how to answer “what do you do?” when you’re unemployed, employer restricts how I can spend my salary, and more

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

1. How to answer “what do you do?” when you’re unemployed

What’s the best way to answer the “what do you do?” question in a city where it’s almost always asked and when you’re unemployed and looking for work?

I’ve been doing a lot of one-on-one networking, and in those meetings it’s clear from the beginning that I’m unemployed based on the way I phrase my email. The problem seems to be more at events, conferences, and social gatherings (though in this town social gatherings are also a great place to network). Obviously people don’t want to hear your whole life story, but I also don’t want to present myself as someone to pity, or, worse, someone who is overreaching in trying to demonstrate their value (I went to X program, just finished a contract at Y company, am currently in the interview stages at Z). Do I say that I finished a grad program in May? That I recently moved here? That I’m interviewing around but a good fit hasn’t come up yet?

I’d love a phrase to convey that I’m looking but am excited about the opportunities here and confident I’ll find something worthwhile, while also opening up the possibility for the person I’m speaking with to suggest a person/organization/short-term gig.

“I just finished a grad program in X earlier this year and am looking for work doing Y.”

That’s really it. Your initial answer shouldn’t get into the fact that you’re confident you’ll find something good or that the right fit hasn’t appeared yet. Further conversation might take you there, but it’ll be weird (and sound a little defensive) if you start with those things.

2. My employer has restrictions on how I can spend my salary

I recently accepted a new position (yay, thanks in part to your blog!) with a non profit. I am technically a fellow rather than a full-time staff member. During my interview, I was informed that half of my salary comes from my host organization and half is funded by another program. I was also told that the second half of my pay is designated for living expenses but that my salary would be the same as a non-fellow in my position. I had no problems with this.

A few days into my new job, I received an email from the program advising me that as per new restrictions, I am only allowed to use the second half of my pay to cover very specific expenditures. Additionally, if my permitted expenditures don’t reach the maximum amount possible, I simply don’t receive that maximum amount. For example, if my host site approves a living allowance of $2000/month and I only spend $1200/month on living costs (as very narrowly defined by the org) then I only get $1200/month. This part of our pay is not to be used on transportation costs, car payments, car insurance, home internet, cell phone bills, etc. We can ask the host org to purchase gift cards from a reputable grocery store but only in a certain amount and with the caveat that we can’t use the card to purchase alcohol.

Is the program allowed to dictate our personal spending because we’re “fellows”? I’m frustrated that as an adult, I can’t make the choice to live frugally and use the remainder of my salary to pay off existing debt. Similarly, I can’t make the choice to live a bit farther from work and spend less on rent because I won’t recoup the commuting costs. We are allowed to use the money toward student loan payments but we’re also strongly encouraged to defer those payments while we’re in the program. I’d just love to get your thoughts on this situation.

It sounds like like they’re saying your salary is $X, and they’ll also cover living expenses up to a maximum of $Y. In other words, they’re not dictating how you spend your salary — but your salary is only half of the total figure, and the other half is reimbursement for a list of narrowly defined expenses. It’s not unheard of for internships and fellowships to have arrangements like this — it’s basically a stipend plus living expenses.

But if they weren’t clear with you about that before you started and instead just told you that your salary would be $X + $Y, then there are definitely legal issues here; they promised you a salary that they aren’t paying you.

But it sounds like they did explain that there was some sort of unusual arrangement here. Without knowing the details of exactly how it was laid out, it’s hard to say whether they still weren’t as clear as they should have been.

Regardless, the question for you now is, knowing that your salary is actually half of what you thought it would be, plus living expenses up to a maximum of $Y, do you want the job?

3. My coworkers are treating me as the voice for everything disability-related in our office

I am a full-time wheelchair user, and I’ve been in my (entry-level, temporary) job for nearly two years now. When I was first hired, I was asked about reasonable accommodations in the work space, and aside for some help getting things off of high shelves, I didn’t need anything.

