my coworker abuses our office IM program

A reader writes:

I have a problem that is a minor thing in the grand scheme of things, but it is really starting to get on my nerves.

My office uses an instant messaging system, in addition to email, to communicate since 95% of the team works from home. It’s a pretty standard system with various “status” buttons we can use to indicate our availability.

Most coworkers seem to actually pay attention to what the status indicators mean, but Bran just doesn’t get it. He’ll IM no matter what that status says. The worst are the IMs when I have deliberately set my status to “away.” Urgent or time sensitive matters I can understand, but the IMs are never about anything like that. Most are vaguely about a mutual project, but not one where I have significant input. They all start with the dreaded “Hi Arya.”

This is really starting to aggravate me. I’ll be enjoying my lunch (status: AWAY) and those darn IM chimes will go off (Bran, of course) and will put me in a foul mood the rest of the day. Very harsh words have been directed toward those chimes…

Of course, there is no email explaining the contact, like most coworkers would do next, after seeing the away status. Just the “Hi Arya.”

I have tried to respond to these notes with “what’s up?” to little or no response.

I have escalated to: “I was away, water dance practice, what did you need?” and “sorry, I set my status to away to avoid interruptions. Sansa needs the list completed today.”

I have flatly told this coworker that I prefer emails for non-urgent issues so I can maintain focus on my current tasks.

Nothing stops them.

What else can I do?

In Bran’s defense, he may be IM’ing you when you’re set to “away” because he just figures you’ll see it at whatever point you’re back. He probably thinks “away” is intended as helpful info for him (so that he knows not to expect an immediate response) rather than meaning “don’t contact me right now.”

If it’s driving you mad, one option is to sign out of IM when you’re eating at your desk or otherwise don’t want to be bothered by chiming IMs. Or you could change it to something like “on deadline; please email” if that would fly in your office culture.

Beyond that, though, I’d say to be more direct, and then starting ignoring him.

You’ve told Bran that you prefer email for non-urgent email, but that’s not actually as direct as saying, “Please don’t IM me unless it’s urgent.” So say that.

Then, if he continues to do it anyway, ignore the IMs since they don’t sound particularly urgent. Or, if you can’t ignore him entirely, you can always respond a few hours later when it’s convenient, and say something like “What’s up?” or “I’m only seeing this now — it’s better to email me.”

I think this is annoying you so much because it feels like Bran is demanding immediate attention. But while it’s true that the medium is designed for instant communication, that doesn’t mean that you have to use it that way. Instead, look at it the same way you look at email, at least where he’s concerned.

However, you’ll probably never be able to stop the annoying “Hi Arya” messages — those are pretty common and some people find them annoying and others don’t, and they’re just part of working in an office that uses IM.

I don’t want to spend a week in a remote cabin with coworkers while I’m pregnant

A reader writes:

We’re working on a product redesign and as part of the process, it’s been suggested that the team goes offsite for a week to bang out the details. The entire (co-ed) team is supposed to stay in a remote cabin in the mountains, retreat style, where we have to share bedrooms, bathrooms, and close quarters as we’d be living, eating, and working in said cabin for the full week.

I hate this. For several reasons, but most of all right now, I hate it because I’m pregnant. No one wants to share a bedroom with me right now with the amount of times I get up in the middle of the night to pee (TMI, sorry) and also, I don’t want to be out in some remote location far away from a hospital in case anything should happen with the pregnancy.

Our other option is to go to a resort, with individual rooms where we would sleep, modern amenities, and meeting rooms for our working sessions as opposed to working in the living room of some cabin.

Everyone seems to like the cabin idea better except me and one other person. I have mentioned my preferences, but everyone is plowing forward with this cabin idea and I’m stressed.

Any thoughts on how to swing the vote in the other direction without being the annoying pregnant person? Am I the only one who things this cabin thing is a bad idea?

I answer this question 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.

I don’t want to have a boss

This was originally published in August 2012.

A reader writes:

How can I stand being employed by someone when I don’t want to have a boss? I’ve always had trouble working for authority; my experience with authority, and this isn’t just a perception as I’ve tried changing that too, is they walk all over me, getting what they want, leaving pennies in the end.

