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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

what should I say/ask as I leave my internship?

A reader writes:

I wrote to you about whether or not to extend my internship back in April (from the “Should I Extend My Internship” post) and thought I could share with you an update. After much pondering about weighing the pros and cons of doing so, I decided to go ahead and extend my internship. Yes, same internship, same manager too. I am just about to wrap up my internship and as I reflect back on whether or not it was a good choice, I believe that it was. I took the advice you gave about working on long-term projects and it did help a lot. I was able to do several projects on my own without a whole lot of assistance from my manager.

The only thing that gave me second thoughts about it was that I did feel as if I stuck around for too long. It's almost been a year now with the extension. I know I will not get a job offer from this organization due to a lot of budget cutbacks. One other thing, I didn't really have much of a mentor-mentee relationship with my manager as I had before. There were a few things I wanted my manager/mentor's advice on about my career goals, but I guess I just didn't feel comfortable approaching my mentor for advice anymore or maybe it was just the lack of time issue.

But overall despite the time issue, I think my manager is still one of the greatest mentors I've had. I did get a thank you gift and letter. I also do plan on staying in touch. Any advice on saying goodbye or what would be good questions or topics to say for that "final conversation?"

Yes! This is a really great opportunity to get feedback that can help you develop professionally. I'd ask things like:

* Do you have thoughts on where I did especially well and what things I should focus on improving in? (If you don't get a real answer to the last part of this when you first ask it, reiterate that you truly want to know. Some people get more honest when you make it clear you're not going to be offended. If she still won't tell you, phrase it this way: "If you could wave a magic wand over my head and tweak something about my habits or skills or approach, what would it be?")

* What kind of role do you think I'd really excel in?

* Can you think of anyone in your network who might be good for me to connect with for future openings?

Also, tell her what you got out of the experience and why it was valuable to you. In particular, tell her what a great mentor she was, and why. People don't say this sort of thing enough -- often because they think the person is too important or advanced in their career to care -- but people generally love hearing it. Even important and prominent people love hearing it. Say it!

(And not only is it a nice thing to do -- which is reason enough -- but it will also likely make her more invested in your professional future, or at least more willing to help you if the opportunity arises. People like people who like them.)

Anyone else have suggestions?

Monday, November 29, 2010

my ex-boss is telling my husband I cheated on him

A reader writes:

Long story short, my ex-boss was my best friend for ten years but we couldn't work together. He fired me from the small delivery company we both worked at in May. In July, he sent a text message to my husband saying "If you want to divorce her, I can give you dates and times of the men." He got this phone number from my personnel file. 

I emailed him and another boss and told him getting into my personnel file was illegal, especially 2 months after I was terminated. He has a hot temper. THEN two more calls to my husband's phone and three to our house. Can he legally do this?

This is a 15-person company with no HR. He does payroll and hiring through a company. Is there any legal recourse for his actions? I have documented proof from the cell phone and home phone company. Can he legally contact my husband at a phone number which was never given to him but he got out of my personnel file? Two months after I was fired?

I don't usually publish letters just to say "I don't know" but ... I don't know.  My hunch is that he probably didn't violate any employment law, although he did violate the law of Don't Be an Enormous Ass. But I'm not a lawyer and it's entirely possible that there are legal ramifications here. It's also possible that he's violating harassment laws, or that you have an actionable invasion of privacy claim, totally separate from employment laws.

If you want to pursue this, I'd recommend speaking with a lawyer immediately. 

Any lawyers want to weigh in?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

how often to ask for updates when you're in the running for a job

A reader writes:

I recently posted my resume to a job board and got a response soon after. The employer (a news director) emailed and asked me to call him, which I did. On the phone he talked about the position and had me complete a quick script writing test, which I emailed back. After submitting it I didn't hear anything from him, and a week later I emailed to ask for an update on the hiring process. He wrote back that they were still looking at candidates and he would contact me if he still needed anything else.

Should I still continue to ask for updates? Yesterday would have marked a week since the first request for an update. I'm trying to use restraint and not contact him again about it until next Wednesday or Thursday. Overall I don't want to appear pushy, but still very much interested.

The thing to do here is not just to contact the employer asking for "an update." That can feel like nagging if you do it more than once, and it's also not as likely to give you particularly useful information.

Instead, you want to ask something more specific -- their timeline for next steps. Say something like this: "Would it be possible for you to give me a sense of your timeline for next steps?"

He will either (a) be vague or (b) give you a timeline for next steps.

If he's vague, it's either because (a) he really doesn't know or (b) he doesn't consider you a top candidate at this point but also not an obvious rejection, so he's waiting to see how the rest of the candidate pool takes form.

If he does give you a timeline for next steps, then you reiterate your interest and then sit tight and wait. If that timeline passes without word from him, then you follow up and say something like this: "I'm really excited about this position and wanted to check in on your timeline." If you want, you can add something like, "If you think I'm a promising candidate, I'd be glad to make myself available for an interview at your convenience."

Also, read this post on employer time versus candidate time and do your best to adjust your time zone.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

should I tell my conservative coworkers that I'm gay?

A reader writes:

I'm an associate at a mid-sized law firm (approximately 40 employees in three states), and I've worked here a little over a year. I love the job, and enjoy most of my co-workers, except for the handful of very conservative, religious ones (as you'll see in the next paragraph, this isn't just liberal vitriol). People don't talk much about their personal lives, but all make casual references to spouses, fiancees and weekend plans occasionally.

My question is about the appropriate level of personal disclosure. I've been with my girlfriend for three years, but everyone at work thinks I'm single and straight, and neither is true. I'm getting tired of lying, but don't want to deal with the reactions of my conservative colleagues who could also influence my performance reviews and possible bonuses. Do you have any suggestions, or at least a sense of how long it's appropriate to keep things to myself? I'm closest to the managing partner, who is wonderful to work with but is very socially conservative as well.

If the question is about what level of personal disclosure is appropriate at work, the answer is that casual references to your girlfriend's existence and activities you did together over the weekend or upcoming plans you have together are all appropriate, just like they are for your coworkers and their own significant others.

But this question is really about coming out at work in an environment that you think might not be safe to do so in. So:

1. Do you want to work somewhere that might penalize you for something so fundamental to who you are and also so none of their business? I know that sounds like a loaded question, like of course you have to answer "no" to it, but it's actually a genuine question. Different people weigh different things differently, and it's legitimate if your bottom line is that you want the job and the peace of mind of not worrying about bias. So to some extent, this is about knowing what's most important to you.

2. However, in a broader sense of what's good for the world, there's a real advantage to your being out, in that you'll be someone they know, like, and respect who they learn is gay. Bigotry becomes harder when the object of your bigotry is right there in front of you in likable form, and many a homophobe has been reformed by learning that a daughter, brother, or friend is gay.  Of course, you're under no obligation to be a learning opportunity for the bigots of the world, but it's something to think about.

3. Last, I wonder if you know for sure that these conservative, religious coworkers are also homophobes, because there are certainly plenty of conservative, religious people who are not. So if you don't actually know that and are just guessing based on their politics, you might be pleasantly surprised if you give them the benefit of the doubt. Or, of course, you might not.

