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Monday, December 29, 2008

5 little things that annoy interviewers

Showing up really early for an interview isn't a deal breaker, but it can be annoying. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about five little things that irritate -- but don't necessarily kill your chances with -- interviewers. Check it out here.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

dealing with an annoying coworker

A reader writes:

My boss is my father, and I've worked for him for 4 ½ years. We work in small office with two other employees who work for him. I get along really well with one of them, "Dave"; he's worked with us for about 2 years now. The second of my coworkers, "Kelly," was just hired at the end of this summer. At first it seemed like Kelly and I would get along well, but now it's a completely different story. I don't need to be friends with her, but it's difficult just to even work with her, without going mad.

Kelly is very rude socially. It is clear she doesn't want to be left out of anything. She frequently interrupts conversations I am engaged in with either my father or Dave, and then starts her own conversation. She also regularly interjects her own commentary into conversations she is not involved in. Today, Kelly even commented to me about a matter that I had discussed with Dave, not Kelly, but she was within earshot of hearing about. She will even answer questions that are not directed at her or meant for her to answer. Moreover, Kelly seems to think of herself as an expert on every subject, even if she has little or no background knowledge. Because of all these behaviors, I am constantly biting my tongue around her, but I always end up boiling over on the inside.

I have expressed my frustrations to my father, and while he understands, he has a hard time with confrontation (as do I). He does not want to hurt Kelly's feelings or make her feel badly. She and I are often times the only people in the office for a portion of the day. I would just like her to know how her behavior is negatively affecting me in our very small office. I doubt Kelly is doing these things on purpose. I think (hope) she is just oblivious instead, but she really is driving me crazy. How should I handle it?

First, realize that you will often work with people who you simply don't really like that much. That's the reality of work life. It's highly unlikely that you'll ever find yourself in an office where you aren't irritated by someone in some way.

Next, you are in a small office, which means that everyone's personality traits are magnified. With so few people there, each person takes on a disproportionate influence; everyone's individual traits have far more of an impact than they would in a larger office. It's the nature of a small office.

Furthermore, with only four people, Kelly may not consider what she's doing to be interrupting or eavesdropping. If half the office or three-quarters of the office is discussing something, it even may be reasonable for her to assume it's a conversation open to all.

In any case, you have two basic options: You can be direct with Kelly about her behaviors that bother you, or you can resign yourself to living with them. If you choose to be direct, it means that when Kelly interrupts a conversation she's not a part of, you call her on it: "Actually, Kelly, I wanted to hear what Dave thinks of this." But keep in mind that in this size office, objecting to her participating in the conversation may be rude itself. (Plus, as the boss' daughter, you want to be sensitive to how that might affect the perceived weight of the words.)

Your best bet might be to simply see Kelly's behavior as amusing, rather than infuriating. My sister always advises me, when visiting annoying relatives, to pretend to be one of the many long-suffering characters in Jane Austen novels who have to be pleasant to and patient with irritating relations. It's remarkably effective; it reframes things in a much more amusing (and bearable) context. If you're not a Jane Austen fan, pretend you're on a sitcom and she's the Andy Bernard of the show. This advice is good for all areas of life.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

calling to follow up after applying for a job

A reader writes:

Thanks in advance for your help. I have been applying online for jobs with no success. I never hear back although I am sure to be qualified for the positions I am applying for.

My question is: Is it poor etiquette to call the local company and speak to a manager regarding the position or should I wait for a recruiter to call me? I don't want to jeopardize my chances of an interview by being presumptuous.

It's fine to call -- once. What you don't want to do is harass them, but one phone call a few days or a week after you submit your application is fine. It might sound something like this: "I submitted my application for your __ position last week, and I just wanted to make sure my materials were received. I also want to reiterate my interest in the position; I think it might be a great match, and I'd love to talk with you about it when you're ready to begin scheduling interviews."

Something like that -- short and sweet -- is fine. What's not fine is something that some job-hunting guides advise: saying that you're calling "to schedule an interview." You don't get to decide to schedule the interview; they do, and it's presumptuous, not "good salesmanship" or whatever those books claim, to pretend otherwise. Someone out there is also advising people to say things like that in their cover letter, which is leading to lots of closing lines like, "I will call you in a week to schedule a time to talk." Ick.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

new boss ignoring traditional schedule

A reader writes:

I work at a company where the company handbook clearly states that the office hours are 9am to 5pm. We do not offer flex-time and everyone in the group works a straight 9am to 5pm.

Recently, we got a new senior manager (not our direct boss but rather the boss's boss) who is quite a micro-manager and who has decided that from now on every Monday for the next year that she is going to come over to our group (she works in a different building) to hold a staff meeting from 3:30pm to 5:30pm.

She is an Executive Vice President and a complete power hungry control freak and she is purposely scheduling the meeting to end after office hours to make some sort of point --- seeing as though she never goes home, has no family, and lives to work.

My issue is such: I have a daycare situation where I MUST leave at 5:20pm each day and not one minute later in order to pick up my daughter in daycare on time since the daycare closes and that is the latest I can leave in order to get there on time.

The problem is that I am being made to feel as though I am a poor performer because I can not do the meeting when in fact this meeting is not one of urgent nature (it's actually a boring, inefficient drawn out waste of time to be honest) --- but rather just a power-tripping micromanager who likes to abuse her power by making her subordinents listen to her every word.

Do I have a leg to stand on if I bring this up to HR? It clearly states in our handbook that the office hours are 9am to 5pm but not sure if that is any argument that is winable. It always seems that the employee never wins.

How do you know that she's purposely scheduling the meeting to end after your regular hours in order to make a point? Is it possible that you're projecting an agenda on to her that isn't actually there? You note that she works longer hours than most, so it's possible that she doesn't realize the impact of her meeting time.

Rather than approach this with the assumption that she is "a complete power hungry control freak" who "has no family, and lives to work" -- a charge rarely leveled against men in the same circumstances, by the way -- you'll likely have better luck if you drop the anger and assume that there's no evil motivation here.

Instead, talk to your boss and explain that this meeting is impacting your daycare situation and ask if there's a reason this meeting must be scheduled at that particular time. Ask if she can intervene with the senior manager to have it rescheduled to start half an hour earlier.

And really, do what you can to drop the animosity toward this senior manager. It's not going to take you anywhere good.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

fired, resigned, or let go?

A reader writes:

I am not sure if I was fired or let go. "My services were no longer needed." After 8 years, they decided to add to my position the duties of company driving in my own vehicle. I was not hired needing a car. I told them I would be glad to fulfill the new duties if they provided a car since mine had high mileage and was unreliable. They told me I had no choice.

I also checked into my insurance and my premiums would have gone up by a third, causing me hardship. They offered what the government gives for mileage and no more.

They asked me if I would change my mind, and I didn't, so they let me go. They did give me two weeks severance pay. Then the HR manager told the board that I quit. I was never written up in the 8 years I was employed and my last pay review was "exceeds expectations."

How to I explain to future employers when they ask me if I was fired?

You weren't fired. And despite what the HR manager is saying, at no point did you quit either. And they're well aware of this, as your severance pay shows -- companies don't give severance to employees who quit.

Let's get clear on our definitions: Fired means you were terminated for cause. Laid-off means that your position was eliminated. Let go can mean either of the two. Resigned means that you voluntarily chose to leave your job.

In your case, they changed the essential duties of your job. I suppose they could try to argue that you effectively quit when you refused to agree to their new terms, but this would be BS, since their terms were significantly different than previously and would have been to your detriment. I think what they did was closest to a layoff. (And you should be entitled to unemployment compensation and so forth -- but you won't get it if they say you quit, so don't buy into their wording.)

I know there's a legal term for what they did and it's escaping me. Anyone?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

asking for a raise during layoffs

A reader writes:

I work in the home building industry and well, you know what's going on in that market right now! The admin assistant was let go because my company can't afford to pay her anymore. I am a very efficient worker and so I am now doing my jobs (I already wear many hats in the company -- AP/AR clerk, operations assistant, website management, and Green EnergyKey Program Director) as well as hers!

They told me there is no guarantee that they will be able to keep me, although we are closing a good number of houses lately and this directly affects my probability of staying. I feel that now is the time for a raise if there ever was one. I am very stressed and working much faster than usual, to the point of being in a frenzy at times. There is so much to do that it doesn't all get done. Can I and should I ask for a raise?

