negotiating a start date with a company that’s moving slowly while pressuring me to start soon

A reader writes:

I applied for a job in early July. I was contacted for an interview in mid-September. Completed all interviews by mid-October. I got a call on November 1st asking to meet with me again and for me to send in references. We met and the conversation went well. They explained I was the top candidate and that they would be checking references.

They asked at that point about my timeline for starting. I said that it would need to be a minimum of four weeks from the day I put my notice in, based on my company’s current policy to receive unused paid vacation. That would put me sometime around mid-December. I did express some concern because my current company is closed with pay from December 24th to January 2nd. We are not required to use vacation. The new company is also closed that week but requires employees to use vacation or take it unpaid. I was concerned about starting a new company two weeks before they closed for the holidays and not have any earned vacation time. I explained that everything was negotiable but that my ideal start date would be the first week of January.

The employer seemed very upset and said early December was their plan. I reiterated that after I got an offer, I would be willing to negotiate an early start date but that I was concerned about starting a new job quickly, losing my unused vacation, and having to take a week unpaid. I said if it is a deal breaker, let me know, but if there is room to negotiate, I would like to.

A couple weeks went by and they final called my references. The references said things went well. My supervisor even told me that they asked her about how many weeks notice is required. My supervisor told the employer four weeks but that most employees give more if applicable to provide a smooth transition.

A few days went by and I emailed the employer. She said the references were excellent and they were just dealing with some delays on their end with the hiring process. They asked me to be patient and would get back to me ina couple days. That was a week ago. This week is Thanksgiving week, so I am concerned about not hearing until next week and I don’t want to keep checking in.

I feel like I should email and ask for another timeline update but don’t want to nag. I also am concerned about that start date issue. The later they go the harder it will be to even negotiate a December start date.

I’d wait and let this play out. They know you’re waiting on an answer, and they know your time constraints.

Plus, the longer they wait to make you an offer, the easier it will be to negotiate an early January start date. They know you need to give four weeks notice, and they’re almost at the point where four weeks will put you at early January. And actually, since they’re closed the last week of December, they’re basically at the point right now where four weeks notice will already put you at early January.

If your concern is that they’ll try to pressure you to start sooner … well, I’d be wary of that. You’ve been clear with them throughout the process what your timeline is, they even got that confirmed by your current employer (more on that in a minute), and they’ve really taken their time with this whole process. (It’s been nearly five months since you originally applied, and they’re prolonging things right when they should be moving quickly if they’re really serious about their needs for December.)

It’s not reasonable for them to hear weeks ago that you would need to give four weeks notice, keep asking for your patience, and then insist that you break your commitment to your current employer to hurry up and start, when they haven’t treated the process with urgency themselves.

Also, what you’re telling them is completely reasonable: You’ll lose money if you compress your notice period. A reasonable company that’s really interested in you wouldn’t get “very upset” at hearing that; they’d just figure they’d need to cover that money themselves. It’s not uncommon for a new employer to pay out the vacation pay that their new hire will lose for starting early, or to cover the holiday pay that someone is missing out on in order to meet the new employer’s desired start date. That’s how reasonable employers handle this kind of conflict — not by getting upset and pushing you to do something that isn’t in your financial interest (and which could impact your standing with your old employer, depending on how it’s handled).

Speaking of which, it’s a little worrisome to me that they asked your reference about how many weeks notice they’d require. You’d already talked to them about that, so … did they not believe you? Were they hoping for information that would help them pressure you to do something differently? At best, that was a really paternalistic move on their part, and there’s a pretty good chance it’s a sign of something even more troubling, like not understanding boundaries and doing unreasonable things to advance their own interests.