You can skip the rest if you’d like, but it provides more insight into why I have trouble with having a boss.

As most things, it does start as a child. I’ve seen too much indifference; in school, it was bullies getting away with things and me the one punished.

In work, it’s bosses allowing other employees to do less work and still earn more. This may sound arrogant, but at my previous job I knew more about IT (that’s my field) than the system admin did; this in turn had me teaching him, and yet, he was earning far more than me. Eventually, that job turned into three jobs (development, graphic design, and marketing).

My previous employer asked me to help with a lot of things, not just writing software. I ended up taking work away from an outsourced graphic design agency, saving the company money, and getting a meager raise that didn’t change along with the workload. I found out too much, and discovered the company was being held on retainer for more than 3x the amount of my yearly salary, which didn’t include the costs for the projects they did have.

People asked me at that job, “How can you stand it?” I guess I should have left sooner. I was even told by my managers that they could replace me with someone else. My personal problem was how I handled frustration, but how can I hand frustration when the owner of the company literally (yes, literally) sat behind me for 3-5 hours of the day, telling me how to move my hands on the screen. I eventually left because I’m tired of doing work that I don’t want to do anymore, and I feel terrible that I’m not getting anywhere in my life.

The truth is, I feel great writing fiction and non-fiction. I wouldn’t mind doing stand up comedy, but I don’t have any experience performing in front of others — I was the kid who pulled the curtain during the school play. I did manage to write and self-publish a fiction novel, with humor, and I might publish a book under a pseudonym that I’d use as a stage name, too.

Yeah, this is a lot; it’s why I shoved it down here and away from the point. I apologize if it comes across as annoying, or someone who’s ticked off. I am, a bit. I’ve quit every job I’ve had over the same reason: I severely disagree with management, burn myself out, and can’t even get a single break to say, hey, let me get things organized.

I don’t have a job at the moment, and inside, I really don’t want one. I’m tired of listening to people talking down to me like I’m garbage. I mean, if your own employer has the gall to talk about prospective employee’s pay (exactly dollar amount), with someone who has no business knowing, wouldn’t you feel terrible? That was the last I needed to hear from them, and the rest fell into my mind, and I had to leave.

Now, I’m not lazy. If I were, I wouldn’t be seeking help in any form or another. I’m just tired of it, and it makes me irritated when I think that I less than a month’s worth of money left, and I can’t stand the thought of getting a job.

Well, no one is going to force you to get a job. It’s a choice that you make if you want the things that come with it — a steady stream of income, primarily.

If you decide you’re willing to forego the steady stream of income, there are other options. You can start your own business (which is categorically not for everyone, but an option for some). You can find some other way to pay your bills, like marrying someone who’s willing to support you. Or you can have no money at all and rely on the taxpayer-funded social safety net, which means a very low standard of living, obviously.

So you need to decide which of these options is most appealing to you — or, probably more realistically, least unappealing. What’s your bottom line — are you willing to deal with a job and boss you might not love in order to have a paycheck? And can you see them them as a direct trade of one for the other?

Most people decide they’re willing to get a job and have a boss, even if it doesn’t make them especially happy, because they want what comes with it. And in fact, for most people, work is not a source of pleasure and fulfillment. It’s a source of income. We often talk here as if it must be the former, but that’s a very privileged viewpoint that we’re lucky to be able to have. Many, many people work solely as a means of putting food on the table.

I think you need to get clarity around exactly what your choices are and what trade-offs you’re willing to make in order to have a home or disposable income or whatever it is that you want in life. Everyone makes these calculations a little differently; what’s essential is simply that you make them.

Additionally, do some thinking about your own role in your experiences so far. When someone has never had a job or a manager that they’ve been satisfied with — to the point that they’re considering not working at all as a result! — there’s often something going on with them, whether it’s an inability to be satisfied, or a problem with authority, or an anger problem, or difficulty getting along with others, or something else entirely. (And frankly, some of your examples in your letter sounded … well, a little naive. For instance, yes, companies charge clients more for your work than they pay you. Sometimes a lot more. If you don’t like it, you have the option of trying to go into business for yourself. So I do wonder if you have unrealistic expectations, at least in some respects.)

