weekend free-for-all – March 17-18, 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 Newlyweds, by Nell Freudenberger. A Bangladeshi woman comes to the U.S. to marry an American man, and ends up caught between two cultures.

open thread – March 16-17, 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.

my old boss still assigns me work, coworker doesn’t wash her hands when leaving the bathroom, and more

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

1. My old boss is still assigning me work

Recently I came back from FMLA leave to discover that my boss had been (willingly??) demoted and quickly replaced with an outside hire. It turns out I rather like the new boss. I am the lead assistant in the office, and I enjoy working for him in comparison to the former boss. The problem is workload. This new boss has lots of lofty ideas for implementing new systems, many of which I welcome and think we need. This has required a new focus and increased workload on my end.

At the same time, my former boss is reaching out to me to complete simple tasks for him — items I would have pushed back on for any other staff member (making a simple edit in a PowerPoint, scheduling one-on-one meetings in Outlook.) These are items I attended to when and because he was the boss, but now he’s not in charge, and he should be fending for himself in these areas.

I’m torn about bringing this up with the new boss. I don’t want to be unhelpful, but being interrupted to complete these tasks is frustrating, and it’s going the extra mile for someone who is now just “regular staff.” I suspect I should let it go, gritting my teeth while putting my other work on hold and attend to his neediness. What would you do?

No, don’t let it go! It’s getting in the way of you being able to focus on the work you actually need to do — and especially with a new boss, now is a time for you to really kick ass and impress that new boss. Don’t let inappropriate requests from your old boss potentially derail your focus.

One option is to just politely decline these tasks. When your old boss sends you work you shouldn’t be doing for him anymore, say something like, “I’m booked solid with work for (new boss) this week so I won’t be able to do this.” You could add, “By the way, I don’t typically do that kind of thing for the staff — which I know is a change from when I was your assistant.”

But it would also be perfectly appropriate to say something to your new boss like, “Fergus has been sending me lots of admin work to do for him — tasks that everyone else handles on their own, like editing Powerpoints for him or booking meetings in Outlook. I need to focus on the work you’ve given me, so I’m going to let him know that he should handle those himself now — but before I do, I wanted to confirm with you that that’s correct.” Then, assuming your new boss confirms that, you’ll be able to tell your old boss, “(new boss) asked me not to take on these kinds of tasks for people and to focus on assignments from him instead.”

2. Coworker doesn’t wash her hands after using the bathroom

Weird/uncomfortable one for you. What do you do (if anything) when you see someone in a shared bathroom at work and they don’t wash their hands? I was at the sink, someone flushed, and then walked out of the bathroom at the same time as me, without stopping at the sink. I was left super uneasy but didn’t say anything. Should I have?

Nope. You’re not her parent so you don’t have standing to correct her on this. This is a “mind your own business” thing, although you’re allowed to be grossed out privately.

3. Letting my mom volunteer at my organization

I work at a nonprofit that relies heavily on volunteers. I’m a recent grad and in my early 20s. I’ve been working here for about seven months and was an intern before that, so my coworkers generally know my work ethic, as we’re a pretty small bunch. I feel as if the staff respects me and sees me as a hard worker. Oftentimes spouses or children (teenage or adult) of employees will volunteer (I work with kids). I’m single without any children, but my mom is very interested in my organization and loves kids. Would it be inappropriate for her to volunteer or possibly infantilizing to me? I feel like I work hard at presenting myself professionally, especially since I’m the youngest in the office, so I don’t want anything setting me back.

It depends on your mom! Do you trust her to interact with you professionally while she’s there and not act like your mom? And do you trust her not to act like your mom when you’re not around too, in terms of what she says to the other volunteers and staff? If she’s very good with boundaries and if, when you talk to her about this, your sense is that she gets that she’d need to basically pretend you’re not her kid while she’s there, then it could be fine. But if you’re not absolutely sure about those things, I wouldn’t risk it.