Any advice out there from others who have dealt with this?

Monday, November 22, 2010

my coworker is physically bullying me

A reader writes:

I support a team of professionals and one of them has what I call “personal space issues.” He stands uncomfortably close to me, causing me to move away and when we pass each other in the hallway or common areas, he walks right towards me, forcing me to maneuver around him or go another way so that I do not have to touch him. (He also stares at me when ever he passes my desk). He is the type of man that makes your skin crawl.

Recently we collided in the hall. (And these are very wide halls.) He caught me completely off guard so I couldn’t get out of his way fast enough. I saw him coming toward me out of the corner of my eye and at the last second was able to turn enough that he clipped me sideways but is was a hard enough that I was knocked several steps back. I was completely shocked and said “WHAT THE HELL?” He kept right on going.

Fortunately another professional saw the whole thing and asked in rhetorical disbelief if he had really just run into me. She was as irritated as I was. She said his behavior is a “power thing” (machismo) and indeed I would liken it to the bully who walks down the middle of the hall shoving kids into the lockers.

I reported this to his supervisor, who advised me to talk to him and if he does anything else, to let the supervisor know. The next day I did talk to him, or tried to. At first adamantly denied it, but when I pointed out that it was witnessed, then insisted that he said “Excuse me.” I tried to address all the other near misses but he just kept talking over me saying in an increasingly hostile tone of voice, “I said excuse me.” I looked him straight in the eye and told him in no uncertain terms, “Do not touch me again” and left.

I emailed his supervisor letting him know that I followed his direction and the outcome. Later I did get an emailed apology from the bully but he also said he did not appreciate the way I talked to him.

A few days later, he nearly ran over me again, but this time stopped, blocked my way and condescendingly grilled me to “make sure I was okay” with a sneer on his face.

Two more important things: He is personal friends with his supervisor and our “HR department” consists of one woman who doesn’t want to hear any “drama.” She is also my supervisor and an owner of the company. 

I am a very small, not-so-young woman. This man is younger and over 6 feet tall. Do I need to tell you that I am extremely uncomfortable going to work now? What would you suggest in a situation like this?

There is no possible way that this is okay. He's physically intimidating you, and became more intimidating after you complained. This isn't just a bullying issue (although that would be bad enough); it's also potentially a physical safety issue -- and your management is insane if they don't see it that way after hearing what you laid out here.

Return to his supervisor -- who, don't forget, specifically asked you to keep him updated. Let him know that after the "apology," this guy physically blocked your way in the hallway, berated you condescendingly about whether you were okay, and generally had a hostile and threatening demeanor. Say these words: "I now feel targeted by ___ and he is making me feel uncomfortable about my own safety."

You also really, really should talk to your own manager, explain what's happened, state that he's making you feel physically uncomfortable and threatened, and insist it be handled. She may not like hearing about "drama," but I doubt this is the type of thing she was referring to when she said that. Any boss who wouldn't want to know that this was going on doesn't deserve the job ... particularly a boss who happens to work in HR, which means she should be very aware of the company's obligations in a situation like this.

Really, don't mess around with this. Go talk to both bosses.

You tried handling it directly with the guy and he's now forced your hand. You are not the problem here, and you shouldn't let anyone make you feel you are.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

short answer Saturday: 6 short answers to 6 short questions

Once again, it's short answer Saturday -- six short answers to six short questions. I also want to note that I'm indebted to Evil HR Lady for her "short response" columns, which pre-date these short answer Saturdays by many months.

Here we go...

I was recently contacted by an external recruiter with a position very similar to the position I am currently in. It would be an increase in pay, but a downgrade in title. In the industry that I currently am in, I would prefer to work for one of the top tier companies because reputation does 80% of the marketing in my industry. I am currently with a highly ranked company with a bad management structure and so I am looking to leave soon. I understand that they don't want to reveal the company, but it definitely impacts my decision to pursue this position. Is it typical to not reveal the company? Can you think of any ways around knowing the company to make a decision?

It's not unheard of for a recruiter not to reveal the company at the early stages of contact, but under no circumstances would I expect that secrecy to continue all the way through to an offer. You can't possibly make a good decision about whether to accept an offer (or even interview really well, for that matter) without knowing who you'd be working for. Ask the recruiter at what stage she expects to reveal who the employer is.

I have been in face-to-face sales all my life. Last year I changed companies and started a position in telesales. Honestly, I haven’t been doing well. It is just not the right position for me. All our calls are monitored and I have had some unflattering criticism. Today my boss told me I was too nice to clients and basically my voice was too high-pitched and I would never be taken seriously. Although I am offended, I also don’t know how to change my tone. I have always been taught to talk with a smile and my sales voice is different than my regular voice. Any suggestions?

It's possible your boss is off-base, but it's also possible that she's on to something and it just didn't get delivered very diplomatically. I'd think the best thing you can do is to put your hurt feelings aside (admittedly hard), go back to your boss, and ask if her feedback was about your voice in general or about a tone that only comes out sometimes. There are definitely people -- some women, in particular -- who sometimes use a tone or voice that makes them sound much younger than they are. (I once worked with a woman who, I swear to God, talked in baby talk sometimes. I don't think she realized she was doing it -- it must have sounded like something else in her head -- and when her manager finally talked to her about it, I hope she considered it a favor, although I imagine it was an awkward conversation.) Get more information. There really might be something that you'd get better results by tweaking -- and if not, well, more information is never a bad thing.

By the way, you're also looking elsewhere since you feel this is a bad fit for you, right?

It's been about a year since I wrote to you about negotiating salary for a job offer from a nonprofit. The salary negotiation did not work, and neither did asking for alternative compensation, but I accepted the job because that was always my intention. Now, a year later, it is time for my first formal performance review at this nonprofit, and I need your advice about what I can and cannot ask for. I have had performance reviews at for-profit jobs and negotiated perks and salary successfully, but I do not know what I can ask for from a nonprofit. I have had positive feedback for my entire first year on the job, so I expect this formal review to be similar feedback. Is it even customary to negotiate anything at a nonprofit? The one I work for has a multimillion-dollar budget and about 50 employees, if you find that relevant information.

Absolutely you can negotiate, no differently than at a for-profit. Nonprofits have a wide range of practices regarding raises, bonuses, and other forms of compensation, and a similarly wide range of what they do and don't put resources toward, but -- assuming that you're not dealing with layoffs or other financial crises -- no one is going to look askance at you for asking about a salary increase after a year. You've been there a year, you've had great feedback, and now it's time to ask for a raise. Good luck!

How long can my cover letter really be? I've heard one page, I've heard a page and a half to two, max, etc, etc, etc. I'm a recent graduate, just earned my J.D., and I've worked through college and law school. I've learned to cut out jobs that aren't relevant or that are relatively old. Obviously I'm not putting my receptionist job from freshman year on my cover letter. But I have had enough legitimate experience that I'm comfortable writing a page and a half cover letter. Does this sound too long??