Probably not. Your company is laying people off and already told you that they might have to lay you off too. They're looking for ways to cut costs, not increase them. Unfortunately, they reality of the job market right now is that so many people are out of work that they could probably hire someone for less than what they're paying you to do everything you're doing. (Whether they would be able to keep that person once the market picks up is a different question.)

There's an argument to be made that there's no harm in asking, but there actually is a risk, no matter how small, that they might be frustrated that you don't understand the financial situation they're in, and that that could make them more inclined to add you to their layoff list. I'm not saying that's fair or reasonable, but I don't want to advise you to do something that could jeopardize your job in this economy. This is just a really bad time, and my general advice is that those of us with jobs should hunker down and ride it out.

Anyone have a different opinion?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yahoo!'s leaked layoff memo

Check out this leaked copy of the instructions Yahoo! sent to managers for conducting their 1,500 layoffs last week (courtesy of Valleywag).

There's much to cringe at here, but I think the worst is this: "Yahoo! will not ask for reimbursement from the employee on any repayment obligations (relocation, sign-on bonus), provided the employee signs the Supplemental Release."

So apparently if someone chooses not to sign the release (which, for those who haven't had the lovely experience of dealing with layoffs, is a form releasing the company from any legal claims, generally required to be signed before severance pay is released), they'd need to repay relocation expenses? After getting laid off. Lovely.

I'm (sometimes) sympathetic to businesses that need to conduct layoffs. It sucks, and sometimes it's unavoidable. But it's probably the most important time to go out of your way not to be an ass. Yahoo! forgot.

how to write a perfect cover letter

I love cover letters. And yet few candidates are willing to indulge my love with a well-written, customized cover letter. Some of this is a belief that it doesn't matter (shameful!), but some of this is that people genuinely aren't sure how to construct a good one.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I give some tips on writing an awesome cover letter. Read, comment, spread the word to job-seekers you know.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

where does mentoring pay off the most?

I've written before about how much I like informally mentoring people, and it's generally an instinct that kicks in when I spot someone of a particular profile: young/relatively new to the work world, smart, motivated, and promising but inexperienced. And it seems obvious why -- their talents seem worth investing the time to give them some extra guidance and attention, to help them really flourish. And often they don't yet know that there's something special about them, and it's rewarding to help them spot and harness it.

But it occurs to me to wonder if it wouldn't actually be better to apply that kind of time and attention to a different type of person instead -- the struggling rather than the obviously promising.

Do we seek out those with star potential because they'll benefit the most from our help -- or is it possible that it's actually less about that and more because we like to see ourselves in them, or that it's so gratifying to watch them blossom and feel we played a role in their success? Maybe we'd actually have a more significant impact if we made that kind of time investment with someone who doesn't have obvious star potential, someone who doesn't appear to be a natural candidate for grooming.

After all, the clearly promising ones are more likely to find their way regardless of our help, although perhaps our help gets them there faster or more smoothly. It's the not-so-obvious candidates where mentoring and extra attention might really make the decisive difference.

I suspect this isn't a novel thought at all to many people, but it was a semi-epiphany for me.

Monday, December 8, 2008

resigning without 2 weeks notice

A reader writes:

Six months ago I was laid off from my job where I was a salaried employee with benefits. Since then, I have found employment freelancing for a media company where I am paid hourly with no benefits. The people in my position do not have a contract or a set schedule so you never know if you will be working a 2 hour shift or a 20 hour shift. Frequently we receive day-of notice that there is no work for us that day. If I were working 40+ hours a week, I wouldn’t mind so much, but lately, the work has slowed down to a point where in the past month I have been working 4, 8, 12 hour weeks.

I have expressed my concern to my boss about work being so slow lately. She keeps telling me that it will pick up, but things keep falling through (due to reasons beyond her control). She assures me that it will pick up in January. I love my boss. She took a chance on me when a lot of people didn’t and I have learned so much from her, which is why I don’t want to burn this bridge.

I am considering moving back home which is in another part of the country in order to save money. But with the holidays approaching (and my company being closed for nearly 2 weeks around Christmas and New Years) and the current economy, I can’t hold out much longer. I would like to cut my losses while I still can. Is there ever a situation where it is acceptable to give less than 2 weeks notice? And if so, how do I quit on good terms so that I can work for this company again in the future?

This is one of the few situations where it might be okay to quit with less than two weeks notice -- because your company is giving you little work and little notice of what your work (and thus your pay) will be like day to day.

I recommend simply talking to your boss. If you've made up your mind to leave and it's just a question of timing, just tell her that your finances have made it impossible to stay. Ask for her guidance on the question of whether you could leave with only a week (or less) of notice and whether it would be a problem or not. With the company about to close for the holidays and work so light, it might be a non-issue to them. Just ask.

And if she tells you that they really need the two weeks notice and can't be flexible, then you can figure out from there how much of a hardship it would be to you to give it. If she makes it clear that two weeks is expected no matter what, and you really can't give it without significant hardship, then just be really apologetic, even mortified, and explain that there's been so little work that you're now in dire financial straits and need to take this opportunity while it's in front of you. Sounding genuinely sorry often makes people want to cut you some slack.

Good luck!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

crazy, shouting, crying, bullying boss

A reader writes:

I am a working for a 69-year-old woman (owner of a small company) who feels threatened by me. She is highly insecure, and though I have been kind to her, she consistently tries to bully and manipulate me into confrontational (and totally irrational) conversations. The partner in the office noticed her feeling threatened and thinks she is trying to get me to leave. I have only been with the company 5 months and have had great successes with the partner in the short time I have been there. The partner gave me a raise after 3 months.

It seemed to have escalated after I witnessed her and the partner having a shouting match and her in tears. She cries a lot, takes everything personally, shared too much personal information with me, badmouthed the partner to me, all in spite of my asking her to respect those boundaries several times.

How can I handle a crazy boss and maintain my cool? Everyone seems to walk on eggshells around her or roll their eyes. I would love your insight on how to handle this.

There aren't a ton of good options. My first piece of advice is probably the hardest to swallow, and it's this: It's her company; she's the owner. This means that she's entitled to be as crappy of a boss as she wants (and it sounds like she's a pretty crappy one), if that's the sort of business she wants to run. But you are also entitled to choose not to accept those conditions and go elsewhere.

People who bully and manipulate and generally behave like asses are highly unlikely to change, especially with no one above them to insist upon it.

Of course, in this economy, it may be harder to just walk away than at other times. So if you can't leave quickly, the following may help:

* Ask the partner who likes you for advice on handling the situation.

* Ask the owner herself for feedback and things she'd like to see you do differently. If nothing else, you might get some insight into her thinking, which is useful even if her thinking is utterly insane.

* Accept you have a crazy boss and that you need to play along until you can put the real solution into action, which is to leave. Sometimes simply accepting it and realizing that you won't get anywhere by struggling against it can actually make situations like this more tolerable. But it's an unhealthy environment to be in for a long time, which is why ultimately, you probably should plan to find a boss who doesn't cry and bully people.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

6 ways managers mess up performance evaluations

Performance evaluations inspire a special sort of dread—not just among employees but also for the managers who have to write them. Over at U.S. News & World Report yesterday, I wrote about six mistakes managers commonly make in the process. Please check it out here!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

boss cut hours by half

A reader writes:

I am my boss' only employee and he cut my hours to 20/week a few weeks ago. I was surprised, to say the least. I thought he did it because he didn't want me there anymore so I asked him if that was the reason. He said it was solely because of money, so I have continued working my regular hours and get paid for only 20. I have been with him for 3 years and he has been good to me. I know business has been slow and that he has kids in college.

However I can't help but be a wee bit paranoid that he will axe me for someone new and cheaper (and make me train her on my way out). People always say bosses cut your hours in an attempt to get rid of you. Is it just moronic to think that he'd actually tell me if he was going to get rid of me? If he does, I'll really be screwed - if I only worked the 20 hours a week it'd be easier to find a new job, but I've kept my regular hours helping him dig out of this hole. He just got a $100,000.00 equity line on the office - I don't know if that means anything.

Would I have any recourse if he does leave me high and dry?

You need more information.