4. Should I put my photo on my resume?

How do you feel about adding my photo to my resume? I already have a job but am in the process of shifting careers. I have seen this tip–about adding a resume photo–different places on line. On one hand, it seems like a great way to stand out and help them put a face to my information. On the other hand, it seems like it could come off the wrong way to some employers. Just wanted to get the Alison take on it!

Don’t do it. It’s not a thing that’s done in the U.S., and it will come across oddly, as if you’re not quite in touch with professional conventions.

(It is a thing that’s done in other countries though, so if you’re outside the U.S., ignore this advice.)

do I need to give interviewers a great reason for why I’m looking to leave my current job?

A reader writes:

I’m looking to leave my current position. I’ve been lucky enough to receive positive responses on informational interviews I’ve gone on and applications I’ve sent out so far, but I’m curious about how important it is to have a great “reason” to want to leave for something else.

I enjoy the industry that I’m currently in, but have grown tired of my company and I’m ready to leave. If I can continue within my current industry, great, but I’m also very open to other lines of work and opportunities that would utilize the skill set I’ve developed here.

I don’t think I have a problem expressing enthusiasm for other roles, but (and maybe this is more of an internalized pressure on my part) I struggle with crafting the perfect response as to why I’m looking to leave my current role for something else. My current role is somewhat unique and it’s for a very recognizable company, so I sometimes feel like I’m in the weird position of having to convince people why I want to leave without bashing my company (which I don’t want to do).

Do I need to have the “winning” response for when I’m inevitably asked this type of question, or is it enough to say “this job sounds great, and here’s why I’m excited to speak with you about it,” etc.?

You don’t need to have a particularly stellar answer to this; you just need to have an answer that makes sense and doesn’t raise red flags.

When interviewers ask this question, they’re trying to figure out the following: Are you being pushed out involuntarily or otherwise leaving because of problems on your end? Are you leaving on good terms with your current employer? Do you have unrealistic expectations that they won’t be able to meet either (for example, do you get bored with all your jobs after the first year, do you have chafe at being managed in a reasonable way, etc.)? Is there other context that will help them better understand your career trajectory and how their opening might fit with it?

So, what should your answer actually be? It depends on how long you’ve been at your current job.

If you’re been there five years, no one is going to question it if you say, “I’ve been here five years and I’m ready to take on something new.” That’s enough of an answer. You might get a follow-up question about what things you’re looking for in a new role, but you’re not likely to get pushback on why you’re ready to leave if you’ve been there a good, solid amount of time like that.

But you can’t use that answer if you’ve been there one year. In that case, you’d look flighty and like you you get bored with jobs way too quickly, or you’ll look like you’re covering up the real reason you need to leave (for example, because you don’t want to say that you’re being fired).

So what if you’re somewhere in between one year and five years? Then the specifics of your circumstances matter more. In some fields, as long as you’re relatively junior, you could mayyyyybe use “I’m ready to take on something new” after two years. That’s the absolute earliest for when that answer would be credible though, and in some cases it would still hurt you for the reasons above. Closer to three years is safer. And in lots of fields, if you’re fairly senior, you’re expected to be doing challenging enough work that you need to be there closer to four years (or longer) before that answer will be credible.

Other answers that can work, depending on what’s actually true for you:

* “I came here with the goal of accomplishing X and Y, and now that I’ve done that and my team (or the project) is in such great shape, I’m eager to figure out what’s next for me.”

* “I was hired to focus on X, but it’s turned out that that they really need someone to focus on Y.”

* “My company is making significant cuts to the program I work on, and I’m looking for something more stable.”

* “My company is going through a lot of change, and we’ve had a lot of turnover on my team and four different managers in the last year. I’m looking for more stability.”

* “My role has been evolving to have a heavier focus on X, which makes a lot of sense for the organization but is less aligned with what I love to do.”

* “I’m on the road about 75% of the time, and I’m looking for a position with less travel.”

I have some additional suggestions in this piece.

Again, it depends on what’s actually true for you, but those are some examples to get you thinking.