Now, apparently the affirmative action office at my work has been insisting that my office should put in automatic door buttons on the two interoffice doors in our space. To be clear, there are already buttons on all entry doors to the building and the entry door to our space. These are just doors that go between our office and the next one over. My boss and one of the senior-level employees in the office next door made sure I was aware of the upcoming change, and were very clear that it had nothing to do with me, but that the AA office was insisting on it.

Here’s the problem. As word has been going around the two offices, a couple people have been approaching me to ask about the change. I’m sure that will only happen more as work begins. It’s mostly been questions like, “Did you request that?” “If you didn’t, who did?” “Why are they doing that?” It seems innocuous, but I get really tired of explaining disability-related things at work, and I don’t want to have conversations about accommodations that aren’t for me and that I didn’t request. And I really don’t want to have to remind these coworkers – for the millionth time – that there are other disabled people in the world who might work here one day, who may want or need these accommodations. I know I’m an obvious target for disability-related questions, but how can I shut these interactions down? Or even better, how can I head them off before they begin?

Any chance that you can explain the situation to your boss and enlist her help in heading it off? It’s totally reasonable to say, “I’d rather not be the voice for everything disability-related at work, but I’m getting a bunch of questions about the AA’s office decision. Could you (or the AA office themselves) say something to people to head these queries off, so that I don’t continue to get approached as the Voice on All Things Disability-Related?”

You can also simply say to people who approach you, “I don’t know anything about it.” And if someone is pushy, it’s reasonable to add, “Having a visible disability doesn’t mean that I’m in the loop on everything disability-related here.”

4. Explaining to employers why I’m leaving grad school after a year

I am in the second year of three of a professional degree (Master of Divinity) whose graduates go into very specialized work in ministry as pastors or chaplains. I’ve learned the hard way it’s a bad idea to go into grad school without a clear vision of how this will positively impact one’s career. I’ve decided to start looking for full time jobs in hopes of sparing myself some pain and money. How would I address unfinished graduate work if I’m currently in school? I have decent experience in nonprofit work, and I’ve had relevant coursework and internships in the field during my first year in school. How can I spin this without having major gaps in my resume or coming across as a quitter?

“I’ve realized that I don’t want to pursue a career as a pastor or chaplain and instead want to ___. I’m excited to move back into full-time work.”

Hiring managers aren’t going to be terribly concerned about you being a quitter. The bigger concern with grad school is that you really want to do the thing you went to school for and are just settling for some other type of work. Because you’re leaving a year in, it’s pretty clear that that’s not the case with you.

5. Sending post-interview thank-you notes if you’re offered the job or another interview

Twice this week, I had experienced cases where I received either a verbal offer or another interview before I could send post-interview thank-you emails. In both cases, I stalled on sending emails because I didn’t know if it made sense due to the fact that I would be further engaging with these individuals. Does it make sense to send thank-you emails if you are moving further along in the pipeline?

If you’re offered a job, there’s no need to still send a post-interview thank-you. At that point, the conversation has jumped to such a different stage that it would seem odd. But if you’re simply offered another interview, yes, you should still send a note following up on the first interview. In it, you can mention that you’re looking forward to talking further at your next meeting.

Sunday free-for-all – October 19, 2014

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Olive with skeletonIt’s the weekend free-for-all.

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 non-work only; if you have a work question, you can email it to me or post it in the work-related open thread on Fridays.)

Have at it.

my company banned PDA, I’m concerned about my boss’s possible replacement, and more

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

1. Can I speak up about my concerns about my boss’s possible replacement?

I suspect that my boss is interviewing for other jobs. She is the most loyal, fair, and downright nicest boss I’ve ever had—a true advocate for her staff. If she were to leave, I suspect that a former colleague who tried to stab me in the back at a previous job would go for her spot.

I believe that I am a valued employee, as evidenced in my reviews. Would I be able to say something about this potential replacement beforehand, and if so, what could I say? Be honest about her bad behavior that I witnessed at my previous job? Or do I have to wait and see who gets hired, and if it’s my former colleague, say something then?