There’s also this, although I don’t know how to say it diplomatically:  People who are really good at what they do generally build up options over time. If you’re good enough, you can pick and choose so that you end up in better workplaces with better managers. You can leave bad situations, and you can often avoid them in the first place. After a certain point in a career, if you’re really good at what you do, you shouldn’t need to consider sweatshops where your boss treats you poorly. So it’s worth looking at your own work to try to figure out why you’ve haven’t worked your way out of this spot. It could be that you’re in the wrong field for your strengths, or it could be that you under-value yourself and so never try for something better, or it could be something else — I don’t know. But you should try to figure it out.

(Please know that I’m not trying to imply that you’re some sort of incompetent buffoon who is incapable of earning better treatment — I’m not. But something’s going on here that would be useful to examine.)

In any case, as is true of so many problems, this comes down to being ruthlessly realistic about what your options are. For instance, most people can’t make a living off of writing fiction or doing stand-up comedy (even the very few who do generally work a day job for years while they get their careers to the point that they’re self-funding), but maybe you’ll decide you’re willing to deal with having a boss for eight hours a day and know that your fulfillment will come from writing on the side. Or maybe you’ll decide that you’ll forego a steady paycheck, do odd jobs, and drastically lower your standard of living. There are a bunch of different combination of options, all with their own consequences.

The key is to take a brutally honest look at what’s important to you and what’s not, and what trade-offs you’re willing to live with, understanding that each choice means not choosing something else … whether it’s money, security, a boss, absolute autonomy, or something else entirely.

I don’t want to take 2 weeks off, coworker has a “food emergency” every other day, and more

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

1. I’m required to take two weeks off and I don’t want to

I graduated college last year and started a full-time job in November (thanks for all your help and advice on resumes, cover letters and interviewing). In this industry and anything related, it’s mandatory each employee, whether entry-level, receptionist, management, admin or board of directors, take two weeks off work in a row once every calendar year. These two weeks don’t count against our PTO. I have two weeks of PTO separate from this and those can be taken as individual days if I want. Sick time is also separate from PTO. The two weeks in a row is mandatory to prevent fraud and burning out.

My two weeks off in a row starts next Monday. It seems like such a waste to me. I don’t have anything planned. The kind of work we do is confidential and regulated so working from home / telecommuting at any level isn’t a thing in this industry. I’m not allowed to go to the building I work at or call or email during the two weeks.

Is there any way I can decline or push back? I am not close to burning out since work and home life are kept so divided. I am too new to be involved in any fraud and I offered to let my boss double check or look over everything I have touched. I don’t know why I have to take two weeks off for no reason when I don’t have a trip or anything planned. My boss offered to change it to a few months where there is an opening in the two week schedule but I don’t have the money for a vacation and I would still just be bored sitting at home. How can I talk to my boss about this? I am not looking forward to being off and don’t feel I need it.

Don’t push back on it. If it’s mandatory, it’s mandatory. And pushing back will look a little odd — not necessarily “Jane might be committing fraud” odd (although maybe that too), but more like “Jane doesn’t have a healthy relationship to work and/or doesn’t understand what ‘mandatory’ means” odd.

The fact that the two weeks don’t come out of your PTO is amazing, and somewhat unusual. This is two weeks of free vacation! You’re being paid for not working. Spend it reading, watching movies, seeing friends, cleaning and organizing your house — whatever sounds like enjoyable leisure time to you. If there’s nothing you can think of that would be appealing, then think about using that time to volunteer somewhere that could use a daytime volunteer (which can sometimes be hard for organizations to find).

2. Colleague has a “food emergency” every other day

One of our senior faculty has a habit of coming to our (lower level staff) office every day or two, frantically asking for “a handful of almonds” or “any kind of food you have lying around.” A little while ago, she tried to break into a (clearly marked and sealed) reserved platter for someone’s private event. She makes more than twice as much as any of us, so I’m pretty sure it isn’t a matter of need, but just poor planning. I’m not sure whether I should have a private word with her. It seems she only does this to staff with lower standing who feel less comfortable saying “no.”