But as long as you give an answer that makes sense (i.e., not saying “I’m ready for new challenges” after one year), that’s really all your interviewer is looking for. And your answer doesn’t need to be super long and detailed. Most interviewers are just looking for a high-level overview of why you’re thinking about leaving — like two or three sentences.

And keep in mind that you don’t need to get into any of this unless you’re specifically asked why you’re thinking of leaving your current job. If you’re just asked why you applied for the new role, your answer can focus entirely on what excites you about it, without getting into the reasons you’re leaving.

my boss told me to quit or be fired

A reader writes:

For the last six months, I’ve essentially been on “probation” with my supervisor, determining if this manager role is a good fit for me. His conclusion is that I do not possess the skills necessary for this role. Instead of terminating my employment, they offered me another position – a demotion to a role that I was supervising. They stated they do not want to lose me. Even though I do not yet have another job lined up, I have decided to turn down this role. I do not feel it would be a good move for my career, nor for this team. When I turned down this offer, I had the option to resign or to be terminated. I chose to resign.

Given the situation, what should I tell my team and colleagues? I’m not leaving by my own choice – even though technically, I am the one who has chosen to resign because I did not want the other options. I don’t want to leave on bad terms or badmouth my boss, as I know that can haunt you later! But how can I be honest about the situation without tarnishing my reputation or my boss’s?

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:

  • We accidentally left our new employee behind when we went to a staff lunch
  • Should I recommend a former coworker for a job if I liked her work but others complained about her?
  • Explaining what I’ve been doing since getting laid off
  • Can I ask why it took so long to be contacted for an interview?

interview with a nanny for a famous psychic

Occasionally I do interviews here with people who have had particularly interesting jobs. Recently a commenter here mentioned that she used to be a nanny for a famous psychic, and I wanted to know more. She kindly agreed to be interviewed, and here’s our conversation.

Note: This interview contains references to the interviewee’s spiritual beliefs, which may be different from your own. Please be respectful of her beliefs in the comment section.

So tell us a little bit about the job.

I was a nanny for “Jane’s” kids (who are also psychic). She was gone quite a bit so I effectively lived with them part-time. I would go with her when she had readings for large audiences occasionally, and other instances where she needed help with the kids even though she was there. We also talked and hung out quite a bit ourselves.

I did all the regular nanny things—picking kids up from school, meals, bedtimes, getting ready for school, movies, swimming, cleaning up the house, and sometimes just brought them with me when I needed to run errands or be somewhere. I even took her daughter on an audition for a TV commercial once.

How was nannying for a psychic different than nannying for a non-psychic would be?

• I think that working with the FBI on missing child cases understandably made “Jane” super protective of the kids in a way that most people probably are not. I took her son into the women’s bathroom with me until he was nine (yes, I got lots of dirty looks) but I was under strict orders to never leave him alone in a public place, not even for a moment.

• Sensitivities to energy. If someone was having a bad day, everyone in the house would know about it because there’s something about being in her house that made me more sensitive to energy, and the kids and Jane herself are also.

• My own abilities going through the roof when I was around the family was another surprise. We would play this game at dinner with the kids with a bunch of glitter shapes (little purple stars, yellow circles, blue squares, etc.) and she would put one in her hand and hold it out to me and the kids so we could try to guess which one she had. She could push the thought into my head and I would get it right. I have no other way to describe it except a mental shove into your thoughts.

• The spirits everywhere. Talkers, practical jokers, general visitors, the list goes on. It was a daily thing. But they like attention, as I suppose I would if I were invisible and wanted people to know I was there. I would say, “Listen, I see you and I am happy to chat and play later, but right now I really have to make dinner and get these kids to eat. Can you give me a break until after bedtime?” and they would.

• The biggest difference was psychic kids.

Psychic kids? How did that end up manifesting?

