was planning in my head when to re-contact after that. No sooner had I sat down when an email came in from one of my interviewers! They were VERY interested, and he wanted to do a little follow up, which we did the next day. The day after that came the job offer, with the official offer letter coming a week later.

I'm currently on a four-month gig in what I can only describe as my dream job: the job I've wanted since I went back to school almost 10 years ago and really never ever thought I'd find. My boss and his boss adore me (and they are awesome to work for), and the work I'm doing is exactly what I want and what I've been training for. And they're making noises that they want to keep me permanent once my contract is over, as well as make sure I have the time to complete my graduate work at the same time. I could not ask for anything better!!

Your site has been so helpful and has so much good advice, thank you for this great resource!

where are they now: update #17 - my manager is complaining about me online

Remember the reader whose manager was complaining about her on Facebook? Here's her update.

I continued working at that location for a couple more weeks, keeping my mouth shut and doing all that was asked of me and more. My supervisors never once called me back about the situation, my boss never said anything to me about the situation, but she continued to talk about me to customers and online, I'm assuming she didn't realize I knew everything that was going on.

I got a second job and was working between the two when finally I realized nothing was going to be done about the situation so I quit. My supervisors then called me and asked me not to quit, they needed me, and they would talk to my boss about the situation. We set up a meeting time for all of us to meet and talk things out. I went to that meeting, listened to what they had to offer, then they brought my boss into the room and showed her the stuff I had printed off the internet that she had said about me on Facebook, and asked her to explain herself. She said she shouldn't have to explain herself, it's her freedom of speech. They then told her this could qualify as work place harassment and told her she could be terminated. She then retaliated saying that if I didn't quit she was going to because she was sick of that place anyways. They asked me not to return for work the following week. My boss had been the manager of that branch for 9+ years, so I can understand how they would want to keep her rather than I who had only been there for 3 years.

I still don't agree with everything that happened there. But I work full time at my new job, they are willing to work around my school schedule, and I love my bosses! 

Friday, December 24, 2010

where are they now: update #16 - manager wants to be my best friend

Remember the reader whose manager wanted to be her best friend and wouldn't take no for an answer? Here's her update.

I am very happy to report that I found a new job and started a few months ago. I am very happy in my current position and work for a great manager. I tried very hard to fix things up with my old manager but things didn't work out.

For instance, I took one day off to interview for my new job and my old manager (the one who was my friend) demanded to know what I am doing on my day off. She got really mad when I refuse to tell her what I was doing on my day off. When I finally know for sure that I got this new job, I gave plenty of notice (one month) and she took it very personally. She made my last month at that company hell. But I bit my bullet, stay professional and got through that. Because of that, every other manager, including her manager had told me that, I am welcome to come back and work for them anytime.

Because I work in a very specific field, I tried very hard not to burn the bridge when I left. During my exit interview with HR, I didn't tell them that I was leaving the job for her but rather to gain better opportunities at my new job which is partly true. Do you think that was right thing to do?

Also when I left, she told all my co-workers that they can't hang out with me even on the weekends, which everyone in my old team saw it as very unprofessional. Needless to say they still keep in contact with me regardless of her demands.

That is all I have to report for now. Thank you so much for your help and everybody who commented on my post! Have a happy holiday.

where are they now: update #15 - call center misery

Remember the reader who was miserable in her job at a call center? Here's her update.

I no longer work at the call center. I was able to get my numbers up and pass the probationary period. However, later in the summer my numbers started to suffer again. There was a week were I wasn't feeling well and spent a lot of time away from my desk and went home early one day. That week messed up my numbers for the whole month. My manager had me convinced that I was about to be walked out and fired because of this one metric being low. My other metrics were all well above average. My co-workers were telling me not to worry that my manager was a jerk and "just like that" and that I wouldn't be fired. To be sure, there was one day where I was honored at a team meeting for meeting all of my numbers and having high QA scores and the very next day another meeting with my manager about how poorly I was doing. He had me very worried for my job and I'm really not a worrier. The required time off continued through the summer, and even increased. 

Staffing was done by the "traffic" department, who looked at call volume and staffing and approved time off, etc. (not by my manager). I worked 11:30 am to 8pm Tuesday through Saturday. I got a notice in my mailbox that starting in October, my Saturday hours would change so that I would work until 10pm. This was because I was a "closer" on Saturdays and for the holiday season we would be open later. I was pretty ticked off about this as I had never been told that they could change my schedule on a whim, or that I was a Saturday closer, and I wasn't too happy to be spending my Saturday nights walking across dark and icy parking lots all winter.

Luckily I found a different job before the late Saturday nights started. It's not on the phones, it pays slightly more, has better hours, and I have my own desk. The issue with that (there's always an issue with me! I can never be happy!) is that it is temp-to-hire. I was desperate to get out of the call center, and felt I was about to be fired any day, so I took this one. This job was supposed to be temp for 90 days and then hired, and I've hit that, and the latest update as to when I might get hired on is "We don't know." It's a decent company, but the work is a bit boring, and I'm very over-qualified for it, so I've decided to start looking again.

As for my old company, they filed for bankruptcy right before I left. They were several hundred million dollars in debt. The parent company walked away, they couldn't even sell. The company is now owned by the large banks that hold the majority of their debt.

where are they now: update #14 - the aspiring librarian who didn't want to give up her dream

Remember the aspiring librarian who was wondering if she'd ever get a job in her field? Here's her update:

I'm still on the hunt for a library or archives job, but I've had a few promising interviews since my question was posted. I found the suggestions from everyone very helpful, and the encouragement from several comments gave me renewed hope about my search. I know it might take me a while, but I think I will eventually find employment in my field. I'm planning to keep looking until I do, and in the meantime, I've found some pretty fun part-time jobs.

Thank you for posting my question. It really helped me out!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

where are they now: update #13 - the coworker who wets his pants

I'm quite sure you remember the letter from the reader whose coworker was chronically wetting his pants. Here's her update.

He's still doing it. Nothing has been done. The IT manager refuses to confront him about his hygiene. Urine-stained pants remain in effect. I think I have just gotten used to the smell. His jacket is another story. Never mind that he NEVER washes it. When it rains (here in Seattle, that's pretty frequent), it stinks to HIGH HEAVEN of mold and mildew and must.

On top of all this, my other co-worker has raging prejudices about age and frequently remarks about "old people". She also uses a stereotypical accent when speaking to Hispanic coworkers. Lovely bunch of people I work with, what?

God help me. If it weren't for this economy, I would be employed elsewhere, promptly after reporting all the BS that goes on at this company. Honestly though, I have no idea to whom I would report this work environment.

where are they now: update #12 - lazy doctor compromising patients' care

Remember the pediatrician with the lazy coworker who was compromising patients' care? Here's her update.

Here's what happened regarding my lazy coworker: 

I was taking a few days off to study for the board exam. I received a call one morning from a resident who had questions about the management of a patient who was admitted overnight. The same faculty physician was on-call and as usual, the resident had not been able to reach him. The resident and I discussed a plan for the patient. I then told the resident I would not be in the hospital that day, but would find an attending physician with whom he could coordinate care for the remainder of the day. I called our outpatient clinic and asked one of the nurses to have our division chief call me and explained why. I never received a call back from him. After a couple of hours, I started worrying about the situation and went up to the hospital. The following day I asked the nurse whether she conveyed the message and she swore she did. So I asked our division chief why he never called me and he denied he was ever given the message. I know the question everyone will have is why didn't I get the nurse and the division chief in one room and ask who was telling the truth, but I knew the only outcome would be that they would each be mad at me. I then told the division chief that I no longer felt safe accepting responsibility for all the inpatients without a faculty member for backup and I would no longer accept any calls when I was not on call. I followed this statement up with an e-mail to our entire division.

