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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

using jealousy to push a company to make an offer

A reader writes:

Three weeks ago, I interviewed for a job with a major media company. This was/is a dream job . I was interviewed by HR, and after the interview I was taken to a second interview on the same day with my potential supervisor. I believed both interviews went well and was even given an homework assignment to test my skills and qualifications.When I got home later that day, I sent the HR person a thank you note but not my potential supervisor. Was this a mistake?

Four days later, I turned in my assignment to my potential supervisor but I did not receive a confirmation email from him stating that the assignment was received. I wrote a follow-up email asking for confirmation two days later. My letter was a formal, succinct letter, nothing unusual. I felt it I should be formal with my potential supervisor because we are not peers, so addressing him by his first name was a no-no.

Within minutes of my email, I received this note from him: "Received. You will hear from us shortly." No salutations, no closing, just those words.

This email was received about two weeks ago. Since then I have spoken to my references and was told by all of them that no one contacted them about me. These are references from individuals whom I trust to tell me the truth, individuals who are forthright and are great communicators.

A few days ago, I accepted a non-paying position at a company owned by a friend. The position is similar to the one I interviewed for. Although I accepted this job, I am still interested and enthusiastic about working with the media company. I want to show them that I am in demand as well as a valuable candidate. Also: As the job duties with the other company amounts to something that is part-time and unpaid, in the short term, I am hoping that by informing them of my new circumstances, they will give me an answer about the job I interviewed for. Is this crazy?

In informing them of my new situation, I do not want to communicate to them that I am impatient or desperate ( I really am) so what do I do? Should I forget this experience and move on or should I forge ahead and gamble? If I gamble, how do I inform them that I am doing the same thing somewhere else but am still interested in working them? I do not want to communicate that I am unreliable or unfaithful. Please advise.

1. I wouldn't say that only sending a thank-you note to the HR rep and not the hiring manager was a mistake per se, but it would be better to send it to both of them. Of the two, if you were only going to send one, I'd send it to the hiring manager, as he has more influence at this stage over whether you're hired. But that's unlikely to make or break you so you really shouldn't worry too much about it -- although it's not too late to send a follow-up note now.

2. His note confirming receipt of your exercise was a bit brusque, but I wouldn't read anything into that, other than that he's busy.

3. Now as for your major question, whether to tell them that you've accepted a non-paying position: No. For several reasons:

a. First, unless you're very specific that it's short-term and the employer is okay with you leaving at any time, they'll assume you're now committed elsewhere. I would be very hesitant to hire a candidate who just accepted a different position, as her willingness to screw over that employer would be a huge negative. You can explain the situation of course, but then they're just going to wonder why you're telling them at all.

b. The fact that it's non-paying may potentially devalue you in their eyes. I'm not saying it should, but it could. I don't see enough benefit to justify that risk.

c. You're really just looking for ways to push them into action, right? This won't do it. There are only two ways to push a prospective employer into action, and neither of them are guaranteed:

- You can mention that you have another offer and a deadline for answering it. (This is not something you should lie about, since they may just tell you they can't meet your deadline and so you should take it -- and then you're out of the running with them. So you should only do this if it's true.)

- You can contact the hiring manager, reiterate your strong interest, and ask for a timeline. This may or may not get them moving, but it's really all you can do.

(Wow, check out this outline format I used above. The numbers, the letters, the dashes...)

Meanwhile, continue your job search. Hopefully you'll hear from this company with good news, but you can't plan around that. You've got to keep searching until you have an offer in hand. Good luck!

Monday, June 29, 2009

why do you sound surprised when I call you for our scheduled phone interview?

There's a weird behavior going around, and I have to say, I think I've only seen it in people under 30.

We have a specific time scheduled for a phone interview. I call you at that exact time, precisely on the dot because I'm neurotic that way.

You answer after quite a few rings and sound like you're genuinely curious to hear who might be on the other end.

I identify myself and you say something like "Oh ... hi" with a distinct tone in your voice that really sounds like you weren't fully prepared to hear me on the other end of the phone.

More experienced candidates don't do this. Good interview or bad, they generally at least sound prepared from the minute they answer the phone.

Why are younger candidates doing this? It's as if they think it's some kind of charade where we pretend I just happen to be calling them unexpectedly. And it is very strange.

the #1 question your resume should answer

The vast majority of resumes I see read like a series of job descriptions, listing duties and responsibilities at each position the job applicant has held.

But resumes that stand out do something very different. Rather than just providing the job description, for each position they instead answer the question: What did you accomplish in this job that someone else wouldn't have?

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I explain how to do it. Please check it out!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

company dragging its feet on reference-checking?

A reader writes:

I am trying to find out how long, on average, it would take for a company to check my three references they requested. I have recently checked in with all my references and none has heard anything from that company (no call, email, any contact). It's been three weeks since I forwarded their details to the new employer.

To make things even more frustrating, when asked for an update, the person responsible for checking the references, who is also the person who interviewed me, indicated she has not managed to contact "all my references," implying that they did some. I further heard through the grapevine that she indicated in a meeting with the existing team staff, including the hiring manager, that the "reference" they did do was "lukewarm."