I'm a fan of one-page cover letters. I'm skeptical that you can't say what needs to be said in a page. That said, unless there are application instructions to the contrary, I'm not going to reject an applicant because they wrote a page and a half -- or two, for that matter, although when I see two, I'm going to think, "This is oddly long."

But more importantly: The amount of experience you have has nothing to do with the length of your cover letter ... because you should not be using the cover letter to summarize what's on your resume. You should be using it to talk about what's not on your resume, like why you want that job and what would make you good at it. And you'd ideally be able to do that in one page.

I currently work for an AmeriCorps program - a year-long service program, where members get contracted out to different nonprofit agencies. Americorps pays my minimal salary, though I spend my days at the nonprofit office and do all my work there. A position just opened up at my office for a program assistant - basically the same job I am doing right now, with a little bit more responsibility. I feel like I would really like to apply for the position, since it is basically the same amount of work with an incredible (I'm talking over $10k) increase in salary, health insurance, etc. However, I am committed to the Americorps program (I am free to quit at any time) but if I were to quit, there would be no one to take over my duties, and they can't hire someone else since the year has already started. I feel like I could combine the program assistant tasks with my Americorps tasks.  Should I apply for the position? How would it look to my boss if I am considering this position, effectively rendering my Americorps position empty until next year? 

I don't know enough about AmeriCorps to really give you a good answer to this (aside from thinking that commitments should be honored). Anyone out there with AmeriCorps experience want to advise on this one?

Is it normal to bring notes with you to an interview? I want to create a document, probably a single page, landscape listing job requirements and my qualifications and common questions and possible responses. How would you view this, as a hiring manager? 

Consulting a bulleted list of points that you wanted to be sure to raise at some point in the conversation and/or having a prepared list of questions is fine (the latter is great, in fact). But I wouldn't recommend consulting notes too extensively during the conversation, because you don't want your answers to look overly rehearsed or less than genuine. A good interview is really a conversation, and your interviewer will expect you to be able to speak relatively extemporaneously, about, for instance, your strengths or your background. 

I do think it's helpful to write out like questions and your responses when you're preparing for the interview, and you should give that a final look-over in the parking lot (or even bring it in and consult it during a bathroom break). But don't bring it in with you. It's going to come across oddly if you're consulting notes before answering things like "Why did you leave your last job?"

get your salary off your resume

Your salary does not belong on your resume.

Periodically I receive a resume that lists the salary for each position, alongside title and dates of employment.

Don't do this.

Friday, November 19, 2010

unreasonable job application instructions

A reader writes:

OK, is it just me or is this crazy-making? I found a job listing via a national job bank specific to my field. I'm interested,'s unclear to me if this position is based in their East Coast office, or if, since it's a "Field Organizer," it is based elsewhere. I'm only interested in doing the work of applying for the job if I don't have to relocate. And it is work--they're asking for a cover letter, resume, writing sample (3 pages maximum) and contact information for three references from your most recent employment and/or education.

(Would these 3 references need to include someone from where I work now? Because obviously that would be awkward at best, potentially harmful to me at worst if the word got back to my boss...)

I looked online at their existing staff and unfortunately that did not provide me with any additional clues. I can’t even ask them the question of where the job is located, because they say in their instructions, “NOTE: We are only accepting applications by email. Please do not make any inquiries about the position or the status of your application. Because of the volume of applicants we anticipate, we cannot respond individually to each application. We will contact those applicants that are of interest to the Search Committee directly.” Do you have any recommendations for how to deal with this?

Ugh. Your options are:

1. Just suck it up and apply, and then ask the question about location if they contact you. But I completely agree with you that it's ridiculous that you should have to go through the work of doing this just because they left crucial information out of their job post.

2. Call and ask, despite their instructions. This is such a reasonable question to have that any employer who held against you would be being ridiculous. (And I'm fairly sure they weren't envisioning this kind of question when they wrote that anyway; they were thinking about "tell me more about the job" calls and "what's the status of my application" calls.) I would call and say, "I realize you requested no calls, but the job posting doesn't indicate where the job is based."  Someone will tell you. If you're worried about it being held against you, don't give a name. Or at least don't give your name.

3. Check on LinkedIn to see if you have any contacts in your network who work at or used to work at this organization. If you do, see if they can find out for you.

I would do 2 or 3, personally. I'd probably just do 2, actually, because it's faster and I'd be irritated that they were making me expend energy on anything else.

Now, on the references, I am a huge proponent of not providing references until you're close to the offer stage, to prevent reference fatigue. Requiring them at this stage is BS -- first of all, no one sane checks references until they're seriously considering making an offer ... although as the candidate, you can't be confident that they won't), and so therefore it's not smart to ask you to share these when you haven't had any contact at all with the company and don't even know if you'd be interested in the job (which is always the case, not just because of this particular location question). 

I would be tempted to include a note saying, "Out of respect for my references' time, I prefer they not be contacted before we've had a chance to determine mutual interest, but I'd be happy to provide numerous references at that stage." ... But of course that lands you squarely in the middle of where so many job-seekers end up these days -- wanting to assert a perfectly reasonable prerogative, but realizing that doing so may get you rejected. It's infuriating.

But under no circumstances should you provide references from your current employer at this stage. You may at some point decide to allow your current employer to be contacted (at the very end stages of this process, or if an offer is extended contingent on that reference), but now? Before you even know you're interested, or that they're interested? Absolutely not. Use ones from your previous job, with a note explaining that you're currently employed and your job search is still a below-the-radar one.

And really, if anyone reading this is engaging in these practices on the employer side, cut it out. And even if you're not involved in hiring at your company, if they operate this way, say something about it. Maybe all Ask a Manager readers can vow to investigate hiring practices wherever they work and speak out against this crap.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

no one will hire me as their visionary

A reader writes:

I am very talented in my creativity and thinking ability. I have a lot of ideas I would like to pass around a marketing firm or ideally to direct companies. I have no idea where to start. I also have started a small business and it's profitable within the first year, but it is not what I want to do. I rather be somewhat of a consultant or an ideas man. I truly believe I have great potential in this area, but I am in my final year of college and I do not know where to start or even where to look. I have applied to many positions on craigslist, monster, and various other job sites, but I feel as if no one is understanding what I am capable of. 

I know if a company or a few people were to see my vision they will agree that they are multi million dollar ideas. So again, how do I go about finding a position and how do I tell them my ideas without having them run off with them?



I'm pausing because I'm contemplating how to say this.

It is very, very unlikely that someone is going to hire you right out school to be their ideas man. Not impossible, but highly unlikely. And it's definitely not going to happen from Craigslist or Monster. There are very few entry-level jobs for "ideas guy." Hell, there are very few senior level jobs for "ideas guy."

Generally getting that kind of work requires getting more experience first -- experience in how to implement and execute and make things happen.

It also requires highly unusual talent. And while it's entirely possible that your ideas are great, there's also a very good chance that your ideas are kind of terrible. Or that they're mediocre, or that there's some reason they wouldn't work, or that they've been thought of and rejected in favor of something else. It is very, very hard to judge this accurately yourself.