Some people may find this naive, but I'm a big proponent of just being honest about what you're wondering about and simply asking him. In order to make good decisions, you need to find out more about what he's thinking -- for instance, does he foresee the cut in your hours being temporary, or is it for the foreseeable future? Is it an interim step that might eventually lead to needing to eliminate your position altogether? Is he offering you 20 hours because he feels he needs to offer you something, but he'd really prefer not to have any staff at all right now? What kind of commitment, if any, is he realistically able to make to you right now? These are the kinds of questions you need to know the answers to.

And when you have this conversation, let your three years of working with this guy inform your thinking too. Is he a generally ethical and open guy? Or have you seen him break his word, deceive others, or trample over someone else to protect himself? Of course, even if you know him to be an upstanding person, keep in mind that financial circumstances beyond his control may cancel out his best intentions -- so you should always have a safety net ready, no matter what.

Also, if you are going to work twice the hours he's paying you for out of loyalty, you really should protect yourself. For instance, tell him that you understand the position he's in right now, that you feel loyal to him and want to help, and that you'd be willing to continue to work full-time with a half-time salary if he's able to offer you an employment contract locking in work for you for __ months. (You fill in the blank.) What you don't want is to work half your hours for free out a sense of a loyalty and a feeling that you're both in it together, only to find yourself let go with no warning at some point down the road (in which case, without a contract, you would indeed be left without recourse). So by all means, make the offer if you think he's earned it, but protect yourself too.

Good luck!

Friday, November 28, 2008

can I make the company give me THEIR references?

Yep, a Black Friday extravaganza: three posts in one day.

A reader writes:

After the second interview, when an interview requests my references, is it ever possible to turn around and also ask the interviewer for references from the prospective company? I would only do this if (1) I am really sure that I want the position, but I've heard things about the company about turnover/chronic underperformers/bad juju and (2) if I felt comfortable enough with the interviewer to do so.

Would this move be perceived as obnoxious?

I'm envisioning it as a bit of a 360 degree interview, because if I am going to leave my current job for one that seems more stellar, I feel that I have the right to also investigate what I'm leaving for -- the real picture, not the one that's given in interviews. Your opinion?

(For the record, I haven't yet done this, but came close many times. I also wish in some jobs that I had insisted.)

Yes, you can do this, and it does happen occasionally, so the company shouldn't think it's crazy. (Although frankly, even if you were the first person in the history of the world to ask it, they still shouldn't think it's crazy because it's a smart thing to do, but many, many people -- less intelligent ones -- think things they haven't encountered before are crazy.)

However, because it's not a common request, be careful about the way you ask for it.

Give context and frame it in a positive light, not a precautionary measure that you're taking after being burned previously. For instance, explain that you are looking for a position where the fit is really right because you want to stay for a long time, and ask if you can talk to others who work in the department, or even the previous people who held the job.

This is a reasonable request, and if the company is resistant to it, that's a huge red flag -- either because they're hiding something or because they have a culture problem that makes them think reference-checking should be a one-way street, which is possibly indicative of an environment where employees' opinions and quality of life aren't valued. (Although if you're asking to talk to previous people who held the job, it's reasonable for them not to offer up anyone who was fired, disgruntled, or generally not very good at the job.)

However, do wait to ask this until an offer has been made. Your request will take up time from people whose schedules aren't slated to include this sort of thing, and so it's reasonable for the company to want to wait on that until they know they're interested in hiring you.

silence from manager after layoff

A reader writes:

I was recently laid off. My boss works in a different office and was not there for the layoff. The SVP who was there told me that my boss wanted to have a conversation with me about the situation. It has now been over a week and I have not heard from her. It is my understanding that the onus is on her to contact me since she presumably had to make the decision about my employment and was then not there to follow through. Am I supposed to contact her?

Contact her if you feel like contacting her; otherwise, you're under no obligation to do so. However, it's probably worth your while to reach out because she may be able to point you toward job leads or act as a reference for you in the future.

My suspicion is that your boss knows that talking to you directly about the layoff is the right thing to do, but has chickened out of what she feels will be an awkward or difficult conversation. This is lame and she sucks as a result, but you should still exploit whatever help she can offer you.

checking references without intent to make an offer

A reader writes:

Do potential employers ever check a/some/all candidates' references with no intent to present an offer to a/some/all of the candidate(s)?

And where is the reference check in relation to the rest of the candidate choosing process?

Only if they're insane. Checking the references of a candidate you have no interest in hiring would be a complete waste of time -- why would you bother? Unless you work at some crappy, inefficient company that insists that you check references across the board, this would make no sense -- and if you do, you should quit because that company is ridiculous.

Personally, I check references only post-interviews, once I know who my top one or two candidates are. It's my final step before making an offer. Candidates should strongly prefer this, too, since it protects your references from fatigue.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

job-hunting while pregnant

A reader writes:

I was laid off in July and am currently job hunting. I am also 10 weeks pregnant right now. I am 37 and this is my first pregnancy after several years of failed fertility treatments. I am thrilled, but I have been keeping the news very quiet until I am safely past the first trimester.

I had a second interview this week for one job, and they have already checked my references, so an offer may be forthcoming shortly. My question is when I should tell a potential new employer. I figure I have a few options:

1) Tell them during the interview process, which is technically still ongoing. I am not in favor of this option, as I think all it would do is put me at a disadvantage. Although it could help weed out family-unfriendly companies, it just feels like an irrelevant piece of personal information at the moment.

2) Tell them after I get an offer. I have been leaning towards this option, as I want to avoid appearing to pull a bait-and-switch on them (especially because I know the hiring manager who would be my supervisor personally; he is the husband of one of my husband's co-workers and we have hung out socially a few times). I know that legally they are not supposed to take pregnancy into consideration with a job candidate, but it would be hard to prove that they did if they rescinded the offer. This would also give me a chance to find out about/negotiate for a maternity leave policy, since I will not have been at the company long enough for my job to be protected under the Family & Medical Leave Act. Telling them in this timeframe feels like the best compromise to me between being honest and still having some leverage.

3) Tell them a couple of days after I am hired. They'll be stuck with me at that point. I don't like this option.

4) Tell them 1 or 2 months after I start, hopefully before I begin to show. I read one advice column advocating this method. The advantage is that by this time you've hopefully proven yourself as a reliable employee and could deliver the news matter-of-factly, telling them that you are just now going public with the information and couldn't be happier. The problems I see here are that: a) They might not have anyone start until after the 1st of the year, which means I'd be waiting until at least February to tell them; b) it still feels a bit like a bait-and-switch; and c) I am afraid the stress of keeping this a secret from them might eat me up inside.

First, congratulations on your pregnancy!

I'd go with option #2 -- tell them once you get the offer.

I wouldn't raise it before you get an offer, because even at many family-friendly places and even despite the law that prohibits discriminating based on pregnancy, plenty of interviewers are still going to think, "We have that big event right when she'll be out on maternity leave, and candidate B, who is not pregnant, would be able to be there for it." It's human nature. Don't risk that.

But you're pretty safe raising it once you have the offer, because rescinding it that point would look an awful lot like pregnancy discrimination, which is prohibited by law.

Good luck!

Monday, November 24, 2008

why poor performers don't get fired

Almost everyone has had the experience of working alongside someone who is a chronically poor performer—and then puzzling over the question of why nothing is being done about it. Today at U.S. News & World Report, I explore the reasons why. Please check it out, comment, etc.!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

scared because of interview lying

A reader writes:

I'm a legal assistant and I went for an interview with a lawyer. The office is small and there's only one lawyer. The thing is, I lied on my first interview. My last job was at a law office assisting one attorney. I said I left on maternity leave but the truth is I left because my ex boss did not paid well. I did not want to mention this issue which I know is not proper.

My worry is that in the interview, I was asked if he can contact my ex boss and I said yes. So now I really don't know what my ex boss is going to say or if he will really call. I'm schedule for a second interview. Do you think they will tell me that I lied regarding my past employment? Or are they really interested in me? Please advise because I'm truly scared to show up for the second interview.

I doubt they know (yet) that you lied. They're not likely to want to waste their time with an interview just so that they can confront you about a lie. However, they're likely to find out about the lie if you do well in the second interview and they get to the point of calling references. A very common reference question is, "Why did she leave?" At that point, the discrepancy in your story is going to come out.