I am totally confused. It is obvious that she did not want me hired, but she could easily have done that by just saying my interview was not that great. What do you make of this?

It certainly doesn't take three weeks to check three references, if you're at all motivated to do it. It usually takes a day or two to check references, assuming the references return your calls quickly (and if they don't, that itself can say something).

There are a few possibilities of what's going on here:

1. The person in charge of checking references is lazy and not doing her job.
2. The person in charge of checking references (and/or the rest of the hiring team) isn't that interested in hiring you, but isn't competent enough to just tell you that straightforwardly.
3. Some or all of your references actually were contacted but since they aren't giving you a great reference are finding it easier to tell you that they weren't, rather than deal with the uncomfortable situation of explaining that they didn't have great things to say.

You can't fully control any of these situations, but you can mitigate all of them. Here's what you should do: Email the hiring manager (not the person in charge of checking your references) and ask for a status update. Mention that your references all told you that they have not yet been contacted, and politely ask what sort of timeline the company is working with, both for when your references might be contacted and when you should expect a decision.

Also, are you very sure that all your references will speak glowingly of you? If you have any doubt at all, you should check in with them and make sure these are the correct choices to offer up as references. Being polite and non-defensive, of course, make it clear that you would never want to influence a reference they give for you, but that you'd also rather not supply references who don't feel they can speak glowingly toward your work. Assure them that if they don't feel they're best suited to serve as a reference for you, they can simply let you know that, without any hard feelings. Make it easy for them to opt out. This is a good thing to do with your references as a matter of course, not just in situations like this.

Good luck!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

is it strange to email a job offer?

A reader writes:

I had an interesting experience with a company a few weeks ago that I felt handled the job interviewing process a bit sloppily, something a lot friends who are also unemployed and interviewing are noticing these days.

The interview with the hiring manager went well. In fact, the following day I got a voicemail from HR recruiter asking for references. I knew that that the manager wanted to make a decision quickly (recruiter told me), but I was kind of surprised that there were no additional rounds of interviews, since the team consisted of 10+ people.

This is kind of a red flag for me since I’d like to know more about my future peers and the company culture. Also on their end, is the hiring decision based on one person only?
Seem strange?

In addition, based on a couple of incidences, I knew the HR person was either lazy or extremely busy. But she emailed me the job offer later that week. No phone call that one was even being extended to me! It was a day or two before I realized it was sitting in my inbox. I should note that email was our main way of communicating prior to this.

Is this the norm for companies these days -- just email the job offer? I believe a verbal conversation or voice mail that one is coming is still a MUST. As a candidate, you want to hear the enthusiasm and sales pitch of a job offer.

What are your thoughts on my scenario? Should I hold this against the company?

An emailed job offer is a bad idea for a lot of reasons -- you have no way of knowing the email was received, for one thing. And you want to hear the candidate's reaction and get a sense of where they're at with it. And you want to take that opportunity to express your enthusiasm for them. It's an odd choice.

But is it a red flag? I'm not sure; it could just indicate an inexperienced or lazy HR rep, or an incredibly email-centric company. What do others think?

On the issue of there not being additional rounds of interviews and the decision being made just by one person: No, that's not strange (assuming your one lone interview wasn't just 15 minutes or something). Lots of employers do it that way. But if you feel you don't have enough information to make a decision on the offer, now's the time to ask your questions. Ask about the culture and anything else you're wondering about. And if you really want to, you can certainly ask if you can meet or talk with some of the others you'd be working with. If the company balks at that, that's the red flag.

Oh, and by the way -- call the hiring manager to talk over the offer, not the HR rep. You're clearly not getting a great feeling from the HR rep, and the hiring manager's the one you're going to be working with anyway. Good luck!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

should I mention a job I was fired from after 6 weeks?

A reader writes:

I have a question for you regarding being fired. The quick setup is that after several years in my profession, I accepted a management position at an expanding organization. After 6 weeks, I was fired for "not fitting in." The meeting where I was fired was the first and only indication I received from my manager that my performance was anything other than exactly what he wanted.

I am not sure if I should put this position on my resume. I am actually proud of the work I did in that job but it's probably unwise to draw attention to the fact that I was only there 6 weeks. I understand that if I had to complete a job application where I verify all information to be complete, I would include it, but what do you think about putting the position on a resume? Would a resume that showed a six week position as the most recent position pass your initial scan of resumes?

Don't include it.

Here's what goes through my mind when I see a six-week stint: "Is this ... six weeks? Was she fired? Did she quit before even giving it a chance? Why is this even on her resume?"

If the rest of the application is good, this wouldn't stop me from doing a phone interview, but it would absolutely be one of the questions I'd ask early on. And so then we're talking about you being fired, which isn't something insurmountable, but it's really not worth taking the hit when you could have avoided the whole conversation and concerns it raises. It's like deliberately putting a typo on your resume -- there's nothing good that's going to come of it.