I can tell you this though, even though it's making me wince to have to say it:  In my experience, people who really have this kind of exceptional talent are talented enough that they're finding a pathway to make it happen. It's fairly rare that they're looking to Craigslist and Monster to make it happen for them. And because of that, I'd put money on you needing more seasoning time, and on the likelihood that you're coming across as naive to these companies.

Related: boss won't let me come up with new ideas

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

what do you want to talk to me about?

I'm doing a webinar over here soon, because I love webinars and am sort of becoming obsessed with them. It's going to be either free or very low-cost. You're going to be able to win things. Things from Apple. But the question is, what do you want the topic to be?

Monday, November 15, 2010

my boss gives in to my co-worker's temper tantrums

A reader writes:

I'm preparing for my January yearly evaluation with my boss... and I'm already worrying about some issues I want to bring up. Our department is small with only four positions. The budget person in our office is rather controlling and has made my life difficult these past few months in particular.

My boss is kind but this work colleague (she's a peer, not a supervisor, and I'll call her X) does sway her decisions quite a bit since they have worked together the past 10 years.

One of the worst things that has happened these past few months concerns my purchasing duties in the office. I was approached by my boss for a meeting to take away these duties due to X's concerns. I was not doing the purchasing incorrectly, but X did not like my filing system (which I was never approached about). Since X was going through a death in the family at the time, my boss asked me to just let X take control of those duties instead of fighting her on this.

It's just gotten worse since then, over the most minute of issues. Just last week, X threw a fit when I left for lunch and only confirmed it with the front desk person and not with her. X threw the fit in front of my boss, and now we have assigned lunch times.

I've been at this office over three years, and while I am looking for other jobs, the economy dictates that I'll be here a bit longer. My question is... how do I bring up my issues with X appropriately during my evaluation? I know that my boss will ask me how I'm doing/feeling at the office... and even though I am uncomfortable speaking out against anyone (feels like tattle-telling for some reason), I would like an easier work environment and my job duties back.

You have assigned lunch times? Your office has bigger issues beyond X herself -- you have a manager who gives in to the person who yells the loudest.

Okay, a few things. First, have you approached X yourself about this? It sounds like she's continually getting the message that she can behave this way with impunity and no one will stand up to her. You don't even need to take a particularly adversarial approach; you can just calmly express your own reasonable opinion in the face of her crazy one. For instance: "I didn't let you know when I went to lunch because it would be highly unusual for me being away from the office for an hour to impact your ability to do your job. What are you seeing that I'm missing?" And also, "It seems to me that assigning lunch times is introducing a fairly high level of bureaucracy where none is needed. Let's talk about the problem that needs to be addressed and figure out the most effective and direct way to fix it." And, "Hey X, Beth told me that you have some concerns about my filing system. It's actually been working really well, but tell me what you're seeing that bothers you so I can figure out if we need to change something."

Ideally, if you're not already doing that, you'd start that before involving your boss. If I'm your boss and you tell me that you have a problem with how someone behaves toward you, the first thing I'm going to ask you is what you've tried in response. That doesn't mean that I won't intervene if you've done nothing and the situation is severe enough, but it does mean that I'm going to at a minimum wonder why you haven't tried asserting yourself, and I might suggest that you try it before I step in. (That said, your boss in this situation is an obvious enabler of X's bad behavior herself, so I'm not exempting her from blame here at all.)

In any case, you have a couple of options for how to raise this with your boss, depending on what kind of relationship you have with her:

1. You can be straightforward: "X is making it harder for me to do my job because she's developed a pattern of loudly voicing her opinion about areas that don't impact her own work, but do impact mine. And because she's generally the most strident person on any issue that comes up, people seem to find it easier to give in to her. I don't want to see us making decisions based on who yells the loudest, and I'm worried that we're getting in a cycle of doing that."

2. You can frame this as asking for your boss's advice: "I want to have a good relationship with her but also preserve appropriate boundaries and ensure that we're making decisions based on what will be most effective, not on who's asserting themselves the most vigorously. Do you have any advice that will help?"

(This all assumes that you have a boss who is at least somewhat open to reason and who isn't totally in X's pocket.)

Also, you don't have to wait for your evaluation in two months to bring this up. You can raise it in the same way the next time X throws a tantrum.

I'm also wondering about what other ways in which your boss's willingness to take the easy way out might be playing out. Is this really the only one?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

short answer Saturday: 7 short answers to short questions

Short answer Saturday is back!  Seven short answers to short questions, all in the same post:

Can't get promoted after five years

I work in a small department of a very large organization. There are about 20 of us in three different offices. My problem is that the managers rarely promote internally. Sure, you can take on extra projects for no pay or title change if you want, but don't expect anything to come out of it. The last few positions that have opened up have been filled by external people, who have legitimately been great. It's really doing a number on morale, me included. This is my first "real" job out of graduate school, so I guess my question is -- is this normal?? I've been here two years now and know that I won't be moving up until I move out. There are people who have been in this same job for 5+ years! I don't want that to be me. I just had a conversation with my manager about a recent spot they hired someone new for and he said the reason was that "nobody was ready." From my perspective this isn't legitimate. 

There are plenty of departments where the senior positions require a background that the more junior people are unlikely to have, no matter how long they work there. So the things to look at are: What are the qualifications for the higher-level positions that they won't hire you for? What's the profile of the type of person they're hiring for them? Does that profile match up with your and your same-level coworkers? If not, that's why they're not hiring you for them; you're not the profile of the candidate they're looking for. That's not unfair; it's just the reality of what the organization's needs are. In that scenario, when you feel you're ready to take on something new, you'll need to look outside the organization, or at least outside your department.

On the other hand, if an objective outsider would say that you're just as qualified as the people they're hiring and they just have a weird bias against promoting internally, then your options are to (a) have a serious conversation with your manager about how you want to be given a chance to take on a more senior position in the company and ask specifically what you would need to do to be a strong candidate for promotion, and/or (b) look elsewhere.

(By the way, depending on the job, five years isn't insane at all.)

Can the boss post the schedule this late?

My husband's boss uses an online schedule site to post the weekly work schedule. The new week starts on Thursdays. This morning, it's a Thursday when I'm writing this, my husband had to call the store he works at to see if he was supposed to work today because the schedule was still not up on the website. When he went in today he found out that his manager had posted the schedule up in the store last night. She does this from time to time but usually also puts it up on the web as well and never sooooo late. Is there any law against this? Don't they legally have to give him a certain amount of notice? Don't get me wrong, in this economy we're glad he's working but...really?!

I'm not a lawyer so can't say with complete confidence that there's no law against it, but I'd be surprised if there's a law against it. The majority of things that are stupid or bad management aren't illegal, just ... stupid or bad management. But I'm also going to throw some blame at you here, because -- really? Your first instinct is to wonder if it's legal, rather than suggesting that your husband just talk to the manager, point out the problem, and try to work out a system that will meet everyone's needs, hers and the staff's?

Engaged and wanting a transfer after just five months

I recently graduated college and have been working in my entry-level professional position for 5 months and am still learning the ropes in my job. I originally took this job with the intention of "getting my foot in the door" so I could transfer to the corporate headquarters to be closer to my then-boyfriend within 12-24 months, but unexpectedly, I became engaged much sooner than anticipated. 