Obviously, you should never lie in an interview. Ever. It doesn't matter if you think you have a good reason for it. It's immediately disqualifying if the interviewer discovers it, because of what it says about your integrity. It's odd that you felt it wouldn't be proper to mention that you left your last job over money (a perfectly legitimately reason) but didn't feel it would be improper to lie in an interview. I'd write this job off, learn from the experience, and move on.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

connecting to your interviewer on LinkedIn

A reader writes:

Is it recommended to add as a contact to your LinkedIn account someone you had recently interviewed with, if they are already in your extended network? Of course, this is dependent on the assumed rapport (although that can be hard to tell as well).

I have mixed feelings about this. I think different hiring managers feel differently: Some only want to connect on LinkedIn with people they actually know, while others are perfectly happy to connect, even if their only knowledge of you is a job interview. I don't think it's inappropriate to request the connection though; just don't be offended if they choose not to accept it. Different people use it in different ways.

However. That's for LinkedIn, which is all about professional networking. When it comes to more socially oriented sites, like Facebook and so forth, do not attempt to add your interviewer as a contact. I've had candidates do this to me, and it feels like presumption and over-reaching. Facebook is social; attempting to connect there is like inviting your interviewer to a dinner party. It's not appropriate.

Monday, November 17, 2008

invited to apply and then rejected

A reader writes:

I volunteer for a company and they asked me to apply for a post which I would not have applied for in the first place. I applied and they gave it to someone else. Why set me up for such a fall?

I can see how it would feel like that, but they weren't trying to set you up. Being invited to apply for a position is exactly what it sounds like -- being invited to apply, not being anointed. Otherwise, they'd just offer you the job.

Companies do this when they think you might be a strong candidate, so if nothing else you should at least feel flattered that they thought highly enough of you to reach out. But the process that follows -- interviews, etc. -- is there so that they can dig more deeply and see if indeed the match would be the right one. During that process, they may find out that the match isn't as strong as they had hoped, or an even stronger candidate might emerge. That's just the nature of it, and you shouldn't take it personally or feel that they slighted you.

That said, this is why when companies invite someone to apply for a job, especially a volunteer or current employee, they need to be careful to make sure that the person clearly understands the situation and knows that they'll be considering other applicants as well.

stop sending me recommendation letters

Someone has to break it to you, so it's going to be me: Please stop with the letters of recommendation. Don't attach them to your resume and don't offer them up at the interview. I know you feel good about them but, unfortunately, they aren't useful. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I explain why. Please check it out here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

interviewing at a company with lay-offs

A reader writes:

Well first off, you have a great blog, which is extremely informative and finally gives job applicants a sense of what is going on in the hiring manager's mind. Plus almost every post ends in "he/she is a jerk/ass," which always makes the reading that much more enjoyable.

I had an interview with a company on October 9th, where I met with the Hiring Manager, and a HR Manager which went very well. I was given a time-line of 2 weeks, of when would be an acceptable time to follow up, and was reassured that I would definitely hear back from them either which way. The hiring manager replied back to my thank you note, with the following "Thank you for your note and also your time yesterday regarding the position. I really enjoyed our conversation and getting to know you a little better. You will be hearing from us in the next couple of weeks regarding next steps."

After the two week period, I called up the HR Manager, who quickly returned my call and stated that I would probably hear something back either today, or the following day. I have not heard back from anyone. I ended up calling the HR manager after about another week and left VM, and I had also emailed the Hiring Manager to try to get a status update. Well, earlier this week (over a month later), the company just announced that it was laying off between 450-600 employees with an estimated 250 being white-collar. The last time I attempted to contact anyone was 10 days ago (left VM for hiring manager). I think I know what happened to the position, but would it make good sense to attempted to connect to the hiring manager and bring up the news and wish her and her department best of luck throughout the process, and then ask for a status update?

Thank you -- I'm glad my free-wheeling name-calling is going over well.

I tend to think your hunch is right. They're not hiring anymore. That's not to say that companies never hire when they're in the middle of layoffs -- some positions have to be filled no matter what, even when other areas are being cut. But in this case, I'm inclined to think you're right because both managers were so responsive early on.

That said, it doesn't hurt to be sure, and it's also a good idea to wrap things up in a professional way so that if they start hiring again at some point, you've reinforced the good impression they already have of you. I would email a note exactly like what you suggested -- with one modification: Don't ask for a status update. Instead, say something like, "I assume you're no longer hiring for the position given this difficult time, but I remain interested if you begin hiring again in the future." That gets the same point across and gives her an opening to tell you if in fact you're wrong, but it's more sensitive to the situation they're likely in.

Good luck!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

avoiding the company holiday party

A reader writes:

My employer has a holiday party every year. This year, I don't really want to go. I feel like if I go, I'm accepting the "free dinner" when the company spends $ on company cars and other gifts instead of giving us health insurance. I don't know a good excuse without hurting anyone's feelings. What can I tell my manager?

Say you have to work at your second job to pay for your health insurance.

No. Say you have a scheduling conflict and unbreakable plans that night, maybe a family obligation. That's assuming you're looking for a tactful way to get out of it and that you're not looking to make a statement (which I would advise doing only at your own risk).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Carnival of HR

Welcome to the latest edition of the Carnival of HR, featuring 26 posts from the HR and management blogging community. Those who have gone before me have managed to find unifying themes. I am not that good or that creative, so I have no theme. I do, however, have some awesome posts. Read on.

Wall Bock at Three Star Leadership asks what kind of working environment you create, and says that individual worker engagement is important, but engagement and productivity can change dramatically when a person is placed in a different environment.

Totally Consumed asks whether your employees trust the HR department and gives three principles to help get an HR department on track.

Prasad Kurian at Simplicity at the Other Side of Complexity says that when we are faced with situations that are radically different from the norm, we might need responses that look very different too.

The Career Encourager addresses the problem with passion (part 2).

Ann Bares at Compensation Force asks whether market pay survey data is accurate, given the economic turmoil.

Suzanne Lucas, known to many as the Evil HR Lady, gives us five things the election taught us about job interviews.

Dan McCarthy at Great Leadership offers up a practical guide for developing leaders.

HR Observations gives us both bad news and good news for women in HR.

Deb Owen at 8 hours & a lunch asks what businesses are doing to help employees cope in this economy.

HR Minion talks about why you want to be an energizing candidate.

Rowan Manahan at Fortify Your Oasis asks: When you cut through all the HR-speak, what are you really there to do?

Gautam Ghosh gives advice to MBAs during a recession.

HR Lori writes about vacation pay in the context of a closing business.

Birchtree's Strategic Thinking asks if you've ever been bullied at work.

Infohrm looks at how world class organizations are using workforce data.

Nina Simosko writes about implementing change within your own realm.

Frank Mulligan explains the hiring process sequence in China.

Incentive Intelligence presents "Employee Performance and the Drunkard's Walk."

David Zinger writes about five management provocations.

Flip Chart Fairy Tales takes on business leaders who blame organizational culture when things go wrong.

Strategic Workforce Planning warns you to get prepared for the next challenge you'll face.

The New Social Business Blog talks about the need to focus leadership on horizontal relationships, not just vertical ones.

Susan at Human Resources notes that her recommendation to nix political discussion at work was hotly contested by some who posted on her site this election season.

Inflexion Advisors gives us three no-brainer ways to be eco-friendly at work.

Mark Bennett at Talented Apps talks about how Web 2.0, etc. has made it easier to be a leader.

And I answer a reader's question about what to do about employees who burp constantly throughout the day.

The next Carnival, on November 26, will be hosted by Rowan Manahan at Fortify Your Oasis.

Monday, November 10, 2008

the sound of silence: companies that don't send rejections

One of the biggest complaints I hear from job seekers who write to me is about companies that don't respond to job applicants: no rejection, nothing.

There's a real divide on the issue. Job seekers think it's incredibly rude, while many companies feel perfectly justified in not putting resources into dealing with candidates they're no longer interested in hiring.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I give my own take on this issue. Please head over there to read it and leave your own thoughts.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

burping employees

A reader writes:

I am a manager of a two small departments. I have asked on numerous occasions for the employees to not belch. I find it to be unprofessional and rude. This one particular employee does it constantly throughout the day. They aren't loud belches, but ones that are heard loud enough to get under my skin. What would your next step be?

I have to admit that I'm posting this in part because it cracked me up.

First, realize that some medical conditions make people burp uncontrollably. If that's the case here, you've just got to live with it.