It depends on your relationships with the people who would be involved in deciding who to hire. If you have strong relationships with those people and a lot of personal credibility, you can say nearly anything if you go about it the right way. For instance: “I’m not sure if you’re considering Jane for the role, but if you are, I wonder if I could share some concerns I have about working with her.”

You definitely shouldn’t wait to speak up until after a hiring decision is made though; at that point, it’s highly unlikely that they’d reverse the decision. But you also need to wait until your boss announces she’s leaving. And of course, it’s also possible that none of this will ever come to fruition, so for now I’d just keep watching.

2. My company banned my husband and I from PDA, even on breaks

My husband and I recently started working at the same place. We were recently reprimanded for displaying public affection (holding hands, peck on the cheek) during our lunch break. I completely understand no PDA while on the job, but we clock out for an hour lunch. We’re not on the clock and not getting paid. I don’t feel they have the right to dictate what I do during that time. (Obviously within reason.) Do I have any legal rights in this regard?

If you’re on company property, even if you’re on a break, they have the right to ban that kind of thing at work. It might seem a little heavy-handed, but is it really a big deal to treat each other as you would any other coworker while you’re at work? And really, you’re both new there; no matter how unreasonable you find their stance, making a stink about this is exactly the wrong way to build a good reputation — do you want to be known the new hire who was upset that she was told no PDA at work?

Just treat each other like coworkers until you’re back at home.

3. Asking coworkers to stop walking behind my desk

How do I politely ask coworkers who are far above me in the “food chain” to please stop walking behind my desk without seeming whiny or petty? I sit in a low-walled cubicle in an open walkway, but the walkway is very clearly in front of my desk, not behind it — there is a narrow space intended only for the cube sitter to get in and out. I understand all of these people have offices and hence cannot relate to the violation of personal space which this feels like, but I am becoming more angry the longer I don’t say anything. I have no idea how to make a request like this to people who are so far above me and do not want to come off the wrong way.

For the record, I’m not the only one who finds this wildly annoying and rude — so much so that our office recently implemented a policy that the mail room staff could only use the main walkway when doing drop-offs during the day instead of short cutting behind everyone’s cube.

Any chance you can slightly reposition your desk or chair to make it more clearly not a walkway, or even just physically impossible for them to walk behind you? I think that’s your better bet.

4. I was sent home but didn’t realize I wouldn’t be paid

My job asked me to go home and return later due to an inconvenience. You see, I’m a delivery driver and my van wouldn’t start. Since we only have two vans (go figure), I was prompted to wait for the other van to finish its route in order for me to do mine. Fine. Now my fellow driver/supervisor asks me if I want to go home. I agree, since I knew there was nothing for me to do there or at home, but why not go home, right? It’s only 10 minutes away. Fast forward to the main issue. I get a message at the end of the day telling me that I was supposed to clock out for the time that I was asked to go home, meaning they don’t intend to pay me for doing nothing. While I can’t fault them for wanting that, I definitely feel uneasy about it, like I deserve to get paid for pretty much waiting to work offsite. Any advice on my next step?

I think you’re out of luck here. In hourly jobs, being sent home (or being offered the opportunity to go home) generally means you’re clocking out and not getting paid. That’s why they’re sending you home. I get that you didn’t realize this, but it’s a common enough practice that I don’t think there’s really any way to push back on it.

5. What to do when a reference dies

I’m a fairly recent college graduate with limited full-time work experience. Most of my experience comes from an administrative job I had while in college. My husband and I have just moved to a new state for his work, and while I was able to use some family connections to obtain a job, I’ve always seen it as temporary and have been continuously on the job hunt.

I’ve put out quite a few applications in our new area, which invariably ask for references. However, one of my former managers, who was my supervisor at my college job, just passed away. He was listed as a reference on all of those previously submitted applications. I am just beginning to get calls for interviews. How do I approach this subject with a potential interviewer so as to minimize the awkwardness as much as possible? I assume they need to be made aware that they will not be able to speak with him, and I certainly don’t want to run the risk of them speaking to his widow, who was also a manager in our small office.