Should I tell my supervisor I am engaged and am looking at transferring internally to a new location and new department in the near future (with the hope he will be supportive in this endeavor), or should I not say anything for another 7 months (when I reach my 12-month anniversary with this department) until I am more qualified to look for a new job? I am scared this will look bad for planning to leave my work group and department right after they hired me, and also that I may be treated adversely if they know I am looking to leave soon. Is this a legitimate reason that a manager would move someone to a new department, even though I am an inexperienced worker who was recently hired? 

I can't say how things work at your company, but I'd be annoyed if I'd been training a new grad for five months and she immediately wanted a transfer. I'd wait it out a year if you can. Also, if you haven't already, make sure that your assumptions that it'll be easy to get a transfer to the headquarters are rooted in reality; it's possible that transfers are hard to get or only happen under certain circumstances.

How can I help my friend get hired at my company?

I work for a good company and I have a friend who would love to get hired here. We work in completely different fields so I don’t know any of the people that are in the department that she is looking to work in. I am also just an individual contributor so I don’t have a lot of pull, even in my own department. Also, there are very few open positions. Would it be wise to send unsolicited emails to managers with an attached resume? I personally wouldn’t think this is appropriate unless I knew the managers personally (which I don’t). Secondly, for the posted positions, how do I contact the hiring manager for my friend to get an interview? I can look up the recruiter and hiring manager for each posted position, but I don’t know how to go about approaching these people since I don’t know them. Should I just email them a resume and say my friend is interested in this job?

First, there's a more fundamental issue: You need to feel confident that your friend would be a good fit for any role you're recommending her for. Do you know for a fact that she's qualified, smart, and reasonably easy to work with, and that she has a good work ethic? If not, you risk harming your own reputation by recommending her for a position.

If you happen to know that she's absolutely fantastic, you could send her resume to the appropriate manager with a note saying that she's phenomenal and they should take a look at her. (In this case, it's fine that you don't know the manager personally; you're still an insider.) You can do this when there's a posted job, and you can do this even when there's not -- because if she's that great, she's the sort of person managers want to know about. 

But if you don't really know for sure that she's great, then I'd simply let the relevant manager know, "Hey, my friend Julie Smith applied for your open position. I've never worked with her so I can't vouch for her qualifications for this particular job, but I can tell you that she's smart, sane, and funny" (or whatever). 

Asking about salary before interviewing

I applied for a job in July with a major NYC area university. The job advertisement made no mention of salary but it did say "master's degree preferred." I received an email today inviting me to schedule an interview and an attachment with the job description stating that the salary is $42,000. Not only do I think this is low for a job asking for a master's degree, it is about 20% lower than my current salary. What is the best way to broach the subject of salary prior to scheduling an interview? No reason to waste everyone's time if there is no room for negotiation. 

If you know that you'd never accept the job at that salary, you have nothing to lose by asking about it. Email back and say something like this: "Thanks so much for asking me to interview. I'm very interested because ______. However, I noticed in the job description that you forwarded that the salary is listed at $42,000. I'm looking for a range closer to 50s, and I wouldn't want to waste your time if that's prohibitive on your end."

As a side note, be cautious about assuming any particular degree buys you a higher salary. In D.C.-area nonprofits, I've seen highly qualified J.D.'s getting hired at $35,000. Salaries are determined by the market, not by the degree.

Can I leave a job I was fired from off my resume?

I am a nurse. In this past year, I held 3 different jobs for 2-3 months at a time. I'm asked to leave, because I'm not the right fit. One was a hospice job, most recent for 8 weeks. I am still signed up with a visiting nurse company doing per diem visits. Can I leave this last job off my resume? Or, is it being dishonest? I work in Florida as an RN and moved here from MA on 2007. I never had employment problems in MA. But, since being in Florida I only held one job for 1yr 9 months at a local hospital, then it's been a bunch of part-time jobs. I need a full time job with benefits. I have no money saved.

You can leave the last job off your resume. Your resume is a marketing document, designed to present your candidacy in the strongest light. It's not required to be an exhaustive listing of everything you've ever done. However, I'm concerned that you've been let go from three jobs in a row for not being the right fit. Have you figured out what's caused that and how to avoid it in the future? You don't want to keep repeating the same pattern, so it's key to understand what that's happened and what you can take away from it.

How aggressively can I negotiate salary in this market?

I am getting ready to finish up my master’s degree program and begin looking for work starting in June. I don’t expect the nation’s overall job outlook to improve much by then, however, given my experience, marketability, and the prestige of a degree from my school, I do expect to find a job. The question is, at a time when there is more competition for good jobs than ever before, can I afford to be aggressive in my salary negotiations when I am finally offered a job? Isn’t it likely that my potential employer would withdraw her/his job offer and move on to the next candidate if I try to command a higher salary?

How aggressive are you talking about? If you're asking for, say, a 30% higher salary than what's offered, you might come across as naive -- because you're right out of school and therefore to a large extent unproven. (Generally when employers are willing to go significantly beyond their original offer, it's for a candidate they really, really want, someone head and shoulders above anyone else they've talked to. That's unlikely to the case for a recent grad.) And yes, it's possible that if you handle salary negotiations badly, an employer could take that as additional data about you that makes them reconsider wanting to hire you altogether, which is why you need to be realistic in what you ask for -- don't be aggressive just for the sake of being aggressive. (And make sure you're researching the market rate for this kind of work in this industry in this geographic area so that you know what a reasonable offer is.)

But if you're just asking for an increase of a few thousand dollars, no one is going to peg you as unreasonable for asking for it. Even if they say no, they're not going to withdraw a job offer just because you asked.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

cleaning the office microwave: hidden duties when job-searching

A reader writes:

I recently went on a job interview for a position of HR assistant. During the interview, the HR manager explained the duties required for the position. Just when he finished explaining, he said, "Oh, one more thing: cleaning of the kitchen should be done once a week, including the microwave and the refrigerator. The HR assistant always had this duty."

This killed the interview for me. I was stunned because this was a fairly well-known company with 50 employees at that office. Thankfully, they did not offer me the job.

My question to you is: in a job interview, what can I ask to find out if the employer expects me to do a duty that has no connection to the job that I want? I know that I was lucky last time because the employer volunteered the information.

It's not unusual for fairly low-level positions to include some miscellaneous duties like this (particularly for a job like HR assistant, since in a lot of offices HR -- rightly or wrongly -- gets a lot of random office work, like organizing the holiday party and so forth). Other entry-level-ish positions might include similar things unrelated to the core job -- such as going to the post office or ordering the office's Wednesday morning bagels or whatever other miscellanea isn't a natural fit with anyone else's job.

I suppose that to get at this, you could try saying something like, "I know jobs at this level often include additional miscellaneous work too. Can you tell me what other types of tasks might fall to this person?"

But even then, it's likely that you could still end up being asked to do something they didn't mention in the interview or job description, either because they didn't think to mention something minor or because it's something that wasn't easy to foresee popping up.

Or you might end up with no jobs you're willing to do, because this is often the nature of jobs at or near entry level. It's one of the reasons people talk about "paying their dues" before they moved up. 