So I’d proceed with real caution here. Don’t take this offer without really reflecting on what you know about this company, how their operate, their culture, and the people you’d be working with. It’s possible that it’s a fine place to work, but you’re seeing flags telling you that at a minimum you should proceed carefully.

overheard a possibly abused coworker, telling an employee I’m moving her office, and more

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

1. I overheard a possibly abused coworker my first week at a new job

I started a new job this week. On the first day, I was introduced to all the staff. My initial impression of one specific colleague was that she seemed a bit “off” (overly isolated, etc.), but I didn’t think about it very much. However, yesterday while I was in the restroom, I overheard her on a personal call. My colleague was confronting the person on the call – it was very clear that she was on the phone with a family member – about what sounded like physical and verbal abuse (“that thing you did to x body part cannot happen again” and similar language). She made references to past events (including date identifiers) and seemed rather upset.

I am concerned, but also know that I only heard a small piece of a story. Additionally, given that it is my first week and that I do not know this person at all, I am unsure of how I should respond. Should I talk to my colleague? Or should I hold off on bringing it up and wait to see if notice additional red flags? I don’t want to overstep my bounds, but I also don’t want to ignore someone in need.

It’s understandable that you’re concerned and want to help, but I don’t think you’re in a position where you can, in this case. If you knew her better, yes — but at this point you’re basically a stranger. I do think you could make a particular effort to be kind to her and perhaps establish the sort of standing where you could eventually reach out, though. I’m curious to know if others feel differently, though.

2. How to tell an employee I’m moving him to a less desirable office

We need to move an employee in my department to another area where they will be away from me and most of the other people in their area. The work they do is independent so they don’t need to be with the other people in my department (that’s why he was chosen) but I feel they will see it as a slap in the face, and the offices available are not as nice as the one they has now. I’ve worked very hard to avoid this happening for the last year but ultimately we have to do it because of space crunch and this is the solution that makes the most sense (I’ve lobbied for a new office to be created in my area by converting a storage room, and that even made it to the plans but I was also told it would take probably at least a year until they could do it, so it does not solve the immediate problem).

Do you have good language so I can present this in the most emphatic but boundaried way I can? I want them to know that even though this happened I did have their back and I do appreciate them. This is a really good employee and I don’t want to lose their enthusiasm. Because of our proximity, we now talk often, so I am planning on scheduling meetings regularly so they don’t fee neglected but I’d appreciate any other suggestions.

Be straightforward, explain the reason, explain the other options you considered and why this ultimately made the most sense, and acknowledge that it’s not ideal. But at the same time, don’t treat it like it’s going to be devastating news either; that risks making the employee think it’s a bigger deal than it actually is.

So, for example: “As you probably know, we’re having a space crunch here and I’m having to move things around to fit everyone in. I’ve tried to keep our whole department together, but now it’s at the point where we need to start using other space too. I’ve considered a bunch of options, like A and B, but (reasons those won’t work), so the upshot is that I’m going to need to move where you sit over to C. I know it’s not ideal. I settled on this because (reasons), and we’ll do (actions) to make sure that we keep the impact on you as minimal as we can. You are awesome and an important part of our team, and I don’t want you to read this as anything other than us needing to figure out this space crunch.”

3. If I get an offer, can I ask if was the first choice?

I am a finalist for a position that I would like to get at another company, but I can take my time to look a bit more as my current job is satisfactory.

The recruiter was supposed to call me Friday, a week after the interviews, to let me know the outcome of the finalist interviews and if they would be making me a job offer. She called, but said some of the interviewers were traveling over the past week and so they could not all come together on their decision. She said she would let me know by Wednesday of the following week, if not by Monday. I believe this means they made an offer to the other candidate, who asked for more time to provide a response/acceptance. I would not say anything now, but if she calls and offers me the role, can I ask if I was the first offer? It matters to me in terms of fit with the hiring team.

No, I wouldn’t ask that; it will come across oddly. And I also wouldn’t let yourself believe it will matter in terms of fit; if they end up offering you the position, it’s because they’d be happy to hire you. There are often multiple great candidates who an employer would be happy to hire; just because someone else was the first choice doesn’t mean there will be fit issues if they ultimately end up hiring you.

Also, I wouldn’t interpret the recruiter’s statement as indicating they’re actually waiting on another candidate; I’d take it at face value. What she said — that she needed longer to coordinate people’s schedules for decision-making — happens all the time, especially at this time of year. Believe her, and know that you’re falling into some over-thinking traps here.