I’d raise it at the end of the interview — saying something like, “By the way, I submitted references along with my initial application. Since then, one of my references — Bob Miller, my former manager at ABC, has passed away. I wanted to make you aware of that, in case you’re planning to reach out to references in the next stage of things.”

should I use wording from the job ad in my resume or cover letter?

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A reader writes:

I am a recent graduate and have a question concerning tailoring your resume/cover letter to the job. I read online that hiring managers dismiss candidates who copy large amounts of wording from the job posting into their resume or cover letter, and I wonder if I have been falling into this pitfall.

If the job description lists “ability to work in an environment prone to emergencies,” is it a faux pas to copy some of that wording into my cover letter? For example: “In my X role, I was tasked with managing the urgent situations within my department that often arose throughout the day, such as [example of a specific situation] and through this experience I refined my ability to prioritize and accomplish my responsibilities, even within an environment prone to emergencies.”

I am not sure if copying the wording of the job description looks lazy to the hiring manager, but on the other hand I figure it might demonstrate that I actually read the job description and have a specific example relating to the desired qualification.

What is your opinion on this?

It depends on the wording. If it’s wording that you might have conceivably used on your own even if it weren’t in the job ad, then sure.

But if the language is reading as convoluted, or if you’re doing it so much that it’s obvious that you’re intentionally mirroring their language, then it’s bad. At that point, it looks forced and weird.

Employers want to read about your experience, in your own words. If it’s clear that you’re just parroting back their ad, then they’re not getting your own words; they’re getting theirs.

open thread – October 17, 2014

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It’s the Friday open thread!

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

my coworkers were on their phones during a job interview, my work computer breaks daily, and more

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

1. My coworkers were on their phones while we were interviewing a candidate

I have been in my current entry level role in higher education for about three months. Things are going fairly well and I like most of my co-workers.

My staff was recently asked to interview a new, entry level, candidate for our team. During the interview I was in, one of the director-level staff members and his direct report spent most of the interview on their cell phones. This is something that I certainly noticed and I am sure the candidate did as well since she was sitting right next to them. In general, I quite like the director-level staff member and I do not feel this is reflective of his personality. Regardless, it is poor interview practice and something I am more closely aware of after having gone through the process myself so recently. What’s the best way to address this without ruffling any feathers? He is not my direct supervisor but I have a relatively good rapport with him.

You can’t, really. You’re absolutely right that it’s tremendously rude (as well as unproductive; they’re not going to be able to assess the candidate well if they’re not engaged in the conversation). But you’re in an entry-level role, and you don’t really have the standing to correct someone above you in the hierarchy on something like this. The most you could do would be to say something to your own manager, if you have a good rapport with her — something like, “I felt bad for the candidate that Fergus and Lucinda were on their cell phones for most of our interview with the candidate. Do you think it’s worth someone mentioning it to them?”

2. My work computer breaks every day

Technology has not been my friend lately. I started a new job about two weeks ago and my computer at my workstation has not worked right since. IT has come and look at it a million times, yet it stops working every day, and I feel like I keep bothering my manager about this. She seems apologetic, but I am afraid she’s getting annoyed. Am I handling this right by going to my manager?

Ask her. “I hate having to bother you about this every day. Is there some other way I should be handling it?”

But also, at this point, I’d address the bigger picture, not each individual instance — meaning that you probably need to ask IT whether they’re confident there’s a permanent fix or whether you could get a different computer, since this has to be impacting your productivity.

3. When should I tell social media followers that I’m leaving my job?

I work for a large media group but soon might in the position where I move on to another publication. A big part of my job is social media branding. In the event I do move, on, when is it appropriate to tell my social media followers I will be leaving my current position? The day I put in my two weeks notice? My last day at my current position? The first day at my new position?

The Twitter account is originally my personal account, but it is now linked with the company’s website (if I use a certain hashtag), and people who read my articles are referred to my Twitter page. It is an account I can continue to use if I leave the position. My Facebook account is entirely personal (we are required to have Twitter, not Facebook) and is something I use just to promote myself as a reporter by sharing content.