But assuming that's not the case and you just have employees who enjoy burping audibly throughout the day: If we're talking about once a day or something like that, let it go. If it's truly a constant thing, and you're determined to stop it, well, you've got authority. Rather than trying to cajole them into stopping, instead figure out what you're willing to do about it. Maybe you want to tell them that their behavior creates the perception that they're unprofessional and is disruptive when people are on the phone or trying to focus. Maybe you want to tell them that their performance reviews and raises take professionalism into consideration, and this will play into that. Maybe you want to lay down the law and tell them the juvenile antics need to stop, period, and consider it insubordination if they don't stop. Or maybe you want to do nothing.

But frankly, it's so hard for me to imagine professional employees intentionally burping "constantly" throughout the day that I have to wonder if this doesn't speak to a larger issue with them.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

not helping yourself

Seriously, it is just not a good idea to respond to a letter of rejection with comments like this:

"I cannot imagine what would have caused you not to interview me. Did you even bother to speak with my past employers about my qualifications? I find it hard to accept that you have no place for a person with my abilities and skills."

Huh. In an entire world filled with smart, well-qualified people, you can't fathom that some of them might have been a stronger match than you?

Monday, November 3, 2008

how to apply for multiple jobs at one company

A reader writes:
There is a community development organization I really want to work for because it seems to fit my personality very well; they share an appreciation for community outreach, planning policy, and youth. However, I am interested in two job openings. The first position is within the field of my professional degree, but I might be under qualified with my years of experience. The second position is working with youth, which I have volunteer experience in but might [face] grueling competition in this economy. Is there a way to apply for both? Or do I have to choose? If I must choose, which one would you suggest?

You can apply for both, but you need to be careful about how you do it.

Want to read the rest of the answer? Head over to U.S. News & World Report, where I answer this question today.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

bringing babies to work

New York Times blogger Lisa Belkin had an interesting (and, to me, alarming) article a couple of days ago about parents bringing babies to work with them.

I like babies. Especially babies in any outfit with footies. But I flinch when I hear loud conversations in the hallway when I'm trying to focus, so I can't imagine having to work next door to a crying baby or -- almost definitely worse -- adults speaking in baby talk.

And I have to think this is a major productivity drain. Belkin notes:
Companies also specify that parents are still responsible for completing their work and that the babies cannot be substantially disruptive to the work environment, as well as that coworkers can’t play with the babies for long periods and not get their own work done.

... Parents are about 70 to 80 percent as productive with their baby at work. But companies who allow this say it is worth the trade-off, because parents who can bring their babies to work are far more likely to come back to work after they’ve had a baby and far less likely to quit their jobs, resulting in lower turnover costs.
Hmmm. I have no doubt that this is good for the parents who want to try it, but I have to think that it's bad for the rest of us. I'm not buying it. What do you guys think?

overdressed / underdressed

A reader writes:

So I just started a new job last week. All my co-workers come to work in jeans and sweaters for the most part. Every now and then someone will wear a nice dress or a suit. I wear nice dresses and skirts nearly every day and get compliments from my co-workers.

Yesterday I heard my boss tell my other boss that I overdress. Upon hearing this, I dressed down today and put my long hair into a pony tail. I looked like all the others. One of the two bosses I mentioned came in today and said, "She looks bad. Don't invite her to the meeting with X company today. I don't want them to think that people who look like that work here." What's up with that ?

Either (a) your boss is ridiculous, rude, and petty, or (b) you dressed down too far without realizing it.

I'd just handle it head-on. Say to your boss, "I know this may sound silly, but I'm not sure I'm figuring out the dress code correctly. Is there anything I should be doing differently?"

But then I'm a confronter. What do others think?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

protecting references from overload

A reader writes:

I am always on a job prowl and, thus, in need of references. I read that it's good to give references the job descriptions and updates so they can be prepared to give a good reference. However, as I am doing a wide sweeping job search, I am reluctant to email them time and time again. Should I email them a general email listing the types of jobs I might be looking for? Or, should I update them more about the actual positions so they won't be surprised over the next two months? I tried maintaining good communication with them by emailing them, asking about updates on what they're doing and offering to help in projects related to ones I have worked on before. Yet, from their responses, I know most of them are really very busy.

Actually, there's a very easy answer to this: 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). In fact, wait until the employer specifically asks you for your references -- at that point and only at that point, provide them and give your references a heads-up, with details about the nature of the job.

And if an employer asks you for your references at the very outset of the process, it's completely fine to request that they not be contacted until the employer is seriously interested in making you an offer (and that you be notified first so that you can alert them).

Monday, October 27, 2008

don't stalk the hiring manager

Don't cross the line from enthusiastic job-seeker to irritating stalker. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about how to navigate the line. Please check it out, comment, etc.!

(After I wrote this, I saw that the awesome Rachel over at I Hate HR is getting bothered by this too. Check out hers as well.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

screaming boss

A reader writes:

I have a question about a manager at work. I work in the pharmacy department of the store, but the other night I witnessed a front store manager being extremely rude and disrespectful to a front store employee in front of customers and other staff. The employee just wanted to go on break, and paged the manager. The manager dropped what he was doing and when they met, he started yelling out loud "YOU COME TO ME, DON'T YOU EVER PAGE ME FOR SOMETHING LIKE THIS AGAIN." The reaction of the customers was shocking, and also most of the pharmacy staff. If this happens again to anyone else, what rights does the employee have?

Rights, as in legal rights? None, really. It's not illegal for a manager to be a jerk. Unwise, yes (because good employees will eventually leave over it), but allowed.

However, the employees of the store could certainly complain to the manager's manager, who probably has no idea that this manager is behaving this way -- and if even nothing else, would likely object to it being done in front of customers.

If I were this manager's boss and I heard about this, I'd have a very serious talk with him, both about using authority appropriately and about not making customers uncomfortable. Of course, there are plenty of bad bosses out there, so there's no guarantee that this boss will respond that way -- but the fact that the guy did this in front of customers works to your advantage here, because you can couch your concern in that context, which makes it safe for you to bring up (you're worried that customers are being made uncomfortable). And if he's a good boss, he'll realize that's not the only troubling aspect of this.

can after-hours event be required?

A reader writes:

Our company has a quarterly all-hands meeting that informs the employees of the financial status, what’s coming up, etc. There is a happy hour afterward at a different location than the meeting, usually at a local bar/restaurant. Can a manager require employees to attend an “after hours” function once a quarter?

Yes. Although if you're non-exempt, you would need to be paid for the time.

Now, is it smart? Maybe not. If it inconveniences some employees (by requiring them to make special child-care arrangements, miss an evening class, etc.) or just annoys them, it's probably smarter and more considerate to plan the event for during the regular work day. But this isn't that unusual of a practice.

Friday, October 24, 2008

on balls and lack thereof

I'm not one to spend a lot of time agonizing about the gender politics of being a woman in a position of authority. Sure, I'm aware that certain things I do will come across to some people as "bitchy" when a man doing or saying the same things would come across as assertive. Oh well. If people want to think I'm a bitch, fine. I'm not bothered by it, and I tend to think that you can't be too troubled by it if you want to be effective. After all, if women (or men) don't know how to handle occasional stupidity, they're not going to get much done in the world.

(Speaking of which, I was baffled earlier this year by all the hand-wringing over those Hillary Clinton nutcrackers. If there were an Ask a Manager nutcracker, I would buy a bunch up and give them as gifts.)

But I will tell you this: The selection of Sarah Palin, the reaction to Sarah Palin, and Sarah Palin herself are humiliating to professional women, especially those of us who thought we could move beyond gender in the workplace.

I am sorry, because I know you don't come here to read about politics (and I already indulged myself earlier in the year when I wrote about Barack Obama seeming like a good manager, whereas Hillary Clinton ... didn't). But I can think of little that has made me feel condescended to on the basis of my gender like this has.

Apparently, large swaths of the country find it acceptable, even charming, to wink and flirt in the equivalent of a job interview for a position of life-and-death importance. And most politicians and commentators, it turns out, think we're supposed to treat female candidates with some degree of delicacy (such as all the advice to Biden not to take Palin on directly in the debate). And large segments of the public are apparently willing to accept that male candidates for office will be attacked on every discoverable point of vulnerability, as well as plenty that don't actually exist, but it's okay to cry sexism when it happens to a woman.