I don't know that it's realistic to assume you can get around that at this stage in your career (I'm assuming here that the jobs you're targeting are all at the approximate level of an HR assistant).  That's not to say that every single entry-level job has this component, because of course some don't, but it's common enough that you really risk coming across as naive and entitled to employers if you make a big deal about it.

But if you're good at what you do, this problem will solve itself in a couple of years because you'll get promoted out of those jobs and into roles where your boss isn't going to want someone at your salary level cleaning the microwave.

if my wife works for a competitor, is that a conflict of interest?

A reader writes:

My wife works in the advertising business. I'm also seeking a job in the ad business, which means that I'll likely be interviewing with competitors. The two of us have already spoken at length about the potential conflicts of interest that could result from this kind of situation, and are prepared to maintain 100% confidentiality in the event that we work for competing firms.

I'm wondering, though, what to do in interview situations. Do companies I interview with have a right to know that my spouse works for one of their competitors? Do they have the right to reject my application on this basis alone? And, in any case, should I mention my wife's line of work in interview situations? I wouldn't want to mention it too late and make people think that I was hiding something, but at the same time I wouldn't want to mention it too early and be unfairly disqualified from consideration for a job that's perfect for me.

Do they have a right to reject your application on that basis alone? Sure. As I am frequently repeating, companies can reject you for any reason they want as long as it's not based on your membership in a legally protected class (race, religion, nationality, sex, marital status, disability, and so forth). That doesn't mean they should or will, just that they're allowed to.

Do they have a right to know about your wife's job? I don't think they have a "right" to know, but practically speaking, (a) it may come out after you start working for them, and they might understandably think it was an error in judgment that you never mentioned it, and (b) some companies have employees sign conflict-of-interest agreements that cover close family members, and it may come out that way.

However, the time to bring this up if after they've made you a job offer. There's just no reason to give them pause about you when they haven't even made up their mind about you yet. Wait until they've already made the decision that you're the candidate they want, because at that point, they're more committed to closing the deal with you and are more likely to want to work something out.

At that point, though, I'd disclose it. If it's going to be a problem, it's better to find out now instead of a month into the job. But you might find out that they don't care at all, or that they can just keep you off certain accounts. Regardless, you'll show integrity by asking about it.

Update: I'm now questioning my own advice. See the comment section for more..

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

temp worker's new account manager is a jerk

A reader writes:

I work for a temp agency and a new account manger took over there. The first call he made to me I thought was disrespectful and unprofessional.

Without going into the whole conversation, he was angry that I did not respond to his email, which I had and told him that I had (I forwarded a copy of the sent email after the call ended). He told me "I pay your bills," which I thought was disrespectful. I pay my bills after working every week for 40 hours for his client. The only thing he does is approve the hours I have worked, he doesn't even sign my paycheck. 

He then told me that he wanted my time card in every Monday morning and "DO I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT?" which I thought was combative. I mean, why would I have a problem sending him my time card?

The tone and manner in which he spoke to me has me baffled. He doesn't know me or even know what I do for his client and I thought he was way out of line.

He wants to have a face to face and in that meeting, I would like to very calmly tell him how uncomfortable I was and that the tone and manner in which he spoke to me is unacceptable. Any suggestions?

Wow. This guy sounds like an ass.

If I were in your shoes, I would say something like the following, calmly and professionally: "I appreciate the chance to get to talk to you face-to-face. I've always had a very good experience with XYZ Agency, which has always treated me in a professional and supportive manner and made me feel me feel valued. In light of that experience, and the fact that I've always been reliable and responsive, your tone the other day surprised me. I might have misinterpreted, but are there any concerns about my work that would have caused that?"

Obviously, even if there were concerns about your work, it doesn't justify him behaving that way. But this is a good question to ask to frame the conversation. And if he does somehow come up with any concerns, say, "I really appreciate you telling me that, and I'm always appreciative of feedback. I'd ask, however, that we both talk to each other with respect, even if there's a problem to be discussed. I've always found XYZ Agency to be great at doing that, and it's one of the things that made me choose this agency to work for." (This last part is a good way to diplomatically suggest that he may be unaligned with how his employer does things, and to emphasize that you are choosing to work there and have options.)

Now, some bullies react poorly when someone stands up to them. But some back down pretty fast when someone shows they won't stand for rudeness. You won't know which kind you're dealing with until you try, but if he continues being a jerk at this point, you'll need to decide how much you want to continue working for this agency if you're going to have to deal with him.

You might also consider going over his head and talking to someone else there -- if I were his manager, I'd sure as hell want to know that he was alienating people for no reason. But that approach carries the risks that (a) his manager won't care and he'll hear about it and be even worse to you or (b) his manager will care, but not enough to stop him from subtly screwing you over in regard to future work assignments. So for that, you need to really know what your bottom line is -- are you willing to risk those things, or would you rather play it safe even if it means accepting this kind of treatment?

Monday, November 8, 2010

10 things to know about applying for nonprofit jobs

Want to make a living doing something good in the world? Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about 10 things you should know if you're applying for nonprofit jobs. Check it out here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

what qualifications can trump experience, when job-searching?

A reader writes:

I was recently interviewed for a position in a growing organization and the interview went well. My potential employers liked me but they also told me up-front that I have the least years of experience compared to the others they have interviewed.

Nevertheless, they promised to call me to the final stage to meet with the other stakeholders, as the other two candidates will also be doing.

I must say I am certain I can do a good job, but I'd like to know what the things are that you think will count well over experience. Why would you hire the guy with the least experience?

Lots of things could make a less experienced candidate more attractive than a more experienced one. For instance, I'd often take an obviously smart and talented candidate with less experience over someone less bright but more experienced.

The same goes for sanity -- and I don't just mean that in the black-and-white sense of not being clinically insane (although I have a strong preference for candidates who are, in fact, not clinically insane), but rather in terms of being grounded, emotionally stable, able to stay calm in stressful situations, able to hear feedback without getting defensive or agitated, and able to face reality head-on.

And for a lot of jobs, I might reject a more experienced candidate who has done the work but not accomplished a whole lot beyond the basics, in favor of a less experienced candidate who has a track record of high achievement in everything she has done, as long as there's solid reason to believe she'd do the same here.

Experience matters, of course. But it's not the whole package.

why do so many college career centers suck?

Preemptive apologies to any college career center that doesn't fit this description -- but every time I hear about a campus career center, it's about the bad advice they gave someone: insisting you need to have an objective on your resume, recommending salesy interview answers instead of genuine ones, giving our commenter Rob bad advice about how to email his resume, and so forth.

What's up with this? I suspect it's because they haven't done a lot of hiring themselves and are relying on outdated advice from job-hunting guides from the last century. But if colleges are supposed to be preparing students for the workforce, maybe it's time for a new type of career center, especially when their grads are going to be facing a crappy job market like this one.

Has anyone had a good experience with your college career center that you want to share?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

short answer Saturday: 7 short answers to short questions

I'm trying something new -- seven short answers to seven short questions, all in the same post:

company won't hire former employees of competitor

I applied for a job at a staffing agency and was told the particular company who was hiring wouldn't accept applicants who worked previously for their competitor even though I no longer work for them. Is that a form of discrimination or can I do something about that?