She’s teaching faculty, and my supervisor and I are administrative support staff. She is tenured and very high up in the department hierarchy, while we are fairly replaceable and on the much lower end of the pay scale. She is friendly to us, but she’s also not just looking for an excuse to come down and visit, as she doesn’t stay for more than a minute when one of these situations arises.

Someone should tell her to cut this out, but given the hierarchy in play, I’m not sure it should be you or your boss.

The easiest way to deal with this might be for all of you to just start saying “No, sorry,” every single time she comes looking for food. If she’s never rewarded for doing this, she’s likely to eventually stop.

If that doesn’t work, then your boss could talk to whoever the most senior person in charge of the admin staff is, and get that person to discreetly tell her to knock it off, pointing out that the power dynamic is putting people in an awkward position. But a few weeks of consistent “nope, we don’t have food” might be enough to get through to her.

By the way, “a handful of almonds” is an oddly specific request, and I’m so curious about what’s going on with her and why she’s not planning ahead.

3. My peer scheduled a weird recurring meeting and is assigning our team work

We have a team of three in a larger department of 15. Every Monday, our small team meets with our supervisor and one other person who’s peripherally tied to our work to go over action items. Recently, our newest hire — who’s our only part-timer, although not technically “junior” to me — suggested a meeting on another day of the week for just the three of us. I get why there might be value in collaborating on smaller projects and details without our supervisor and this more peripheral coworker, but these meetings are long and strange. This coworker, let’s call her Jane, leads the meeting, decides the action items and agenda, and then assigns everyone work. Thus far, I’ve mostly been baffled. I’ve offered to help out on the things I can and passed on projects that I can’t take on. She hasn’t pushed back when I say no, but it’s odd vibes. I get the sense she’s re-assigning the work she’s been given to the entire team. I’ve mentioned that a few of the conversations we’ve had really need higher-level approval and she’s pushed back pretty sharply to say we don’t. Also, our office is very hierarchical and this is just the kind of thing that’s Not Done here.

She’s very close to the other person on our team, and I’m polite and professional (although not close) with both of them. It hasn’t seemed worth it to push back on the need for this meeting to happen at all, but I’m usually busier than they are and I’ve skipped it a few times when I just couldn’t swing it. I’m not even sure of my question other than to say — is this odd or does it just feel odd? Would I be justified in putting a stop to it or is it better to keep attending and committing to only the things I can do? If I do need to push back, how do I politely tell Jane I think she’s overstepping and wasting our time?

Well, you could just mention this to your boss, explain that it doesn’t feel like a good use of time and that’s it’s odd to have your coworker assigning work to people, and — assuming she seems surprised to learn this is happening — ask her to intervene. (And you might mention a few of the specific assignments where you suspect your coworker was re-assigning her own work, because that’s likely to really alarm your manager if so.)

But if you want to handle it yourself and you’re sure your boss hasn’t asked your coworker to do this or secretly given her some sort of authority that you don’t know about, you could say something like, “Now that we’ve tried these meetings for a few weeks, I’m going to suggest that we stop holding them regularly unless some specific need arises where we need to collaborate. I don’t think we need them, since Jane typically coordinates this kind of thing herself, and my schedule makes it hard to have another standing meeting on the calendar.” Or even just, “Sorry, I’m swamped and can’t attend.”

And if she finds other ways to try to assign you work, you could just say, “We typically only get assigned work from (manager), and I think she’d want to be in the loop before we go any further with this kind of thing.”

4. Are auditors spies?

I work for a medium-sized religious institution of about 35 employees. Our corporate culture is quite friendly and probably errs on the side of us all being too much up in each other’s business. In the time I’ve been here, though, that’s mostly led to positive outcomes — real warmth and collegiality among colleagues — without much of the drama and lack of appropriate boundaries that can result from close friendships at work. A close colleague and I share an office which can be especially boisterous. This is the result of the nature of our work (design), our personalities, and the fact that other staff members will often drop by our office for a break or a work consultation with a bit of conversation.