No matter what your politics, how is this not a humiliation to every woman who thought she could get beyond gender?

I want to be hit as hard as my opponent would hit a man. I want to be judged on something more relevant than feminine charm (assuming I'm not on a date). I want to see if I can win it on my merits, and if I can't, I don't want the job just because you think you'd like to hire a woman.

I thought that had become the social contract, to a large extent. But we've now seen in a pretty devastating way that it's not.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

should I report an ethics violation?

A reader writes:

I work at a field office of a national nonprofit intermediary that provides financial and technical assistance to local community organizations. A week ago a coworker of mine told me that a representative from a community organization that we are funding had recently approached him with some disturbing news. Apparently, this organization had hired a consultant to help them work through some financial management issues. Unfortunately for the community organization, the consultant quit in the middle of the project. Unfortunately for my organization, the consultant in question is another coworker in my office, who was apparently out freelancing on this project. Our organization does allow staff to provide consulting services to other nonprofits, but naturally any revenue comes back to the organization, not directly to the employee (since our organization's whole point is to provide these services).

Also making things more complicated is the fact that the coworker providing the consulting sits on a committee that makes decisions re: public funding to nonprofit organizations, including the organization involved here.

This seems like a pretty cut and dry violation of our organizational conflict of interest policy. I told the coworker who spoke with the representative of the community organization that he should report the incident through our our anonymous and confidential system. However, he has said he does not want to do so. The downside for our organization could be pretty severe if this boils over, and I am inclined to report this incident myself. I am reluctant to do this, however, since the information was shared with me secondhand. Also, our office is very small (less than a dozen people) and morale is at a low point now (for other reasons). Any subsequent investigation by our legal department would only accentuate the tension that's already there. Should I just mind my own business? I'm very interested in a manager's perspective on this.

If you think there could be serious consequences for your organization, and it sounds like you do, you should report it. You shouldn't be deterred by the fact that you learned it secondhand; you can make that clear when you report it, and then it will be up to the organization to investigate and get to the bottom of it.

Sometimes I advise people not to report something, when it's small. But we're not talking about noticing that someone is 10 minutes late every day, or someone saying they were sick when they really just wanted a day off, or other things that don't really matter in the scheme of things. When something is serious or potentially serious, when it could affect the organization's reputation or integrity or finances or effectiveness, then I think you have to speak up.

You can give plenty of caveats -- "I want to stress that I don't know if there's any truth to this," "I don't know this to be true firsthand," etc. -- but you should speak up. Do it discreetly, but say something.

should I apply for the junior or senior position?

A reader writes:

I am applying for jobs after a short gap due to personal reasons. At one company I am interested in, there are 2 positions open - a senior position (two years of experience required in "finance or accounting or related experience") and a junior position (no experience required). I have the "related experience" in economics. But I am concerned that another candidate's more directly related finance experience may outweigh my experience in economics. So should I apply to the junior position and risk being rejected for being overqualified? Do I write in the cover letter that I am applying for both positions? Should I call up HR and ask them to clarify? What would you suggest?

I would apply for the more senior position. However, it's fine to note that you aren't sure if your experience is precisely what they're seeking for that position, and that you'd like to be considered for the other position if in their opinion it's a better match.

Now, if they're good at hiring, this is almost unnecessary because they may funnel you toward the opening that's most appropriate for you anyway. I email candidates all the time to say, "Hey, I don't think you're a strong match with Job X, but would you like to be considered for Job Y?" But of course you can't count on people doing that, so you'll cover your bases by doing it for them.

I think some people might say that you're under-selling yourself by expressing openness to a lower level position. But I think it just says that you recognize that they know the needs of the positions best at this stage, and you're deferring to their more in-depth knowledge. Good luck!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

stupid candidate behavior: not checking email

Here's a thought: If you're applying for jobs, you might want to check your email on a somewhat regular basis.

In the last week, I've had three candidates say they didn't know that we emailed them some questions about their applications, because "my Internet has been down for a week" and other variations of this.


If you're job hunting, and you're including an email address on your resume, ignoring your email is the same as sending out a bunch of resumes and then turning off your phone for a week.

There are ways to check your email when your Internet is down -- for free at a friend's house or at many public libraries, or for a few dollars at a Kinko's (update: which I have just been informed is now called FedEx Office).

We happened to call these candidates after not hearing from them because I am incredibly anal retentive that way. Most places aren't and would have just tossed them from their candidate pile.

If you're job hunting, check your email.

is employer required to offer paid time off?

A reader writes:

I have recently been hired to work full time (8:30 to 5:30) at a very small law firm in a small, southern town. There are only five employees total at the firm. Besides the two attorneys, I am the only full-time employee at the firm.

Upon being hired and starting the job, I was told that there were no benefits, to include no sick time earned and no vacation time earned, no matter how long I stay at the firm. This didn't faze me until I began to discuss the matter in conversations with many, many people, all of whom felt that this practice was illegal. It was their view that if I were a part-time employee, it would make sense that I would not earn any sick/vacation time, and would only be paid for the hours that I work. However, it is their contention that because I am a full-time employee, I should be entitled to earn at least some sick and/or vacation time, at the very least after working for a year at the firm. In addition, although the office is closed on certain federal holidays, because I am not physically at work on those days, I will not get paid for those days either. I am confused and not sure what is right and what is wrong. Please advise.

Actually, no federal law requires that employers offer paid vacation or sick days. There's a very small number of jurisdictions that require a certain number of paid sick days, but the majority of people in the U.S. live in places not covered by those laws, and no state that I know of requires vacation time.

That said, if the policy is being applied in a discriminatory manner, you'd have an issue -- for instance, if it appeared that the only people not being offered vacation/sick benefits were members of a protected class (such as those based on race, gender, or religion), but everyone else had them, then the company would have a problem. But that doesn't sound like the case here.

Regarding holidays, the company is legally allowed not to pay for them, assuming you don't work those days.

Keep in mind that there's a difference between what's legal and what's smart or customary. Most employers do offer paid vacation and sick days in order to be competitive and attract good employees -- but it's not illegal not to.

So what recourse do you have then? You could try to negotiate for some paid time off, ideally at your next performance evaluation. Or, assuming you aren't contractually bound to stay for a certain length of time, you could look elsewhere and try to find an employer who does offer paid time off.

Monday, October 20, 2008

asking for feedback after you're rejected for a job

So you thought the position was a perfect fit and your interview seemed to go well, but in the end, you didn't get the job. You could speculate about why you weren't hired, but if you're really curious, why not try to actually find out by asking for some feedback from the hiring manager? Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about how to do it. Check it out here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

eating at work

A reader writes:

My question is an odd one. It is about a habit of hard-working and busy people: eating at work.

I have a sensitivity to low level irregular noise, especially people chewing, crunching, and rattling cellophane bags. (In fact, I am wearing ear plugs right now to drown out the sound of a young woman crunching chips and digging into her sandwich bag for them.)

I was diagnosed with significant ADHD 3 years ago, which is probably the root. I found a lot of people online are disturbed by the sounds of eating, so much so that they have made up a name for it: soft sound sensitivity syndrome.

Often in their posts, they mention that they don’t say anything to the person bothering them. I wonder how many of your readers would prefer co-workers not eat so much at their desks?

You would hate me. I am constantly chowing down in my office on something or other. Sometimes my desk looks like a buffet table.

I suspect you've already stumbled on the answer: ear phones. What do other people think?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

mistakes new grads make at work

I like working with recent grads. There's something really fulfilling about watching people as they learn their way around the working world for the first time and start getting the experience that will let them advance professionally. But I've also seen quite a few stumble in similar ways. Some of these are fatal, some just unwise, but all are ways that recent grads unintentionally sabotage themselves at work. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about seven common mistakes I see new grads making on the job. Check it out, and I'd love to hear your own input.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

what to wear to a nonprofit interview

My new pet peeve is becoming people who think that because they're interviewing at a nonprofit, they can dress down for the interview. I've seen too many candidates lately in business casual, which I'm pretty sure they'd never wear for an interview at, say, a bank.

Why are people doing this? Do they think other nonprofit standards are going to be lower too, like performance accountability? They're not. (Or at least they shouldn't be; if anything, they should be higher, given the importance of the work of many nonprofits.)