It might be a stupid policy, but it's legal. Companies can legally discriminate for any reason they want, as long as it's not linked to your membership in a legally protected class (things like race, religion, sex, nationality, marital status, etc.). Where you worked previously isn't a protected class. 

how can my wife make her office stop calling her on her time off?

My wife works a very stressful job. She is a salary employee. She rarely allowed to take PTO. When she does her boss and co workers constantly call her. Is there any legal action we can take? We live in NJ and her company in based in NC.

Legal action? Not that I can think of. Other action? Yes. Turn off the phone. Or get a Google Voice number and program calls from their phone numbers to go to voicemail during certain hours. 

More constructively, she should talk to her boss about this. Believe it or not, some bosses genuinely don't realize that doing this is a problem, and if you point it out, it will stop. (Not always, but often enough that it's worth trying.) In fact, straightforward conversation about a problem is the answer more often than you'd think.

recruiters who demand to know my salary

I often get calls from recruiters asking for my current salary. Even though I ask them back how much do they have in mind for the job, they are still hell bent on first getting a response from me on my salary. Then I tell them a range, like 50-80k, but this sours them. Firstly, why do they want to know how much I am making? Can’t they stick with what they are planning to offer for the job and then both sides do further negotiations? Secondly, does it help being honest about your salary? In any case, I would have in mind an expectation beyond which I cannot stretch, so what is the harm in giving an honest number?

They want to know how much you're making because they're lazy and/or not particularly thoughtful. They think it's a good way to determine how much you're worth, instead of evaluating a larger picture. 

Whether or not you should be forthcoming is a subject of heated debate. Sure, it helps in that you'll find out right away if your range is higher than theirs. But it can hurt if it means they offer you less money than they previously had in mind. Personally, I'm a big fan of the idea of saying that your salary is covered by your confidentiality agreement with your employer, and would love to hear from anyone who has tried this.

format for emailing a cover letter

Can you please advise on the format to be used in emailing a cover letter? For example, do you list the company name and address or just address it to the person? I appreciate your help. I had been working for a company for 20 years, and resigned last year and just started looking for job. The cover letter has been a struggle for me.

I'm surprised how often this question comes up. There's no one way it must be done. Some people attach both their resume and cover letter as PDFs or Word documents; other people put the cover letter in the body of the email and just attach the resume. Personally, I like the latter, but you can do it either way.

And if your letter's text is in the body of the email, treat it like a regular email -- meaning that you wouldn't list the name and address of the recipient at the top because that's weird to do in an email.

creative resume design: yay or nay?

How would you react when receiving a CV that really stands out of the rest because of its appealing design?

Since last year I have realized there's a trend to "design" your CV following the infography model, and I don't mean a CV from the typically creative kind of person (graphic designers, copywriters, artists), but also from persons applying to engineering, industrial production or even executive positions. Definitely they make a recruiter to stop and look at them more than just few seconds. But do you think it facilitates your job to find the candidate's information you are looking for?

It does not facilitate my job -- it makes it harder. The most important thing about your resume design is that I need to be able to read it clearly, without straining, and I want to be able to quickly scan it and get the highlights. Creativity, while a nice trait, doesn’t trump those requirements, so make sure your desire to "stand out" isn’t getting in the way of the whole point of resume design.

(It’s true that in certain fields, creative resumes can be a plus. If you’re determined to go in this direction, consider your challenge to be to demonstrate your creativity without overriding the requirements above.)

mentioning you're a shareholder of the company you're applying to

I'm applying to positions at a couple of tech companies that I am either currently or previously a shareholder of. Is this a positive thing to mention in a cover letter? I view it as being interested and invested in the company, but I've certainly been off the mark before. I would love your opinion.

Hmmm, I don't know. I suppose if you owned a significant number of shares, or if you had a compelling explanation for why you bought those shares, it would be taken as being particularly invested (non-literally) in the company, but otherwise I'm not sure it really conveys anything. 

is my boss thinking of promoting me?

I just started a new job in a great agency in my field but its a position in which I am overqualified for in terms of experience and education. I think my supervisor knows that I am overqualified although we have not yet discussed it. Right away my supervisor has been giving me special projects to develop such as groups for clients and creating a policy book for the program based on what I am learning about the program. These projects are not being assigned to my co-workers. So, my question: is my supervisor looking at me for a possible promotion in the future? I would just like some clarification as to what is going on. Any insight would be appreciated.

Maybe. Or maybe she just figures she has someone working for her who can do more than the job normally requires, so why not utilize that? Or maybe she hasn't even really thought it out yet; she's just assigning work to the person who seems likely to do the best job with it. 

You just started so it's a little early to ask about possible promotions, but at your one-year evaluation, I'd say something like, "I'm really loving the work, especially (name the special projects here), and would love to talk about more responsibilities in that area, including the possibility of more formal growth within the organization at some point."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

victory: is mine!

After years of harassing the owner of the domain to sell it to me, victory has been achieved! I finally own, albeit at a somewhat extravagant expense.

(Side note: People need to say "albeit" more. It's a very useful word.)

So now, the question:  What to do?

It was only two months ago that I gave up on ever obtaining, bought instead, and switched my URL to that (from the terrible I've already nagged my RSS subscribers to switch over to the new feed, and had a bunch of incoming links changed. Do I do that all over again? Or leave it alone for a while? Just keep redirecting here? Or switch to using it as my main site?

At some point I'm going to switch my blogging platform to Wordpress and this all may matter more. For the moment, it's more of an irritating question that I don't know how to answer.

But the larger point, for now at least: is mine at last!

what does this interview question mean?

A reader writes:

Right now my current job is terrible and I've been lucky enough to snag an interview here and there. During the last interview, I was asked by the manager if I was currently applying for other positions at other companies. I was taken aback as the question could be taken two ways -- either the manager was concerned that I was applying everywhere in a desperate effort to get out of my current position or they were concerned that I was in high demand.

My response was two-fold. First I reiterated that I was leaving my current company because the small size meant I reported directly to a vice president and that there wasn't a path to advancement. Secondly I pointed out that I was applying very selectively to positions and that I applied to this specific position because I was impressed with the company values and that I was suited to the position at hand.

From your perspective, what is the purpose of that question, and was my response appropriate? Should I have mentioned other companies that I had interviewed or applied with to inflate my value? Or would that backfire in some manner?

The most likely reason the interviewer asked this is that she was wondering if you were actively seeking to leave your job (and thus conducting a full-scale job search) or were motivated solely by this particular opening. It's also possible that she might ask this routinely as part of her interview schtick (I think every interviewer has questions they love to use, some of them better than others), and that she wasn't getting at anything in particular about you.

Your response was perfectly appropriate. Explaining that you're applying selectively is good. And no, you don't want to mention specific companies you're applying at, as nothing good can come of that. (For instance, if you mention another company where she knows the hiring manager personally, she might decide not to "compete" with her friend for you.)