Also, six weeks isn't long enough to have meaningful accomplishments of the sort that belong on a resume anyway. So there's nothing here to be gained. Don't include it.

which office should I pick?

A reader writes:

We’re moving our offices, and I have been given a nice sunny one near my boss. However, I can have any office I want. Should I give up this office so I can be closer to my other colleagues, as well as nearer to the action? Or should I remain in the nice office, nearer the boss but out of the loop?

I don't think there's a right answer here. It depends on: what office you like better, whether being near your coworkers has any impact or is important to you, and whether being near your boss has any impact or is important to you. Personally, I'd take the nice office and find other ways to stay in the loop, but that's 100% personal preference, based on a fondness for nice things.

That was easy.

Monday, June 22, 2009

how to get a reputation for credibility

One of the most important types of capital you can build at work is a reputation for being highly credible. But it takes time to build it, and you can significantly undermine it through even a single bad move. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about how you can build unshakable credibility. Please check it out!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

helping an employee with bad communication skills

A reader writes:

Like you, I work at a nonprofit. I am executive director and have a staff of two great employees.

I have a new employee who always uses a big word when a smaller word would do. I would not say a word except that it sometimes makes it hard to understand what she is trying to ask or tell you, because the larger word is not always the right word. For example, when she left today she told me she would finalize something Monday instead of finish it. I am afraid that it also confuses people when she is talking to them on the phone and explaining how our main program works. It's a concept a lot of people have a hard time grasping anyway.

The touchy thing is how to get her to be more brief and use shorter words when talking to people on the phone. I do not hear her phone calls unless I happen to walk up to her cubicle as she is talking on the phone, but hear enough to know that she uses large words on the phone as well as in conversation and uses a lot more words than necessary to explain things. It has to confuse people she talks to because it confuses me. Today I walked up as she told one of our board members I had asked her to call and retrieve a credit card number we can use to guarantee a hotel reservation for a conference. I guess one example of always using a larger word would be to say individual rather than person.

I think she may have grown up around a good many country people who did not speak properly and is trying to overcompensate. She is a college graduate. Besides the fact that it is sometimes hard for me to understand what she is asking or telling me, I think it may hold back her career in the long run. We deal with members of the bar and it does help to speak well.

She rarely needs to write many letters that I do not sign before I can correct them and provide feedback because I write my own letters. However, I have been copied on a couple of her emails and they are not clear at all. I was going to tell her that her writing skills are a weakness and send her to a business writing community education class at a local college. I am not old but am amazed at the lack of writing skills people just a few years younger than me lack.

The trick is how to say something without sounding snooty. I grew up in a town smaller than the town she is from so am not coming at this from the perspective of a city person. I have stopped her sometimes when she has said, "I had went" instead of "I went or I had gone" and asked her what her English teacher would say about that in a lighthearted manner while saying that my teacher used to get me all the time for saying ain't. She is very sweet and a hard worker. I just do not know how to address this without sounding overly picky. I may be overly picky though.

Hmmm. Actually, the examples you gave ("finalize" rather "finish" and "retrieve" rather than "get") don't seem all that egregious. "Individual" rather than "person" is a pet peeve of mine, but I'm just not sure you've got a major problem on your hands in this area, unless the problem is much worse than these examples imply.

However, since you said that you often have trouble understanding what she means, I'm going to assume that the problem is worse than these examples imply. So I'd address it straightforwardly, by saying something like, "I've noticed that you sometimes struggle to communicate what you want to say concisely and clearly, and sometimes it can lead to people being confused about what you're telling them. For instance, I've noticed you tend to pick bigger words when a simpler one might get the point across better. And I'd also like to see you be more vigilant about using correct grammar, in order to present a more professional image to the people we work with. You have lots of potential here, but this is something we need to work on fixing because it's something that could keep you from accomplishing all you otherwise could."

Sending her to a business writing class could help things. And since you've noticed she has trouble clearly describing how your program works, and that's something really important that she needs to be able to communicate clearly, work with her directly on that one -- helping her to come up with a clear, concise description that she can use every time she needs to answer that question.

I don't think you need to worry about this being snooty unless you're secretly feeling snooty about it (in which case it may come across). Instead, you should see this as feedback like any other, and simply be straightforward and direct in giving it. Good luck!

Friday, June 19, 2009

no, I will not

No, I will not write your resume objective for you. If you don't know your objective, I certainly don't, and anyway, I don't even believe in resume objectives.

No, I will not give you the answer for your school paper. You should probably do some research.

No, I will not critique your resume for you. People charge hundreds of dollars to do that. (Actually, I do sometimes do this for people who tell me an interesting or compelling story. But not as a rule.)

No, I will not promote your company's product or news release. Really?

Stop asking me those things.

I will do the following: tell you what your manager is probably thinking, tell you if your manager sucks, tell you if you sound like you're the one who sucks, tell you how to handle your annoying coworker, tell you whether or not you really want that job, and so forth. That's pretty much all.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

would you fire this woman?