I think either your last day at your old job or after you start your new job would be fine. Doing it when you put in your notice is probably overkill; your followers probably aren’t terribly concerned at that point, but rather just want to know once the change is in effect (if even then; most people won’t care too much).

However, there have been some weird court cases regarding who “owns” social media accounts that are used for business, even when they started as personal accounts, so you might want to wait until you’ve left your old employer, just to play it safe.

4. Working for a relative who barely pays me

I work for a relative who doesn’t have money to pay me. I was unemployed and she started her business and needed help, but didn’t have any funds to pay someone. I told her I could work a few months for free, but after the new year I would need some funds for bills. She drove me back and forth to work, but that ended when someone needed to be there full-time. I agreed to work full time for less than my hourly rate and for part-time pay. Then she gave up her pay to pay me full-time. She reminds me of this at pay time. I’m the last one paid since I’m a relative.

The company doesn’t have money because she won’t work it. She comes in at 11 a.m. and leaves at 3 p.m., and gets upset if she has to work until 5. Also, she threatens that if I make a mistake and it cost her money, then she’ll take it out of my pay. If she makes a mistake, she blames it on me and threatens to deduct it from my pay. Also, I’ll do something to pull in money and she’ll screw it up and say the funds are too low to pay me. Am I crazy for staying here to help out a relative? She doesn’t have money to hire anyone else.

Yes.

You’re accepting abusive behavior from someone who you’re doing a favor for. On top of that, she’s shown she isn’t even bothering to try to help herself. Why are you trying harder to make her business a success than she is?

If she was being kind and appreciative and treating you well, this would still be a questionable undertaking for you (unless you’re independently wealthy and don’t need an income). But she’s treating you like crap. Why stay?

5. Explaining why I’m leaving a job after 19 years

I have several interviews coming up and am excited about them. One thing that is going to be problematic is that I have been with the same company for 19 years. I decided to leave because I don’t like the direction the place is headed and I think there is much more opportunity for me elsewhere.

I don’t want to say anything negative about my old company in the interviews because that is bad form but how should I deal with the inevitable question: “Why do you want to leave Company X after 19 years?”

“It’s been 19 years and I’m eager to do something new” is going to be a pretty understandable answer. No need to go into anything else.

is my law degree keeping me from getting interviews?

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A reader writes:

I have taken so much of your advice during my job search — personalizing my cover letters, delineating my accomplishments rather than job descriptions on resumes, etc. In particular, I have explained in my cover letters, best as I am able, why I am pursuing administrative positions in human resources and higher education student services rather than legal jobs, although I was most recently an attorney. (My reasons, FYI, are many. I have young children, I prefer a less adversarial role, I was a solo and I miss having coworkers, I just do not like being a lawyer…)

I know it is a rough market right now and not a good time to be switching fields, but I have spent two months applying to so many positions and have gotten not a single phone call or rejection email or anything else that would indicate that my application is not just being immediately removed from consideration. I am often applying for entry level positions that do not have experience requirements. I do have administrative experience and some educational experience from before I made the apparently terrible decision to go to law school and obtain a JD. I can’t help but think that people have a lot of incorrect notions about what kind of education law school provides. I think it turned me into a focused, hard-working person, enhanced my analytical skills, and made me an effective communicator. But I am worried that hiring managers might assume that it turned me into a lawyer-stereotype: argumentative, materialistic, and arrogant.

Am I just using my JD as a scapegoat for my job hunt frustration, or could this be true?

It’s less likely to be that they assume law school has turned you into a jerk and more likely that they assume that you want to be a lawyer. I know that you’re explaining in your cover letter that you don’t, but they’re looking at your resume and seeing: Lawyer.

The other factor is likely that your qualifications aren’t as strong for the roles you’re applying for as other people’s qualifications are. That’s partly a line-for-line issue with your resume and work history (you’ve been working as a lawyer rather than doing the work they’re hiring for), and partly because when they look at you as a package, what they see is someone who’s been on a different track than the one they have in their head as the strongest profile for the jobs they’re hiring for. Their ideal candidate profile probably doesn’t include law school and working as a lawyer, so you deviate from it in significant ways. That makes it much harder to get interviews in a tight job market.