The university has recently instituted a system called "Illumine," which is modeled after a similar system at Vanderbilt. Anyone with a password for the computer system can file a complaint about physician misconduct. The administrators of the system will obviously have knowledge of who filed the complaint. The subject of the complaint is not advised who filed the report, though. There is a step-wise discipline process. I knew that this program would be instituted before I left the institution. I have encouraged people to use this system to report any further difficulties they have with this particular faculty member, and I have been advised that "Illumine" is now up and running. It remains to be seen if anyone actually follows through.

I have finished my training and moved to another state. I've had a little time to distance myself from the situation and to evaluate it with less emotion and more objectivity. Actually, with the anger and emotion mostly removed, I see even more clearly how egregious the irresponsibility was of several people involved in this situation. I predict that nothing will happen to this faculty member and he will eventually retire, have a big party, and a nice pension.
The lesson I've taken from it is that passivity is never acceptable. The passivity of those above me in the chain of command is what has enabled this person to continue with the same modus operandi over decades. (AAM note: Emphasis mine.) I really want to thank you for posting my question and I want to thank everyone who took the time to write great suggestions and comments.

a few housekeeping notes, and a holiday present to you

A few quick things --

1. If these "where are they now" updates get overwhelming, tell me and I'll space them out more.

2. I'm finally switching over to Wordpress this weekend. About 1,400 of you are still subscribed to my old RSS feed from when I had my old blogspot address, and if you don't make the switch now, you will stop receiving Ask a Manager in your RSS reader after this week. So please make the switch now!

The right feed for posts is ... and if you subscribe to comments too, the right feed for those is .

3. As a fabulous holiday hurrah, I'm offering you 40% off my e-book, How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager. Put in this discount code and you'll get a massive discount:  holiday2010

In this book, I set out to give you an inside look at a hiring manager's brain, so that you can have an insider helping you every step of the way through your job search. You can read the whole description of the book here, or buy it here:
                       Add to Cart

Happy holidays!

where are they now: update #11 - interviewing again after an unsuccessful interview

Remember the reader who was interviewing again for a job he'd earlier been turned down for? Here's his update.

I submitted a question to you back in July regarding interviewing a second time after a prior unsuccessful interview with the same employer. Your advice was great, but as I'd mentioned in the comments section, I ultimately did not get the job. However, the interview was successful in the sense that I improved my presentation from the prior interview. It was also good because it caused me to realize that I'm probably not a good fit for that employer at this point in my career. It may be just as well, because like many county governments ours is having major revenue problems and they have done several layoffs.

Another thing that has worked out for me is that the traditional conversational-style interviews I've had since then have seemed a lot less intimidating, and I think that being nervous is less of a problem for me now. I am still looking for a job but I feel like my interviewing skills have continued to improve, and I have an interview in a couple of days that I have a good feeling about.

I first started reading AAM back in 2008 and find it invaluable. I can't tell you how many times I've asked some of the questions you have recommended and been told "That's a great question." Happy Holidays!

where are they now: update #10 - the unreliable employee with a conflict of interest

Remember the manager who wasn't sure what to do about the low-performing employee who might have also been engaging in a conflict of interest on the side? Here's the update.

Well, we decided to reanalyze our development department as a whole, as the managers were lacking in management skills and we weren't making any money, so we did clear ship, and were able to dismiss her previous manager for a number of poor performance issues (including not generating revenue). We decided to eliminate an admin position too, and offered her a position that merged both some donor cultivation as well as database experience, which she considered a demotion, although it was the same duties with some admin involved, same pay. We stipulated that working from home would not be an option any longer, as she needed to be available 8-5 M-F. 

Of course, she could not accept a situation where she could not work from home (her reason being, her consultancy business would suffer and oh, how could we do that to her), and so she resigned, but not without trying to get me to empathise with her about the load of work her consultancy business, and that we should oblige her by allowing her 'some time away', and that we were making a big mistake by letting her go--yes, she was for real. And as far as I know, she's dwindled down to one client, as she reached out to us for some 'counsultancy work' to help with one of our events a few months ago. Needless to say, we instead hired someone else who is a stellar employee in every way.

Thanks for your advice and that of the posters - it helped me to remove the manager that allowed this to happen for so long, and put us in a much better position to take control of this employee.

where are they now: update #9 - the lazy boss

Remember the reader with the lazy boss who played video games all day? Here's his update.

Not a whole lot has changed with the executive's behavior but now there is another manager in between us so that makes it a little bit easier to deal with. I still see her with her feet up in the office playing solitaire for hours on end or I don't see her when she is on a two hour lunch. She still asks me to do inane tasks she claims not to know how to do, like dragging and dropping files on her desktop and standing at the printer to collect her printouts (the printer stores the documents and you have to enter a code to release it for printing.) I've just kind of tried to stop worrying about it and do my best to help other people in the company out so I don't get tarred with the same brush. Most people think 2011 will be her last year before retirement so I doubt there will be any strong efforts to improve her behavior.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

where are they now: update #8 - coworker staring at my chest

Remember the woman whose coworker was constantly staring at her chest? Here's her update.

I took the direct approach. I went to his office, closed the door, and said, "I really don't know how to bring this up, but because I think you're someone who would rather have someone be honest and forthcoming, here it is: I've gotten the impression during our conversations that you seem to be somewhat distracted by my chest. I believe you don't mean to be offensive, and I certainly am not accusing you of sexual harassment, but I wanted you to be aware of my impression for the future."

He took it surprisingly well; he was obviously a bit embarrassed but as I suspected, he didn't really seem to know he was doing it. I talked to him later in the week and he actually seemed to be making a concerted effort to look me in the eye! Since then, he's been more aware of his eye contact issues and we've had no problems at all!

where are they now: update #7 - the highly inflammatory pantyhose question

Remember the question that caused the most contentious debate in the comments we've ever had?  Yes, the question about whether you have to wear pantyhose to an interview. I'm afraid to reopen this debate, but here's the OP's update.

I did not wear pantyhose to the interview. I didn't get an offer, but the hiring manager did tell me that I was an exceptional candidate, and wanted to forward my information to other offices that might be hiring. He told me he was quite certain I wouldn't be at my current job by the end of the year. I consider that a success!

where are they now: update #6 - the embarrassing mom

Remember the woman whose mother was embarrassing her with her boss? Here's here update.

I talked to my boss and, as you suspected, he was cool. I told him I was mortified about her behavior and email to him, and that I was NOT behind that whatsoever. He said, "Hey, don't worry. You've met my mom. We all have them, and they all embarrass us from time to time." Funny enough, a couple weeks later I ran into my boss's mom at our temple and she showed me baby pictures of him! Situation resolved on that end.

As far as my MOTHER goes, I reminded her that she, too, is a professional and that if she ever did something like this again, I'd make sure to tell her boss to remind her to put her dentures in before trial. My mother is good-natured enough to understand that what she did was NOT OKAY and I suspect it was simply out of the desire to make sure I was appreciated at work. Besides, she'll have the opportunity to embarass me further in front of my coworkers at my upcoming wedding! ;)

where are they now: update #5 - the boss with inappropriate interview questions

Remember the reader whose boss asked job candidates about their marital status, children, and church? Here's her update.

I waited until well after the interview, when I was later asked to participate in another panel interview. Before the interview, I asked the VP for the list of questions, and the VP asked if I had any suggestions. I sent a follow-up email to him suggesting questions, but I also said in the email that it was difficult to come up with the wording for my questions because I didn't want to ask about sensitive topics for fear that it would make us biased in the selection process. I made it sound like it was more of an issue on my end, and he said, "Huh. I didn't know you couldn't ask stuff like that." The interviews went smoothly.

By the way, can you recommend resources for a non-HR person to learn about HR (without necessarily going back to school)? Thanks!