They are like Jane in the sense that they can see, hear, feel, sense the present as well as future. Not only people but also spirits. Most people don’t have the full range like that. I had to keep things from the kids that weren’t necessary for them to know, or just too adult for them. For example, I suffer from depression and would have some hard days but came to work anyway, and tried to hide it. They would be really concerned even though I was acting normal enough. They would come up and hug me, ask what’s wrong, draw me a picture, or whatever to try and make me feel better. I would just have to tell them that sometimes I get sad for no reason and it’s chemical in my brain doing it, but everything is okay and it’s just a feeling that will pass.

Once I was sick but Jane still needed me to watch the kids so I came over. It was very early, and one of the kids was just waking up. Jane and I had talked about me working that day while he was asleep, so he didn’t know I was sick yet. I was sitting at the kitchen table and he wakes up and wanders in. He looks at me and says, “Did you have your tonsils taken out? Our old babysitter had her tonsils taken out and that’s how her throat felt too.”

What was the most challenging part about working for a psychic?

It really wasn’t. It was fun! The only thing I didn’t like was when she would have people around her who were there just for the psychic stuff and not because they just wanted to be her friend. Some people would absolutely hound her. Her feelings would get hurt and even though she would try not to show it, I could tell.

I suppose it was also pretty hard to hear things about my life that were not going to go the way I wanted, even though that isn’t directly related to the job. I would try my best for something but no, it would turn exactly the way she said anyway. Every flipping time. Imagine getting an interview for your dream job in an amazing foreign country, in a city I always dreamed of visiting. I even got a minor in that language. I told her about it and she said, “You know, that’s not a safe city. It’s incredibly dangerous and I absolutely do not want you going … well, actually, it doesn’t matter. You won’t get the job. Go ahead and try to interview if you don’t want to listen to me but it’s not meant for you.” (Sounds a bit harsh typing it but she’s very cut-and-dry that way.)

Apologies if this is a silly question, but it must be asked: Did you ever feel like you couldn’t hide things from her that you normally might not want to share with a boss, because she would sense them/know them?

Well, we had a very unusual relationship since we were—and still are—so close. There are days with your coworkers or a friend / family member where you might be thinking, “You are driving me stone-cold nuts today and I am so frustrated with you” but you don’t say that. There’s no hiding it though, no matter how professional your behavior is. I know that there were days where Jane was annoyed with me too, and you just have to ignore it even though she knows and I know that she knows, etc. You just pretend and address what people are saying, not the vibe they are sending out.

There was one time where I dozed off on the couch and the kids were hanging out in the living room. One was watching TV, one was drawing. When my boss called, it jolted me awake and I felt guilty for napping, and also was startled by the phone ring. I answered it and Jane got really freaked out because my heart was pounding and she could tell. I had to explain and reassure her several times that I was not under duress and nobody was in the house scaring me / holding us hostage.

Are there things you learned from working with her that you’ve carried with you in your life since? 

So many things!

• I initially reached out to her because my (deceased) father’s spirit was following me around trying to get my attention. I asked him to stop but she told me that he was there trying to make it up to me for being a negligent father. He was trying to protect me now and wanted me to know that he’s there. That was very cathartic because I really carried some hurts about not feeling loved by him and feeling sort of rejected in life.

• It has helped me to tap into what I feel—not just what makes sense from a logical perspective.

• Live each day in the moment – life is hard for all of us so it is easy to sort of check out and ignore what is going on around you. Try to be present and not let your mind wander somewhere else when you should be here living your life.

• Don’t let anyone stonewall you or gaslight you. If you think something is happening, act accordingly because you are right way more often than most of us allow ourselves to believe. That’s how I have been in the past, anyway. Advocate for yourself and don’t let anyone push you around because ‘that’s not what’s happening’ or ‘that’s just the process’. Be appropriate, but take no crap.

Is this the most interesting job you’ve ever had? I feel like it has to be.

Oh yeah, definitely.

my beloved boss was fired, is curly hair unprofessional, and more

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

1. My beloved boss was fired

My company has been going through a long, drawn-out restructuring that has been very painful and anxiety-provoking. For example, we were told in December that the department I work for was going to be restructured, and are finally scheduled to hear in April what that will look like and whether we have jobs. 