Politico has an incredible account today of a congressional staffer who freaked out on someone she didn't know who called her "Liz" instead of "Elizabeth" in an email. And by freaked out, I mean had a 19-email exchange with her, lambasting her for the mistake, when the person was just seeking a meeting for her boss.

You can read the whole exchange over there, and it's pretty amazing. The other person keeps apologizing and Elizabeth keeps attacking.

What do you think? Would you fire this woman?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

when you manage a bad manager

A reader writes:

I own a beauty supply business. My problem is that the manager I've hired doesn't seem to be doing a good job with managing the employees. I work on his days off and admit that the workers are a bit lazy. When I do tell them what it is they have to do, they do it. I don't really have a problem with them. It seems that he has a problem telling them what to do. I think it has to do with his personality. He seems to complain but then doesn't do anything about it. Maybe he doesn't know what to do. If he just tells them what to do, they would do it. He expects them to just know what to do. Isn't his job to "manage" them? How do I tell him that that's what it is he needs to do? He complains to me about them. What does he expect me to do? I can't just fire them because he doesn't know how to handle them. There will never be a good employee because he'll never know how to manage anyone. What should I do?

Why did you hire him? Ideally, when you're hiring a manager, you're looking for someone with a track record of successful, effective management, and someone whose philosophy on management aligns with your own. But you wouldn't be the first person to have hired a manager because you liked him or because he had experience doing the work he'd be overseeing (without realizing that doing the work is different from managing others in doing the work).

So what to do now? At the core, a manager is there to get things done -- to get results. This guy sounds like he's failing at his job. Your first step is to talk with him candidly about what a successful performance would look like from him and how's he's falling short of that bar. Make it clear exactly what you need to see change.

Be wary, though, of sending him to the opposite extreme -- when put on notice that he's not doing a good job, he might start behaving like a real jerk to your staff, since he might think that's the only way to get them to work. And that's not acceptable either -- he's not allowed to be a wimp and he's not allowed to be a tyrant. So you'll want to get a sense from him of what he's going to start doing differently, and you'll want to observe it in action yourself to make sure he's being assertive without being a jerk.

But realistically, be prepared for the possibility that this guy isn't the right man for the job. You might end up needing to hire a manager who knows how to manage, and who doesn't think his recourse is to just complain to you when his staff isn't doing their work.

And by the way, if you're unsure what specific behaviors he should be using as a good manager, here's a very basic list of what any manager should be achieving. But more helpful will be to read one of the many good books out there on how to manage well. It'll help you make your assessment of whether or not he's giving you the performance you need.

Monday, June 15, 2009

how the recession has changed hiring - for employers

Everyone knows how the recession has impacted job seekers -- there are fewer jobs and lots more competition -- but I haven't seen anyone talking about how it's impacted hiring on the employer's side.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I describe how the economy has changed the experience of conducting hiring. Please check it out and leave your own comments over there!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

when professional contacts contact you via Facebook and other personal sites

A reader writes:

I work for a mobile company which is the market leader in what we do. I have been working in India, and has now been working out of the global head office for the past three years. I work on HR projects which have nothing to do with recruitment in either the country that I live in, or my home country.

I have a corporate LinkedIn account - the company is paying for it - and hence I use it as a work tool and connect to whomever sends me an invite. However, this has resulted in people sending me friend requests in facebook ( which I decline, I only add close friends or close colleagues in facebook and I give them the reason for declining) and then calling me up and demanding I find them a job. Some of them got my mobile number from some mutual friends under the pretext of wanting career advice from me, while some never told me how they got my mobile number. Some try to add me to gtalk and then chat without any context or reason. I have blocked the gtalk baiters after politely explaining to them how I do not mix my professional and personal life, but some were miffed that I did not want to add them as friends.

I also get group emails for various HR Services and recruitment brochures from various institutes from my home country and other parts of the world. If I get a email in my office ID or LinkedIn profile, I forward it to the right person in my organization. When I get them at my personal ID, I often mark them as spam - especially the "surveys," which are often just a ploy to get the email address, office address and mobile numbers of some of the highly placed people in the organization.

I understand that these are difficult times, but I don't want my personal life to be encroched upon. My LinkedIn profile clearly requests all professional requests should be sent via my office email or LinkedIn account. It also explains where I am working now, and what I am doing. People who would take two minutes to read my profile will not be sending me these emails.

Is it ok to block / mark as spam these people, who do not do me the common courtesy of reading up a bit about my work before generically spamming me? I had to block a few men in the past week on gtalk, and got a bunch of spam emails. I am at my wits end.

Different people use social networking tools differently. Some people have no barrier at all between professional and personal contacts, and freely intermingle their work and personal personas on Facebook, etc. Other people don't. Because there are no clear guidelines or commonly accepted mores, you're going to have people attempt to cross this boundary in ways you don't like.

But you're entitled to enforce whatever boundaries you want. I'd start by removing your gmail and other personal contact info from your LinkedIn profile. (I assume that's how people are getting it.) If you put it there, it's not unreasonable that people think they can use it, so don't offer it up.