I've never worked in HR (management is different), but I'm sure someone here can help. Tell us in the comments what area of HR you're specifically interested in, and I bet someone will suggest something for you.

where are they now: update #4 - the reader whose marital stress was impacting his work

Remember the reader who was struggling at work due to the stress caused by the break-up of his marriage? His estranged wife was still living in his house and he was driving her to and from work every day, and finding he couldn't focus on his work. Here's his update.

I am extremely grateful for your feedback -- it's made a difference in my life.

My wife is still living in the same house -- there's been no movement there. Since I wrote to you in September, I spent several more weekends greatly expanding my gathering of financial information, and ended up with 600 pages of bills over 4.5 years (that's 1/3 of a CD full of page scans). I gave her a CD copy and mailed the other CD to my lawyer. No movement yet on negotiations.

The good news is that my work is starting to settle down. Instead of checking personal E-Mail every five minutes, I check it occasionally on my Blackberry. Since I've been on transit, my stress level (and commuting expenses) are down. I'm able to have a beer at the end of the day when I feel like it. And I'm on my own schedule, which is awesome.

The bad news is that there was a work production issue that was partially my fault, and I spent part of a week waiting for the call to a meeting that would conclude with me being marched out the door. I worked extremely hard to fix the mistake, and the storm blew over. Phew.

The thing is, my team still has a ton of work to do ... so while I have had unproductive moments, I'm badly needed, and I'm good at what I do. And my team lead is in the loop about what's going on. So I'm OK for now. And things will only get better when this thing gets resolved.

Finally (not really relevant to the whole job thing), I signed up for a dating site a few months back, marking myself as Married, but explaining that we were separated, blah blah blah .. and got a few nibbles, but a lot of women I heard from just weren't interested in Some Guy Who Was Married With Some Story About Being Separated.

This weekend, I had a date, and she said, "Look, your ex (or Future Ex-Wife, as I've been calling her) spends her weekends with her Mother (in another town an hour's drive away). She sleeps in the house during the week, travels to work by herself, and you're paying 100% of the house expenses .. so you're single. Change your profile." So I did that, and felt like I've made a big step forward. And I've been seeing a lot more activity, which is gratifying. Good for my (somewhat reduced) ego.

So, this is more than 'just a line about how you're doing', but you can easily reduce that to 'Not out of the woods yet, but happily on the right path.'

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

where are they now: update #3 - ostracized by boss after office burglary

Remember the reader who was treated horribly by his boss after being the only person present in the office during a burglary? Here's his update.

I'm happy to say that I quit on my own terms: first by going on FMLA for three months after a diagnosis of PTSD resulting from the robbery, to maintain my health insurance. After my twelve weeks, I resigned and served them with litigation the same day. They settled, unsurprisingly, for a large sum. I now have a new job in a very secure building, and paid off my college debt to boot. Happy ending I guess, if you don't count the countless hours I spent in therapy.

where are they now: update #2 - the coworker who sulked when our reader wouldn't date him

Remember the woman whose coworker behaved like a baby after she refused to go out with him, and even enlisted his office friends in pressuring her to date him? Here's her update.

IdiotBoy and his IdiotFriend were spoken to by our mutual manager. IdiotBoy seemed to cool down a bit and decided he would speak to me but not chat. He would not ask me what I had done at the weekend, but he would ask me if I was done with the reference materials for the Blenkinsop report, or whether I knew who was dealing with our account at the newspaper since our usual contact was on maternity, that kind of thing. Fine with me.

Sadly, his IdiotFriend could not accept this, and attempted to corner me in the ladies' toilets, where she said to me that she 'couldn't understand why you won't just date IdiotBoy'.

I, unfortunately, had been having a rather bad day and countered with, '*YOU* don't understand? I will tell you what *I* don't understand. I don't understand why you think my personal life is your business, and I don't understand why you think that nagging at me is going to get IdiotBoy into my pants. And by God, if I hear one more word about it, I am going to file a formal written complaint against the pair of you'.

Cue appearance of departmental manager from toilet cubicle in manner of pantomime Demon King, numerous meetings with HR, and termination of IdiotFriend. IdiotBoy was spared the axe as he apologised profusely to me, promised that he was not responsible for my being cornered and would have stopped Friend if he knew, so he received a final written warning about his conduct.

This was six months ago. I accepted a promotion in a new department, where my colleagues seem pleasant enough and unstalkerish.

I understand via the grapevine, though, that lessons remain to be learned by IdiotBoy's other friends. One of them apparently asked a female staff member at the Christmas party what she would do if he put his hands "there and there." She cheerfully told him that she would smack his face til his ears rang. He seems to have believed her.

where are they now: update #1 - the job-seeker with a dental problem

Thanks to all who are answering the call for updates to let us know how your situation turned out. If you haven't written in yet, we want to hear from you!

Here's the first one.

Remember woman back in July who wondered if her dental problem was scaring off employers? Here's her update:

After reading all your detailed answers to others, and submitting my own question about my angst at interviewing with a chunk o' front tooth missing, I've managed to do an apparently great interview (for once) and got myself hired! It's been two years of searching to get here, and I can only think that it's been your advice that's helped me be more confident and cool during the interviews.

It's not been just the how-to interviewing advice, but also the insights into how managers think that's been such a help. I know better what a manager is looking for, and how to answer questions that I used to approach from the wrong angle. You have my undying gratitude!

This is awesome to hear! Congratulations on your new job!

Monday, December 20, 2010

when you're younger than everyone you're managing

A reader writes:

I recently accepted a job as a low-level manager (of a team of 8). I'm an outside hire. I have never had a supervisory position before. These problems seem surmountable - I'm smart and competent and good with people. The biggest issue I'm having is that I'm in my mid-twenties, which makes me younger than everyone I'll be managing. Even worse, I'm frequently mistaken for a high school student. I'm worried that no one will take me seriously or listen to me. Am I being paranoid? Is there anything I can do to make my age less obvious?

Well, the biggest thing to know is that most people will take their cues from you. If you seem hesitant or like you feel weird about the age difference, people will notice it, and it will become a weird thing for them too. If you act like it's a non-issue, it will quickly become a non-issue to most (or hopefully all) of your managees. So the key is getting yourself into a frame of mind where you genuinely believe that your age is a non-issue and where you're comfortable with your authority.

If it helps, picture yourself with your own past managers. Imagine one of them acting hesitant or uncertain about her authority, or making it clear that she felt weird that you were older than her. This would make you feel super weird about it too, right? Now imagine that she was instead completely matter-of-fact, betrayed no hint of possibly feeling odd about the age difference, and instead just moved forward and did her job as if ages were irrelevant. You'd likely adopt that attitude too, right?

To get into this mindset, think about why you were hired. Think about why you'll do the job well. And think about how completely weird it would be to have a manager who seemed nervous about managing, and force yourself not to do that.

You should also think about how you present yourself. Do you use language, mannerisms, or a tone of voice that unintentionally give off an "I'm young/uncertain/inexperienced" vibe? Or do you speak with confidence? Are you comfortable being resolute? Are you able to solicit other people's input but comfortable making a decision of your own at the end of that process? Do you know how to give feedback without sounding nervous or apologetic or like a jerk?  (And if you've had a manager who has done this stuff well, think a lot about how she operated and model yourself on her.)

And last, one other thing that's important here: This is your first management position, and you shouldn't wing it. Make a concerted effort from the start to educate yourself about how to manage well. Learn about how to delegate well, how to give feedback, how to set goals and hold people accountable to them, how to handle performance problems, how to develop good people, and how to exercise authority without being either an unreasonable tyrant or a wimpy pushover. (As it happens, I co-wrote a book that covers all that and more, but there are plenty of other resources out there too.)

