old coworkers who won the lottery want to come back to work, a credible company has a fake-seeming website, and more

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

1. Old coworkers who won the lottery now want to come back

I’m a divisional manager. I manage several smaller teams and report to the manager of our entire department. Several years ago (long before I worked here), one of the teams won the lottery as a group. The entire team played except for Mary. Mary was invited to play but chose not to. After the win, everyone quit, including the manager.

In the years since the win, Mary has moved up to team manager. The lottery money has been a problem for her former team members and manager. One died from an overdose and another is in prison (both events made the news).

Our department is expanding, and some of Mary’s former team have applied to work here, citing financial issues and the need for an income. The departmental manager, Jon, has said he wants all of them to work on Mary’s team. Mary and I both think this is a bad idea. Mary thinks her old team will be bitter about having to come back to work and to have her as manager (at the time they left, she was entry-level and the most junior person on the team). A few of Mary’s old team have publicly expressed bitterness and regret about spending all the money and needing to work again. There are spots on other teams where they would be qualified to work. The spots on all the teams are entry-level only. Jon said he doesn’t think that Mary managing some of her old team members will cause conflict, but Mary and I both disagree. Do you have any idea how I can approach Jon with these concerns?

Mary is a great employee and will follow Jon’s direction, but I want to support her. She is also worried her old team members will resent her because she chose not to play the lottery because she believed the money would bring nothing but trouble and no good would come from it.

Mary is the one who will have to manage them if they come back, and so Jon should be deferring to your and Mary’s judgment on this.

But I don’t think you should suggest that they be hired for those entry-level spots on other teams, if they’re not entry-level. The goal here isn’t to find them jobs at all costs; it’s to hire the best person for each opening you have. If that might be one or more of them, then great … but shoehorning them into entry-level jobs that they’re overqualified for (if indeed that’s the case) doesn’t meet that bar.

Why not suggest a compromise with Jon — that you and Mary will interview each of them who’s interested and will keep an open mind, but that if at the end of that process you continue to be concerned that they’re not the best hires you could make, you’ll select other people?

2. A seemingly credible company has a fake-seeming website

A friend recently interviewed at a company that, from her cursory “due diligence,” seemed on the up-and-up: credentials, mutual colleagues/alumni, and a nice office in a swank building. There was no sensitive personal information disclosed or anything unusual about the interview itself, and she even ran into a former, trusted colleague on the way to the interview itself.

However, when my friend happened to look on the company’s web site again, she found what appear to be fake/doctored/planted press clippings, fake or unverifiable examples of the company’s innovations, and many cases of contradictory information (board member names, phone numbers, locations, etc) within the web site itself. Some discrepancies were obvious; others were only apparent to those with some experience in the field.

My friend applied for this position through a leading job-site aggregator; this company contacted her shortly thereafter for an interview (if I recall, via their corporate recruiter in another state or country).

A cautious and retiring type (by her own description), she is sure she hasn’t unluckily stumbled onto some nefarious fraud or Madoffesque upstart–but is annoyed at the waste of her time and energy. She is also concerned about the impact of having her name linked with any public “asking around,” as she is just a few years into her relatively small, niche career.

I haven’t heard of such a scenario before and am simply out of my depth here. (My guess is it’s a bizarre, cutting-edge set-up for a new reality show or an elaborate, and awful, practical joke).

The piece of this that doesn’t fit is the mutual colleagues. If you’re saying that she knows people who have worked there (and she’s sure they really did, and it’s not that their names have been coopted by some nefarious company), that makes it a lot harder to write it off as a scam or a strange reality show. Or who knows, maybe everything is on the up-and-up but they have a really horrible web communications person and haven’t figured that out or dealt with it yet. Or, a third possibility — since she’s only a few years into her career, is it possible that she’s evaluating the stuff on their website incorrectly?

In any case, I wouldn’t worry that she’s somehow connected herself to them by asking around about them. If the people she asked had strongly negative impressions of this company, presumably they would have told her when she asked. And no one is going to hold it against her for trying to do some due diligence on a company, particularly if there’s something shady to be learned.

3. Working while grieving

My father died a few days before Christmas, and it was extremely traumatic for me — he was a single parent to me when I was growing up, and we were extraordinarily close. I’m also 31, which I know isn’t a child, but I also didn’t really expect to be dealing with this sort of thing for another decade at least. On top of that, he was unmarried and had no other children, so when it comes to the business of settling his affairs, it’s pretty much just on me — our home, for example, needs to be sold, and it’s in California and I’m in New York.

I do have help, and I’m lucky to work at a place where everyone is understanding and generous — I was out for two extra weeks and haven’t been docked any vacation or sick leave, for example. That being said, I’m having a really hard time back at work: things that would simply irritate or minorly stress me out before feel extra big now, and I generally feel more fragile and sensitive than I have before. So far I feel like my work performance hasn’t been TOO impacted, but I’m anxious about that happening at some point/how much energy I’m expending keeping myself together. I’ve just started seeing a grief counselor, which I’m hoping will help, but in the meantime would be so grateful for any advice on how to manage this at work, at least for now.

I’m so sorry about your dad.