From there, of course you don't need to "friend" people on Facebook who you don't feel you know. And you can set your privacy settings so that people you don't approve don't see much, or any, of your profile. You can do this with or without explanation -- an explanation will likely irk at least some people (rightly or wrongly), so it may be easier/kinder to do it without one.

As for companies that are sending you work-related advertisements on your personal email, you're as free to ignore this as you are junk mail you receive at home. But again, you might be better off short-circuiting the problem by not making your personal email address available to those you only want to interact with in your professional sphere.

Friday, June 12, 2009

dropping off your resume in person

A reader writes:

What type of cover letter should you write to go with your resume when you are going to drop off your resume at several different companies? I have several years experience in the loan processing field and want to go to companies in this field and ask if it is ok to leave my resume with them. I am not sure if this is a good way to get a job as I have never had to do this before, but I am hoping it will help me in my pursuit of finding a job.

Well, to answer your question before I rant about what I want to rant about, use the exact same sort of cover letter that you'd use if you were applying any other way.

Now that that's out of the way: I really don't recommend this tactic at all. Most companies include specific instructions about how they want you to apply, and it's pretty unlikely that "in person" is included. Plus, many companies only accept resumes electronically because they get put into an electronic screening system. Third, this is unnecessarily gimmicky; save yourself the time, apply online, and if you're a strong candidate, they'll contact you.

Yes, yes, everyone has heard a story about someone who went by to drop off their resume in person and got interviewed and hired on the spot. It's still, in general, not a good use of your time. (Everyone has also heard the story about the guy who sent a shoe in with his application, asking to "get a foot in the door." That guy is a cheeseball. Don't be him. Don't be any of these urban legends.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

accepted job offer but still waiting to hear on another

A reader writes:

I was contacted by Firm A, a place that I've freelanced with in the past, and have always been on excellent terms. They flew me out twice, and I interviewed with over 15 people and to a person felt a very good connection and fit. But I totally understand that they may have found a stronger candidate, of course in this economy.

I received an offer from another agency, Firm B, and informed Firm A of the pending offer in hopes of expediting their process. I expressly said that I understand they have to make a decision that is best for their business, and that I didn't expect them to short-change that process. The recruiting manager said that she doesn't want me to lose an offer in hand, but that she wanted to continue the process, they just haven't made a decision (yes, they've narrowed the field to 3 finalists, I'm one of them). She said she would get back to me early last week.

At this point I've accepted the offer from Firm B. I had already exhausted the week waiting time they gave me, so felt compelled to accept their offer.

Some of my mentors have advised me that Firm B, while being a low offer at first, has more potential. They've agreed to all near-term future career progression expectations, which is key. If, and this is a big if, Firm A does make an offer, I understand that I would be burning bridges with Firm B (big time) but Firm A is in my hometown and the place where I would eventually like to spend a good chunk of my career. What would be your advice? I assume that at this point I'm not Firm A's first choice and that they're trying to nail down their first choice before they make any other moves.

My main question at this point is I should give up any hope of Firm A extending an offer this time around. I think it's just the usual bruised ego taking control and wondering how Firm A could have found a better candidate, and also not contact me with either a yes or no.

There are two different issues here: Can you back out of a job offer you've already accepted, and what's going on with Firm A?

Backing out of a job offer you've already accepted is something you can do, but shouldn't do. You'll be screwing over that company; by now, they have turned loose their other candidates, possibly invested money in preparing for you, and may need to start the hiring process all over again with those back-up candidates gone. And you can't isolate the damage to your reputation; not only do people talk, but people have a way of popping up again, at other companies you may want to work for. Seriously, don't do it.

Besides, Company A isn't treating you like a candidate they particularly want anyway. If a candidate who I'm very interested in tells me that they have another job offer, I get them a solid answer within their timeframe. Period. Even if that answer is just, "You know, we're interested in you, but we're just not going to be ready to make an offer for a few more weeks. I understand if that means we may lose you as a candidate." That's the answer that candidates get when they're good, but not so overwhelmingly good that I'm willing to choose them right now, without considering others first. And it sounds like that's basically what Company A is trying to tell you, but without the courtesy of saying it outright.

And the fact that she said she'd get back to you last week and then didn't -- especially knowing that you have another offer? That says that the only way you're getting an offer from these people is if their other choice(s) fall through. And maybe not even then, given how cowardly so many employers are about just telling people they've been rejected.

Stick with the employer who really wants you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

new boss may face resentment from old employee

A reader writes:

I’m starting a new office management position where I will be “the boss.” My new boss wants a clear cut idea of how I will be walking in and starting off. According to my new boss, one of the people working there may have some resentment toward me – I am replacing a person who has been her boss, mentor and friend for a number of years. My replacing this person will probably have a negative impact on her. I will be taking the place of someone she cares about.

My approach to a new situation is to feel out where she is coming from and how well she’ll work with me. I will rely on her pretty heavily initially and I would prefer a team effort – however, my boss wants to know in the next couple of days what exactly I will do to move this situation forward quickly and efficiently.