The latest axe to fall is that my beloved boss was fired last week. He was literally here at 10 a.m. and gone by 10:15. I’m gutted. This man was the best boss I have ever worked for, and the company treated him like crap. I’ve heard rumors that the reason for this firing is so our VP can bring in someone she worked with at her previous company. This would be the third time she has done that.

I’m fairly new to business and I’m not sure I’m cut out for it, because my reaction to this has been extreme. I’m so depressed that getting myself to work is difficult, and once there, I can’t focus. Is this just how the world of work is? My teammates seem to be bouncing back better than I am.

Are you sure you have enough information to know that they treated him like crap? It’s pretty normal to have people leave right away when they’re fired or laid off (in part for security reasons and in part so that the people remaining can begin the process of moving forward), but good companies will give severance and sometimes other forms of support. If you know that they let him go without severance, then yeah, that’s crappy … but it’s possible that they treated him reasonably well and you’re just not privy to the details (which would make sense; you wouldn’t normally be).

Restructurings and layoffs are stressful. It’s hard to do them well. If you don’t give people notice, they’re upset they didn’t have notice. If you let them know it’s coming, they spend weeks or months being anxious about it (which sounds like it’s what’s happening in your case). But they are a thing that happens, often for good reason. It’s also not uncommon for new senior execs to want to bring in their own teams. It’s possible that your boss would have seen that coming or even was explicitly told it was coming. Or maybe not. It’s hard to know from the outside, and even from where you’re standing.

It does sound, though, like you might be taking this unusually hard. That’s understandable if this is the first time going through it, but I’d try to keep in mind that you probably don’t have all the details.

2. Is voluminous, curly hair unprofessional?

My hair is naturally thick, curly, and voluminous. I do my best to keep it in neat spirals, but every once in awhile it gets a mind of its own and starts to frizz. When this happens, I pull it back into a ponytail (even though that makes it look like I have a bush growing out of my head). I used to straighten it when I was in college, but it was very damaging and took many hours a week to maintain, so I’ve learned to live with the curls.

I am a receptionist at a university in a wealthy and conservative area. On a recent humid day, my hair began to frizz mid-day. Before I got the chance to grab a ponytail holder from my bag, I interacted with a parent who told me my hair looked unprofessional and I later found out complained to my boss about it. My boss told me this wasn’t the first time he’s gotten a complaint about my hair and asked me to do something to make it look more “normal.” I’m stumped on what to do. I don’t want to spend a ton of time or money straightening it. Updos aren’t a great option because my hair tends to be too thick for pins or clips to hold for extended periods of time. Are daily ponytails my best bet? I would love to hear if you and your readers have guidelines on professional hair or experience with this. Also, in case readers are wondering, my hair texture is not indicative of any ethnicity or culture that might get my boss in hot water for his “normal” hair comment. I am a pale white girl from the southern U.S.

People are complaining to your boss about your hair? And a parent even complained to your face about it? Unless your hair is a crazed rat’s nest, this is ridiculous.

You have voluminous hair. That’s how your hair is. As long as you’re keeping it reasonably well groomed, a little bit of frizz is not offensive or unprofessional. You certainly don’t need to straighten it!

The one thing I’ll note is that you didn’t say how long your hair is. It’s true that long hair — whether curly or straight — sometimes does look more professionally polished when it’s pulled back, and ponytails are a good option for that. If you’re working around people who are the type of complain about other people’s hair (and apparently you are) and you feel like you need to mollify them, ponytails might be your answer.

But truly, if your boss makes any more comments about “normal” hair, it’s reasonable to point out that this is your normal hair.

3. Telling my new boss about a chronic medical condition

I’m wondering when the right time is to tell a new boss about a chronic medical condition. I was offered a job last week (yay!) and accepted. I start in a couple weeks. However, it has occurred to me that I need to let my new boss know that I sometimes have medical issues.