Every year we host a team who come in for our annual audit. This year the staff-wide email that went out asked us all to be “mindful of the conversations we had while the auditors were present.” It was followed up by a visit from my boss’s boss (the CFO equivalent) to my office. She reiterated the request in the email, and told us that auditors are trained to listen in on conversations and use what they hear against organizations. She said that “idle chatter” (her phrase) could lead to us getting in trouble.

I care about the institution where I work very deeply. I’m certainly aware that a lot about my office wouldn’t be acceptable in other workplaces, and I have no intention of pushing back on this request. But it does make me feel sort of weird and gross, as though I’m being asked to cover up for something. As far as I know, there’s nothing shady or unethical about our business practices or finances. And if there were, I would much rather that we as a religious institution take responsibility for them and take steps to change. Can you help me understand what’s going on here from my CFO’s perspective? Are auditors actually spies? Is this typical practice?

Auditors aren’t spies, but if they overhear you saying something that sounds potentially alarming, they’d have to spend time checking into it, even if it turns out to be nothing.

I actually ran this question by my mom, a CPA who was an auditor for many years, and she said this: “It’s hard to say without actually hearing the conversations. Maybe they’re just loud and disturbing to the auditors’ work. Auditors sometimes charge by the hour so distraction by even cutesy conversations isn’t a good thing. Also, sometimes in jest, someone may say something that causes an auditor to follow up and waste time even though it was just a joke. Auditors DO listen in on such conversations (I used to go out with the smokers just to hear what they were talking about) but using it ‘against’ the clients isn’t the way I’d phrase it. I don’t see this admonition as any different than one asking staff to keep confidential information out of sight when there are visitors.”

5. Can I ask a why a resume is so bad?

I work at a large university and we have an internal temp program. I recently got a resume from the temp coordinator, who said the candidate is extremely highly recommended, experienced, upbeat, and perfect for my role. The coordinator also said, “Don’t mind the rough resume.” I took a look and the resume is really terrible. There’s Random capitalization Like This throughOut. She misspells the name of the city we live in. She says she has eight years experience, but only has one job listed which is four years worth of work. She says she has experience in several medical fields (gastroenterology, dermatology, etc.) despite not being an MD, RN, or LVN. She lists one of her skills as “I love to be dedicated.” I could go on.

Despite this, I’m inclined to still offer a phone interview because I generally trust our temp services people, but I am wondering if there is any possible way to ask the candidate why her resume is so awful?? Or would it be better to just mention that it looks like it needs an upgrade? Any advice? I admit I am coming from a place of sheer curiosity about how anyone could think a resume like that is acceptable (and why our temp program is letting the candidate get away with it!).

I’d actually start by asking the temp coordinator who sent the resume! She should presumably be able to give you more context about what’s up with the resume and why she recommends the person so highly anyway. Ask her something like, “I know you recommended Jane Smith highly. I’m concerned by the level of sloppiness on the resume and am curious about what else you know about her.” If she just again repeats that the candidate is experienced and upbeat, etc., then say, “Is there something in particular about her qualifications that you’d think would outweigh the problems with the resume?” If she can’t answer that, her recommendation is pretty suspect and I wouldn’t even bother with the phone interview at that point.

Of course, it’s possible that you’re hiring for a role that doesn’t require writing skills or attention to detail. If that’s the case, it may well be worth putting more weight on other skills she brings. (For example, if it’s a reception role that only requires warmly greeting visitors and will never require doing anything in writing, and if she’s wonderful at making visitors feel welcome, maybe she is your person. So it’s worth thinking critically about what does and doesn’t matter for this particular job.)

But either way, I don’t think I’d ask the candidate herself why her resume is so awful. She either needs stronger writing and communication skills for the job (in which case you can’t hire her) or she doesn’t (in which case it would be a little unkind to indulge your curiosity at the expense of making her feel awkward).

weekend free-for-all – April 21-22, 2018

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.)