What advice do others have?

where are you now?

Last December, we did a bunch of "where are they now" updates from people who had had their questions answered here in the past year. It's time for 2010's version, so...

If you've had your question answered here in the last year, please send me an update and let me know how your situation turned out. I'll post your updates in a "where are they now?" post.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

short answer Sunday - seven short answers to seven short questions

It's time for short answer Sunday! Here we go...

How important is what school you go to?

I am currently a Captain in the United States Marine Corps and am looking to start my MBA. I wanted to know how important school choice and accreditation is. Webster University offers an MBA program on base that would also be very affordable, but I do not want to waste my time or money if earning my MBA from Webster is not going to give me any advantage when I get out of the service. Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.

From what I've seen, school choice matters an enormous amount when it comes to MBAs. (And accreditation is everything, but Webster is accredited.) I don't know enough about Webster to know how its MBA program is perceived by employers in the field you want to go into, but that's what you want to find out.

Giving notice and the holidays

I have been looking for a job for about 2-3 months and have been offered a position. I would like to resign Monday and offer two weeks to transition out. I have already requested vacation time 4 days of vacation due to the holidays. Would it be expected that I come in on those vacation days to complete the full 10 business days? Should I wait until after the holidays?

Probably not. Some companies do prohibit employees from taking vacation time once they give their notice (to prevent someone from, say, giving two weeks but taking one of those weeks off ... which partially defeats the purpose of notice), but (a) you've already had vacation time approved and (b) it's the holidays, when tons of people are taking time off anyway. I can't promise that it won't be an issue, but it's unlikely to be. 

If it is an issue, they're not likely to insist you extend your notice period; rather, they're more likely to tell you that you have to take those days unpaid, if their policy prevents resigning employees from using paid leave. (Check your employee handbook and see if this is addressed.)  Congratulations on your new job!

Questions for third-round interviews

I have a third-round interview in early January for my dream job working with disadvantaged students at a prestigious school, and I have no idea how to prepare for it. For my first and second interviews, I prepared per your suggestions in How to Prepare for an Interview. But I am at a loss when it comes to what to expect and how to prepare for a third-round interview.

Also, do you have any suggestions for questions to ask the interviewer at this stage in the game? Between the two interviews, I've pretty much asked all 10 of your suggested questions to ask an interviewer (and my interviewers appeared blown away by the "good vs. great" and "reservations about my fit" questions!). The school is in the middle of a strategic re-organization, so I intend to ask about how that has/will impact the position, department, and/or campus community. But other than that, what are appropriate questions for a third-round interview? If it makes a difference, my interviewer will be the Department Director, the "boss' boss" for the position I'm interviewing for.

Two pieces of advice:

1. If you're interviewing with different people, which it sounds like you are, it's fine to re-use questions. You'll probably get a slightly different take on them, which can be really helpful in giving you a more well-rounded picture of the job and the employer. 

2. When you picture yourself being in the job, what do you wonder about? Do you have a good sense of what a successful first six months would look like? First year? How are those goals set? What kinds of obstacles have previous people in the role run into? What hasn't been done with the position previously that they'd love to see done?  Really dig in deep to the work they need done.

References when you're only had your current job

I know that listing references from my current supervisors won't do for a job search, because I don't necessarily want them to know that I'm looking for a job at this point. Trouble is, this is the only job that I have held since graduating college 5 years ago. Who would be an appropriate reference? For my last job search, former college professors made sense, but it no longer does at this point in my career. Would former coworkers at the same level as me be ok? Current coworkers at the same level as me who I would be comfortable telling that I'm looking for a job? The only problem with that, though, is that I know our HR department only allows managers to give neutral references (basically just confirm that the person did/does work there). I wouldn't want to get any of my coworkers in trouble, but as they aren't management they haven't been specifically instructed about this rule by HR (if that makes sense) and of course I'd prefer a positive recommendation than just confirmation that they work with me.

Well, first, don't provide prospective employers with your references until you're in the final stages of interviewing for a job. Most employers aren't going to check references until they're seriously considering making you an offer anyway (it's time-consuming and there's no point until you're seriously considering hiring someone). Don't list them on your resume or offer them up before you need to.

Second, it's very, very typical for job-seekers to ask that their current employer not to be contacted for a reference, since in most cases the current employer doesn't know the employee is looking. Commonly, once you're a finalist for the position, a prospective employer who is determined to speak with your current manager before extending an offer will tell you that you're a finalist and explicitly seek your permission to do so.

Third, a prospective employer checking references is likely to want to speak with former managers rather than coworkers. However, with a first job, they're also going to understand that you don't have any manager to refer them to other than your current one, and they're likely to work with you to find a solution that works for both of you.

Is the job mine?

I interviewed with a local company about 2 weeks ago, and I hadn't heard from them so I called to check the status of my application last Friday. I spoke with the person who did my interview and he said, "I'm pretty sure that we are going to give the job to you, but I have to talk to my boss to see when we are actually going to fill this position. Don't give up on us." As a manager, what does this mean to you, do I have the job, or what do you think?

I'd take them at their word; you're their top candidate and they're leaning toward making you an offer, but there's a question about timeline. However, never, ever count on a job offer until you have a formal offer in writing, because things can always change. This means you should continue job-searching meanwhile, because there's no guarantee.

By the way, you should feel free to follow up to ask what their timeline is for getting back to you.

When employers ask for "sense of humor"

I just saw a job ad that lists "good sense of humor" as a requirement. Is this code for "the boss/co-workers for this position are notoriously difficult"? That is how it reads to me, in particular since the company is known for a straight-laced culture. I would love to hear how the requirement reads to you.

I do not think companies are likely to use "good sense of humor" as code for "difficult environment"; that's parsing it way too much. I think just genuinely want someone with a sense of humor and a personality that will fit in with their culture.

What does a good thank-you note look like?

I just graduated from college and I'm currently looking for a job. I got an interview at a small company recently and I was wondering, What does a good thank you note after an interview look like? 

The ideal thank-you note tells me that the job candidate went home, thought about what we talked about, digested it all, and concluded that she’s still enthusiastic about the position. So you want to reiterate your interest in the job. You can also use the note to follow up on points from your discussion. For instance, if the interviewer asked you about an article you wrote, send it to her along with your thank-you -- but that's more of a bonus, not a strict necessity.

Friday, December 17, 2010

using info from Facebook when hiring

A reader writes:

What do other hiring managers do when prospective employees post on Facebook about their interview? Yesterday, I conducted phone interviews for an entry-level library technician position. One of the people I was set to interview came to the library in person (45 minutes early), somehow missing that it was a phone interview, not an in-person interview. I told him I would have to keep it a phone interview, even though he was in the library, to level the playing field. Then, the interview before his went long and we called him 10 minutes late.

He posted all of this on Facebook a few hours later. The library world is not that big and my co-worker down the hall came to me and told me about it because she is friends with him on Facebook. (They are not friends in "real life.") She happens to know him because they worked together at a different library 12 years ago. She said she would not recommend hiring him because he has anger management issues.

His interview was okay - not excellent. But, how do I reconcile all of this outside information (making me or the library look unprofessional, his anger management issues)? I wouldn't have known these things if it weren't for Facebook.

Also, what happens when an interviewee sends you a friend request? This is for a different interviewee, but I'm inclined to ignore it.

Well, first of all, you don't want to hire this guy, even aside from the Facebook info. He showed up in-person for a phone interview; what kind of attention to detail and general comprehension do you think he's going to have on the job? Plus, his interview was "okay, not excellent," and you don't want to hire people who are, at best, mediocre. So you shouldn't hire this guy anyway.