I don’t need any special accommodations and it doesn’t affect the quality of my work or my ability to work, but when the condition flares up I usually find myself needing to work from home for a day or two until things calm down again.

I doubt this will be an issue because the company is known for being very flexible and they openly encourage telecommuting and whatnot, but I do want to be very upfront and transparent about it, and let my boss know as soon as possible. How would I approach such a thing?

At some point during your first week, ask your boss a bit more about how telecommuting works — how often do most people on your team do it, does she prefer that it’s scheduled in advance, etc. Then, assuming that her answer does indicate that they’re as flexible about it as you expect, say something like this: “I have a medical condition that sometimes flares up and when that happens, it’s much easier for me to work from home for a day or two. It doesn’t happen often — usually it’s about once every two months (or fill in with whatever is accurate) and it doesn’t impact my productivity. It sounds like that won’t be a problem, but I wanted to mention it to you ahead of time.”

4. Working with a traumatized volunteer

I work in a small nonprofit organization of 10 people. We are all one- or two-man shows in our departments. We have a new volunteer coming in today, and it is about this individual, Sansa, a young woman and recent graduate, who I’m writing to you about.

I first met her yesterday, when she was being shown around the office by my colleague. We exchanged only a few words and greetings, but my impression of her was that she was someone who had very recently undergone a severely traumatic experience, and was broken as a result. This was later confirmed in a group text to that effect by that colleague, informing us all that Sansa would be coming in as a volunteer, introducing her as a philosophy graduate and writer, as well as mentioning that “she had a traumatic experience while overseas and her helping out here is a form of therapy for her.”

Because of Sansa’s skills, it has been heavily implied that I am the one she’ll be working with most closely. The problem is that I’m a young man – which I’m pretty sure would mean discomfort for her at best and a trigger at worst. Do you have any tips on how I can best handle this? My initial thought is to just handle her like how I would any other volunteer, but I would definitely welcome other voices of experience, wisdom and advice.

They’re handling this oddly. Certainly they shouldn’t share details of Sansa’s trauma without her okay, but it’s not especially helpful to say what they said without providing any additional guidance about what that might mean for you and how you work with her.

In any case, I think you could go back to your colleague now and ask for guidance about whether you should do anything differently with Sansa than you would with any other volunteer. But otherwise, yes, I would work with her like you would with anyone else. (I also wouldn’t assume that being a young man will make her uncomfortable. It’s certainly a possibility and it’s good to be sensitive to that, but that’s not necessarily the case so don’t take it as a given!)

5. Should I send a movie recommendation to a recruiter?

I spoke to a recruiter at a job fair and don’t think I made that much of an impression. Indeed, it’s hard to make an impression when there are many other candidates who have stopped by with the same intention – to get a job. He gave out his email to contact him about a particular position that I would possibly be a good fit for but it seemed like he was giving out his email to everybody, so nothing special.

As I do with everybody I meet, I check them out on LinkedIn to see if we have any mutual contacts or just to gauge their personalities. On the recruiter’s profile, there was a request for movie recommendation. Out of the ordinary request on LinkedIn, but there it was.

What I’m wondering is, should I mention the movie recommendation in the cover letter that I am writing to express my interest in the aforementioned position, as a way to make me stand out from others? My recommendation is actually quite spot on to the specifications that he requested and not something just anybody would know. But would it be inappropriate and expose that I was doing my due diligence in researching/stalking the recruiter on LinkedIn?

It wouldn’t be inappropriate to make it clear that you read his LinkedIn profile. (Facebook would be different, but LinkedIn is for business so it’s fine.) But giving a movie recommendation in your cover letter isn’t really going to help you stand out — standing out in this context means that something about your qualifications stands out.

And really, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to include a movie recommendation in a formal cover letter; that’s not what your letter is about or the reason you’re writing to him, so it risks looking a little gimmicky or you’re trying too hard to build rapport. Instead, go for warm, friendly, and interested in the job, and focus on why you’d be great at it.

will it hurt me to apply for multiple jobs at the same company?

A reader writes:

I’ve been trying to start a career at the entry-level in a difficult industry to break into for quite some time. I wasn’t as tenacious as I should have been in my initial round of applications nearly a year ago, but now I’m finally ready to jump on every listing that fits my skill set and interests. It’s a small industry, so I’ll be applying to many of the same companies I’ve been applying to since I began my search.

These companies all have applicant tracking systems that require individual applications with separate cover letters for each position, and I do meet the requirements for all the positions I’m applying for (entry-level positions in different departments, essentially).

Given applicant tracking systems and the human eyes that are (hopefully) passing over my applications, is it hurting me to keep applying for the same types of openings again and again? Would hiring managers be likely to see my (updated, improved) resume as desperate and instantly move on? Or might my persistence eventually pay off?

There’s no one answer for this, but it often depends on how large the company is and what kind of applicant tracking system they’re using.

Some systems don’t make a point of showing how often you’ve applied for other jobs there in the past (or they do show it, but that info doesn’t routinely get passed along to hiring managers). Others do show that info, or pass it along to hiring managers with the rest of your application.

Some places won’t care at all that you’ve applied for 20 jobs there in the past four months; they’ll just see it as evidence that you want to work there. Some places will be more concerned about that — especially if the jobs you’ve applied for are all pretty different, in which case you’ll look unfocused or like you’re taking a scattershot approach to finding a job, any job. (Of course, you might be happy to find a job, any job … but hiring managers want to hire someone who wants this job in particular.)

But the larger the company, the less likely they are to notice or care.

So there’s no one answer here. But as a general rule, I’d say to make sure that everything you’re applying for is truly a strong fit for your experience and that you’re not applying for jobs that are wildly different (in substance or in terms of “level” of the job). Don’t let your interest in working there spur you to apply for everything you’re slightly qualified for; that’s when it’s most likely to start looking bad.

And you’re better off changing up your cover letter a bit each time. You don’t want to look like you’re just firing off the same rote application for each opening, as that would contribute to a sense that you’re not being thoughtful or selective about what you’re applying for.

my employee works from home too much

This week on the Ask a Manager podcast, I talk with a manager who gives her staff a lot of flexibility when it comes to working from home, and she’s concerned one employee is using that flexibility in a way that isn’t quite working for their team. Here’s the letter she sent to me, and you can listen to our discussion about it on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, or Anchor (or here’s the direct RSS feed). This episode is 19 minutes long, and it’s one of my favorites so far!

Our company doesn’t have a work from home policy; it’s up to manager discretion. I lead a small team that requires a lot of “face time” with senior leaders, but I try to be as flexible as possible. There’s no “policy” for when you can and cannot work from home. It’s up to the employee, and I just ask they join any meetings remotely and give me a heads up if they aren’t going to be in the office.

One of my employee works from home a lot. It’s more than once per week, on average 6 times per month. It’s often at the last minute, although half the time, it could have been a planned thing (like child care coverage while husband is traveling for work). The other half of the time, it’s an unplanned thing (like car troubles or a sick child).

I work from home approximately 2 days/month, typically planned a week or more in advance. The other two members are about the same. Of all of us, this employee is the least senior in terms of experience. 

Here are my issues: (1) I feel like a lot of this could be planned in advance, but the employee is disorganized. I prompt her (and the entire team) to share upcoming PTO, work from home, etc. in our weekly team meeting and our weekly 1:1 meeting, but there’s still a lot of last minute remote work. (2) There are perceptions that she isn’t around very often and therefore is difficult to get a hold of. Since most people do NOT work from home, colleagues often stop by and see she’s not there and assume she’s out. (3) It’s hard for me to gauge how productive this employee is when working from home. She tends to hit deadlines, but I feel she may be purposefully setting longer time tables. (4) When I collected feedback for her review, people mentioned unreliability and disorganization. Her work is okay, but there’s room for improvement. And, I want to give her *more* work, but worry that she’ll be unable to stay on top of it all.