Lower the pressure on yourself — you’re not going to be functioning in the same way that you were before this happened, just like you hopefully wouldn’t expect yourself to come back at full speed right after being out for a debilitating illness. It’s going to take some time for you to recover your equilibrium at work, and that’s okay.

One thing that will help is talking to your boss. Let her know that you’re dealing with a lot right now, that there are a lot of demands on your energy not only because of the grief but also because all the logistics are falling to you, and that you may not be yourself right away. She probably already assumes that, but you’ll feel better for having said it.

If you’ve been there a while, trust that you have enough of a track record built up that you’ll be given the space that you need. If you haven’t been there a while, trust that people will still be compassionate because they know what you’re going through.

Hang in there.

4. Taking a job with a manager who’s less experienced than me

I am now at the last stage of the interview process for a very interesting middle-level position. I have a doubt, though, and I would really like to hear your thoughts. My industry is very small, so I ran across the person I would be reporting to a few times in the past. They are a couple of years younger than me and less experienced. I’m saying that they are less experienced after doing my due diligence on this position, on the company, and on the tasks of this person, not out of jealousy or delusion. While the age factor is not an issue, I’m concerned that reporting to a person with less experience than me could be a recipe for trouble.

The selection process is happening in English, which is not my or this company’s native language, so I already had the doubt that they were looking for somebody more junior than me, but after reviewing carefully the vacancy I think there were no misunderstandings there. Am I overreacting or would you see this as a red flag, or something I should pay attention to? In consideration of how the selection process is going, I think I have good chances to get an offer.

If the person is great at what she does, it’s not likely to be a problem at all. If she’s not great at what she does, that would be a problem even if she had decades of experience more than you. So really, focus on what you know about her competence and achievements, and how she approaches her work and her management on the people on her team, not on her age or years in the industry.

Plus, in many roles, a manager really doesn’t need to know how to do the work of the people she’s managing; she just needs to know how to manage them effectively. More on that here.

(Also! If you literally mean “a couple of years” younger than you, that’s basically nothing that should even cross your radar — a few years of experience isn’t likely to make the kind of difference you’d notice, at least not in most fields.)

5. I was rejected after a manager looked at my LinkedIn profile

I recently applied for a job through an organization that I am really interested in becoming a team member of. I noticed on Monday that a senior manager in the department looked at my LinkedIn profile on Sunday. However, I was sent an automated rejection letter that morning. My profile is pretty similar to my resume and I am unsure if I am over analyzing it or should fix my profile and or resume for future references.

Nah, don’t read anything into it. I look at LinkedIn profiles of candidates who I end up rejecting for other reasons all the time. Very rarely, if ever, is what I saw on LinkedIn the reason. I’m just looking to get a better sense of them, or even sometimes because I’m curious about one particular fact, or all sorts of reasons. Assuming that your LinkedIn profile isn’t really messy or quite different from your resume and that you don’t have a wildly unprofessional photo up or something, I’d assume you were rejected for non-LinkedIn reasons.

how can we screen out micromanagers when hiring a new manager for our team?

A reader writes:

I am part of the interview team in finding a replacement for our ex-manager. And our department would reeeeally like this person to not be another micromanager.

Any ideas for questions I could ask? Or any red flags in the interviewee’s answers/demeanour to watch out for?

Often when this topic comes up, people will advise asking the candidates to describe their management style. The problem with that is that most people really suck at describing their management style with anything approaching accuracy.

I interview a lot of candidates for jobs where management style is really, really key, and learned pretty early on that I couldn’t rely on people’s answers to that question. Most people can’t accurately self-assess about what kind of manager they are, especially in response to a broad question like that … and it tends to produce a lot of vague talk about about open-door policies and investing in people and blah blah, and very few specifics.

The better route is to get them talking in concretes about how they actually have operated in the recent past. (In fact, this is pretty much always the way to go in interviews, not just for management roles. You’ll get much more useful information.)

For example, ask them about a big project their team recently handled that they managed but other people were responsible for carrying out. Then ask a bunch of follow-up questions to really dig into what their management of that project looked like:
* What was your role in getting the work done?
* What your process for assigning the work and making sure people were set up for success? (You’re looking here for someone who takes the time to get aligned at the start about what success would look like, so that they’re not having to constantly intervene and correct as the work plays out.)
* How did you interact with your team throughout the process, and at what points? (You’re looking here for set check-ins at particular milestones or time markers, rather than someone who basically swooped in whenever it occurred to them.)
* How did you spot any course corrections that might have needed to be made?
* Was the project a success? What kind of feedback did you give your team?

That’s going to get you the best information about how they really operate, rather than how they think they operate. But here are some other questions you can ask too:

* What kind of structures do you use to evaluate people’s work and give feedback?
* How often do people get feedback from you?
* Tell us about a time someone’s project wasn’t going well and how you handled it.
* What kind of person do you have trouble managing?
* What kind of person doesn’t work well with you?
* How has your approach to managing evolved over time? Are there things you do differently or think about differently now than you used to? (This sometimes gets you much more accurate answers than just “tell me about your management style” because it forces them to go beyond platitudes and buzz words.)
* Given that everyone has something they’d probably like to change about their boss, what do you think your staff members would want to change about you if they could wave a magic wand over your head?

