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.

I branched out at work and was criticized for it, boss wants me to follow up on everything with emails, and more

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

1. I branched out at work and was criticized for it

I’m with a small company of about 25, and work in software development. Luckily, my company is very open minded and flexible about participating in the work you’re interested in. Last fall, we decided to hire three summer interns through the local university, and when the resumes and cover letters came in, I jumped at the opportunity to participate. I was involved in the entire process from culling the stack of applications, to interviews, to call backs, and was very interested in being on the other side of the table for once! I learned a lot and was able to put a lot of what I’ve read here to use. I think my colleagues who were also involved were surprised to see me so energetic about it, I genuinely found it fun!

Fast forward several months, and it’s time for my performance review. The feedback I received was spun to be negative! “It was great that you were so involved in the hiring process, and we loved seeing you become so flared up and passionate about it! How can we make you feel that passion for software development?”

I was thrown for a loop! I thought I’d done good work and added value to my role and it was only used to contextualize a lack of energy in my day to day! For context, in those between months I had been through a pretty awful breakup which impacted my performance, so this was layered on some unpleasant (but fair) feedback. Even with that aside, I absolutely do not dislike the work that I do, though my energy level IS lower there.

I would like to continue participating in these decisions in the future but I’m worried that it’s impacting me negatively. Should I tone down my involvement or try to put forward a more tonally appropriate level of enthusiasm? I can’t help but feel a little cheated!

It’s hard to say without knowing exactly how visibly enthusiastic you were about the hiring work, and how engaged you seem with your day-to-day work. The latter in particular is really key in being able to answer this. If you’ve seemed a bit checked out / not invested, it’s understandable that your boss would note the contrast and ask about it.

That said, unless there was more to it than you’ve described here, I wouldn’t take her feedback as criticism of your involvement in the hiring work. I’d take it at face value: She liked seeing you get so engaged with that work, she’s observing that it was markedly different from how enthusiastic you seem about your normal work, and she’s wondering if there’s a way for you to be as invested and engaged in the latter. That’s actually useful feedback for you. Even if you disagree with it (because you think, for example, that it’s natural to get more excited about a short-term, more novel project and you can’t see sustaining that for your long-term day-to-day work, no matter how much you like it), it’s still useful to know that people around you might note the enthusiasm gap. Maybe there’s a legitimate point there — maybe you do need to reflect on whether you should bring more energy to your work. Or maybe it’s just a perception thing, and so it’s an opportunity to say to your boss, “No, I actually really love my day-to-day work. What you saw in my enthusiasm on the intern hiring was just my excitement about learning a new area. I don’t think I could sustain that level of visible enthusiasm day-to-day, but I do want you know that I feel deeply invested in my regular work here.”

2. My manager makes me follow up on internal conversations with emails

My manager makes me follow up on conversations I have with other members of the business with an email. Is this odd? If I have a conversation about the way something is done with a colleague, this must be followed up in writing via an email. It’s a small office and people tend to get along, although most people do not like my boss as she is a micromanager. It just feels like my boss does not trust anyone and wants everything in writing after the simplest of conversations. I find this hard to deal with, as I trust people at their word most of the time, especially if I have an established working relationship. Any suggestions on how to deal with this or is it normal?

It depends on the issue in question. If your manager wants you to follow up in email to say things like “so to confirm, you’ll be a few minutes late to the staff meeting today,” that’s overkill and weird. But if it’s about more substantive things — deadlines, project plans, processes, and other key details — that’s actually both normal and a good practice. It’s not about not trusting the people you work with. It’s about the reality that people are usually juggling lots of things and sometimes details fall through the cracks or get misremembered, and summarizing it in email makes that less likely to happen. (It also creates a record that people can consult later if there are questions.)

3. I started a new job and accidentally found my interview ratings

I started a new job about two months ago, and it’s been mostly wonderful. One of my side projects is reorganizing a shared folder that my department uses to store documents. My boss asked me to familiarize myself with it and make suggestions next week of how to organize it better, i.e. find any redundancies, declutter, etc. I’m also supposed to be putting together some documents to help onboard our next team member in a few months, using my own feedback from my hiring process.