I don’t want to be punitive – this isn’t a problem YET, but I worry it could be. And I want to give her more responsibility, but the erratic schedule could be problematic. How can I address this before it becomes a concrete issue, but still allow the valuable flexibility?

If you want to ask your own question on the show, email it to podcast@askamanager.org.

And a transcript of last week’s show is here.

our employee is taking nude photos in our office and posting them to Facebook

A reader writes:

I am the office manager of a small (two additional employees, two doctors, and one therapist) health practice. One employee, who I will call Jane, has worked there for over 10 years and handles billing, front desk, and bookkeeping.

Jane is recently divorced and seems to be going through a mid-life crisis of sorts with an obsession on finding new sex partners. She lists our company name as her place of employment on Facebook and some of our patients are her “friends.” We found out through our other employee (who I will call Mary) and our therapist (who I will call Sara) that Jane is now a member of several Facebook groups where people can post suggestive to explicit photos and videos. When we first learned of this, we let Jane know that we were aware and asked her to take anything that linked her Facebook account to us out of her profile or to create an alternate account for her extracurricular activities that we wanted to remain separate as her personal business. She became irate, saying that our awareness of it created a “hostile work environment” for her. She also threatened to sue Mary for informing us. But then some time passed and she seemed to calm down.

In the past few days, however, it was brought to my and the doctors’ attention that not only is Jane continuing to post these things, she is taking and posting the photos daily from our business. Our company bathroom is in the background of some of them as well as the office her and I share (I am in the office part-time). One of the photos described to me is a full photo of her standing in front of my desk with her pants around her ankles. The time stamps show that it is during work hours (there are times each day where she is the only employee in the office).

I am at a loss for how to handle this appropriately and what to do. She even invited a patient who works at a business in our center to be a member of one of the groups. Obviously her doing this from work and involving anything linked to the office has got to stop. Yesterday she went to use the bathroom (which is private) at least four times, staying in there for over 10 minutes each time with her phone in hand and all I could do was picture what she could be doing in there.

Given her experience and high degree of responsibility, it would be an enormous task to replace her, and believe it or not otherwise her job performance is very good. Any advice at all as to how to handle this would be greatly appreciated.

You get to draw the line at people taking nude photos in your office. That’s not okay, and you don’t need to tip-toe around that with her.

And you know, one day Jane will leave of her own volition, and then you will have the work of replacing her at that point anyway. So don’t be held hostage to your fear of having to do that now, to the point that you tolerate totally unacceptable behavior in your office.

Sometimes you need to be willing to let someone go. An employee taking nude photos of herself in your office — in front of your desk! — and posting them to Facebook, where she’s connected with some of your clients, is one of those times.

This would be bizarrely bad judgment under any circumstances, but it’s even odder because Jane knows that you know about her involvement with the explicit-photo groups. You’ve already told her that your business can’t be associated with it. And after that conversation, she seems to have escalated the behavior by posing for the photos in your office. Frankly, it almost seems like a compulsion or an act of hostility toward your office, or both.

It would be 100% reasonable to tell Jane that this needs to stop immediately and all photos taken in your office need to be removed, and that this will be her last warning on the topic and you’ll part ways with her if it continues.

It would also be entirely reasonable to decide that Jane has already demonstrated such terrible judgment that you’re not going to go through a warning process and instead will part ways now. You don’t owe someone a warning and a second chance when something is this egregious (or at least you don’t as long as your own internal policies don’t require it).

To be clear, the issue isn’t that Jane is sharing nude photos of herself in her personal life. That’s her business. The issue originally was that she was connected to clients while doing it, and the issue now is that she’s doing it at work. Keep the focus there.

But before you can do any of that, you need to convince yourself that the fact that it’ll be a pain to replace her isn’t a reason not to take action on something like this. You can’t let your organization be held hostage to that. (And really, how far does that go? What if she starts slapping your logo on these nude photos? ) There’s a point where someone’s behavior just isn’t okay, and this is at that point.

And in case you need it — hostile workplace: it’s not what you think.