This is my PSA for the day: If you are interviewing at a nonprofit, you still need to wear a suit.

Monday, October 6, 2008

an ode to the bad managers of my past

I never had a mentor. Once a boss promised to teach me how to manage people, but then she promptly disappeared to "work from home" for weeks on end and was never seen again.

What I had instead were anti-mentors: bosses who were so bad that they unwittingly formed the start of my thinking on management, by providing a perfect model of what not to do.

My first boss was so afraid of offending anyone or making waves that he stood idly by while the organization crumbled around him. About half the staff there did little to no work, and he said nothing about it. He would sometimes complain about people behind their back but he never addressed anything to anyone's face. It was impossible to get warned about anything, let alone fired. One coworker and I used to speculate on how outrageous someone's behavior would have to be before he would be forced to say something to them. At one point, we decided that I could come to work wrapped in a bath towel, as if I'd just stepped out of the shower, and he wouldn't comment on it. We resorted to begging the higher-ups to hire a real manager, but our pleas went nowhere and we eventually left.

Later, I had another boss who openly talked about how she hadn't wanted the promotion that had made her the manager of our department, and it was clear that her strategy was to pretend nothing had changed. Requests from other departments for work from us would sit in her in-box for days because she either didn't want or didn't know how to assign work. Eventually the department that had sent the request would call to check on it, at which point she would assign it to someone who would be forced to drop everything to complete it at the last minute. A co-worker and I used to devise ways to get work done despite her; at one point we installed a work order box outside the department and announced that all incoming jobs had to be requested via a form left in the box, so we could just grab jobs and do them, before they got bottlenecked with our alleged "manager."

I had another boss who brought me in to "fix" problems on the staff and who loved to sit in his office and complain to me about how those problem staffers were holding the organization back. Ironically, he also loved giving flowery speeches about the importance of strong management -- until I told him it was time to start holding those problem staffers accountable and insisting they start getting some results. Then he filibustered for months, coming up with one reason after another why we couldn't take any action, until I finally realized he would never bring himself to make waves. Many years later, long after I left in frustration at his inaction, those problem staffers are still there, their problem behaviors unchanged.

I could go on and on. But the point is this: My bad bosses taught me what eventually became the foundation of my own approach to management, by teaching me what not to do. Once you know what not to do, the path to what you should do becomes remarkably clear.

By working for managers who allowed their desire to be nice to lead them to avoid unpopular/difficult decisions and conversations, I learned how crucial it is to address problems straightforwardly. By working for managers who tolerated shoddy work, I learned the importance of setting a clear and high bar and expecting people to meet it. By working with managers who didn't know how to delegate, I learned how key it is to be hands-on in keeping work moving, including laying out clear expectations about results, checking in on progress, and holding people accountable for their performance. And from various other bad managers, I learned to see and use authority as just one more tool in the toolbox for getting things done; it's not something that should make you nervous or something to lord over others, just something that helps you run things in the way they should be run, and to back up your words with action.

And now that I manage other managers, I make damn sure none of them are going to be the nightmare manager that someone else is writing about someday.

So here's a shout-out to all the bad managers from my past. You put me on the path to my current job and, in the words of the terrible Chicago ballad, you're the inspiration. Thank you!

5 signs you're about to be fired

It's always baffling to me how many people don't realize when they're in danger of being fired, even when the signs are all there. When it finally happens, they're stunned and seem never to have seen it coming. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I give five signs that your job might be in danger. Check it out.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

how does blogging affect job-hunting?

A reader writes:

What is your take on having a blog and how that might affect your career, especially if you are job-hunting?

I blog as a hobby for about five years now. I have a political blog where I often deal with controversial topics and issues and which I sometimes take staunch positions. It is well-written (I don't rant and rave -- this is where I do serious writing and reflection) and I try to be thoughtful in my posts. I also am linked to several nationally-known bloggers and have a growing readership.

My question is: as a hiring manager, what is your take on a potential hire having such a hobby? Would you hold their writings against them -- especially if they deal with controversial political and cultural topics? I make an effort to be anonymous and use a pseudonym but my true identity can easily be found out using a simple Google search. I do not mention any of my employers at all in my blog posts and tend to avoid topics that have to do with my employer's business. That said, I am not sure if that is enough precaution to keep me out of trouble.

Depends on the employer, and depends on how controversial.

Here's where I come down on it (and this is only my personal take, not representative of all employers): If someone is writing about a controversial issue and they're doing it in a thoughtful, calm way, then regardless of which side of the issue they're on, that's fine with me. But if someone is ranting, or so extreme in their views that they're scary (and that's subjective, of course), or just offensive, it's probably a deal-breaker.

Also, if I know about a candidate's blog, it's going to become part of their application package whether they know it or not. I'm going to look at it for evidence of how their writing is, how they use logic, what their judgment is like, and generally who they are -- like a MySpace page, it's definitely not off-limits. This could help or it could hurt, depending on the blog. (Side story: I actually once saw the blog of a candidate who had blogged about her interview process with me. It was well-done and it helped.)

In any case, personally, it's more about the type of thing above than whether or not I object to the particular views the person is espousing. In fact, I would rather not have a staff with identical views anyway.

However, it's a risk. Plenty of employers won't agree with me and if they disagree with your views may hold it against you. To some extent, this is human nature. Some of hiring involves personal chemistry.

Additionally, you need to be prepared for employers to require you to discontinue the blog once you're on the job, or at least give you rules about what you can and can't write about. In some fields you just can't have an outside blog that showcases your individual opinions. For instance, if you work on a political campaign that's moderate and you have a blog where you occasionally display more radical opinions, that's a problem for the campaign and they're going to make you shut it down -- because many people will see it reflecting on them even if it doesn't actually. So if the blog is important to you and you don't want to find yourself choosing between it and your job, it might even be worth asking about before you take an offer.

Anyway, this is a huge topic and we've only scratched the surface. Anyone else want to weigh in?

Friday, October 3, 2008

should I stay or should I go?

A reader writes:

I have been with my company for over four years and was doing well until I went on maternity leave for a year. When I returned, I had a new boss (making me start the cycle of having to prove again my skills and worth) and a new role, which is more strategic than before. But because of my family commitments, especially with the new baby and sleepless nights, I am unable to give 100% to the job.

My current job involves getting very deep into the industry vertical to be able to participate actively in strategy discussions, sometimes with senior management. I am trying my best, I even joined a consulting course. But learning about the nuts and bolts of the industry has been a challenge, and I often sit through meetings with rarely any input. This is making me self-conscious and I often wonder if I am under-performing. My boss has already told me to take industry-related courses because he feels I need to work on this.

He is also sort of a micromanager compared to all my bosses before. He is very knowledgeable but would like me to rise up to his standards and often shoots down my work, which is very much demotivating. He also keeps talking about bringing a person from his previous company who is supposed to be smart, but mentioned that it will not affect my job.

My work in general has been perceived very well with every company I have worked till date (except with my new boss), and I am considered to be pretty good on deadlines and go to any extra ends to get things done. I like my new role but I am not sure if I will be able to perform according to the desired standards and ever please my boss. I am also worried if he will bring this new person in and slowly sidetrack me or fire me. These days, I have really lost my confidence and interest in the job and I am trying for new jobs. What do you suggest? Should I stick to my job or look for a new job?

It's hard to say with limited information, but these things jumped out at me from your letter:
- You feel you haven't been able to give 100% to the job because you have different commitments now.
- You and your boss both feel that you do not have the industry knowledge (at least not yet) to do the deep strategy discussions the job requires.
- You don't like your new boss' management style (and let's face it, that style may be becoming more pronounced because your boss isn't confident in your performance).
- You're losing interest in the role.

Rather than asking whether you should look for a new job, I'd be asking why you should stay. It doesn't sound like you believe this job is a natural fit for you, so why not start looking around for one that is?

We should all want jobs that we'll excel in. It feels crappy to be constantly struggling to succeed in a job, to see a disappointed or concerned boss, to have to worry about being pushed out. Don't stay for the sake of sticking it out; if this isn't right for you -- and I'm defining "right" as a role where you're going to shine, not as a job where you can get by -- start looking for what might be a better a fit. There's no shame in that.