Also! Don’t get so focused on screening out micromanagers that you forget to screen for all the other things that are important too. Hiring managers tend to be haunted by their last bad hire, meaning that they then focus so heavily on avoiding those things with the next hire that they often miss totally different problems that they should also be screening out. So make sure that you’re looking at the full picture of how candidates operate, and not getting so focused on micromanagement in particular that you miss other points.

the psychology behind the office candy dish

The Washington Post has a pretty fascinating piece about the psychology behind the office candy dish, centered around their own two-month experiment tracking one candy dish in their office.

An amusing excerpt:

The most fascinating part was watching how people behaved around the jar, which sits on a cabinet less than three feet from Kevin’s head.

First of all, nearly everyone who approached the candy while Kevin was present emitted some sort of noise before opening the jar, even if it was just a primal “oooooh!” or “mmmm.” Some politely asked if they could have a piece. Others explained why they shouldn’t have a piece before diving in. A photographer started singing “The Candy Man.”

That’s not surprising at all, said neuroscientist Gary Wenk, author of “Your Brain on Food.”

Wenk called it “the Kevin stimulus.” Basically, Kevin’s presence injected social complications into the food decisions. People had to decide whether the candy was worth the interaction.

“You have to be willing to break into someone else’s personal space and take one of their items that they are offering to you,” Wenk said. “You have to say, ‘Okay, I’m worth it, and I’m going to come over there and talk to you.’ ”

… Interpersonal risk calculations help explain why most people do not want to take the last piece — or, more accurately, do not want to be seen taking the last piece. (Not once in our experiment did the last piece disappear while Kevin was sitting by the jar.) Only the most uninhibited would be willing to risk appearing so nakedly entitled.

It also points out that hardly anyone is willing to take the peanut M&Ms from the Post’s top editor’s candy jar:

Most of the M&Ms are consumed by just four top editors during meetings in Baron’s office. For the rest of us worker bees, the barriers — Baron’s status, Barnes’s watchful eyes, the jar’s location in an office and even the complicated lid — make the risks outweigh the potential reward.

The whole piece is an enjoyable read and will make you look at the candy dynamics in your office differently.

I won’t be considered for a promotion unless I promise not to leave if my coworker gets the job

A reader writes:

I work at a very small organization. Over my time here, I’ve steadily taken on more and more responsibility. I’ve tried to negotiate raises on several occasions, usually just after being assigned a new responsibility. In my opinion, when my job description and level of responsibility change significantly, I should have the opportunity to re-negotiate my salary. My boss had set up a fixed raise schedule (e.g. 5% per year) that’s unrelated to merit or, apparently, scope of duties. So he has denied my requests for raises. On several occasions, he has given me a raise when he sensed I was ready to walk.

Now, the director of my company is retiring and we are in the midst of the hiring process. The director encouraged me to apply and has said I’d be a good candidate. I submitted my application, made it through the first round of interviews, and I thought I knocked it out of the park. I know this organization well, have a clear vision for the future, and feel that I have all the skills and experience to thrive. But my boss told me in confidence that the selection committee is leaning toward an external candidate. The selection committee thinks that I lack the proper risk management experience. Fair enough. I was disappointed, but I began to make peace with it and had begun to get excited about a new boss, one I might communicate better with.

But then! My boss comes to me with a suggestion. One of my coworkers also applied to the position. I am not fond of this coworker. We have vastly different communication styles and work styles. I do not appreciate the way she manages people under her, nor the way she addresses conflict. My boss tells me that the big reason the selection committee will not choose either of us is because they fear that hiring one of us will cause the other one to leave the company. With such a small company, I can see how that would be a real risk. My boss tells me that he wants her and me to get together and draft a proposal to the selection committee about how she and I would work together. He wants both of us to agree that if the board chooses one of us, the other will stay, and to make this statement to the committee. I don’t know what she thinks of this proposal, but she’s agreed to sit down for a conversation about it.

I feel I am in an awful position. It’s true that if the board chooses her to be the new director I will resign. Given our different styles, vision, and priorities, it wouldn’t be beneficial to the company for me to stay on. Maybe she feels the same about my candidacy. But now I am in a position where I am forced to directly acknowledge to my boss, my coworker, and the selection committee that I am not on board with this arrangement. I know that my refusal to make this deal might paint me in a bad light.

My boss has told me pretty directly that if I do not make this agreement with my coworker, then the committee will not consider either of us for the position. I guess that’s the way it has to be. I’m ready to give up the job, even though I truly think I’m a well-qualified candidate.

None of these proclamations have come from the selection committee, but I believe my boss about the way things are shaking out, and I see the logic behind necessitating this internal agreement. I hate that I still have to continue through the rest of the interview process, despite being effectively out of the running. I don’t want the burden of preparing for this interview if I’m not going to be considered. Should I withdraw my candidacy? Is my boss messing with my head and meddling in this process?

I’m ready to resign. I feel so much resentment and bitterness. I feel like I’ve been strung along by my boss with promises of better compensation that never come to fruition. I feel like I’m being manipulated in this hiring process.