While browsing through the various folders in the shared drive, I came across one folder named “job.” Inside are two separate folders full of scanned documents from my interview. These include dozens of pages of individual feedback and scoring from my four-panel interview, including matrices of comments and numerical ratings for both myself and another interviewee! Now I’m torn about whether I should let my boss know that this folder is sitting in the drive for all to see. Should I just wait to bring it up later once I’ve built some more rapport with my boss? Or mention it now so that the same doesn’t happen with future hires? Is it common for these sorts of documents to be made public within a department?

Side note: I couldn’t help but read every word, and overall I received really good comments, especially from my direct manager! I had been deeply curious about who else they interviewed, and it turns out the other interviewee was much more qualified but lacked energy and passion for the industry, which I scored highest in. This solidified my confidence in my interviewing skills, and gave me a bit of a confidence boost!

Yes, bring it up. It’s not a big deal, so you don’t need to wait until you have more rapport. It might actually be weirder if you do wait, since you were assigned to organize that folder and so at some point your boss may realize that you saw it.

Just say something like, “While I was reorganizing the shared folder, I found a folder of interview assessments and scoring. I wasn’t sure if you’d want those to be accessible to everyone, so I’m flagging it in case you want to move it or restrict access to it.”

(Some teams do make that stuff available to everyone, especially if they’re small, and who knows, maybe yours does. But it’s more typical to restrict access to that kind of thing to people involved in the hiring.)

4. Our salary grades are going down because of a department reorg

My brand new manager is reorganizing the department to make it “flat.” She has zero experience with the type of work my department does. In order to make our department flat, a number of employees are having their manager titles stripped and while we are keeping our current salaries, our salary grades will be dropping by one or two grades, which affects our future earning potential and cuts our bonus eligibility percentage by 5%.

Is this legal? None of the managers have had bad performance reviews. They’ve all met or exceeded expectations.

Yes, it’s legal. Employers are allowed to lower your pay or, in this case, your salary grade. They just can’t lower your pay retroactively (meaning that you can’t be told, for example, that the last few weeks of work you just did are going to be paid out at a lower amount than what you agreed to).

You and your coworkers can certainly try pushing back, perhaps by showing her data on competitive salary ranges for the work you do and explaining that your team won’t be able to attract or retain good people under these new policies. And if you have an HR department, you can attempt to enlist their help. But it’s possible that your employer is actually okay with these consequences — they may be happy to lose people who are getting paid more than what they’ll pay when they rehire for the roles, if it’s convinced that the reorg actually makes sense for the organization. If that’s the case, you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to stay under this new structure or if you’d rather go elsewhere.

5. Did this HR person lie when she said my emails went to her spam folder?

I applied for a job at a local, growing small company. The position seemed well-suited to me and my experience, and I even knew a former colleague who took a position there in recent months. After applying, I reached out to the colleague and told him that I had applied and he said he would personally send my resume to the hiring manager.

Within a week, I was emailed by HR (on a Thursday afternoon) asking me if I was available to speak about the position over the phone on either the following day (Friday) or the following Monday. I emailed back a few hours later on the Thursday night and said I could make myself available on either day at her convenience. Friday passed. Monday passed. I took your advice and emailed Tuesday apologizing for missing the times she suggested and let her know that I was available Wednesday-Friday to speak about the position.

Two weeks pass, and on a Thursday I receive a voice message from her saying that she had lost my emails in her spam box and would like to set up time that day or the next day to chat. I decided to call her back instead of emailing, and we set up a phone interview for the following morning. That interview went well and she immediately set up an on-site interview for the following Monday, where I met with her, the hiring manager, and his team. During the interview, the HR person said she would know next steps by “Wednesday.”

I guess my question is, she made up the spam box thing, right? If I was responding to her initial emails, why would my emails be flagged as spam? She probably doesn’t want the organization to seem disorganized. And I am still interested in the job, especially after meeting the team. But it is now Friday. What was the point of her telling me I’d hear back by Wednesday? Is this normal? Or a red flag for the job?