But for the sake of discussion, it's completely fine to take into account other things you learned as well. Posting on Facebook is not like talking to a priest; there's no expectation of or guarantee of confidentiality.  Things we do have consequences, online or not; in this case, the consequences were that this guy's commentary on his interview got back to his interviewer. That's not off-limits to you.  

Think of it this way: Imagine that it's 1953 and you heard that after his interview, he went to his local bingo hall (I don't know what people did for fun in 1953, just go with it) and was complaining loudly about the interview. Your brother happened to be the bingo caller, overheard him, and told you about it. Would you feel obligated to ignore the information, just because it wasn't part of your official contact with the candidate?

Your obligation is to make the best possible hiring decision that you can for your organization. That means looking at the full picture that you have about a candidate and not covering your ears when information comes to you outside of the normal hiring processes.

But even if you disagree with me about Facebook and want a firewall there for some reason, the information from the coworker who used to work with him and said he had anger management issues -- of course you can and should consider that information! This is a normal part of hiring -- if someone applies who worked with someone you know, you ask your contact about them. It would be irresponsible not to. 

You do want to use some judgment here, of course -- if your coworker is a terrible judge of character or you have other reason to think her unreliable, obviously you factor that in. But if you're just not sure if you're allowed to consider her input -- absolutely you are!  That's part of how hiring works. (Just like job-seekers are allowed to consider what they hear from others about your company; they don't just have to rely on the company brochure you hand them.)

I wonder if you might be misapplying ideas about fairness here, because you also mentioned that you wouldn't interview this candidate face-to-face because of "fairness." I think there were plenty of legitimate reasons not to interview him face-to-face, but fairness isn't one of them. Again, your obligation is to make the best possible hire for your organization, not to treat every candidate identically. (Otherwise you get the terrible hiring practices of the federal government, where they insist on asking every candidate the same list of questions and never deviating from it.)

And last, about Facebook friend requests from job candidates -- you're entitled to have whatever boundaries you want to have there. (I ignore them because I use Facebook for my personal life, not business.) More on this here and here.

Whew. Anyone want to argue any of this differently?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

my former boss told a background checker that she didn't know me

A reader writes:

I applied for a job and they did a background check and called my ex-boss. She told them she doesn't know/remember me. I worked there for four months, four years ago, but I worked with her directly and there is no way she wouldn't remember me. Plus, I went and talked to her beforehand and said, "they are trying to contact you so please talk to them." 

There is no HR department there (it's a doctor's office and she is the doctor). Is this legal?


I mean, it's possible that she really might not remember someone who only worked there for four months four years ago, but you went by and reminded her right before she got this phone call, so that's not what's happening here.

I can see three possible explanations here:

1. She's crazy or vindictive (or crazy and vindictive). Did you have any reason to think that before this?

2. She's really ineptly trying to avoid giving you a bad reference. Did you leave on good terms? How was your work? If one or both of those didn't go well, it's possible that she feels uncomfortable speaking about your work and made a really stupid choice about how to handle that. Believe me, I'm not saying that leaving on bad terms or performing poorly would be a reason to claim not to know you, but I'm trying to figure out what could possibly compel someone to do this. 

(For the record, if you're asked to give a reference for someone you don't want to be a reference for, there are plenty of options for handling it, and they don't include denying ever knowing the person. But christ, it sounds like we're not even talking about giving you a reference; we're just talking about employment confirmation.)

3. Last, it is possible that this was just a miscommunication somewhere. It's not inconceivable that the background checker called the wrong number, or that your former boss misheard the name, or something along those lines. This is all the more reason to call her and find out what's going on, and also to be proactive with the new company.

Is it legal, if it was intentional? I'm not a lawyer but I think there's a good chance that it's not. But your more immediate problem is what to do about it. I would do two things:

1. Call the company you're applying for the job with. Tell them you have no idea why she didn't remember you, but offer to provide whatever documentation you can. Do you have your W2s for that job? That would both confirm your employment and make her look highly unreliable in one swoop, which would be nice.

2. Call your former boss. Ask her what happened. Be really, really nice about this, to maximize your chances of the best outcome. Act like you're assuming it was just a miscommunication, not intentional. See if she'll resolve this.

Good luck, and please let us know how this plays out.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

things that don't belong on your resume #174

Another in our series of things that don't belong on your resume: information about where your kids attend college and what they're majoring in.

I don't even know what to say about this. But it seems clear that I might have to start traveling around the country in one of those vans outfitted with a megaphone and speakers so that I get more people's attention about job-searching do's and don'ts.

Monday, December 13, 2010

am I being exploited as a volunteer?

A reader writes:

I moved to a new city back in August to be with my fiance. I knew I was taking a chance moving to a new city with few contacts in a down economy; however, I am a very resourceful and driven person and cannot abide sitting around and doing nothing.

In September, after conducting several informational interviews, I began volunteering/interning for a non-profit organization while still looking for full-time employment. My thinking behind this was that I would gain additional skills, have something to put on my resume to help establish myself here, cover employment gaps, give me a sense of purpose, and keep me from falling into potential unemployment depression.

Fast forward to early November, the Executive Director is lobbying the Chairman to hire me because they desperately need my skill set at the organization. So, on November 5 I met with the Chairman regarding working for the organization. He instructed me not to accept other offers and that he would need to speak with the rest of the board, but that he would like me to work for the organization in a development type role (which I want).

Two weeks go by and no news, so the ED and I meet with the Chairman again on November 18 about working here and that I will not be able to provide my services for free much longer. Again, I was told not accept other offers and that I had a job at the organization, but that he had to check with one source about how much they could offer me.

Another two weeks go by (one week was Thanksgiving week) and nothing. I have not accepted any other offers (unfortunately, there haven't been any either) and my financial situation is rapidly deteriorating. Now I have no idea what to do. I can't continue to work for free not knowing whether or not I have an official offer. Should I email the Chairman and let him know that I have appreciated my time here and that I will see the projects I am currently working on to fruition, but my financial situation is such that after December 17 I will need to devote 100% of my time to finding a paid position and will no longer be able to offer my services to the organization? I'm so confused and frustrated right now, and I am beginning to think I am being exploited by the Chairman.

I'm writing this when I'm really tired so it may be less coherent than usual, but: I think you're giving the chairman too much power. I also think you're letting your frustration with the timeline blur your thinking.

On the first point: Just because the chairman told you not to accept other offers doesn't mean you need to obey that request. To the contrary, it would be silly not to accept an offer you wanted just because someone told you that he might hire you but hasn't come through.  (Plus, "don't accept other offers" generally means something closer to "if you get another offer, come talk to me so that I have a final chance to make you an offer myself.")

And on the second point:  It's hard for me to see this as them exploiting you, since you willingly entered into the volunteer work, and it doesn't sound like you did so in the belief that it would lead to paid work there.  Keep in mind, this is what you said about why you started volunteering there: "I would gain additional skills, have something to put on my resume to help establish myself here, cover employment gaps, give me a sense of purpose, and keep me from falling into potential unemployment depression."

If that's no longer true, or if it it no longer makes financial sense for you to volunteer there -- or if you just don't want to anymore -- then you should stop volunteering, absolutely. But you did sign up as a volunteer, so I don't think it's fair to now see them as exploiting you.

So, how to move forward?  It sounds a bit like you're considering ending your volunteer work as a pressure tactic. I would rather see you make your decision about whether or not to continue volunteering there based on whether you yourself still want to volunteer, not on an attempt to generate pressure.

If you don't want to keep volunteering, then of course you should stop. But if it's more about your frustration with how long it's taking so long to get an official offer, you're better off just telling the chairman that you need to pursue other opportunities aggressively, that you intend to do so, and that if an official offer from them materializes at some point you'd be glad to consider it, but that you're moving your job search into high gear.