(In fact, changing fields in this job market is extremely hard to do in general, not just for lawyers. When employers have loads of qualified candidates with experience in their field, there’s not much incentive for them to take a chance on someone without that track record. To give yourself even a fighting chance, you’ve to paint a really compelling picture of exactly how your skills are transferable — you can’t assume they’ll figure it out for themselves.)

On top of that, you said that you’re applying for entry-level positions — but you’re not entry-level. Most employers are almost certainly dismissing you right off the bat because of that. Very few managers want to hire a former attorney to do entry-level work; they assume you’ll be bored, dissatisfied with the pay, and likely to leave as soon as something better comes along. It doesn’t matter if you tell them that’s not the case; it’s the case enough of the time that they’re not likely to play those odds.

So I think the issue is twofold: First, you probably need to recalibrate what jobs you’re applying for so that they match up with your actual skill and experience level. Second, I suspect you need to put more work into explaining why an employer should be excited to hire you for whatever specific opening you’re applying for. Not just why you’re qualified to do the work, but why you’d excel at it. You need to paint a picture of why you’d be awesome at this particular job that’s compelling enough to make you competitive with candidates who do have a track record in the work.

What reason can you give them to pass up those people and talk with you instead? I can’t figure out that answer for you — but you’ve got to figure it out on your own, and explain it to them. That’s what will start getting you interviews.

Related: Should you go to grad school?

my employee keeps venting to other team members, I regret recommending someone for a job, and more

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

1. My employee keeps venting to other team members, but not to me

I have an employee with whom I have made every attempt to keep open lines of communication, be there for him, offer assistance, be a sounding board, etc. However he repeatedly confides in a coworker when he wants to vent about something, rather than coming to me. I end up hearing about his frustration or concerns secondhand, and sometimes his venting is misdirected or uncalled for, because he is making assumptions and building a story in his own mind without having all of the details. If he would come to me first, he would have a better feel for whether it’s something he really needs to get worked up about. When I have confronted him about this before, he has even admitted that he struggles with coming to me to vent, but he can’t explain why, and he says that it would be very difficult to change his behavior. I don’t have this issue with any other employees. They all feel comfortable coming to me about anything.

It is getting to the point where sometimes I find myself responding to his venting through his trusted coworker. I know I shouldn’t do this, but addressing it directly with him hasn’t helped, and I don’t want to affect his relationship with the trusted coworker, and possibly lose the only communication channel we currently have with him. The other reason I’m trying to handle this delicately is that he’s our most valuable technical resource, and he has his hands in everything. I firmly believe that no one is irreplaceable and no one is “above the law,” but the rest of my team and our customers would lose it if they ever got wind of something like a PIP or even worse, a separation, happening with respect to this guy.

What can I do to get my employee to open up to me and to see how his current MO is negatively affecting the team?

First, I think you need to get really clear in your head about how this actually affects his performance and the rest of your team. Whatever pieces aren’t impacting those things, let those go. But if you can point to specific, concrete impacts that his venting is having, it’s totally reasonable to address those. For instance, it would be reasonable to say (if true), “When you air grievances to the team without giving me the chance to address them or alert you to context that might change your assessment, you’re creating a negative environment that’s bringing the whole team down. You’re also inadvertently spreading misinformation, which I then need to spend time cleaning up. I am always willing to talk to you when something is bothering you, but I need you to change the way you’re handling this. When you have an issue, I need you to take it to the person with the ability to do something about it (which will often be me), not spread the frustration around to people who can’t change it.”

From there, you need to hold him to that, just like you would any other standard of performance.

But I think the key will be sticking to the actual impact this is having (which will help you both see this as a true performance issue and thus something you’re entitled to hold him accountable to) and not just about “venting” (which makes it sound like how he handles it is optional).