Book recommendation of the week: The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer. It’s about friendship, mentorship, activism, and what we want from each other, with characters who are all the more compelling because of their flaws. I loved it.

open thread – April 20-21, 2018

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.

should I create an Instagram for my dog to make me stand out to interviewers, and more

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

1. Should I create an Instagram for my dog to make me stand out?

I was recently informed that I didn’t get a job that I really wanted. I ended up asking the hiring manager for feedback and one thing she told me was that one candidate wrote a book outside of work hours about how they dissolved their student loan debt (they also hand-wrote a thank you note, which apparently they appreciated more than my emailed thank you note).

I’m now trying to think of ways to set myself apart from competition. I’m still in my first job out of college so I don’t have too much experience I’d be able to refer to. Some applications I’ve come across request websites you’d make for yourself outside of work, like a blog. Would creating an Instagram for my dog be a good idea, as a way to demonstrate that I can market something well and use social media in a more professional way than a personal account? I was thinking of trying to gain a following so I can refer to it in an interview, as something different they’d remember me by. For reference, I am in the marketing field.

There’s a danger in putting too much weight on a single hiring manager’s feedback, because some hiring managers have unusual preferences or opinions. (For example, there are a lot of hiring managers, including me, who will tell you they don’t want handwritten thank-yous, because this is business correspondence, and because so little of importance arrives by postal mail these days that they may not even check their mail inbox for weeks, long after the hiring decision has already been made!) I understand the impulse to put a lot of weight on what she told you because it can be hard to get any feedback — but I don’t think hers was very useful advice to follow.

It’s true that having work samples to point to is helpful, and it’s not a terrible idea to have a website that shows your ability to write, create, etc. And sure, if you created an Instagram for your dog that became incredibly popular and had a huge following, that could be something you could mention in an interview, as evidence of your ability to gain eyeballs online. But the odds of it paying off like that are pretty slim, so it’s not something you should do as a job hunting strategy; you should only do it if your primary motivation is that you genuinely want to build and maintain an Instagram for your dog.

Unless you have some big idea that you’re dying to do because you want to do it (not just to mention it in interviews), you’re likely to have better luck with the more traditional ways of strengthening your candidacy: taking on more responsibility in your current job, volunteering, writing an awesome cover letter, etc.

2. How can I get a colleague to coach his team instead of getting angry with them?

I have a question about how to help a colleague better manage his team. He doesn’t report to me, but we both report to the CEO and I’m tasked with improving team management and workflow in general. If his team turns in low quality work or misses deadlines, he’s vocal in his “displeasure” and makes a point of noting to our boss and to me that he’s mad/frustrated/disappointed/etc. and that he’s made those feelings clear to his team. He never takes ownership of any mistakes/failures of his team. (I should add that he’s also quick to pass on praise to them, so that’s consistent.) How can I help coach him that being “annoyed” about errors isn’t really managing his team, that they need more than “this was a mistake/I didn’t like this” to figure out how to improve, and he needs to feel/take ownership of their work?

If you’re explicitly charged with helping him manage better and he knows that, you absolutely can and should address this. Point out to him that generally managers shouldn’t be taking staff members’ work personally and that getting angry or disappointed is injecting emotion into his management in ways that won’t be effective for him or for his staff. Explain that if he’s not happy with someone’s work, that’s a flag for him to dig in on his own management and figure out what he needs to do differently: Does he need to lay out clearer expectations at the start, check in more frequently, coach someone on their skills, address a performance issue, etc.? Tell him that that’s where his energy should go in those situations, and talk him through what that could look like in a few recent situations where this has come up. (And probably offer to work with him on it the next time it happens so that he has closer guidance in doing this.)

If you don’t fully have the authority to give him that kind of direction, you’ll need to loop in your CEO — but this is the basic message he should be getting from one of you.