I suppose it’s possible that she made up the spam thing, but that’s not the most likely explanation. The most likely explanation is that your emails actually went to her spam folder and she found them there later. That’s a thing that happens even if earlier emails went through, and it’s not always clear why. I’ve definitely found emails from job candidates in my spam folder before and they’ve found mine in their spam folders too (which was the topic of my very first blog post here 11 years ago!). People who are hiring and people who are job searching should regularly check their spam folders for that reason, but not everyone thinks to do it regularly.

As for her saying you’d hear back by Wednesday and then missing that deadline, that’s very, very common. Hiring frequently takes far longer than people expect it to, and employers regularly blow their own timelines. It’s so normal that I tell people to take whatever timeline an employer gives you and mentally add two weeks to it. It’s annoying, but it’s a reality of how it works.

If you otherwise like this job and the people you met with, I wouldn’t consider any of this red-flaggy.

my employee helped a fired coworker get a job with her fiance and lied to me about it

A reader writes:

I own a small business and a year ago hired a foreign employee on a work-holiday visa, “Meg.” While at my company, she met another employee, “Jane,” who I ended up firing a few months later due to numerous work-related issues.

Knowing that the two remained friends, I did not discuss with Meg my reasons for firing Jane, and asked her to keep sensitive information about the company confidential. She agreed and said she would “remain professional.”

A few months later, I had dinner with my current employee and her fiance, as friends. Her fiance manages a luxury retail store for an international brand, and at that time gave me what I thought was good advice on employee management, asking me why I thought Jane did not perform anymore, and reassuring me that I did everything I could before firing her. I stayed as vague as possible, knowing that they were also friends with her.

After another few months, Meg announced that she was going back to her country for at least six months, while her fiance was staying here. At the time I was thinking to re-hire her when she came back, but shortly after I found out Jane had been working for months at the luxury retail store managed by this Meg’s fiance!

When I confronted Meg, she became nervous and admitted that her fiance was the person who hired Jane, and that he did not check her references, which would have been otherwise mandatory for this luxury corporation. I then realized that the “friendly advice” he gave me a couple of months prior was in fact a disguised reference interview … and also remembered that he gets paid a substantial bonus (around $1,500) for every person he recommends who gets hired. Altogether, the couple stayed mum for at least five months about my former employee’s whereabouts, at one point telling me that she found a new job in an independent boutique.

My employment contracts have a non-competition clause asking employees not to hire other current or former employees within four months of their departure, nor to work with a competitor located close by. Technically, both Meg and Jane have not breached these conditions, since Jane was hired by my employee’s fiance, and the company she now works at is not close by. But I cannot help to feel deeply betrayed, and having been used by this couple under the pretense of friendship.

I do not want to re-hire Meg when she comes back, and I don’t understand why her loyalty laid more with a colleague whom she met through my company, rather than me. This is making me question if she shared confidential information with her fiance or Jane, given that she lied about my former employee’s new job for months and I did not suspect a thing…

Am I right to feel this way, or did she do nothing wrong?

She didn’t really do anything wrong.

I get it feels weird that she didn’t mention it — like it’s something that she deliberately kept from you — but it wasn’t really information that you had a stake in or a right to know about. And Meg may have thought it would cause weirdness if she told you … which it seems like it might have, based on how you’re feeling right now!

Meg’s fiance is allowed to hire Jane. And even if he circumvented his company’s reference-check process or even if he did it just for the referral bonus, it’s pretty solidly in the category of Not Your Business.

You say that you’re feeling used … but they didn’t really use you. They just chose not to divulge something that they weren’t obligated to divulge in the first place. They haven’t gained any particular benefit at your expense.

I just don’t see a betrayal here. I see an employee who thought it might be awkward to mention to her boss that her fiance hired someone who said boss had fired. That’s it. And while it’s the sort of moment that can make you pause and understand some of your past conversations with the person differently, it’s really not anything more than that.

It’s true that they shouldn’t have lied and told you that Jane had found a job in an independent boutique if she hadn’t … but who knows, maybe Jane specifically asked them not to mention she was working for Meg’s fiance, and maybe they felt put on the spot if you what she was up to. But they weren’t harming you with that lie or denying you information you were entitled to. And so if anything, I’d take this as a flag to think about why Meg was determined not to share this with you. It could just be basic awkwardness (which is very common), but it’s worth reflecting on whether she might rightly have figured that you would have taken it badly — like burdening her with strong disapproval of her fiance’s decision, implying that she’d been disloyal to you, or otherwise making it A Thing when it shouldn’t be.

If you don’t want to re-hire Meg when she returns, you don’t have to (and it would do her no favors to work for a boss who mistrusts her). But she didn’t really do anything all that terribly wrong here.

what should a salary negotiation sound like?

This week on the Ask a Manager podcast, I talk to a guest who’s wondering about salary negotiation — how to do it, what to say, and what kind of tone to use.

You can listen to our discussion on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Volumes, or Anchor (or here’s the direct RSS feed).

This episode is 18 minutes long, and here’s the letter:

I would really appreciate a good in-depth lesson on negotiating salaries. I see a lot of basic advice but I’ve never personally done it. There’s such conflicting advice about if women should or shouldn’t, how they should do it, and to top off, a mix of horror stories of offers being pulled because of negotiation.

The things I’d like to know most are:
* What kind of tone should you be using?
* How do you know if you’re being reasonable?
* How to get more confident and not feel so nervous about pushing for a little bit more?

If you want to ask your own question on the show, email it to

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

can I show armpit hair at work?

A reader writes:

I have a strange question for you and your readers: how appropriate is body hair in professional offices?

I’m a woman in my 20s who prefers to keep my underarms unshaved, though they’re tidy and unobtrusive. (I have light hair, which makes it less noticeable.) In general, I think sleeveless blouses can be fine at many offices, but I’ve found myself balking at airing out my underarms in professional contexts and am not sure whether to avoid sleeveless tops forever or just get over it.

This isn’t an issue that often — I’m a freelance writer and work at home/in casual-dress environments 95% of the time. But every now and then I need to dress more professionally, and I’m wondering if I need to make it policy to keep my pits to myself?

(For the record, I wouldn’t spare it a second thought if a female coworker happened to have underarm hair that showed — but if a man at a nearby desk wore a shirt that showed his armpits, I’d find it unpleasant. Not sure what to do with that distinction. Surely there’s a difference between tidy office pits that are normally fine to wear to work — unlike sleeveless men’s shirts — and “dude at beach” hair??? Or am I doomed to cardigans anytime I’m in a business casual workspace?)

I have to confess that I’m squicked out by armpits in general — men’s and women’s — and if it were up to me, no armpits would ever be on display anywhere and sleeveless tops would be abolished. I am strongly pro-sleeve for all, and so I’m not a reliable source for an answer to this.

But I will try to put my bias aside and answer this.

We do have different standards for men and women’s armpits at work. Men generally can’t wear sleeveless tops to work in most office environments at all, so their armpit hair never really comes up as a question. But in many/most offices, it’s fine for women to wear sleeveless tops, and you could argue that if sleeveless tops are okay, then any resulting visible armpit hair is no one’s business.

On the other hand, while there are big regional and cultural differences on this, there are certainly office environments where wearing a skirt that exposed obviously hairy legs would be Not Done. It’s not necessarily that it would result in a formal talking-to, but in some places it would be a thing that was noticed and made people think you were less than professionally groomed. Which is stupid and unfair, but would definitely be a thing in some — not all — offices. (I think this is changing though!)

My guess is that armpit hair falls along the same lines: fine in some offices, not fine in others. And so you’d have to know the culture you’re working in, and how much you care about complying with that culture’s norms and expectations.

employee overstepped with a coworker’s tragedy, boss told me to change my ringtone, and more

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

1. My employee alienated a coworker with her opinions about his personal tragedy

I’m a relatively new manager (six months in) and this is my first management job. I’m still getting the hang of things. My boss and everyone above him don’t work in this branch. I am wondering when a manager should get involved in a personal dispute between two employees that has nothing to do with work.

“Robb” is the relative of someone who was murdered. He changed after it. He lives alone, doesn’t celebrate holidays or things, and wants to go through the motions and be left alone. He has been vocal in his personal (not work) life about there being no justice for victims. “Arya” is a newer employee. I don’t know how she found out about Robb because he doesn’t talk about it at work, but she thinks Robb needs to forgive the perpetrator (who got life with no parole) and fight for prisoner rights to fix the prison system, and she told him this a few times. Robb now avoids Arya as much as possible (and she hasn’t made any further comment). Other employees are enabling Robb by dealing with Arya on his behalf.

My conundrum is that all the work is getting done, Robb has not been hostile to Arya (nor has anyone else) and he just avoids her, and no one has complained or brought forward concerns about anything. As a manager, should I be dealing with Robb’s situation or should I leave this alone because it a personal conflict?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that personal conflicts are off-limits to you as a manager. If they impact your employees’ work, work environment, or overall satisfaction at work, you can get involved.

If you haven’t already, you should tell Arya clearly and sternly that her comments to Robb were unacceptable and that in the future she needs to stay out of other people’s highly sensitive personal situations. You should also let Robb know that you’ve done that, and that you’re sorry he was subjected to that.

I don’t know how big a deal it is that other people have to deal with Arya on his behalf, and that’s very relevant here. If it’s not very frequent and if it’s not disrupting other people’s work, I’d let this go for a while so that Robb can get some space from her. Even if it is frequent, if you can change the workflow to keep them apart without compromising what you need each of them to be producing (and without overloading anyone else), that might be the smartest path. If that’s not possible, then yeah, at some point you’ll need to talk to Robb and find out what he’ll need to be able to work with Arya again. But if you can give him the grace of some space from her now, that would be a kindness.

2. My boss asked me to change my ringtone

Is it worth it to try to push back when you’re the only one in an office of 10 people asked by your manager to change the ringtone on your personal cell phone? My standard one (that’s the one when anyone calls, but I have distinctive ringtones for certain folks) is the theme from the Beverly Hills Cop movies, and I keep my volume at about 20-25%. Everyone else in the office has their ringtones on full blast. I know because I hear them. One is a particularly shrill old-style telephone ring, and another is the bugle call “Release the Hounds” from a fox hunt.

In any case, mine’s not bad, and it’s not loud, but I’m the only one asked to change it. Is it worth pushing back on?

I mean, I think everyone in your office should be keeping their phones on vibrate; this sounds like way too much jarring noise.

But I don’t think you can push back on this. Your manager has told you that she finds yours in particular to be disruptive (and maybe others have told her that too), and that warrants changing it. Or if you feel strongly about keeping it, then keep your phone on vibrate when you’re at work.

(And actually, even if this request had come from a generally reasonable peer, rather than your manager, I’d say the same thing. It can be hard to work in an office full of other people’s noises, and if someone tells you you’re making a noise that’s particularly driving them round a bend, it’s kind to try to accommodate them if you can do so without major inconvenience. Even if you feel like other people are just as bad!)

3. How can I explain a medical absence without sharing the details?

I am a 30-year old woman working in my first professional role following graduate school. The team I work on is small (eight people) and fairly tight-knit. In two weeks, I am going to be missing a few days of work to have a tubal ligation. This surgery is completely elective and something my husband and I have been discussing for a long time. I’m actually really excited about it.

My issue is that I’m not sure how much I will need to tell my team. As a woman who has never had and does not want children, I am used to getting a lot of unwanted commentary from friends, family and – most annoyingly – strangers about the issue. I know that I’m making the right choice for myself, and I don’t want to open myself up to lectures or judgment from well-meaning coworkers with different value systems.

How do I explain that I will be taking a few days off to recover, without getting into the specifics? I have disclosed the reason for my surgery to my manager, who is very supportive. I’m just not comfortable going into great detail to the rest of the team, and I know they will be curious and ask questions.

You don’t need to tell them anything! Or at least nothing beyond “I’ll be out for a few days” or, if you want, “I’m just having a medical procedure — it’s nothing to worry about.” The idea here isn’t to hide the details out of shame or stigma; the idea is that this is the appropriate language for any medical procedure, because none of them are your coworkers’ business! It’s totally normal not to divulge medical details at work. (The same was true with your boss, actually — you weren’t obligated to share the details with her either, unless you wanted to.)

4. My job doesn’t provide safe parking

I currently have a second job at a restaurant with not a whole lot of parking. On weekend nights, in order to free up more parking for customers, they force us to park in a strip mall parking lot (if we don’t park there, we can be sent home for the night or fired). This parking lot is across a very busy road, past a sketchy gas station, and past a very dark store front. I am a tiny young woman and am forced to walk alone back to my car, usually between 11 p.m. and midnight. I am always in my restaurant uniform and almost always carrying nearly $100 in cash. We have asked several times for a remedy to this situation, and their best answer was that they would drive us to our cars at the end of the night. They’re promised this four or five times, but it still hasn’t happened. In fact, one of our managers has a suspended license so, if he’s closing, it isn’t even possible! They’ve also offered to go get my car for me, which I politely declined because I don’t want anyone else driving my car, god forbid they get in an accident.

I know that employers aren’t technically required to provide parking, but the place they require us to park is owned by other businesses! There is a large supermarket and probably eight other smaller stores in the strip mall and we are effectively stealing their parking. Are they within their bounds legally? Do we have any avenue for action here, or do we just have to suck it up?

They are indeed within their bounds legally. There’s no legal requirement that an employer provide parking to employees. If the lot where they’re telling you to park is marked for those other businesses’ customers, you can point that out, but then they might just shrug and tell you to take public transportation.

Your best bet is probably to push for a solution with a group of your coworkers, which will make you harder to ignore. Insist on the rides-to-cars plan happening, and push for a work-around on the nights the manager with the suspended license is working. Or you could ask if they’d pay for a group cab for you all to that parking lot, but who knows if they’d be willing to do it.

If they won’t budge, or if they agree and then flounder when it comes to actually implementing what they agree to, then at that point you’d need to decide whether you want to stay there, knowing that this job doesn’t come with safe parking, or if you’d rather leave. (Or a third option — unionize and make parking part of the negotiations! But that may be more invested than you want to get.)

5. Should I do more to show I want a job at a particular company?

I applied to a position at my alma mater which I didn’t get because they felt I was overqualified. But they said they were impressed with me and would be in touch if a more suitable position opened up. They reached out to me about another position 5 months later but I didn’t get that job either because I didn’t have experience in one area they felt was relevant for the job.

A few of my friends think I should do more to get them to hire me: one suggested going there and having a conversation with the HR manager about how unsatisfied I am with my current job and how I really want to work there. Another suggested applying to other positions even when I don’t have all the qualifications just to show how badly I want to work there. My instincts say that would hurt rather than help my chances because they have already stated in both interviews that they like me and that it’s more a matter of finding the right fit than anything else. Should I do more to show I really want to work there?

Listen to your instincts here, not to your friends. This employer knows that you’re interested because you’ve applied for two jobs with them. The reason they’re not hiring you isn’t that you don’t seem insufficiently interested; it’s been about your qualifications not being the right match both times. So finding ways to impress upon them how very interested you are isn’t the right path here (and rarely is, after a certain baseline level of interest has been expressed).

Definitely stay away from that advice to tell the HR manager how unhappy you are with your current job (after showing up in person, no less!). That’s not why employers hire people. The way to get hired there is going to be the same as it is for most jobs: Be a very strong match with what they’re looking for, and be able to convey that in your resume, cover letter, and interviews. That’s a boring answer so sometimes people (like your friends) go looking for alternative paths, but those alternate paths are often off-putting (as “show up in person and explain you hate your current job” definitely would be).