Well, first of all, I wouldn't come in assuming that's she going to be resentful. I'd give her the benefit of the doubt that she's going to act professionally. At the same time, however, it's good to be sensitive to the possibility that you will indeed encounter resentment from her and be clear in your own head -- and aligned with your new boss -- about how you'll handle it if that happens.

Regarding being clear on that: Resenting you for replacing someone she was close to isn't something you should coddle her on. She's expected to do her job professionally, respect the management structures in place (that's you), and not behave in ways that are detrimental to her performance, your ability to manage her effectively, or the general cohesiveness of the staff.

But I would start out handling her just like anyone else: Be friendly, get to know her, listen to her ideas and concerns, and assume she'll behave like an adult. If she doesn't, I'd address it with her immediately -- directly and firmly explain what your expectations are for her behavior, how she's falling short, and what needs to change. If you have to address it a second time, make it clear that her success in her job depends on her meeting the bar you've laid out. And mean what you say.

The fact that your new boss is asking you for a "plan" for this person before you've even started and encountered a problem makes me think that one or both of these is true: either (a) this person is a known nightmare, in which case you'll need to require her to change quickly or leave, or (b) your new boss isn't committed to holding people accountable for their behavior and thus is fretting over this far more than he/she needs to, since handling a situation like this should be pretty straightforward, if you've got a management structure willing to back up their words with action. I'm hoping it's not (b).

a new home for the Carnival of HR

As many of you know, the Carnival of HR was started by the Evil HR Lady in February 2007 and quickly grew into a popular compilation of recent posts from the best of the HR and management blogging community. In September of last year, I became its temporary foster parent. And now we're turning it over to its new, hopefully permanent home -- with the wonderful Shauna Moerke of HR Minion, who has graciously agreed to take on the responsibility of its care and feeding.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

do not become your friend's boss

Thinking about hiring a friend to work for you, or thinking about taking a job where your friend would be your boss? Think carefully before you do it.

Contrary to what nearly everyone thinks when they’re first considering it, it’s really hard, and very few people come out of it with their friendship intact. For some reason, no one believes this at the beginning. Everyone thinks it will be different for them. But it rarely is.

Over at U.S. News & World Report this week, I wrote about 7 reasons you won't want to manage a friend. Check it out, leave comments over there, and consider yourself warned.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

how to explain previous boss was demented?

A reader writes:

My last job was really successful and exciting and I would love to talk about it at length with future employers since I think it's very interesting and highlights a lot of my strengths. I started as an unpaid intern and was promoted to paid assistant within two months. I had a massive amount of responsibility as it was only me, my boss (the owner), and a couple part-timers and interns. In fact, I can honestly say that I ran the office singlehandedly when the boss had a personal emergency that caused her to be out of town for five weeks. All the bills got paid, all the clients were taken care of, I cleaned the office, and I rounded up some new business, all on my own.

The problem is with the reference. My boss has undiagnosed dementia. She has eight out of ten of these symptoms. I have a family member with Alzheimer's and what those symptoms don't really go into detail about is that a person with dementia, especially early-stages, can be really paranoid, angry, and lashes out. My boss was always "eccentric," in fact, everyone I spoke to said that the mark of a good assistant to this woman wasn't any progress in trying to streamline or organize her business in any way, but merely to survive her daily abuse and mercurial moods and whims.

However, after she got back from her emergency, she sweetly told me that she had to let me go because her business was suffering terribly. I asked if there was any feedback or any problems with my performance and she said that no, she loved me and would give me a glowing reference. At first I was ecstatic. I would make way more money in any other job and frankly, it was like I'd suddenly been released from a terrible prison camp. We emailed once or twice over the next couple weeks, when I got two painful surprises:
1. I had been replaced with a paid assistant (i.e., "secretly" fired, I guess).
2. I asked her for that reference and she sent an email that said, essentially, "how dare you ask me for help after all that you did!" along with some personal insults.

I know as well as I can (my personal experience, and asking others who worked with me) that I worked my butt off and I didn't hide dead fish in her office or anything like that when I left that would warrant such anger. My best guess is that this is like my relative with Alzheimer's. She'll accuse other family members of "stealing from her" when they merely pay her utilities, etc. I think that instead of being happy that I took care of the office in her time of need, the experience terrified her, and anything I had moved was stolen, any bills she later forgot to pay was actually something I had messed up, contracts that disappeared into her hoarder apartment I had probably taken away, I stole clients.....I really have no idea since she won't elaborate. I sent her a long apologetic email to that end, but no answer.

The best solution I can come up with is to allude to "difficult working conditions" in my applications, use my coworkers as references, and if I get to the interview stage, plainly state that my old boss has dementia. I can't help but thinking that some future employers may not believe me and that this is hurting my career tremendously. Any ideas?

I think your plan is the right one to use, up until the point where you mention dementia. I wouldn't mention the dementia -- because, no matter how confident you are in your diagnosis, it's your diagnosis, not an official one, and -- when you're talking to people who don't know you and thus don't know that you're not in the habit of throwing around such terms lightly -- it could end up sounding like you're being pejorative or overstating the situation.