3. Can I revise my response to a timed assessment test?

I got to do a technical assessment yesterday for a data analysis job I really want. The hiring manager set up the assessment well in advance and gave me 24 hours to respond to four out of six questions, which included some basic stuff like finding typos in data entry and calculating totals, and some more advanced stuff interpreting what’s going on and writing a mock memo describing the findings. I sort of also accidentally did a fifth question by including data visualizations in my response to the fourth question. Anyway, the hours passed by surprisingly quickly, and to save time I found myself doing it all in the software I’ve been using since before the last ice age (Excel and the SPSS license on my laptop) rather than in SQL and R, which I’m newer to and slower at. I also wish I could go back and tackle the analysis question from a different angle, which would vastly improve the interpretations drawn in the memo. The third thing I’m mad at myself about was realizing that I’d typed in the wrong numbers with a significance test after the fact. I emailed the corrections, which at least demonstrates honesty and got a “thanks for the corrections” response rather than radio silence, so that was probably the right move. Maybe this is just perfectionism from spending most of my career to date in academia, but I really wish I could create a better version of it all.

Should I refrain from mentioning any extra work unless I make it to the next round, since it wouldn’t be fair to count work done beyond the 24 hour limit? Or do I put it in a Google Drive folder and write her saying “I know you can’t really look at this until after Monday because it’s done beyond the 24 hour time limit, but FYI here’s a link to extra work in SQL and R plus an improved memo”?

I think it’s worth doing polished up versions just as coding practice anyway. So, maybe demonstrating my enthusiasm is good, but on the other hand there’s the issue of whether I’d be creating extra work for her or not demonstrating an ability to stick to the time constraints of the test or sending too many emails. What do you suggest?

It would be too many emails, and yes, you’d be creating extra work for her. It’s true that there’s some benefit to her being able to see what you can do with more time — but that’s not what this exercise was. This exercise was “show what you can do in X amount of time.”

Sometimes you can get away with “whoops, please use this version instead” or “here are corrections to the exercise,” but you’ve already done that. You can’t do it a second time without looking flighty/disorganized.

You don’t really get multiple bites at the apple with this. You’ve submitted it, and now you really just need to wait and see what happens from here.

4. My interviewers sounded like they had a problem with the job I was interviewing for

I recently interviewed for a position that seemed like a complete dream job. As one of three final candidates, I was invited to do a series of eight back-to-back interviews over the course of an entire day. The first seven interviews were invigorating, positive, and overall a great experience — but the last one was incredibly odd and I didn’t know how to navigate it. The interviewers seemed to have some sort of problem with the position I was interviewing for (possibly a bad experience with the person in the role in the past, or a dissatisfaction with how the job description was finalized, or who knows!) and their questions all seemed like strange back-handed ways of expressing their dissatisfaction. Questions like, “What do you see MISSING from this job description? What do you see as problematic about this role?”

Neither of these interviewers is on the search committee for this position, but I’m worried about how this strange interview (and my attempts to navigate their questions) may have impacted my candidacy (I’m still waiting to hear back). In the end, I wrote an email to the chair of the search committee to tell her that this particular interview had a very different tenor than the rest of the day and that I had found it difficult to navigate, but that I remained very excited and positive about the position. I would love to know how you would recommend responding to this kind of situation, were it ever to happen again.

When something in an interview is confusing you or feels out of sync with what you’ve previously heard, it’s okay to ask about it! In this situation, it would have been okay to say something like, “I’m curious about the questions you’re asking. It sounds like you might have some concerns about how the role is structured — am I reading that correctly?” Or, “I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that question too — do you think there’s something problematic about the role?” You want to be pleasant about it, of course; your tone should sound genuinely curious, not annoyed. But you’re there to collect information just as much as they are, and it’s okay to ask directly about what you’re hearing.

company offered me a job, then yanked the offer, then re-listed the position

A reader writes:

After job searching for several months, I was offered a position that lined up perfectly with my career goals. It wasn’t a dream job but a definite stepping stone on the path to a dream job. My start date was set, my resignation was sent to my manager, and I was excited for some new challenges.

However, one week before I was scheduled to start my new position, I received an email telling me that the company was restructuring and they didn’t have a job for me after all and they were sorry if this caused an inconvenience and they would keep me in mind if future positions opened up. Of course I was shocked and upset. I was able to talk to my manager and keep my current job so I didn’t end up unemployed, but it was extremely embarrassing telling my manager and all of my colleagues and friends and family the devastating news.