I wouldn't try to read too much into this question.

bad candidate behavior: "sorry about 4 years ago, but can I have a job now?"

The year: 2006

The situation: I've made a job offer to a senior-level candidate, who seemed enthusiastic and asked for a couple of days to get back to me with a formal answer. It's now been several days, and he hasn't gotten back to me with an answer. I've reach out by phone and email, explaining we have a deadline, and he ignores me. I indicate that I have another candidate who I need to get back to. He doesn't respond at all, and I never hear from him again.

Until ...

2010: He applies for a different position with the same organization! He mentions in his cover letter that he "had the opportunity" to meet with us a few years ago but "ultimately wasn't able to accept the job." No mention that he disappeared with explanation.

I, of course, have a mind like a steel trap -- a steel trap, I am telling you -- and immediately realize this is the guy who went AWOL four years ago. So I write back:
It's nice to hear from you. However, after we offered you a position in 2006, we never heard back from you either way, despite calling and emailing in an attempt to reach you. Can you shed any light on what happened then?
He responds:
I sincerely apologize for not contacting you regarding the previous position for which I interviewed. I recognize, as I did at the time, that it was a unique opportunity to do tremendous work on behalf of the organization. Unfortunately, at the time I was unable to accept the position for financial reasons. It was an incredibly difficult decision that I deeply regret, and at the time I simply could not bring myself to formally turn down what I knew was the chance of a lifetime.  

Where to begin? Okay, first of all, saying, basically, "I prioritized my own feelings of regret above courtesy, general professionalism, and your ability to move forward with your work" is a really, really bad thing to convey. How could you think this is a good explanation? (It's also probably BS. I doubt that he really felt emotionally unable to turn the position down; he's just looking for something to make it okay now, because he wants a job.)

Plus, applying again without even trying to address what happened earlier is weirdly cavalier. Really weirdly cavalier.

The lesson: Behave well, even when you think the other person doesn't have anything you want. Also, more generally, don't be an ass.

the magic interview question gets featured on ABC News

Regular readers know what a fan I am of this magic question to ask your interviewer:

Thinking back to people who have been in this position previously, what differentiated the ones who were good from the ones who were really great?

I have now spread the gospel about it to, and it's mentioned in this story (at the end).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

how can we respond to an employee who won't stop asking for a raise?

A reader writes:

I have an employee who has been with us since 2008 in our small municipality (read: no money) who is constantly dissatisfied with his salary. He has gone to his manager (who is now on maternity leave), his acting manager, and the manager of HR (behind his manager's back) several times about a raise. I'm the HR assistant and now current acting HR manager.

We're at the point now where his manager has gone above and beyond, and worked with our employee to explain some options for him - setting goals, learning new skills related to an Engineering Coordinator role (which we do not have staffed right now because of budget cuts), and upon the successful completion of these goals, a step increase within his range.

The employee however, is constantly compiling job ads from other private and public organizations, and requesting/demanding that his job be in a higher pay grid.

Trying to explain "total compensation" hasn't worked - he just sees that other organizations are paying more than we are, and since we're a small municipality, there isn't any room to all of a sudden get a new pay range passed through our Council just because he thinks he's underpaid.

The last straw was an email on Friday, where he emailed me asking for his job description, and that of the (vacant) Engineering Coordinator, and that "his job description needed to be revised to include some of the Engineering duties" - without any discussion or consent from his manager, and his role/experience does not have any of the requirements to be an Engineering Coordinator.

What do we do? I'm by myself in HR, all of his managers have had it with him, and I've said to him off the cuff that since he knows for sure that there will be no new salary range for his position, then he is more than welcome to go to another job which will pay him what he thinks he deserves.

His current manager has even offered to look into supporting the employee going back to school to get an Engineering designation, if he wants to become an Engineer, but his attitude is that he's already doing the job, so why isn't he getting paid for it?

He doesn't get it, he wants to stay, but he's causing stress and strife among his department, and is frankly, a pain in my ass. Do you have any advice on how to handle this? 

Someone -- ideally his manager -- needs to sit down with him and say, "Bob, I've made it clear to you what your options are for getting a salary increase. Those are the only options. If you complete them successfully, we will consider a salary increase. We will not consider one otherwise. I need you to hear me on this, because you have continued to raise this despite clear answers, and it's become a distraction from our work. This is what we are willing to pay you. It is your prerogative to choose not to accept that salary and to look elsewhere, but we will not be having this conversation over and over anymore. If you decide this salary isn't acceptable, let me know and we'll talk about your transition out of the role."

You say that you've said this to him off the cuff. Someone needs to say it more formally, with explicit direction that it can't continue.

I want to be clear, of course, that I'm not saying that employees asking about salary should be routinely shut down. The issue here is not that the guy has pushed for a higher salary -- it's that he's been given an answer, repeatedly, and is just refusing to accept it. His manager needs to spell it out for him that the answer is not going to change. And you all need to get clear on the fact that just because someone refuses to accept your answer the first five times you give it, you don't need to keep having the conversation over and over; there's a point after which you can say, "No more. We've already discussed this, and you've been given a clear and honest answer."

As a side note, I'm assuming that in general your salary structure is working for you, and that you're not having trouble attracting and retaining good people. If that's not the case, it's worth looking at your salary structure as a whole, and seeing if it needs to be updated. But even if that's the case, this guy has still handled this poorly. Speaking of which...

As a second side note, the way he has handled this situation (particularly the part about directing you to change his job description when he hadn't even talked to his manager about it) makes me think that there's no way this kind of bad judgment isn't present in other aspects of his work too. I'd be curious what his manager's take is on that.

Monday, November 1, 2010

one complaint about bosses that doesn't hold water

Evil HR Lady is so good that I want to link to everything she writes, but I don't because that would be ridiculous.  However, sometimes I cannot resist.

In her BNET column today, she answers a question from someone frustrated that she keeps getting poor performance evaluations and can't get promoted. The entire thing is excellent, but one piece jumped out to me in particular. In response to the letter-writer's mention that she trained her bosses when they started (which she was citing as evidence that she's doing a good job), Evil HR Lady wrote:
"I’ve never had a job where I didn’t know more about my area of focus than my boss did. Even back when my summer job was to stick pictures onto real estate appraisal reports with two sided tape, I knew more about how the pictures were organized than my bosses did. Why? Because that wasn’t their job, it was mine. I’m not trying to brag. As a general rule, this is how it should be. You should be the subject matter expert in your job. Your boss should understand your job enough to do his job, but he’s got a different job to do."
Yes, yes, yes! I have frequently heard people cite this kind of thing -- "I know subject X better than he does!" -- as part of their litany of complaints about their boss. I even once heard someone who was complaining about the head of the organization mention that he had never taught her anything about how to use the organization's database, whereas her coworkers had. (The obvious response to that is, "Good. The problem would be if the CEO was going around teaching people to use a database.")

There are lots of legitimate reasons to complain about a boss. But this is not one of them.

5 reasons your co-worker makes more money than you do

Learning that a co-worker earns more than you do can be infuriating, particularly if you’re doing roughly the same work at roughly the same level.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about five reasons that might explain the disparity. Check it out here.