But fortunately, you don't need to specify that your boss was suffering from dementia in order to make the basic point you'll need to make to prospective employers if they ask for a reference from her -- which is that your boss promoted you and promised you a glowing reference when she laid you off for financial reasons, but was extremely mercurial and since you left has been freezing you out, but that your coworkers can vouch both for your work and for the difficult temper of the boss.

By the way, any chance you have got a written performance evaluation while you were there? If so, you could also offer up a copy of it to demonstrate that it wasn't until you left that your boss changed her tune.

By the way, speaking of terrible, crazy bosses, I highly recommend this two-part horror/comedy from Radiant Veracity: The Devil Really Does Wear Prada and Part Two.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

boss forces coworkers to all share an email account (really)

A reader writes:

Four of us share a gmail address at our small nonprofit. We all work remotely and meet face to face once a month. We label individual mail by name with the gmail folder system. The director encourages staff to read each other's gmail.

The rationale for this system is that as we work remotely it allows us to keep abreast of each other's business. As you may have surmised, the director is the only one who reads all emails and comments not only on pending work, but timeliness, and content of employee correspondence.

The staff would prefer individual email, but are unable to get around this impasse.

This is the one of the weirder practices I've ever heard of. Really?

Your manager is all of the following: a control freak, an ass, a snoop, and a bad manager.

And he needs to learn more appropriate ways of overseeing work so that he doesn't have to rummage around in people's email. I would bet a substantial amount of money that this isn't the only way in which he's managing poorly; you don't do something like this if you're managing effectively in other areas.

Of course, it's often very difficult to deal with an ass when he's in charge of you. I suggest that you and your coworkers talk to him as a group and tell him that the current system is inefficient for all of you and that you're going to set up individual email accounts like the rest of the world.

There are plenty of other ways for you to "stay abreast of each other's work." Set up some shared Google documents or something. You can't work effectively when someone is micromanaging every aspect of your communications with others.

Now, will he go for it? Maybe not. But your best bet is to approach him as a group and frame it as something that's impeding your effectiveness and efficiency.

Screw this guy though. I hate him, just from your seven sentences.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

how the hiring process works on the employer's side

A couple of people have asked about this recently, so I've put together a description of how the hiring process works on my side. Keep in mind that this is just how I do it -- other hiring managers do it differently, and larger companies often automate the early stages of this.

1. A job is posted and applications start coming in. The number of applications we get varies depending on the position, but it's unusual to get fewer than 100 for any job. For some types of jobs, we'll often get 200 to 400. (That's most often the case with jobs that don't require a specific type of experience, but just require being generally smart and competent. And once when I advertised for a writer, I got close to 500; apparently everyone wants to get paid to write.)

2. The applications get printed out and come to me in hard copy, thanks to someone fabulous who helps me with hiring, because I like to be able to write notes on them. I may be alone in doing that; a lot of people do it electronically at this stage.

3. I do an initial screen, which means I scan the cover letter and scan the resume. Often this initial scan is as short as 45 seconds, because on many, many applications it's immediately clear that the person doesn't have the experience or skill set I'm looking for. Partly this is because of people who are applying to every job they see, and partly it's because of people either not believing or not paying attention to the job requirements. I use some flexibility here; I'm definitely not 100% rigid about sticking to the listed qualifications, but I'm only willing to deviate so far, since I listed them for a reason.

4. Then I'm left with the group who didn't get immediately discarded in the initial scan. Now I look at each of these more closely. I read every word of the cover letter this time and really scrutinize the resume. As a result, some more people get cut.

5. The group remaining is the candidate pool who I'm going to interact with. This group generally gets asked to submit a writing sample, do a written exercise, or provide some other sort of supplemental material relevant to the position. (Many places don't do this at all, and many places that do do it after the interview. I do it at this stage because I've found it's hugely helpful in identifying the strongest matches early on.)

6. Now it's on to phone interviews, for the best candidates who made it through after the last step. I usually do anywhere from 8 to 15 phone interviews for a position. These are pretty short -- 15-20 minutes (or shorter if I realize while we're talking that the candidate isn't right), and they're just to gather more information about the candidate, including whether or not she's crazy. A lot of people get cut at this stage, because once you get on the phone with someone, you often quickly discover it's not a good match -- either because (a) once they start talking about the details of their experience, you discover it isn't quite what you need, or (b) they take themselves out of the running through their behavior, as described here.

I make lots of notes at this stage, some of them weirdly enthusiastic. When I like a candidate, I've been known to excitedly write "yes! yes!" on her resume. If there were a hiring manager version of writing "Mrs. Brad Pitt" like a schoolgirl, with a heart over the "i," this would be it.

7. Now that I'm done with phone interviews, I figure out who the finalist candidates are, and those are the ones I bring in for in-person interviews. I generally want to bring in four or five people.