I allowed myself to wallow in self-pity for a bit, then picked myself up and started my search over from scratch. Today I was browsing a job posting board and saw that the company that rescinded the job offer has reposted the exact same job. Same title, same description, same everything.

So now I’m confused. Is there a job now? Was there ever a job? Did they suddenly change their mind about me a month ago and chicken out of owning the choice or did the job actually disappear? Why wouldn’t they contact me to let me know they were going to fill that position after all? Should I reapply with the same resume and cover letter as if this were the first time I sent them? Should I reach out to them and reference the situation? Should I even want to work for a company so disorganized (at best) or deceitful (at worst)? Should I contact the job board and let them know the company has a history of jerking applicants around?

That’s awful. And it’s particularly awful that they didn’t bother to pick up the phone and give you the news that way when they needed to rescind the offer. That’s a phone call message, not a cop-out-and-email-it message.

Rescinding a job offer is a really big deal. You were particularly lucky that you were able to keep your existing job. In a different set of circumstances, your employer might not have let you do that. Or you might have already turned down other job offers. So they needed to call you and actually talk to you.

It’s not that no responsible company would ever do this. Sometimes the timing of a job offer ends up being really bad, and the job does get restructured away before the person starts. But they should have handled it differently. For example, in addition to calling you, if you were in fact now without an income due to their actions, they should have offered you at least a small amount of severance.

Anyway, as for the job posting you saw:

It’s possible that it’s an error. Sometimes jobs get reposted when they shouldn’t. And some job boards post jobs that they scrape from other sites, so they end up posting jobs that are no longer open.

But yes, it’s also possible that the company lied to you, and they’re not really restructuring and they just decided to rescind your offer for some reason and thought “restructuring” was an easy excuse. Or it’s possible that they told you the truth, but then their plans changed and they’re poorly enough managed that no one thought to reach back out to you. Or who knows, maybe they figured they couldn’t offer it to you again after yanking it away.

You definitely shouldn’t just reapply. If they want to hire you for it, this shouldn’t be a situation where you have to go through their process all over again. But you can contact the hiring manager for the position and say something like, “I wanted to check in with you because I saw the X position advertised again. I realize this might have been an error, but if the job is opening back up, I’d still be very interested in it.”

Then see what they say. If they tell you that yes, indeed it is open again, it’s fair for you to ask what happened — and to proceed with a lot of caution and some healthy skepticism until/unless the answers you hear make sense to you.

my employee is snarky and rude

A reader writes:

I recently started a new job and learned through my manager that a person on the team had interviewed for the role I was offered. This is a new position that was formed as part of a restructure and from what I understand, the person who applied felt he was a shoo-in for the position since he has been working here for several years.

Anytime someone from the team asks me a question, this person is quick to respond, “Why would she know? She’s new to the business.” I try to ignore it, but it has been making me feel insecure and has me wondering what I can do to protect my credibility. I tried involving him in my business processes to diffuse hard feelings, but he continues to comment on my limited knowledge of the business. I realize he has more knowledge of the business, but for whatever reason (I suspect poor people skills) he was not offered the job. It’s difficult enough to adjust to a new job. How do I deal with this?

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:

  • How long of a gap on your resume is too long?
  • All-day interviews when you’re breastfeeding
  • Company docks our PTO in tiny increments even when we work long hours
  • Am I misrepresenting my commitment to a job?

bitterly fought office coffee wars: share your stories

On a post last week about coffee wars, someone left this amazing comment:

Without thinking hard, I recall the coworker who made herself a fresh pot every morning then dumped the contents so no one else could have any. The coworker who charged people for coffee the company supplied (she kept the money). The coffee pot that got moldy because no one would clean it. Right now I’m dealing with people who put double coffee grinds in the machine because they like to drink mud…

We need to hear your stories about office coffee wars that have you have participated in or witnessed.

Water club and tea war stories are also welcome.

Share, and spare no detail.