Then, assume their offer isn't going to happen so that the prospect of it doesn't get in the way of you conducting a full-fledged job search. If it does end up materializing, great. But meanwhile, you need to act as if it doesn't exist, because so far, it doesn't.

And for nonprofits that work with volunteers, there's an important reminder here about how they can lose volunteers when these situations are mishandled. In this case, you were happy to work for free -- until the prospect of being hired was floated in the way that it was. When they did that, it changed your expectations and lessened your pleasure in volunteering. So now, if they don't come through with the offer, they're likely to lose you as a volunteer and even leave you with a bad feeling about the organization itself. It's a good illustration of why groups that utilize volunteers need to be really thoughtful about how they manage this stuff and not approach it cavalierly.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

short answer Saturday: five short answers to five short questions

It's short-answer Saturday!  Here are five short answers to five short questions.

boss vs. manager vs. supervisor

What is the difference between a boss, a manager, and a supervisor? At a previous job I was told "A will be your boss, and B will be your supervisor." People at my current job use them interchangeably. Do these terms just depend on the organization or the industry you're working for, or is there an accepted definition of each in the management world?

They all mean the same thing. "Supervisor" generally carries a connotation of a lower-level manager, so I suspect that the very confusing sentence you heard means that A, the boss, will be the person to make big-picture decisions about your goals and performance, while B, the supervisor, will oversee your work in the day-to-day. But they're all basic synonyms for each other.

same company, same title, different job?

I have been working at a company for almost 3 years outside the US. I will soon be moving to the US for a job in the same company, a job with the same title. It's a similar job but managing a different team, so different challenges. I feel like these should be separate on my resume, both because they are in different countries and the challenges will be different - the first job was rebuilding a team, this one will be keeping a more experienced team challenged. Any issues with this?

No issues. Do it.

did I ruin my interview?

I am re-entering the job market as a middle-age lady and interviewed for my dream job last week. It took me so long to get this interview. I should know sometime this week the outcome. I am concerned I made a mess of everything. For starters, I talked too much and said things that probably sounded so stupid. I was interviewed by a panel of four managers and a little nervous. I made reference to being a stay-at-home mom raising my three children and should have focused on my skills in the workplace. I ended the interview thanking them and telling them they had made me feel very comfortable. I did sent out thank you for their time and I it was handwritten cards. Was that the wrong thing to do? I could not read them at all. Do you think I completely messed everything up? 

Very hard to tell from this how the interview went, but yeah, in general you want to focus on workplace skills rather than parenting skills (even when there's crossover between the two, which there sometimes is). I wouldn't beat yourself up over this though -- interviews are nerve-wracking for most people, and believe me, we all end up saying things that we're later shaking our heads over. I'm going to be self-promotional here and suggest that you check out my (free) guide to preparing for an interview, which might help set you more at ease. Good luck!

does maternity leave count in years of experience at a job?

Can maternity leave be counted in with my years of experience? I worked for a company for 3.5 years, then had a one year maternity leave (I'm in Canada). While on maternity leave, my division of the company was sold. When my maternity leave was up, I was presented with the option of working for the old company, working for the new company or taking a severance package. I took the severance package of 6 months. When I list my time at the company, do I list it as 3.5 years, or 4.5 years?

Good question. Technically you were an employee of that company while you were on leave, but it's also semi-misleading to say you were doing the job for that period of time when you actually weren't. I could argue this one either way though, so I say go with whichever one seems most accurate to you.

how to list temp jobs on a resume

Having completed a temporary position in my field over the last two weeks, I find myself finally feeling that I have enough of these to be relevant to my experience in IT. As such, I am adding a section to the top of my resume (as these comprise my most recent experience since being laid off from longer positions previously) which will detail each of these positions briefly with the tasks and responsibilities that were included. However, I find myself unsure on the best way to title this section. Normally, it would be something like "Job Title for Company Name" or "Contract Company for Exploying Company", but that information here is, by necessity, part of the individual entries within the section. Should I simply title it something like "Temporary Positions," or is there a more appropriate catch-all header for this sort of section? They've all been through different agencies.

Yes, I'd just group them all under a heading like "temporary positions" or "contract work." However, if these were all very short-term (a few weeks, for instance), I don't think I'd list them all separately; instead I'd have one description for all of them, explaining that you did A, B, and C while working for companies that included X, Y, and Z.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

8 ways companies can throw holiday parties employees will want to attend

Every year around this time, I hear from people complaining about various ways their companies are mishandling the holiday party, so here are eight rules for throwing a better company party.

1. Hold it during work hours, especially if attendance is any way obligatory. Seriously. People will be much more enthusiastic about attending.

2. After you follow rule #1, make arrangements so that no one is stuck covering the phones while everyone else goes to the party.

3. Don't expect people to read your mind. If there are work repercussions to not attending, be honest and tell people they're expected to attend. But if the event is truly supposed to be for their enjoyment, accept that some people won't show up because they don't enjoy such events (or would rather spend their non-work time doing something else), and be okay with that. Don't penalize people for not going, even just in your head.

4. Do not hold the party on a boat. People must be able to escape at any time.

5. Under no circumstances should employees need to pay to attend. If you need to charge your party guests in order to cover your expenses, that's a sign that you need to have a less lavish party.

6. Hanukkah ornaments do not belong on a Christmas tree.

7. Door prizes. Have them.

8. Consider letting your staff vote on whether they want a holiday party or a day off ... and don't be upset when lots of people vote for the day off.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

knee-high boots and business casual attire

A reader writes:

I know you answer mostly work behavioral questions, but I have a question regarding attire. I work at a hospital (not as a health provider) that requires business casual attire. Now that the weather's getting really chilly, I want to wear boots, knee high boots in particular. I'm not talking about patent leather, spiky heel, thigh highs, but just a tall boot that helps keep the legs warm. Something like the ones here. What is your opinion on boots for business casual attire?

If only you knew how very much not equipped I am to answer fashion questions. And the last time I answered one, I had to shut down the comment section (a historical first) because things became so contentious.

But in any case ... in general, I think that knee-high boots are totally appropriate for business casual, as long as you're not wearing them with a micro-mini skirt. (They can also be appropriate for more formal environments. Check out this picture of Condoleeza Rice.)

However, the ones you linked to in particular are over-the-knee boots, which I think takes them into a different category of edgy, one that's too much for a lot of business casual environments. But if they stopped at the knee, I think you could wear them without any worry.

Anyone want to present an anti-boot argument?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

this is how salary negotiation should work

The always awesome Jamie just posted this comment in response to an earlier post on job candidates disclosing their salary history:

This was absolutely the worst part of the process for me - because I hate salary negotiation.

I hate it because I'm terrible at it - so at least I'm self-aware.

In an ideal world the company would let you know the range for the position, and then making you an offer within that range based on what you bring to the table.

Then you can either accept or not based on your own criteria. Most job hunters have their own realistic ranges - many would accept less for a job if it had a great commute, or perks...whatever.

But I think the company should state the range for the position first. This way it's on the table and the candidate can determine if it's in the ballpark, if not then no one is wasting time.

Personally I would interview for a job if it were within 10,000 of my lower acceptable figure as that's within the realm of possibility for negotiation. Anything lower than that I would know it's not the right level job and move on.

The reason they want salary from applicants is to take advantage of those who were underpaid at their last job - and while I'm all for trimming every bottom line there's something just not right about that.

If you pay market value from the start you don't have to worry about one of your hires being so awesome you need to rectify this later...that's hard to do gracefully. 

Amen. It's complete BS when employers insist on guarding the range they have in mind -- because of course they have a range in mind.

If the employer doesn't want to state the range because it's flexible for the right candidate, then state it anyway and say it's flexible for the right candidate. But if you don't want to state the range because you want to lowball candidates, then you suck.