And you know the rest. There are interviews, reference-checks, a job offer is made, rejections are sent, blah blah blah. But that's what it looks like on the inside, at least for me.

What about you guys, those of you who hire? How different are we?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

graduated a year ago, still can't get hired

A reader writes:

I graduated from college last spring in June of 2008 and have been searching for employment since then but unfortunately I haven't been able to find a job. I have even looked at minimum wage jobs outside of my field as a dishwasher, custodian, painter etc. I was in competition for those jobs with people who were laid off with mba's and regular blue collar workers. It was a rather interesting experience, almost like something out of a twilight zone episode.

The advice I've continually gotten from employers was that I should try to attend graduate school. I can understand where they're coming from but I honestly don't think that's the best idea to do, to hide out in graduate school and accumulate more debt. I realized something was wrong when I was speaking with some of my friends about student loans. We were all talking about how much we owed, you know the usual numbers came out 50k, 30k, 90k and then when it came to me I said 5k. I knew something was horribly wrong being that I can't even get a measly job that will help me pay off 5k of debt.

I'm no stranger to working menial jobs, that's how I paid most of my way through college, earning skills from graphic design to driving forklifts, yet I still can't find employment. I sometimes wonder is it me? Or is it that I have just been brainwashed into thinking this piece of paper (bachelors degree) that I bought would actually help me to gain some footing? I keep updating and changing my resume and cover letter but sometimes I feel as if I'm making paper airplanes over and over again. I just would like to know if you have some advice for me or any other people like myself having difficulties.

I'm sorry. That sucks. You're not alone, and because you're not alone, it's even harder -- all those other job searchers are making it even harder. Simply put, there are more job searchers than there are jobs right now. That means that an awful lot of people are going through this. And it's even harder for recent grads without an established work history. I linked to this scary article the other day, showing that only 19% of recent grads have found work so far.

So yeah, it's kind of crappy right now.

Of course, it could still be you. Without seeing your resume and cover letter and knowing how you come across in interviews, I can't say that it's not you, in addition to the economy. It could be -- and if it is, frankly that's good news, because it means you can change it. There is a ton of advice available on how to write a good resume and cover letter and do well in an interview -- are you reading it and living it? Slog through the archives here and at other similar blogs and see if any of that helps.

Aside from making sure you're coming across as a good candidate, consider all the usual advice about volunteering, networking the hell out of everyone you know, blah blah. Here's a recent post that covers this more extensively: advice for a recent grad

As for graduate school, I think these people might be advising it because it's an easy answer. But unless you want to go into a field that requires a graduate degree, it's a very expensive and unnecessary way to just put off the day of reckoning.

Hang in there.

Monday, June 1, 2009

how college students can prepare now to job search later

With recent college graduates pouring into a tight job market -- and only 19 percent finding work so far -- it's an unnerving time to be looking for a first job.

I receive all too many resumes from recent grads who have literally no work experience: nothing, not internships, not temp jobs, nothing at all. And since they're competing against candidates who do have experience, they're at an enormous disadvantage.

If you're still in school, there are actions you can take now to prepare you to have a leg up when you graduate. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I explain how you can ensure you're not at the bottom of that pile of resumes when you graduate and start looking for work. Please check it out -- and maybe pass it along to current students you may know!

I'm going to stereotype you and tell you YOU're biased if you disagree

Brazen Careerist does it again.

On Friday, they ran an article by someone with little expertise in the topic, explaining how to manage different generations. It was full of condescension and ignorance. Examples:

Schedule flexibility is also important to boomers - not that they’ll ever be late, though. I am pretty sure it all boils down to a Baby Boomer not wanting to be told what to do by someone younger because seniority is what they believe still rules in the workplace and, naturally, because they’re older they expect to be respected.


Gen X: Indeed they too need to feel respected because they’re close enough to GenY’s age to still kick your ass remember what it’s like to be your age and take advantage of what they know you don’t know.

(Typos are hers here and in the excerpt below.)

Okay, so whatever, this is typical Brazen Careerist BS at this point. But today, she posted a follow-up, defending herself against all the people who left criticism at her original post. Here's her conclusion:

it identified to me that there are people out there who instantly react negatively when confronted with generational stereotypes. By exposing what possibly could be viewed as a bias an condemning me for it, the commenters in turn showed their biases as well, without even realizing it.

In other words, rather than consider that the commenters criticized her for a reason, instead she accused them of just being biased. We're biased against ... bias, I guess.

Is anyone else getting sick of bloggers with no experience giving out terrible advice that could actually harm people professionally? And in this case, it's going to harm the author when a future employer finds it. Brazen Careerist might be the worst of it, since it's obviously encouraging its writers -- most/all of them inexperienced new workers -- to be provocative rather than to be right or to write what they know, as we saw here and here.

It's one thing to be mistaken originally; it happens to all of us. But when people point out how your thinking might be mistaken, attacking them is a really weird response. (Notice I'm not following the author's lead and attributing this kind of thing to Gen Y -- frankly, no one I know in Gen Y behaves this way, so I'm not sure where they're finding these writers.)