But if you're not ready for that -- and maybe with a new baby you'd rather avoid more upheaval -- a middle ground would be to talk to your boss, and ask for some feedback. How does he think you're doing overall? Does he have confidence that you'll be able to perform at the level he's looking for in time? Best case scenario, his answers to these questions could provide you with some reassurance. Worst case scenario, they at least help you stop having to guess and give you some firmer facts to base your next move on.

Good luck!

Monday, September 29, 2008

should you tell your boss you're job-hunting?

A reader writes:

I have a good relationship with my boss and enjoy my current job and employer, but I’m about to interview for another job that is both a career “step up” and a shorter commute. The organization requires an “assessment” on a Wednesday followed by initial interviews that Friday, which means I would need to schedule time off on both weekdays. Since I haven’t yet had a first interview, it’s not certain whether I’ll be among those chosen to go on to the next round.

My question is: Do I tell my boss the real reason I’ll be requesting time off as a courtesy to her, or do I wait until I find out whether I’m a finalist? If I don’t tell her the full reason for the time off, what do I say? I won’t lie, and I suspect that being vague will tip her off anyhow.

The answer to this is highly dependent on the culture at your workplace and your relationship with your boss.

The standard answer to this -- and the answer for you unless you have concrete reason to believe otherwise -- is that you don't tell your employer that you're job-searching until you have accepted another offer. This is because many employers, once they know you're looking, will begin treating you differently -- for instance, giving you fewer plum assignments or no long-term assignments, curtailing any investments in your training or development, seeing you as disloyal or a short-timer, and in some cases, even letting you go. And after all, you may not get this job, and then you could be stuck in an awkward situation for quite some time.

However, there are some organizations, and some bosses, where this is not the case. (If anyone who works with me is reading this, we're one of them.) I believe that in most cases, smart employers should cultivate an atmosphere where employees who are ready to move on can freely share their plans. Why? For two reasons:

1. When employers do this, they get employees who give them really long notice periods. I've had employees give me as much as eight months notice that they planned to leave! This is fantastic for me as a manager, because it allows me to structure the hiring of their replacement so that the new person starts with a week or two of overlap with the exiting person, which both helps with training and eliminates the vacancy period we'd otherwise have. (And since vacancies cause strain on other employees who have to pick up the extra work, this is good news all around.) When employers penalize employees for giving lots of notice, they guarantee that they will just get the standard two weeks, which leaves the manager scrambling to cover the vacancy and rushing to hire.

2. It's good for morale for employees to know that when they're ready to move on, they won't need to sneak around, and that they can even seek help from the person who may be best equipped to find them their next position -- their current manager. If a good employee comes to me ready to start looking at other options, I will likely try to persuade them to stay -- but if I can't, I will go all out for them as far as helping them network into their next job, giving interview advice, etc. I do this partly because I like helping people professionally (hence, uh, this blog), but also because I believe it is good for my organization to have employees who know that this is how we treat people.

So there's the argument for employers creating an atmosphere where employees know it's safe to speak up when they're job-hunting. But how do you, as an employee, know if your office is one of those?

Pay attention to how your employer has handled other employees who resign. Are people shown the door immediately? Pushed out earlier than they would have otherwise planned to leave? If so, assume the same may happen to you, and give two weeks and nothing more. But if your employer has a track record of accommodating long notice periods, has been grateful to employees who provide long notice, and has generally shown that employees can feel safe being candid about their plans to leave, take your cues from that. Some employers "earn" long notice periods and employees who keep kicking butt through their final day ... and some don't.

Oh, and if you decide you shouldn't risk being candid, the usual options when you have to take time off for an interview are to say you have an "appointment" or "something personal that you need to take care of." If your office is one where they'll push back at something like that, then they deserve being lied to.

how to deal with a micromanager

If you, like many people, feel your boss is a micromanager, head over to my post at U.S. News and World Report today for some advice. (Warning: You may not like the answer.) As always, I'd love your comments, either here or there.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

stuck in my backlog

I am now officially so far behind on answering questions that I have given up all hope of ever catching up. I have added a disclaimer to the sidebar warning that this may happen, yet I still feel strangely like a slacker.

questions from a recent grad

A reader writes:

I am a recent grad, working as a full-time intern in the field of my undergrad major. I couldn't have asked for a more nurturing and empathetic department; they give me semi-challenging jobs, find time to answer my questions, give me many opportunities to take initiative, and really prioritize me to have a meaningful intern experience. However, this was only supposed to be a summer internship, and my manager has already extended my employment to the maximum six months.

He jokes about a permanent position afterward, but, honestly, the long commute is much too draining and I'm not sure whether this is the field I would like to stay in. I wish I had this internship after graduate school because the internship has a lot of potential to become a full-time job offer, with good perks (and great pay). At my life stage right now, I want to explore other fields, such as art or teaching, both of which require time to develop a portfolio or get some professional training.

With that said, I have a series of questions that I hope you could offer your advice for:

1) Is it alright to let my director know I'm looking for other offers after the internship? I have the impression that job hunting is a hush-hush operation. Also, in that case, what are some steps I can take to leave my foot in the door at this agency to come back in maybe... 4 years or so?

2) Should I be looking for a job while I am still working? I have three months left, and from what I can tell, most job opportunities (a lot of really good job opportunities) would probably like the position to start earlier than three months. Do people ever interview, find out the timing isn't right, and then ask to be considered in a month or two?

3) Is it alright to apply for jobs that I might be under-qualified for? Most often, I don't meet the "years of experience" requirement. Looking at the job tasks, I am really up for the challenge; I could do a good job! Yet, with work, I can't find enough time to write so many cover letters, especially if I'm just under-qualified anyway.

4) Recently, my design work and all my back ups either got lost during moving or during liquid mishaps. Thus, though I am interested in working in design jobs, I have no portfolio. I'm taking a class right now to start getting some work samples, but was wondering whether you had any experience in this field and had any advice (since it takes a very long time to develop a portfolio).

5) Also, the experience I have that I feel demonstrates my skills and passions the most, such as leading groups, marketing events, planning campus art exhibits, and mentoring, all fall under one organization... that is religiously affiliated. Moreover, it is volunteer work. I am comfortable with putting the word "Christian" into my resume, but don't want to be screened for it. What is your advice?

5) I had the privilege of working at two solid institutions during college. Some acquaintances have asked, on a number of occasions, to help give them a reference for a full-time job. I'm not sure how this networking really works. Do I just email my manager and tell them, "Hey, I have a friend who wants to work here. She's a good worker"?

Okay, let's take these one at a time.

1. Because your director knows that the internship has a definite ending date, it's absolutely okay to him know you're job-hunting. It would be odd if you weren't (see #2 below), and he knows that. And as far as keeping the door open to come back at some point, you should let him know that you love the organization, are grateful for the experience they've given you, and would love to come back some day. And when you leave, make sure you keep in touch with him; email him periodically to check in and let him know what you're doing.

2. Yes, you should definitely be looking for a job while you're still working! If you have three months left, this is a good time to start. You should assume that job-hunting will take a while; even once you get an interview, the process can take some time -- I'm talking months at some places, although ideally only weeks -- so three months ahead would be completely normal. The absolute worst that can happen if you start too early is that you get an offer way too early and turn it down; the worst that can happen if you start too late is that you end up unemployed with no income. You're better off risking the former.

3. Regarding being under-qualified and applying anyway: Job advertisement are like wish lists. They will look at people who don't perfectly match all their requirements. Within reason, of course -- if they're asking for 10 years of experience and you have one, that's too much of a jump. But if the postings says four years of experience and you have two, and you think you could do the job, apply anyway.

4. Is there any way to reassemble your portfolio? Can you get in touch with others who might have samples of your work? If not, is it feasible to simply create some samples on your own, just so that you have something to show people?

5. I wouldn't worry too much about having a religiously affiliated organization on your resume. Some people will like it, and most won't care. If you run into the rare person who has an issue with it, you don't want to work for them anyway. (And I say this as a non-religious person.)

6. Last, if a friend asks you to recommend them for a position, first make sure that you really want to recommend them. Remember, when you recommend someone, your own reputation is at stake. So only recommend people if you have a solid opinion of their professional abilities. If you don't, or if you don't know anything about their professional abilities, you can always just pass on their application to your manager with a note saying something like, "I wanted to pass this on to you, but I should note that I don't know her well enough to give you a meaningful recommendation." You don't want to be the person who recommended the guy who embezzled from the company.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck!