weekend free-for-all – February 28-March 1, 2015

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Olive in blanketsThis comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly non-work only; if you have a work question, you can email it to me or post it in the work-related open thread on Fridays.)

Book Recommendation of the Week:  The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. Yes, this is the book that led to the mini-series of the 80s, and that might turn you off. But come on, it’s a love story between a priest and the woman he’s adored her whole life. It’s tortured and epic and full of people and families being torn apart. It is magnificent.

unresponsive gatekeepers, overlooked at work, and more

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It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. When a gatekeeper is unresponsive

I’m in sales, and I often get a response of “That’s very interesting, please contact my assistant to set up a time for us to talk.” Or sometimes “Please schedule a time to talk with Euphemia the junior team member.” Either is great, except that often the admin/team member never gets back to me. So I follow up a couple of times, and maybe reach out to my original contact again, but all too often the response is another “That’s great, contact Euphemia.” Any tips?

It’s possible that they’re deliberating using that as a strategy to fend off the call. But they might not be, and there’s no reason that you can’t reach back out to the original contact and say, “I reached out to Euphemia like you suggested but after several attempts I haven’t heard back.” If it’s an intentional strategy, Euphemia won’t get in trouble for this — and if the person really does want to talk to you, they’ll know there’s a problem with their assistant.

But make sure that you give it a couple of weeks before going back to them, in case Euphemia is just triaging the person’s appointments but will get to you eventually. Except in unusual cases, like where they have an immediate and urgent need, meeting with salespeople is always going to get back-burnered if there are higher priorities in the way.

2. I feel like I’m always overlooked at work

Recently I learned that someone who was hired on later than I was and has accomplished less than I have was given a full-time position at my work. I want to ask my manager about it, but I am not sure how to go about it or even if it is appropriate to do so. I feel that no matter how hard I work or what I accomplish, I am always overlooked for things and will always be no matter what I do.

Don’t ask why your colleague was given the role, because that’s not really the point here. Ask what you’d need to do to earn a full-time position yourself — that’s what will really help you to know.

Your manager may not even know that you want a full-time position! Or, it’s possible that there’s some particular skill or mastery that she needs to see from you first, or something you’re doing that’s holding you back that you don’t even know about. I’d say something like this: “I’m really interested in staying with the company long-term and would love to be considered for future full-time openings. What would you recommend that I work on in order to position myself well for that when it happens?”

3. Interviews when you go by your middle name

I have an interview coming up with a job I’m really excited about. It is with a state agency, so all my paperwork had to be filled out with my “official” name. I actually go by my middle name and would love some suggestions on how to properly introduce this fact to the interviewer, especially since my references may not even realize who the call is about when they ask about me by my first name.

Immediately introduce yourself correctly when you first meet: “I actually go by Imogen, which is my middle name.” And when you’re at the reference-checking stage, just give the employer a reminder that they’ll need to ask about Imogen, not whatever your first name is — as in, “By the way, when you contact references, make sure that you ask about Imogen Plufferton; if you use Lavinia, my first name, they may not know who you’re talking about!”

4. Explaining I was let go during an extended illness

I was terminated for not sustaining due to an extended illness. I realize that when you answer questions for people that were fired, that they should say something like “what they learned from this or that.” But I was sick. How do you apologize for being sick?

You don’t. This isn’t that type of situation. You can just say, “I had a health issue that required time away from work and which has since been resolved.”

5. Update: Interviewing when I’m happy at my current job

Remember the letter-writer a few weeks ago who was wondering how to talk to a recruiter when she was happy at her current job (#3 at the link)? Here’s her update.

Thanks again for taking the time to answer my question and bring it to the community. Hearing from you and the AAM readers was helpful and provided guidance in how I approached the situation, and ultimately, my decision. In the second interview, I brought up compensation + benefits, which ended up being comparable to what I have with my current job. Although the opportunity was exciting, it wasn’t enough to take me away from what I’m doing now and I politely declined the fourth interview. The next day, I received a glowing performance review (and a raise!). It was interesting to explore another option (and know they’re out there!) but I’m confident that the grass is greener on my side of the fence.

should I care about my employer when figuring out when to have a baby?

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A reader writes:

I’m planning to leave my job in 18 months to go back to school full-time. My spouse and I are also trying to get pregnant. In one scenario, we get pregnant more quickly and I’d be out on leave for my industry’s really intense season (think tax season for an accounting firm). The cons of having a baby during the tax season equivalent are pretty clear: even a week of vacation by someone on my team at that time really sucks, let alone 12 weeks out of the office.

In another scenario, we’d get pregnant closer to the school start date. It’s conceivable (ha!) that I would have a baby, take my 12 weeks of FMLA and return a month or 6 weeks before giving my notice. A few of my coworkers have quit at the very end of their maternity leave or within 3 months of returning to work. It’s left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and my manager has said several times how annoying it is. In my case, since I’ll need to apply to schools, it will be abundantly clear that I’d been planning to quit for several months.

I’ve got a good manager and a team I care about, and when I do leave, I want to do it on good terms. I’ve been here long enough to have developed a reputation as a thoughtful, dependable employee and I get solid performance reviews.

Am I overthinking the timing here? I don’t know when to say, “Sorry my reproductive choices aren’t ideal for this company, but this is what works for me and my family” and when to take my employer’s legitimate concerns into account when planning my life.

(For the second scenario, another complicating factor is that my marriage isn’t recognized by my state and my state doesn’t allow second parent adoption. That means my spouse won’t have a legal connection to the little nugget and can’t add the baby to her health insurance. One huge reason I’d want to stay employed until just before starting school is so the baby could have uninterrupted health insurance…even if it means giving my notice right after coming back from leave.)

You are indeed overthinking the timing, and you are being way too accommodating to your employer in your planning.

I am all for being thoughtful toward an employer who has treated you well, but you’re going overboard here and letting consideration for them interfere with major life decision for you. And not only that, but it’s one that most employers totally understand sometimes comes up and interferes with things.

You can’t perfectly control the timing of when you get pregnant, and people understand that.

Get pregnant when you get pregnant, and let the chips fall where they may. It will be fine. People take maternity leave — and medical leave, too — at inconvenient times. That’s just how it works. You can’t always control when your baby shows up, just like you can’t always control when you need other forms of leave. It happens, you take the leave, and your employer deals with it. They will find a way.

And actually, maternity leave is easier than many medical leaves in one key respect: You get advance warning to plan for it. They’ll know that it’s coming and they can hire extra staff if they need to.

As for the question about quitting at the end of your maternity leave, that’s a different question and somewhat more complicated. I do think it’s acting in bad faith to take maternity leave on your employer’s dime if you know for sure that you’re not coming back. But if you’re not positive — or if there are health insurance reasons forcing your hand — well, that’s how this stuff works out sometimes. The leave is there for you to take, and as long as you’re not acting in bad faith (actively telling them something that isn’t true), I think it’s fine.

open thread – February 27, 2015

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It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue :)

I don’t have any work to do at my new job, awful resume feedback, and more

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It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I don’t have any work to do at my new job

I am a recent graduate who has just started my first job. When I started on my first day, the company gave me a bunch of self-study materials and a self-training schedule for a month that I must adhere to (which I happily obliged).

But now a month has passed, I have finished all of the self-study materials, and I still have not been given any task to do. I have asked my supervisor about this 3 times (through internal messaging software, email and verbally), but the answer is kinda vague (“I need to find simple tasks for you first” or “study this first for now”). What should I do? Any advice on this? I don’t want to be too pushy, but I don’t want to be seen as ‘that lazy new employee’ either.

I have tried googling about this particular problem, but most of the answers seems to be directed to experienced people (“make a proposal on how you could improve projects that you have worked on”).

Well, first, stop trying to address this over I.M. Instant messaging is for quick, time-sensitive, not super important things; this requires an actual, substantive conversation. Email your boss and say this: “Now that I’m done with my month of self-study, I’m eager to get started! Could we set up a time to meet in the next few days to talk about how you’d like me to be spending my time now?” If the problem continues after that, then say this: “I’m really eager to get to work. How would you like me spending my time over the next week? (Or, if it would be easier on you, I’d be glad to see if I can help Jane or Fergus until you have time to get me started — just let me know if you’d rather I do that.)”

If there are other people in your office who are at your level or just above it, you might also ask them if they have advice for how to handle this stage of things. They might have some insight into how long it usually takes your manager to get her act together with new employees, or about why it’s taking her a while in this case (for example, if she’s preoccupied with, say, an upcoming board meeting for the next two weeks, that could be useful to know).

2. What’s up with this awful resume feedback?

I’ve applied to a few places through online websites and received an email from one site explaining that they offer free “critiques” of resumes to assist in their site users’ success. I didn’t even realize that it wasn’t one of the sites that I submitted my resume to but didn’t care because it was at no cost or effort to me, and nobody’s resume is perfect so bring on the critique, I love getting better through advice. But after reading their elaborate assessment of my resume, I was left confused because everything she was saying went against everything that I had been taught by active hiring professionals. She even mentioned that my document file size was way too small at 17k and therefore I have more room to format. That was a first for me; it’s either .pdf or .doc.

But she offered an email link to contact her with questions so I did and got no response. Just to be sure, I did some research and read your “10 Things Leave off Your Resume” and most of your items matched hers — except they were the opposite. Even I know not to waste space with objectives or bios outside of a cover letter. Then I noticed the big bold package prices for their resume service that they offer and it clicked. My question is, and I’ve attached my resume just so that you can see what she saw. Are my suspicions accurate that this company intentionally rips resumes apart and gives harmful advice to obtain business like a shady mechanic, or was she giving honest, accurate advice?

I doubt this company is doing this to deliberately harm people since I don’t know what would be in it for them — I think it’s rather than they just suck. And they do. I read the critique you forwarded to me and it’s ridiculous. I can promise you no hiring manager in the world cares that your resume file size is “too small.” They might care if it were several gigabytes, but “too small” isn’t something that’s even going to register. This person/company is shady and incompetent. Avoid.

3. I was called for a second interview but the job was reposted meanwhile

I interviewed for a position where I will be the manager of the same type of department I currently work in. I was interviewed by 2 department heads and the administrator. I was called the very next day for a second interview by the company administrator, but in the past 6 days, we have been playing email tag about scheduling it. I was told this was because they were trying to set up a time in which more of his colleagues could attend. This afternoon, which is a Monday, I confirmed it for Thursday at 5pm. However, I was told that there was a department meeting at that time he had forgotten about and he gave me 2 other times. However, the exact same job has been re-posted twice since my interview. In fact, it was re-posted about the same time my interview was cancelled and the offer of re-scheduling was made. I am really starting to feel strung along. Why would a company be scheduling second interviews while still apparently seeking out more candidates?

Many companies keep job listings active until they’ve made a hire. It’s actually the smart thing to do, because they have no way of knowing if their current crop of candidates will lead to a successful hire or not — they might end up not wanting to hire anyone from the current group, or the person they want to hire might turn down their offer. It’s smart to keep candidates coming in until they know they have a certain hire.

4. Interview handshakes when you’ve got arthritis

I’ve got really awful arthritis and I don’t like to call attention to it, especially in interview settings. I write for a living – I don’t want people to think I can’t type! I physically can shake hands, but I can’t *not* wince when someone squeezes powerfully. Is there a tactful way to ask for a wimpier handshake (or turn one down completely) in a professional setting without being too weird?

Just be direct before anyone has a chance to grab your hand, like you might if you were declining a handshake because you had a cold. For instance: “Excuse me for not shaking hands — I’m dealing with a minor issue in my hand right now.” (Or “I’m having some minor pain in my hand right now — nothing too serious, but gets in the way of me shaking hands.”) Say it confidently and it’ll go over fine.

5. What happened after this phone interview?

Recently I discovered that a company had an opening in my weird niche field in a location that I love. I applied, and a friend at who has contacts here (the company is a client of his company) called and put in a good word for me, but warned me that I may be overqualified / too expensive for the position.

About a week later, the HR department called me for what was supposed to be a 30-minute interview, but was actually only 10 minutes. The HR person started off with a question about why I wanted to leave my current job. I responded that I would like to work with a different flavor of teapots and that my current location was hard on my marriage because my wife has very limited career opportunities in our current location. I also mentioned that my company had been very good to me and I would not leave lightly, but if the fit were right and it would help my personal situation, then I would move.

HR asked about my current salary and benefits, and I gave approximate numbers, following up later that day with an email outlining the specifics. In the phone interview, I was very (too?) candid and mentioned that medical benefits were of particular interest because of a past condition that was in remission and likely (but not necessarily) cured. After the phone interview, HR sent me an email thanking me for the interview, attached their benefit summary, and told me that they would be in touch in the next two or three days to schedule an interview with the hiring manager.

I had a question about their medical benefits and called HR the next day and left a message (no details, just a request for a call). I also sent an email ( also no details, just a request for a call). No response. 16 days pass. Still nothing, so I sent a follow-up email: “Hi, (name), I’ve not received any communications from Company since you and I spoke. I wanted to follow up and make sure nothing got lost in the ether. Thanks! (my name, phone number).” Still no response. That was two and half weeks ago.

What’s going on? Did my friend say something that I’m not aware of? Did I commit some gaffe that I’m not seeing? Is the company just terribly unprofessional? My weird niche field is very small, and I’ll likely have to interact with the folks involved again. Yet, I’m curious (and let’s admit it, indignant) about the complete lack of response after having received such a positive, initial interest. What, if anything, should I do?

Well, it could just be that they’re moving forward with different candidates and don’t think you’re as strong as those. It’s really common for companies not to bother to update candidates when that happens — rude, but common. Or it could be that you’re still under consideration but the hiring for this position is taking a back seat to other priorities right now. It’s still rude for them not to get back to you to explain that, but again, very common.

But it’s also possible that you were too focused on benefits too early in the process. Rightly or wrongly, that can be a real turn-off for many employers, who prefer to save detailed discussions of benefits (especially nitty-gritty details of particular medical plans) for once you have an offer.

Regardless of the reason — and you’ll probably never know which it was — they did owe you an answer about your candidacy. But there’s a good chance you won’t get one — that’s just the way some companies do things. I’d write it off, move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do contact you at some point.

is my mentor ignoring my emails?

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A reader writes:

While I worked at a mid-sized company, I developed a wonderful mentor relationship with one of my managers. He has always been very supportive, offering to be my job reference, etc.

After 2.5 years working together, I left to work abroad at another company for 1.5 years. We kept in touch while I was away and I actively nurtured the connection through Christmas cards, periodic emails, and birthday wishes. He was always very responsive and quite frankly, one of the few people in my network that actually replied to my emails. And just to clarify, I also try to make sure I am not “harassing” anyone in my network – I limit my emails to holidays, birthdays, and particularly relevant news articles. I never email any person more than once a month unless it’s in reply to something they sent me.

Anyway, when I returned in October 2014, he was one of the first people that knew I met up with. He had since moved to another very high profile agency. He was very happy to see me and towards the end of our catch up session – of his own accord – remarked that he may have a job opening up that he’d love for me to consider. I enthusiastically expressed my excitement, as I would love to work for him (he is a great manager) and it is a very good position I would quite frankly die for. He told me to follow up with him in January 2015.

Our only contact from October to January were brief holiday wishes I sent him for Thanksgiving (he replied) as I was busy studying for a graduate exam.

As promised, I followed up with him via email in the first week of January. I did not mention the possible job, just asked him if he was free for coffee, figuring I could ask in person. But for the first time ever, he did not respond to my first email. Baffled, one week later I sent him a short follow-up. He quickly responded, saying we “need to catch up” and apologized for not responding more quickly. But when I asked about what day/time would work best for him, he once again did not reply. I also sent him one short email with a news link I saw about him successfully pulling off a huge event. No reply.

To refrain from bothering him, I didn’t reach out until February. In this email, I did not mention meeting at all and simply asked for a LinkedIn recommendation to help me with my job hunt. I offered to write a draft if that would make it easier for him. He replied four days later, asking me to send him a draft and once again he said we had to meet up. I promptly sent him a draft the next day plus a request for a date/time convenient for him. I did not hear back at all, so one week later I offered to write him another draft if he didn’t like the first one. I did not mention meeting up as I figured if he wanted to see me, he would say so. At this point, I have also accepted there is no job for me and I do not plan on ever mentioning it unless he does. That was two weeks ago. I have not heard from him since and I have not reached out because for the first time, I am worried if I am bothering him or worse, I did something is wrong.

Should I ask him if I did something wrong or am I just being paranoid? I am just very confused about my mentor’s sudden change/unresponsiveness….BUT at the same time, I know it is possible he is just straight up busy…. What do you think I should do? Should I just stop contacting him/am i being a pest?

To me, this just sounds like someone who’s really busy, and I wouldn’t read into it anything more than that.

It also sounds like you’ve maybe gone a little bit overboard on all the reaching out, especially when you’re getting signals that he’s busy. And not just with him, but maybe more broadly. If you’re emailing people in your network as much as monthly and not hearing back much (since you said he’s one of the only ones you hear back from), you might be making people feel … well, a little bombarded. It sounds like a lot of contact if you’re the one who’s initiating all of it. There are certainly networking relationships that have this much or more contact, but the test is whether it goes both ways or not. If you’re always the initiator and you’re not getting loads of responses, I’d say that’s a sign to tone it down.

That said, with this guy in particular, it sounds like you have a strong relationship. I’d write the recent lack of responsiveness off to him being busy … but also take that as a sign to put fewer demands on the relationship, at least for a while. And I know you’re probably thinking “sending an article isn’t making any demands on him!” — but it can come across as another contact that needs to be acknowledged.

When you’re getting these kinds of signals, save the contacts for the big stuff that really matters.

Also! Totally unrelated, but you have one of my pet peeves in your letter so I have to address it: “I did not mention the possible job, just asked him if he was free for coffee, figuring I could ask in person.” I’m sure you didn’t think of it like this, but this made a much greater demand on his time and his energy than if you’d just gone ahead and asked him your question. As a busy person (and as a direct person), if someone has a specific question they want to ask me, I’d so much rather have them just ask me, rather than couching it in the guise of a coffee meet-up, which I have to schedule, travel to and from, make small talk at, and so forth. Just ask the question!

(Now, obviously, if the two of you meet for coffee all the time, then this doesn’t apply.)

Anyway. Pull back on the contact. Leave things in his court. If months go by with no contact, then sure, reach out at that point. But I’d give him some breathing room right now.

is everything a crisis?

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If you feel like you spend your work days rushing from one urgent task to the next, constantly putting out fires, you probably feel like you have no choice but to operate this way … after all, when fires crop up, they need to be put out.

But if you spend all your time fighting fires, you won’t have the time to focus on your biggest priorities, which are often things that can drive your work forward more powerfully than spending your days responding to the crisis of the moment. Over at Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I talk about how to get out of this mode and regain control over your schedule. You can read it here.

behind the scenes: ask me anything

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Some readers have asked for a post on the behind-the-scenes working of Ask a Manager. For the majority of you for whom this will be boring, skip this post! But for those of you who like the insider-y details about how the site works, here’s your post … ask away and I’ll answer in the comments.

Update: I’m answering questions in order. I’m going to try to answer everything!

my friend is upset that I didn’t tell her about my job on her team, asking for a lower title, and more

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It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My friend is upset that I didn’t tell her that I was interviewing for a job on her team

I just started a new job today at a highly competitive company where a social acquaintance also works. We’re not BFFs by any stretch of the imagination, but we used to meet up about twice a month for different social outings (movies, dinners, BBQs, etc.). I’ve only known this person for about 18 months and we get along well but, again, we aren’t attached at the hip and I wouldn’t share my secrets with this person.

I had been interviewing for two positions in her department over a period of two months before I received an offer. After one of the interviews, I ran into her on my way out the door and she asked me if I was interviewing and I told her it was an “informal interview.” I said this because I didn’t want to jinx the interviews, but also I wanted to curb her prying. A few weeks after this had happened, she stopped talking to me completely. She even cancelled on a social outing that someone else had invited her to (she texted me to tell the host) and when I got engaged, she never said congratulations. I got the job offer shortly after she started giving me the silent treatment and didn’t really tell anyone besides my family members.

Fast forward to today, I had finished my first day and we got into the elevator together and she passive aggressively started talking about my lack of disclosure about the job. She also told me she had known for a while that I had accepted the job and that I had various opportunities to tell her about it. Mm I wrong for not telling her or anyone who works at this company? Also, if she was aware that I had accepted the job, why didn’t she reach out and congratulate me?

Yeah, it’s pretty weird that you didn’t tell her that you were interviewing with her company, and especially with her department. Usually people share that kind of thing in the hopes that the person will put in a good word for them, or just because it would be odd not to acknowledge it. And it’s definitely weird that you didn’t tell her that you were joining her team once you were hired! This is someone you know well enough to go to movies and dinners with; it’s strange to show up at their workplace one day as their new coworker without any mention of it earlier. (No judgment! I am weird all the time.)

She’s handling it badly too — giving you the silent treatment is immature and petty. She should have just reached out and congratulated you. But I’d suggest just telling her that you’re sorry that you didn’t say anything and realize now that you should have. If you can explain why you didn’t (other than “I wanted to curb your prying”), that would probably help too.

2. Should I ask for a lower title when interviewing for a more senior job?

I applied for a senior analysis engineer position and didn’t really expect to get any response since I didn’t quite meet all the requirements. I have been an analysis engineer for 6 years but in a totally different industry and product. Also, the position asked for 5 years experience with an analysis tool I really only have 5 months experience with. Plus the position responsibilities include teaching/mentoring/and institutional standards setting – something I don’t have any experience in at all and this doesn’t appear anywhere on my resume.

I was very surprised I got called in for an interview. I do have a masters which is required but not the 10 years experience they request. I would like to work for the company as an analyst but don’t think I would be at the senior analyst level. I only applied because it didn’t seem to hurt anything. Do you think I should be honest at the interview, answer their questions about what I know, then ask them whether they would hire me as an analyst engineer but don’t give me the title of senior analysis engineer? I don’t want a title I can’t live up to. Should I ask for a lower title during the interview? I’d more be in the position of needing teaching/mentoring then being a mentor myself. Should I ask if that is possible?

I wouldn’t ask for a lower title; that risks underselling yourself and coming across as lacking confidence in your skills. But it’s totally reasonable to say something like, “I know I have less experience in X and Y than you had in the job posting. How crucial is that experience level?” You might hear that it doesn’t really matter at all (because sometimes job ads don’t line up with reality) and that some other skill/experience you have is more important. Or you might hear that it is indeed pretty important. If that’s the case and you eventually get an offer, I’d ask about it head-on: “I know you mentioned in the interview that you were looking for more experience in X and Y than I have. I want to make sure I’d be able to be successful in the role — can you talk to me about how you think my lower level of experience in those areas would play out?”

3. Asking to work from home as an intern

I was recently hired as a paid, part-time marketing intern or a start-up, but the actual work is completely different than what I expected. It’s more of a data entry job for the company’s clients, but I still want to go through the duration of the internship (6 months).

My contract said I have between 20-30 hours per week, but I wanted to approach my supervisor and ask if I could work from home (since I’m more productive, feel refreshed, no need to commute, etc.) In the employee handbook, it suggests that working from home is alright if there is an emergency or if needed, but our main office should be the company’s headquarters. Since I’m not in a high-level position and my job can be done remotely, I think that there might be a chance that I could telecommute (at least for some of the hours). Likewise, I noticed that a few employees in my division (and other teams) would work from home. How could I approach my supervisor about this alternative schedule? I wanted to propose that I could work during the evenings as well (I have a flexible schedule)— should I incorporate this into my pitch as well?

You can certainly try, but be prepared for a no. Working from home is often a harder sell for interns, who usually don’t have the same level of trust built up that someone in a higher level role would. Working from home is often seen as a privilege that’s earned or that’s given because the company needs to offer it in order to attract talent, so it’s less likely to come up for internships, especially in an office where it sounds like telecommuting is for occasional use rather than a regular thing. Plus, your manager may feel that part of the point of the internship is for you to learn the sorts of things that you pick up from actually being in the office interacting with people.

That said, you could trying framing it as a concession for the work turning out so differently than how it was sold to you. For example: “I was expecting that my role would be more X and Y, like we talked about in my interview, and wasn’t expecting it to be so data-entry-heavy. Do you expect the work to remain like this for the remainder of my internship?” If the answer is yes, you could then say, “I was hoping for a different answer, but I understand that this is what you need me to focus on. But given that the role is different from the one we originally talked about, I wonder if you’d be willing to allow me to telecommute for all or some of my hours each week?”

But again, it’s a hard sell as an intern. Not the outrageous-to-even-ask type of hard sell, but the type where it might just be a no-go for them.

4. I don’t want to train a new coworker who didn’t meet the requirements for the job

How do you handle a new coworker hired when you were out on a leave of absence and who did not meet the requirements for the position, the position being the same grade as I am? Upon my return, I am expected to train this person. If the new hire is hired at the same grade, shouldn’t she have the experience it requires? Am I being too emotional about this?

Probably, if it’s really bothering you. It’s pretty common to be asked to train new coworkers who are doing the same work as you. I’d reserve judgment until you have more exposure to her work. It’s possible that she was a good hire for reasons you’re not yet able to see. Or, maybe she’s a terrible hire, in which case your manager made a mistake. But that’s no reason not to make a good faith effort to train her or to seethe over it. If she’s not picking up on the work, it should become clear soon enough.

5. Listing title changes on my resume

I’ve been at a company for four years now and I am looking to move on. Since being there, my title has changed about four times, not necessarily for promotions, although I have had them, but as part of restructures and re-branding initiatives within the firm. I have steadily progressed and taken on more responsibility and duties but my job titles have never correlated with these duties or my increases in pay. What on earth do I put on my resume? Just my most recent title?

Nope, put all the titles you’ve had there. You could list it like this:

Chocolate Teapots Ltd., March 2011 – present
teapot director, March 2014 – present
spout manager, August 2012 – March 2014
senior teapot coordinator, January 2012 – August 2012
tea drinker, March 2011 – December 2011
* accomplishment
* accomplishment
* accomplishment

we have to notify our employer about any clubs or organizations we belong to, including churches

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A reader writes:

I have been working for the past seven years for a nonprofit in Florida. We got a notification this morning that we had to send an email to HR revealing any other employment we have as well as if we belong to any clubs or organizations, including church. They said this information is to be placed in our HR file.

Is this legal for the employer to gather this information? The demand was followed up with “if you don’t like it, you don’t have to work here anymore.”


My hunch here was the act of asking about memberships in outside organizations doesn’t itself violate any laws, but it’s incredibly unwise from both a management standpoint and a legal standpoint: It’s bad management because it’s going to make employees really uncomfortable if they don’t care to reveal private affiliations, and it’s legally sketchy because if it were combined with additional information, it could look like discrimination or even an attempt at union-busting (depending on the organizations someone belongs to).

But to say for sure, I turned to employment lawyer Donna Ballman, author of Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired (which you should buy; it’s excellent). Here’s what Donna says:

Certainly it isn’t unreasonable for an employer to ask if you have a second job, and require you to disclose it. The reason for this would be to make sure there isn’t a conflict of interest and that you aren’t doing your second job on company time. When it gets into organizations, they may have a legitimate reason such as trying to show that their employees are involved in the community or concern about conflict of interest or doing the outside activities on company time. I’d say this inquiry is pretty invasive, but may not cross the line.

Asking about churches, though, is something I think could cross into illegal territory. The fact of the question being asked isn’t necessarily an instant lawsuit, but what they do with the information could be. I think it’s really stupid for them to ask. For instance, if they find out you’re a Wiccan, an atheist, or a Mormon and then they deny you a promotion, discipline you, or fire you, you’ll have a good argument that you were subjected to religious discrimination.

Going back to organizations, what if you’re a member of a cancer survivor group or a support group for people with a particular disability? Or you go to AA? Or maybe you belong to a group for people with a particular genetic defect, of a specific ethnicity or other protected category. If they take adverse action against you after you disclose this information, you might have a discrimination claim.

Overall, I think the organizations and church membership questions are stupid on the employer’s part but asking isn’t an instant lawsuit. What they do with the information, on the other hand, could give you ammunition for a discrimination suit down the line.

So, where does that leave you, letter-writer?

Personally, I’d reveal only what you’re comfortable with. Not about any second job — as Donna points out, they can have legitimate reasons for asking that, and it’s reasonable to require you to disclose that. But memberships in various organizations? I don’t think it’s any of their business, it’s opening the door to potential discrimination down the road, and well … maybe you have an awfully bad memory the day you fill out that form.

My bigger concern is actually their statement that if you don’t like it, you can find another job. That’s not the way a reasonable or well-managed organization communicates with employees, and unless there’s way more context to that conversation that wasn’t shared here, that’s a huge red flag. Good employers are as transparent as they can be, particularly when making requests that could be viewed as invasive or odd. Slapping someone down in a such a nasty way for asking what I assume was a reasonable question posed in a reasonable way — that’s a sign of deeper trouble.