It seems like the obvious choice to just walk away, but I really like this job. I like my duties, I like the clients I interact with, I love the work-life balance. I could overlook the paltry salary if it weren’t for all the other scheming and politics that feel like they’re taking place all around me. I keep thinking that if I can hold out till the current director leaves, then maybe I will be happy again with a new boss. What should I do? What factors should I be considering? How do I navigate the conversation with my boss/coworker/selection committee where I’m forced to say to my coworker “I will never work under you”?

You don’t have to say that to your coworker. Totally aside from how you feel about the prospect of working for your coworker, the request that your company is making of you is ridiculous and unreasonable.

You’re supposed to commit to staying for how long? Three months? One year? Three years? Indefinitely?

It’s not a reasonable thing to ask of you, and it’s especially unreasonable if they’re not willing to make some kind of commitment to you in return.

They’re being childish here. They aren’t willing to make the hiring decision that they think is best for the organization and are trying to hedge their bets against totally normal realities of business — like that people leave jobs.

As for what to do, at a minimum I’d say this to your boss: “I don’t know what the future holds, so I can’t make that kind of promise.”

If you want to be pointed about it, you could add, “at least not without negotiating a more formal contract where the organization makes a similar commitment to me and we address my current and future compensation.”

But also, if you want to, there’s nothing wrong with outright saying, “It’s true that I don’t think I’d stay here in the long-term working for Jane. We have very different styles. That’s okay though. If the hiring committee thinks that Jane is the right choice, they should offer her the job. No one stays in a job forever, and they shouldn’t make hiring decisions based on worries about whether one of us will leave. We’ll all leave eventually, and they should make the hire they want.”

I hear you that you’re worried about that getting back to Jane, so you may not want to say this — but know that it’s a very reasonable thing to say. (You could also say to your boss, “I don’t want to cause tension in my working relationship with Jane, so I’d appreciate if you didn’t share this with her, but I wanted to give you a candid answer.”)

As for whether or not you should withdraw from consideration, you could say this: “If this takes me out of the running, it won’t make sense for me to continue through the rest of the interview process, so can you let me know if I should withdraw, or how they’d like me to handle that?”

From there … since you’re otherwise mostly happy with your job, I don’t think it makes sense to resign before you even know how this will play out. Wait and see what happens. If they appoint Jane or someone else who you don’t want to work under, you can resign at that point. But there’s no reason to do it before you even know what will end up happening. (You could start your job search now, though, since searches can take a while and then you’ll have a lot of the groundwork laid if you do decide later that you want to leave. You’re allowed to look around without being fully decided on leaving.)

can you bill for your time after a long interview process, bringing in baked goods on your first day, and more

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

1. Can you bill for your time after a long interview process?

A friend recently sat for 29 — yes, 29 — half-hour interviews (company size ~180) for the position of senior director. The interviews included the CEO, President, COO, CFO, etc. The company’s hiring manager called her two references, both of which are highly respected in the field, and both of which attested to giving her stellar reviews. In addition, she has an un-blemished record, excellent credentials, etc. Regardless, she was not hired and the position remains unfilled.

Considering the fact that the company took it to the end (i.e., by calling her references), should she bill the company for her time? If so, how would she go about doing so, a simple request by mail? Attorney? If not, do you suggest she voice her disapproval, assuming it is somehow constructive?

What?! No, she can’t bill them for her time, and doing so would make her look really, really out-of-touch and would be the kind of thing people would gossip about for a very long time and would seriously hurt her reputation. You can’t send people a bill for a fee they never agreed to pay; otherwise we could all send each other bills for draining, annoying interactions.

29 interviews is beyond excessive. But no one required her to continue participating in them, and her participation didn’t create an obligation on the company’s part to hire her at the end of the process.

The better move would be to resolve in the future not to do anything in a hiring process that she’ll be bitter about if she doesn’t end up getting an offer.

2. Should I bring in baked goods on my first day at a new job?

I’ve just accepted a job offer and will be starting my new role at a tech startup in a few weeks. The organization is overwhelmingly male due to the nature of the work (software developers), and I’ll be only the fifth or sixth woman to join the team. Not a problem for me, I’ve worked on similar teams in the past.

In the interview process, I was asked a number of cultural questions. One of the question was about hobbies and interests outside of work, and I discussed my love of cooking and baking with my soon-to-be supervisor.

My question is this: I’m considering making some kind of awesome baked goods to bring on my first day of work, but I don’t want to be seen as overly feminine, mom-like, or the de facto “office manager.” On previous mostly male teams where I’ve worked, I found myself cleaning up after meetings, planning Christmas parties, and other “women’s work” tasks, even though these things had nothing to do with my role (I’m in marketing). I don’t want to set that tone at this new job. Do you think bringing treats will diminish my professional stature? Is it a nice gesture or a way to pigeon-hole myself as the den mother?

Nooooo, don’t do it.

You want to make a good impression based on your skills, not on your baked goods. And while you’re doing that, it’s smart not to walk right into a stereotypically “female” role — especially in a heavily male office, and especially when you’ve found yourself getting pigeonholed that way in the past.

Plus, doing it on your first day risks coming across as pretty transparently attempting to curry favor through food. And you don’t know the food culture of the office yet; this could be a thing no one ever does, or they could have an anti-sweets thing going on, or who knows what.

Normally I’d say to wait until you’ve been there a while (months, not days or weeks), and then go for it if you still want to. But given the situation you’ve described and how you’ve been pigeonholed in the past, this sounds like a situation where it would be wiser not to bring in food at all, unless/until it’s clear that doing so wouldn’t diminish your professional stature there. (Their loss!)

3. I’m not sure if I’m doing my job at the expected level

Through all the jobs I have had, and schools, etc., I’ve never had trouble with the self-awareness to know how I am performing at a job/class. I like to think I am usually a high performing and conscientious employee, but I have always felt like I knew where I stood with my level of work.

However, this new job (seven months in now) has me spinning. I am working in my field in a large company but a small department. It is a demanding and skills-based field, and while I am currently taking courses at night to move forward with my knowledge base, I am still learning a lot on the job. The problem I am having is that I feel like I am making a lot of mistakes, and that there are aspects of the job I am really struggling with still, and I’m not sure if that’s normal. I find myself needing to ask both my boss and the one other person in my department a lot of questions still, and need help with tasks that I’ve done before. I want feedback from my boss, but she is incredibly busy all the time and I’m not sure what asking “How am I doing?” would accomplish, especially if she says I am not doing well. She has told me previously that this is a job where they intentionally hire more junior people early in their careers because it is a good position to gain experience in, but I’m not sure how far that extends.

My inability to gauge my own work here may be slightly complicated due to a medical condition I have which can cause side effects such as brain fog, strong emotions, etc. I keep it pretty well controlled with medication but it means there are times where I’m not sure if I can trust my own perception of things. Is it worth trying to ask my already busy and stressed boss to make time for a review? If so, how should I bring it up?

Yes, yes, yes. Well, not necessarily a formal review, since if she doesn’t already do those as a matter of course and she’s busy and stressed, that’s a big ask. But it’s perfectly reasonable and normal to ask for an informal conversation about how things are going and areas where she might want you work on improving. You could say it this way: “Could we sit down for 15 or so minutes in the next week or two and talk about how things things are going? I’d like to get a better sense of how I’m doing overall, as well as any areas that you think I should be focusing on improving in.”

You said you’re not sure what this will accomplish, especially if she says you’re not doing well. The big thing it will accomplish is giving you information — since right now you’re guessing at how you’re doing and you’re feeling unsure and insecure. If you find out that she’s pleased with how you’re doing, that should give you some peace of mind. And if you find out that she has concerns, then you can stop wondering and know for sure what you need to work on doing better.

There’s more advice on asking for feedback here, and read this too.

4. Telling high school students to put objectives on their resumes

I’m a high school teacher; most of what I teach is Concurrent Enrollment (CE), which means that students are enrolled in high school but I teach college classes to these students, who need to apply to the college, get accepted, register through the college, etc. I have backgrounds in both secondary and higher education, so I’m unusually qualified at my school to do this. We occasionally talk about differences in academic terminology (“What’s the difference between a major and a minor?”), post-college and career preparation, etc. Recently a guest speaker from a local college spoke to my CE classes about career preparation; she modeled a poor resume (a real-life example, since she does some hiring at her college) and interview skills, both of which I think were very helpful discussions for my high school seniors to have.

However, one thing she mentioned was how important it was to include and customize a career or job objective atop their resume (customized for each job). Clearly there’s a difference between the types of jobs a high school student is likely to have vs. the type of career they’d like to have, so having a bunch of retail jobs is not necessarily indicative of a professional career. (Yes, I know there are exceptions.) Is this a thing – telling younger people to include career or job objectives because it might not be otherwise career what one’s objective is?

It’s only a thing as much as giving young people bad career advice is a thing — which is to say that it happens a lot and shouldn’t.

They don’t need objectives, and including them will make their resumes look outdated. In fact, while resume objectives are pretty useless for everyone, they’re extra useless for this group, given the types of jobs students are generally applying for.

5. Networking with current coworkers

I’m in the early stages of my career, in a good entry-level position at an organization with a lot of interesting people. I’ve been there for about a year now. I’m debating my next move and in the process of conducting informational interviews to see what kind of educational/career track I might like to take, perspective on my field, etc. These interviews have been going well and I feel like I’m getting a clearer sense of what I’d like to do next.

But, so far I have refrained from asking people at my current organization for potential networking contacts. The nonprofit organization with which I work is a large, civically-minded place that’s closely tied in with local and national networks; there are a lot of strong professionals on staff, smart board members, and volunteers who might have interesting connections. Since I’d like to leave my position in the next few months once I have a better sense of what I’d like to do next, I’ve refrained from asking for any networking contacts through people I know at my current place of work.

Is it kosher to ask for some connections from people I work with? I’m tempted — I think it would be helpful to talk to some of the people they know — but I’m not sure how that would reflect on me. Does it make it seem like I’m looking elsewhere? Or would it reflect poorly on me later if I took a new position in the next few months?

It definitely does make it look like you’re looking elsewhere and thinking about leaving; that’s going to be pretty clear. And because you’ve only been there a year, there’s a good chance that it’ll make some people uncomfortable because they’ll feel that they’re being asked to help you leave before you’ve put in the normal amount of time that your organization probably expected you to stay (which is likely more like a minimum of two years). That doesn’t mean that some people won’t still be happy to help; they might be. That’s especially true if (a) you’re doing a really good job now and (b) you make it clear that you’ve realized you need to switch to an entirely different type of work (as opposed to just moving on for the hell of it or because you’re bored). But you’d need to proceed with caution.

Also, if you do talk to people, you need a more targeted ask than just asking for networking contacts. You’d want to have a very specific request (“people who work at X organization” or “people who do X type of work” or “your old boss, Jane Warbleworth”), and be clear about what it is that you’re hoping to talk to them about (“what it’s like to do X work” or “what she looks for in people she hires for job X”).

weekend free-for-all – February 25-26, 2017

This 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 no work and no school. If you have a work question, you can email it to me or post it in the work-related open thread on Fridays.)

Recommendation of the week: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. It’s a British comedy of manners, but it’s more too. (I recommended the author’s The Summer Before the War last year too, and this one is just as good.)

should I hire an overqualified candidate?

A reader writes:

I will be interviewing people for an entry-level position in an engineering company, but the job is an analyst position, not an engineering position. As such, it will pay significantly less than an engineering position. One candidate is an engineer with over 20 years of experience, only a little of which is on point for the position we are offering.

Other than asking straight out: “Why are you interested in this job?”, how I can get to what would prompt a candidate to apply for a job that will pay so much less than I am sure he could get in other places? I can’t help but feel that he sees this job as a stepping stone to get into the company, then will start looking for a job that is a better fit. How can I find out if that is the case?

Also, my boss appears to want to hire this person, even though we haven’t spoken with him yet. If he doesn’t appear to be a good fit for the job, what is the best way for me to persuade my boss of that?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Can an employer prohibit you from dating a client?
  • Inviting former coworkers to coffee after a lay-off
  • Do companies understand the ramifications of slow hiring processes?
  • How can I stay in touch with my boss after leaving my job?

open thread – February 24-25, 2017

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’m still getting calls from clients after being let go, my coworker is interfering in my work, and more

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

1. I’m still getting calls from clients after being let go

A few months ago, I was let go from my job. It was an amicable parting after the job description changed and I no longer fit the role they needed, and both of my former bosses agreed to be references for me.

However, I find that I’m still getting phone calls from former clients whom I called before I was let go. Due to the nature of the business, it’s not unusual for a client to say “we will contact you in the spring.” Naturally, I am answering every phone call that comes in the hopes that it is for a job, but many times it is a former client who doesn’t know that I have been let go.

I want to know if I am handling things reasonably. Most times I will apologize, explain that I am no longer with the company, and tell them that I will tell someone within the company that they called. To me, this is easier because in order to get the client to the right person, I would have to spell out an email and I know that spelling it out can be difficult over the phone. It’s quicker to message my former supervisor and tell them “so and so from such and such a place called” rather than spend agonizing minutes on the phone dictating an email address and all the while being painfully reminded that I was let go. Am I doing too much? Should I be screening my calls despite looking for a job?

Ugh, one of the many reasons not to use your personal phone number for work, although it’s too late for that to do you any good now.

I think you’re right that you want to be answering your phone right now since you have resumes out there. In theory, employers should leave messages and be reachable when you call them back, but plenty of people have stories about that not always working out.

Otherwise I’d say just let the calls go to voicemail, and maybe even add something to your voicemail greeting directing people looking for your old company to call them directly. But since that’s not an ideal option here, then yeah, I’d keep doing what you’re doing. However, you could ask your old manager if there’s something she can do — such as having a current employee proactively get in touch with the clients who were assigned to you to give them updated contact info. (That’s better for her too since it’s not great to have client calls going to someone who no longer works there, so she should be willing to do it.)

2. I’m doing some of my coworker’s work as a favor to her and she’s interfering

I work in an office with 13 others and we’re a close office. We spend time together outside of work regularly and all get on well.

I have recently taken on an extra responsibility outside of my own job description, and in reality this is part of Fiona’s job. Fiona has severe anxiety and depression and decided that this responsibility was too much for her. An intern did it for a while (and was awful) so I am taking it on.

I have to liaise with one of Fiona’s team members (Greg) to do my work, and everything is finally sorted from the intern doing god-knows-what to it. Greg and I have settled plans for the next few weeks. But Fiona keeps trying to question my work, and is trying to rearrange timings for activities when everything is already sorted. She pulls up a chair next to me to question what I’ve done while reading my emails from Greg. She then checks it all through with Greg that it is okay by shouting across the office. (I have taken to carrying on with my work when she does this.)

It takes up a lot of my working day and as this is an extra responsibility, I do need the time to work on other areas. I’m unsure how to address this situation as she is aware that she couldn’t work on this right now, but I can’t go through all of Greg’s plans twice as well as do my own work. I don’t want to hurt her by saying the wrong thing and am worried that whatever I say she will take the wrong way. She has been fired from jobs before this one and is always worrying about losing her job. I really want to be nice but I’m starting to lose my patience!

“Nice” is a fine thing to be, but you can’t let it keep you from addressing work issues that are impeding your effectiveness. And you can’t let a fear of not being nice prevent you from having perfectly reasonable conversations.