2. My daughter was told to pretend to be straight at work

My gay daughter was told at work (a Wal Mart in Alabama), by a supervisor, that she cannot be gay at work because it may offend customers. She was told to speak about her girlfriend as if she were a “boyfriend.” Is this okay? My daughter is sad and ashamed now and I am speechless.

She is only 18 and has been in and out of therapy for years. She has identity issues along with depression. She has been doing well until this. She feels that she did something wrong and is ashamed. She told me this in casual conversation, not realizing they were in the wrong.

No, it’s not okay. That manager is a ridiculous person. Unfortunately, the law is wildly outdated in this regard. No federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against gay, bisexual, or transgender employees, and only 21 states have state-level protection. As a result, LGBT people, including in Alabama, don’t have protection from on-the-job discrimination.

If you want to see this change, one thing you can do is to urge your congressional representatives to pass legislation ending this as-of-now legal discrimination. You can do that here.

3. I recommended someone for a job and now regret it

I’ve been at my new position for over 3 months now, and I found out that they were looking for an assistant. I knew of someone who could do the job. I was hesitant at first, since when I grew to know him personally, he was often late, and was easily confused when given direction. But there were other times when he was a stellar employee. Even though I felt apprehensive about referring him, I still did it because I knew he needed the job.

Fast forward and they’ve offered him the job, but nothing is final. I’ve been talking to him lately and it sounds like he has a lot on his plate and I worry that he might not do as good a job as I had hoped. I feel the pressure to say something since it will reflect on me how he does. Should I warn my hiring manager and tell them to rescind the offer? I plan on talking to him to make sure this is what he wants, but I feel like no chat will help him get his life in order.

Ouch. There’s no other way to say this: You messed this one up. You recommended someone whose work you know has serious problems, and now they’ve offered him a job. Pulling a job offer is a really big deal, and one that would reflect badly on your company. If you go back to your manager and suggest they pull the offer, you’re going to look … well, unreliable and flaky at best.

Your better bet would be talking to your friend, but at this point there may not be much you can do.

4. Can I reuse an editing test as an editing sample?

I interviewed, unsuccessfully, for a position as an editor at a think tank recently. Part of the interview was an editing test: they emailed me a brief report on some of their research and had me make corrections and queries. I still have their original document and my marked-up version.

What I don’t have are any before-and-after editing examples from my old job. I can’t share anything from it that hasn’t been through classification review, and we only ever submitted final drafts for the review process.

I need an editing sample for another job application, and the posting specifies that the sample needs to show my work; just a final draft won’t do. Can I submit the think tank’s editing test as my sample? I don’t have anything from before my old job. I’ve edited fiction for friends, and things like grad school personal statements, but those call for very different skill sets than the editing jobs I’m applying for.

In theory, yes, but if they ask you what it’s from, I think it’ll come across a little oddly to say “it’s from the hiring process for a different job I applied for.” You’re probably better off creating something just for this.

5. How should my resume explain that I repeatedly took on work beyond my normal role?

I have a question about workplace dysfunction and resumes, or more specifically, how I show that for most of the projects I worked on (research studies), I assumed key higher-level duties and instituted practices to overcome team inexperience and lack of expertise particularly at the senior management level. Generally, I simply write what I did – duties and accomplishments – on my resume. I’m moving to quantify those duties (e.g., instead of writing “developed analytical framework and analyzed collected data,” I might describe the framework and write “analyzed 4000 pages of transcripts…”), but I’m still struggling with how to say “I did the project director’s or team lead’s job and absorbed most of the tasks because project staff did not do their work.” This is not my imagination – senior officers from other offices are stunned by our inner-office workings and have said to me that I should get recognition for the work I am doing and have actively sought to go over my boss’ head to make this happen.

If it were just one project, I would note it and be done, but I’m concerned that by addressing it in each project description (typical resume format for my line of work), it may call into question the overall study or the company’s reputation, or worse, get me labeled as “one of those people.” I also don’t really know how best to do this. For example, do I write, “Assumed key project director/team lead duties” though the project director does not recognize that I am doing his work? Do I write, “Under limited direction …”? Or some other variant? I don’t want to sell myself as far more experienced as I am by just describing the work, but I’d really like to get credit for the senior-level duties I’ve assumed.