Pay people what they're worth. Salary history has nothing to do with that if you're good at understanding people's value to you, and game-playing just ensures you'll have a staff that sees you as their adversary.

That is all.

Monday, December 6, 2010

my coworker is angry that I complained about her many personal calls

A reader writes:

I sit directly behind a co-worker in my office who spends a good part of the day on personal phone calls. How does she get away with this? She slinks down in her desk, holds her cell phone close to her face so her indiscretions are not easily seen --- or --- the other extreme, she talks loudly enough to be very distracting. We get paid similar salaries for similar work. I always work for my paycheck, she sometimes works for hers.

Two years ago during my annual review I mentioned that a co-worker's personal phone calls were distracting. The manager knew immediately who I was talking about. Nothing was done and nothing changed.

Finally, this week, after months and months of aggravation, pent-up anger and frustration, I went to a different person in management who is the only other person who can testify to this co-worker's personal phone time. I asked him to discreetly tell our boss what both he and I go through each day. He said he should have probably mentioned something long ago.

Obviously, he wasn't discreet, because now that the co-worker has been informed, she and her "friends" at work are cold and snide to me -- the fink. I may as well have the word branded on my forehead. I wish I would have handled things differently, but it's a difficult thing to do with administration who would rather neglect the problem than deal with it.

Finally my question -- do I just go about my business and do my best to ignore the backlash, or do I somehow address my co-worker, manager, anyone?


First of all, let's talk about the right way for your manager to have handled this. If she were a good manager, when you first mentioned the issue to her two years ago (two years! holy crap), she should have immediately addressed the situation -- without involving you. But obviously, if she were a good manager, she wouldn't have a staff member who has spent years not performing at a high level. (Which I'm assuming is the case, based both on your word and on the fact that it's hard for me to imagine someone kicking ass at their job when they're on personal calls all day long.) So we already know she's not a good manager, because she either didn't realize or didn't care that she had a low performer on her staff.  Once you brought the issue to her, the problem expanded: Now not only did she not care that she had a low performer, but she also apparently didn't care that another staff member was being distracted and demoralized by this person's behavior.

Of course, maybe she cared -- but not enough to face the awkwardness and unpleasantness of doing something effective about it. Which in my book is the same as not caring.

A good manager faced with this situation would have addressed it immediately. She would have taken a hard look at your coworker's output and results, which alone probably would have given her something significant to talk with your coworker about. But she also would done her own investigation into the phone call issue -- by spending more time in your office area, coming by unexpectedly, and so forth -- so that she could see the problem for herself. At that point, she would have said something like, "Jane, I've noticed that you're spending a lot of time on the phone, on what appear to be personal calls. I need to ask you to rein that in considerably, both because I'd like your attention focused on work and because I'm sure it's distracting to people around you." In other words, not mentioning your comments at all. And then she would have followed up through her own observation and by checking back with you to make sure that happened ... and if it didn't, she would have dealt with it the way good managers deal with any performance problem -- by setting clear standards and enforcing clear consequences for not meeting those standards. 

But she didn't do that. Instead, she fumbled this and allowed you to end up being blamed -- for something that in fact other people should bear the blame for: your coworker, obviously, but also your manager, for letting this go on so long.

So, what do you do now, given that she's mishandled it? You have two basic choices:

1. You could address your coworker's coldness head-on, by saying, "Hey, is everything okay? You seem upset with me." She'll either raise it or not, and if she does, you might be able to clear the air. If you go this route, I'd just be straightforward about the fact that all her personal calls make it hard for you to concentrate -- although be prepared for her to say that you should have said something directly to her first, which is a valid point (although not the main point). 

In fact, I actually think it's reasonable to apologize for not approaching her about it first, if in fact you didn't -- don't apologize for raising it at all, of course, but for not telling her it was bothering you before you took it higher.

Taking this even further, you could even open the topic proactively instead of waiting for her to bring it up -- you could say, "Hey, I want to let you know that I mentioned to Karen that I was finding your personal calls distracting, and I realized in retrospect that I should have talked to you about it first and given you the chance to address it."

2. You could ignore your coworker's coldness and assume it'll go away in time. 

And actually, there's a third option too, one that I'd push more strongly if we weren't in the middle of a recession: You could look for a job where the manager actually manages -- where she sets a high bar and holds people accountable to it, addresses it straightforwardly when people aren't meeting it, and creates a culture where no one would ever be able to get away with two-plus years of low productivity.

Because overall, the real problem here is your manager. Your loquacious coworker is just a symptom.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

short answer Sunday: six short answers to short questions

It's time for short answer Sunday -- six short answers to six short questions. Here we go:

I have recently completed interviews for a couple different companies where the group of interviewees are rotated between 5-7 different interviewers for 30-45-minute interview sessions. Many of the questions that are asked either exactly the same or similar. Is it better to have different answers to the same question or is it more effective to use the same scenario so that you are consistent. I am aware that the interviewers discuss the applicants right after we leave. How in depth does it actually get?

Well, you want to be consistent in the substance of your answers, but it's fine to use different examples to illustrate them. For instance, you obviously don't want to give each person a different explanation for your interest in the job, or tell each person a different "greatest strength," but it's completely fine to draw on different examples as you discuss your past experience.

Discussion of applicants afterwards rarely comes down to a question-by-question comparison; it tends to be more along the lines of "I really liked her experience with ____, and I got the sense that she has a pattern of getting things done that someone else in her role might not have" ... or "I don't think her critical thinking skills are strong enough for this role" ... and so forth.

I'm currently in graduate school and I'll be graduating in the spring and looking for a job in the non-profit world. I'm wondering about listing academic honors and awards on my resume--e.g. graduating with honors, departmental awards, etc. at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I don't want to seem tacky by listing things not appropriate for listing on resumes, but I also don't want to miss out on a chance to distinguish myself if other applicants are doing the same. Please help!

Yes, absolutely list them. They show a record of achievement.

I am almost two years out of college and about to complete a year at my first job, as an admin assistant. While it has been a good entree to the work world, I'm ready to move onto a role that will utilize my degree more. An organization I have long admired and to which I've applied several times for various openings (but never heard from) just advertised a position that sounds very much like my ideal job. Plus, it is in the city I want to move to. A family member who knows someone there forwarded my application to his contact, but hasn't heard anything back about whether they passed it on. Applications must be sent to HR at this organization, which I assume whittles down the field substantially. Since I'm not local, I'm thinking my application might not be passed on, though I note in my cover letter that I am planning to move to that city. Recently someone suggested that I mail a hard copy of my resume and cover letter to this position's supervisor, the name of whom is listed in the posting. This way, I could perhaps bypass HR if the supervisor were interested in me. Is this a good idea? Or is this rude, stalkerish, or just plain ineffective?

Sure, go ahead. The manager may just forward it straight to HR, but you have nothing to lose (it won't be considered rude or stalkerish) and potentially something to gain, if the manager looks at your resume and likes you.

I went to an interview and while I thought it went well, I'm not sure. My interviewer told me everything I could possibly have wanted to know about the job, the history of the building and how he runs things. In the two hours we spoke, I was able to say a few things about my abilities. He ended up making his next interview wait an hour. He also asked me a few things about pay and benefits. He also mentioned calling 2-3 people for a follow-up with the possibility of setting a second interview. I initially took this as a good sign but now I wonder if he was just thinking out loud. Should I keep hoping for a call back? Or assuming that I don't get it, should I send an e-mail to be certain that I was not selected?

He might have been really interested in you -- or he might just be a bad interviewer. It's impossible to know which it is at this point, but you should follow up with him. Send him an email right now, thank him for his time, and tell him you're extremely interested in the position. If you can, mention some specifics that you're excited about. Ask what his timeline is for the next steps. Good luck!