The next time she questions your work or pulls up a chair, say this: “I need to work on other things right now, but I’ve got this under control.” And then turn back to your computer and work on other things, like you need to. If necessary, you can also say, “I know you’re interested in this work, but realistically I don’t have the time to to do this on top of my other work and also walk you through my planning. If you want to take it back over, let’s talk about that, but otherwise I need you to let me manage it.”

That’s not rude; it’s direct, and it’s reasonable. If she takes offense to that, that’s about her, not you.

3. How to support an employee facing unfounded accusations of racism

One the supervisors I oversee, Beth, has been accused of being racist during the hiring process. One of the (external) candidates she interviewed for a spot on her team has retained a lawyer and is claiming Beth did not hire him because of his race (he is black, Beth is white). Beth says she decided not to hire him because he was not well spoken and used slang and words in the interview that she didn’t understand (such as fleek, bae, and woke).

Our company works on government contracts and they are taking the allegations seriously. Beth has been suspended while they investigate. I want to show my support to Beth during this. I have already spoken to my boss about it. I’m black, and Beth has never exhibited any signs of racism to or around me. Beth has a black grandparent and before she worked for us she spent three years working for an NGO in Africa. (I’m aware that having a black relative doesn’t mean someone can’t be racist, but I’m giving that as an example as part of the wider picture.)

My boss asked people who worked with Beth to anonymously report any incidents where they felt she had been racist to HR but no one has reported anything and several people (of all races) have emailed or expressed their support for Beth to me. I’m confident the allegation will be dismissed as unfounded, but until then I want Beth to know I’m on her side and will go to bat for her. How can I do this while not overstepping and still being professional?

If you’re confident in your read of the situation (and have factored in how often “not well-spoken” gets used in biased ways and you’re confident it’s not the case here), then be direct and say something similar to what you said in your letter. For example: “I want you to know that I’m on your side and I will go to bat for you. I’ve never had any reason to question your integrity on these issues, and I’m confident that this will be dismissed as unfounded. I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with this simply from doing your job.”

Update: The letter-writer has updated in the comments that the candidate greeted Beth with “hey dog,” and that the job was for a communications position. The candidate Beth hired was a person of color. (The letter-writer is commenting as “Henry,” if you’d like to read his comments below.)

4. My internship hasn’t turned out to be what I was promised

I am a psychology major at a four-year university in my senior year, looking to get into the field of Human Resources. Psychology majors are required to complete 120 hours of practical experience in an internship to graduate. I was both lucky and excited to quickly secure an internship at a nonprofit organization that listed the position as “Human Resources and Client Services Intern.” The organization’s mission is to assist clients in obtaining and retaining gainful employment.

During the interview process, the manager noticed I had collections and telemarketing experience and thought it would be an excellent idea to have me assist with “company outreach” (getting businesses to sponsor the organization in various ways — telemarketing). I explained I would be glad to help in that area, but did stress the fact that I was looking to gain practical skills in human resources.

I have completed nearly 30 hours, and most of it has been in a retail type role (dressing clients for interviews/sorting clothing) and telemarketing, and I do not feel I am gaining practical experience in HR. I was hoping the internship would provide me with the skills needed to not only obtain an entry-level position in HR but to use as experience for my future application to a master’s program.

Can you please advise me on the best way to handle this situation? I understand due to lack of funds, many employees at a nonprofit wear many hats and perform a variety of tasks. I am afraid to speak up because I need to do well at this position so I can ask for letters of recommendation, I don’t want to appear as if I am unwilling to do what it takes.

Nope, this isn’t cool, especially if it’s an unpaid internship. This isn’t you “not being willing to do what it takes”; this is you addressing the fact that you took the job because you were promised something that so far has not materialized. Speaking up about this is no different than speaking up if your paycheck was less than promised.

Say this: “I took this internship because my understanding was that I’d be focusing on X, Y, and Z. I’m now a quarter of the way in, and I’ve been mainly doing retail work and telemarketing. It’s important to me that I get the experience we originally talked about. Would it be possible to focus on X, Y, and Z for the remainder of my time here, as we talked about when I interviewed?”

If the answer is anything other than “whoops, yes, we lost track of how much time we’d had you spending on other things and we will remedy that immediately,” then I’d seriously consider whether it’s possible at this stage to move to a different internship. I’d also talk with your program at school about what’s happening and see if they can offer any help. (For example, they might be able help you secure different employment, or offer other guidance.)

But you don’t need to keep doing a job that you never signed up for and that you made clear you weren’t interested in (especially if you’re doing it for free).

5. Do my contacts think I’ve already committed to taking a job with them?

I recently decided to move jobs, and sent out a few messages to people in my network with whom I have close professional relationships. Fortunately, I got three enthusiastic responses, and I’m making plans to interview at all three. Most of them aren’t even official posted jobs yet, but the hiring managers are in the beginning stages of arranging for the positions.

Since I reached out to them initially, I’m concerned they think I am committed to working for them specifically. They have made a few offhand comments that make me think this is a valid concern — comments said in passing like “you’ll see [about a new project] when you get here,” which makes them hard to respond to. The truth is I want to learn more about each position before I make any commitment. How can I navigate this job hunting scenario gracefully, without leading on or disappointing any of my valued professional contacts?