Am I overthinking this?

I think so!

I agree that you shouldn’t say something like “assumed director’s role” repeatedly (although it’s fine to say it once). Instead, simp explaining what you did, without specifying that you were assuming the director’s job each time. You could also include language like “broadened role to include ___” or “was only teapot polisher to take on ___.”

I think you’re getting sidetracked by the fact that this stuff happened because of dysfunction, when really you can just explain what you did without providing that context for it.

how can I ask whether I’m doing well enough at my new job?

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A reader writes:

Is there an appropriate, non-annoying way to ask whether you are making sufficient progress during training?

At a previous job, I was given strictly positive feedback until about a week before my 90-day training/probation period was scheduled to end, at which point I was told that there were major concerns with my performance. At that point, I had formed a lot of bad habits from not being corrected, but I was told that it was too late for additional hands-on training. The number of errors I made reduced drastically after I was informed of the issues, but needless to say, I didn’t reach total perfection in time to make it off of probation. (Long story short, there were literally hundreds of opportunities to make errors during the day, and all it took to make one was to be distracted for 1-2 seconds. I knew I wasn’t reaching perfection but assumed that it was unrealistic.) When I expressed that I was confused because I had been told that I was doing very well up until that point, I was told that it’s policy to only give positive feedback during training. Apparently negative feedback is not given until it’s necessary because the employee is on the designed-to-fail improvement plan.

Fast-forward a few years—I just started a new job (though in an unrelated industry) with a similarly long and intensive training process and dozens of opportunities for errors of omission during the day. My severe inattentive ADHD is being treated now, and the type of attention to detail that this job requires is much more in line with my skills than the aforementioned one, but needless to say, I’m feeling a bit insecure. I’m getting good feedback but as I’ve learned, that’s no guarantee that I’m actually doing well, and I have no idea if the number of errors that I am making is below, at, or above average for my stage in the training process. Is there a way to ask how I’m doing that will garner a candid, honest answer? I know that I can’t straight-out ask “Am I doing well enough to reasonably expect to not be fired and to make it past my training?” but that is the question I would like an answer to. I have no particular reasons to assume impending doom, though they have extended the planned length of my training by a few days. With my ADHD I don’t always have an accurate sense of what a typical person would consider adequate/good/bad in terms of tiny details. I tend to overcompensate and obsess more than underestimate, but am still feeling a little anxious.

Well, the first thing to understand is that that previous company’s way of doing it (a) sucked and (b) isn’t universal. A decent manager will give you feedback and won’t lead you to believe that things are fine if they’re not. There are managers who function the way that old company did, and it’s wise to be aware that they exist, but you also don’t want to unnecessarily freak yourself out by assuming it’s happening unless you have some particular reason to believe it.

That said, there are certainly tons of bad managers out there, and so it’s also not crazy to want to be sure that you have an accurate understanding of how you’re doing.

While you can’t perfectly protect yourself against the possibility of a terrible manager who doesn’t give direct feedback even when there are serious problems, there are things you can do to increase the likelihood that you’ll hear if there are problems.

The biggest one is to simply ask directly. For instance:
“Is there anything I should focus on doing better?”
“Is this error rate in line with what you’d expect to see from someone at this stage of training?”
“How do you feel things are going overall?”

In addition, make sure that you’re hearing it when you do get less-than-positive feedback. Particularly when you’re new to a job, you might end up thinking that the corrections you’re receiving are a normal part of learning the job when in fact there’s a more serious concern underlining them. So make sure that you’re staying attuned to what kind of feedback you’re receiving and how it’s balancing out (i.e., how much is positive versus corrective). And asking the types of questions that I listed above can help get you some context that can help you figure that out too.

Also, in your case, since they extended the length of your training by a few days, it’s reasonable to ask about that. For instance: “I wasn’t sure if the fact that we’ve added a few days to my training indicates that I’m not picking this up as quickly as you’d hoped. Is there anything you’d like me to be doing differently?”