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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?