I think you’re probably reading more into it than they intend. Hiring managers generally realize that casual conversations are exploratory, not commitments to take a job if offered, especially when you haven’t even interviewed yet. And those sorts of offhand comments aren’t unusual, and they don’t mean “this is a done deal.” (More on that here.)

But if you’re really concerned about it, you could always say something like, “I know you’re in the early stages of the hiring process, but so far I’m really interested in what we’ve discussed. I’m talking with a few different people and considering a few options, but what you’re doing here really intrigues me, and I’m looking forward to talking more.”

my friend tried to strong-arm her way into a promotion

A reader writes:

I’m curious what you make of this situation, about a friend trying to strong-arm her way into a promotion.

Sansa is an entry-level teapot inspector at a very prestigious company. This is her first real job. Sansa is young but hard working and ambitious. In her spare time she designs her own teacups and markets them online. At work, she’s always asking for more responsibility. Two teapot design positions opened up, one junior and one senior. Sansa applied for the junior position and thought she was a shoo-in. Instead they hired Fergus, who actually has less direct teapot design experience than Sansa. As a result, Fergus frequently seeks out Sansa’s help and advice.

Frustrated, Sansa applied for the senior design role. Even though the hiring manager, Cersei, is specifically looking for a senior person, Sansa believes she deserves the job and was already passed over once so she has nothing to lose. But Cersei is taking her time and Sansa is impatient.

So Sansa thinks that maybe she needs to quit and focus on her own teapot design business. She goes to her friend and more senior colleague Arya. Arya used to work at a small company called Tiny Teacups, which is hiring for a part-time tea cup inspector. Sansa asks Arya to recommend her for the inspector job. She reasons that she can work part-time and focus on her side-hustle. So Arya really goes to bat for Sansa, and Sansa gets an offer. The day she gets the offer, Sansa goes into Cersei’s boss’s office and says “I have an offer from Tiny Teacups. If you don’t hire me for the senior teapot design job, I quitting.” Cersei’s boss is very surprised — Tiny Teacups is a much less prestigious company, and Sansa’s role would be very easy to fill — but he tries to placate her by saying he will look into it.

Sansa is so confident about getting the promotion that she immediately emails Tiny Teacups and declines their offer. She doesn’t call and doesn’t let Arya know that she declines. So now Arya is angry that she recommended her. Then Sansa emails Cersei’s boss and says, “I trust that you will do the right thing, so I declined the offer.”

Cersei still hasn’t filled the role. Is there a chance that this ploy could have worked? Arya thinks that Sansa has probably burned bridges and hurt her reputation. What would you be thinking if you were Cersei or her boss? How would you advise Sansa?

(If it makes a difference, Sansa’s behavior might have been driven by the fact she had recently found out she making less than a male coworker in the exact same role, with similar experience. When she complained, she was given a small bump but not parity.)

Oh my goodness. Talk about unforced errors — Sansa has messed this up all over the place.

Applying for a senior role from an entry-level one … usually doesn’t result in success. When you know that your boss is specifically looking for a senior-level person, applying as an entry-level person can hurt you (despite Sansa’s “I have nothing to lose” stance) because it makes you look like a particularly difficult type of naive.

Then, trying announcing that she’ll quit if they don’t hire her for a job she’s not qualified for … again, a particularly difficult type of naive is the nicest way I can describe this.

Then, declining the other offer because she was so convinced her current company would cave and hire her for a senior position, when they’d agreed to no such thing … good lord.

And then there’s the bridge she’s burnt with Arya, who probably will never go to bat for her or recommend her for a job again after being treated so shabbily. It’s not that Sansa was obligated to accept the job with Arya’s company — she wasn’t — but it now looks to Arya like Sansa used her to negotiate with her current employer and never seriously intended to take the job that Arya spent capital to get her. And not even telling Arya that she declined the job there?! It’s not good.

Now, does Sansa have a legitimate beef about the salary issue? Quite possibly, and I would have urged her to focus there. But she’s harmed her ability to address it, because now she’s given her employer all sorts of legitimate reasons not to want to work with her at all. She also might have had a legitimate beef about them hiring a less-qualified dude for the junior teapot role — although if Sansa has shown this kind of bad judgment before, it’s possible that they passed her over for good reason.

To answer your questions: Is there a chance that Sansa’s ploy could have worked? No. An entry-level person who has displayed terrible judgment is not getting hired into a senior-level role, at least not in any functioning company.

What is Cersei thinking? That she has a loose cannon on her hands. She’s also probably trying to figure out if the strengths Sansa brings to the job are worth the headaches she brings, and whether she can coach her into better judgment in the future, and whether she should take an “I understand you’re not happy here so let’s set your last day” stance.

As for advice for Sansa herself, she needs to figure out if she can stay happily in her current role, knowing that she’s not likely to be promoted into the senior one anytime soon. It wouldn’t hurt to get a more realistic understanding of what jobs she’s qualified for, and what the path to higher level work looks like. She probably needs to apologize to Cersei and Cersei’s boss for handling things the way she did. And if it’s true, she can say that she’s been very frustrated by being paid less than a male coworker doing the same work and by missing out on a promotion to someone with fewer skills and less experience, and that it was her frustration with that situation that they were seeing here. She can ask if there’s a way to address those concerns and move forward.

And she should apologize profusely to Arya.