I'm attempting to change careers. I recently applied for a job with a company that is growing rapidly and hiring new people all the time. I meet all of their requirements, albeit barely, since I don't have much experience. I do have a long job history, and was able to point to a lot of the skills I possess from my former career as being relevant to the position that's being offered. In addition, I'm also doing some part-time work in my new field at a small non-profit, so have a current, relevant reference. I thought I had an in with one of the employees who is on the hiring committee, but after giving me all the application information, and her email, I've never heard back from her, nor have I heard from the company. Would it be okay for me to seek someone out at the organization and ask how I can beef up my submission? They aren't the only game in town, and I'd like to do better next time.

How long has it been? Unless months have gone by, I wouldn't assume that you're out of the running. You absolutely can ask for feedback, but wait until you know for sure that you've been rejected before you do it. For now, what you should be doing is following up with your contact there to reiterate your strong interest and ask about their timeline for contacting candidates.

I graduated from college in May, was out of the country until July, and then had to enroll in community college in August to keep my health insurance. Because of the community college thing, I didn't start looking for a job until late August. Now, I've been unemployed for over six months (I had an internship while at school). I was wondering if you thought this looks bad to potential employers or if it has become more accepted in today's job market. I studied photography in school and am looking to go into post production for photography, so it's there isn't really a booming market either. 

It's not at all uncommon for people to be out of work that long in this market, especially recent graduates.  However, you want to be able to show what you've been doing with that time, so hopefully you're volunteering, improving your skills, and/or otherwise spending your time in a productive way, and can talk about that when an interviewer says, "So, what have you been doing since graduating?"

Friday, December 3, 2010

don't call to "schedule an interview"

A reader writes:

Somewhere out there, somebody is telling kids that they should be "proactive" and call a company to "schedule an interview" as soon as they apply. I'm beseeching you to do a public service announcement to tell them to STOP. There is no way this is a good idea, and I am getting very, very tired of telling people in my nice voice that unless somebody from the company has already contacted them, there is no way I am going to schedule an interview for them, and that they have been sadly misinformed about how an application process works.

I don't mind nearly as much a "did you get my application, I would really like to work there!" phone call. At least I don't come out of the phone call feeling like you're a pushy jerk with boundary issues and an inflated sense of your own self worth! Kids, (and it has mostly been young applicants) sometimes your career center is wrong.

I've gotten these calls too. They are not a good idea -- because job-seekers don't get to decide to schedule the interview; employers do, and it's inappropriately pushy, not "good salesmanship" or whatever some of those awful job-hunting books claim, to pretend otherwise.

There are some career centers and some job-search books out there (and some well-meaning friends and relatives, I suspect) that are really steering people wrong, often with what I suspect is advice that worked decades ago but is no longer effective or relevant in today's market. It's infuriating, because they're doing job-seekers such a disservice.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

my organization has a budget shortfall; should I be job-searching?

A reader writes:

Thanks to your amazing advice and great "how to get a job" book, I landed a position in the development office of a small non-profit organization that does the kind of work I really believe in. It was truly a step up from where I was -- a more than $13k raise, more opportunities to be creative and, best of all, appreciative and respectful coworkers. I've been here just about two months and in that time have written a (so far) well-performing year-end appeal, spearheaded upcoming anniversary projects, received lots of positive feedback and, in general, made a difference.

At our last staff meeting, the executive director dropped a bomb that we're down $100,000 from where we need to be at this point, due to several grants that did not come through earlier this year. She mentioned cut-backs on spending and furloughs, but nothing specific yet.

My question is -- should I be looking for another job? I feel that, as the newest person, I'd likely be the first cut. I only understand furloughs to be company-imposed "vacations" with no you have any more insight than that? Also, since I've only been here two months, I'm worried how that would look to potential employers (I was at my previous job, my first after college, for nearly three years). Is a furlough an acceptable reason to look for another opportunity, or will I be seen as disloyal?

First, thank you. I will totally take credit for you getting your job.

Furloughs are mandated periods of time off without pay. They're often used when an employer needs to make up a budget shortfall but wants to avoid outright layoffs. They're usually for a week or two, although occasionally they're longer. If doing furloughs means that the employer truly does end up being able to avoid layoffs, they can be a very good thing (in terms of potentially solving the problem). 

The bigger issue on my mind, though, would be whether this actually signals bigger problems beyond your current $100,000 shortfall. What I would want to know is whether furloughs and other cutbacks are going to solve the problem, or whether the organization is likely going to need to look at layoffs down the road. (By the way, I don't know how big your budget is or how small your organization is, but $100,000 might be perfectly easily made up with cuts other than layoffs. But I'd want to know if this indicates you're on a downward funding trajectory more generally or if this is likely the extent of the damage.)

If there are going to be layoffs at some point, don't assume that you're the most vulnerable just because you were hired recently. An effectively run organization is going to pick positions to cut based on which positions are most expendable, i.e. least essential to the core work of the organization. If your position is key to the organization's work, it doesn't make sense to cut it, no matter how new you are ... at least not as long as there are other positions that are less essential. (An organization may also take this opportunity to cut lower performers, although really, they should have been dealing with them long before this anyway.)  An exception to this: Even if your position is essential, it's possible that if they need to eliminate a less-key position that's held by a long-time and/or fantastic staffer, they could cut that person's position and then move her into yours (assuming it's a reasonable fit), thus resulting in you being laid off to open up the spot.

This is all speculation though. My point is just not to assume anything, because there are lots of possible ways this could go (including no painful cuts at all).

Now, what's your relationship like with your manager? Unless it's terrible, the best thing you can do here is to sit down with her and talk about this. You're in development (that's fundraising for readers who are unfamiliar with nonprofit terms), so start off by talking about what extra fundraising work you might be able to do that could help. Then, say something like this: "I would feel naive if I didn't ask this next thing. I know that as a recent hire, my position might be high on the list to cut if it comes to that. I completely understand that there are no guarantees whatsoever and that these things can be hard to predict, but I'd so appreciate any insight you can give me about the security of my position should layoffs end up being necessary, or about how those decisions would be made."

Even if you don't get a solid "yes, you'd be an early cut" or "no, your position is essential" or even "I don't know, but I do know there are three positions we'd cut before we even looked at yours," you still have  a good chance of getting additional information that will help inform your thinking. And particularly because you're in a small organization, you have pretty good chances of getting a fairly candid answer, rather than the opaque responses that large companies often give people.

Then, follow this up by saying how much you love your job and are thrilled to be there, but ask that you be given the earliest possible heads-up if it does start looking like your position might need to be cut. (But also don't assume you'll get that. There are a lot of concerns that go into managing layoffs well, and employers don't always do it perfectly.)

Then, no matter what you learn in this conversation, it wouldn't be a terrible idea to do some looking around at other opportunities. You don't need to take another job if it turns out you don't need to, but job searches can take a while and if the worst does happen, you'll be glad that you got a head start. So send out some applications, but think of it not as a "real" job hunt but as more of a safety net in case you end up needing one. 

And when talking to prospective employers, I wouldn't say that you're looking because of furloughs in particular; I would be more general and say that you're looking because the organization is in a rocky financial period and you're concerned about the stability of your position. Hopefully this is true, right?  You wouldn't be leaving because you had to take a week off without pay, but rather because of the larger concerns that raises about the organization's financial stability. This will make sense to employers and you don't need to worry about being seen as disloyal (although I think you might if it were really just confined to the furlough).

Last, I want to stress that all of this is just about being prepared. For all we know, your organization isn't going to have a single lay-off, funding will be back where it needs to be next year, and you're going to go on enjoying this job for many years. 

A lot of nonprofits go through this. The best way to handle it is to gather information, make sure you don't have your head in the sand, and create a safety net for yourself in case you need it, but not be scared off prematurely. Good luck!