4. Listing academic honors on a resume

Does it help or hurt to include academic honors on the education section of your resume? (I’m thinking about more universally recognized honors such as Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude, not honors that are particular to the school.)

If you’re a recent graduate (last few years): Yes, include academic honors.

If you’re not a recent graduate, I think it’s still fine to include Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude but not any others — but only if you can list them on the same line as your degree. I wouldn’t use an extra line on them, because you don’t want to take away real estate for other, more recent accomplishments.

5. Do I need to send 15 thank-you notes?

I had a day-long interview with a large company and spoke with 15 people, 30 minutes each (sometimes two people interviewed me together), plus three people at lunch. Some of the people who interviewed me are my hiring manager’s peers and wouldn’t be directly supervising me, some would be my team members, and some are on other teams. The last one was the hiring manager’s boss. Not all the interviewers asked informative questions. Some didn’t prepare any questions and just had some casual conversations with me.

Should I write 15+ thank you letters? They were very nice to me during the interview, and I had a better than expected experience, and I want to say thank you, but it seems that the whole point of thank-you letter is not to just say thank you for being so nice. I am afraid writing a letter just to say thank you will make me look less than professional. Plus, it seems to be a daunting task to write 15 tailored letters; at least, I couldn’t finish in a day or two.

No, in a situation like that you don’t need to write 15 separate letters. I’d send them to the key people you talked with — the ones who did the most substantive interviews and any who you had particular rapport with. Then, in your note to the hiring manager, you can ask her to express your appreciation to the others who took time to meet with you as well. (You could say something like “I’ve sent follow-up notes to Jane and Percival separately, but I’d be grateful if you’d pass along my thanks to everyone who took time to talk with me. Meeting so many people really gave me a good feel for your culture and the people I’d be working with in this role.”)

what’s the best timing for rejection letters?

A reader writes:

I’m a firm believer in following up with every single applicant, interviewed or not. When would you say is ideal time to send out a rejection letter?

The thing with rejections is that if you send them really quickly, people often feel stung — like you couldn’t possibly have given them sufficient consideration or you thought they were such a terrible candidate that you barely needed to think about them in order to know they would suck in the job.

This is really faulty thinking, though. You often know pretty quickly whether to move a candidate forward in your process or not. Sometimes you can tell in 30 seconds from looking over a person’s application materials (not necessarily because they’re terrible, but just because they don’t have the background you’re looking for, or they’re okay but not great compared to other candidates, or other things that don’t take days of pondering to figure out). Often you know by the time you hang up from a phone interview that the person isn’t going to move forward (again, not necessarily because they’re terrible, but because they’re just not quite what you’re looking for or they’re not competitive with stronger candidates).

I think candidates sometimes think there should be days of thoughtful reflection first, but that’s just not the reality of how hiring usually works. You know pretty quickly if someone is a “no.” (You do not know quickly if someone is a definite “yes” — or at least you shouldn’t, if you want to hire carefully — but do you usually know if you want to move them forward in your process or not.) But candidates tend to see super quick rejections as thoughtless or insulting. They tend to a be recipe for bad feelings of the “they barely considered me!” variety.

So because of that, I think you should avoid instant rejections — the sort someone gets the day after applying, or the afternoon after their interview. I think you want a seemly amount of time to go by, which to me is about a week if you’re rejecting them after the initial application, or at least a few days after an interview. Obviously, you’d give someone a faster answer if they’ve told you that they have time constraints, such as needing to make a decision about another offer.

That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with waiting longer if it makes for a more efficient system for you (but not too long — I’d strive to respond within a few weeks or at most a month when you rejecting someone after an initial application, and within a few weeks at most if you’re rejecting after an interview).

don’t say these four things in a performance review

If you’re a manager who’s gearing up for year-end performance reviews (and perhaps dreading them), you’re probably thinking a lot about what to say. But what not to say is just as important.

At Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I talk about four common mistakes to avoid. You can read it here.

what to do when an employee is being repeatedly hit on by an outside contact

A reader writes:

A member of my team is in charge of managing relationships with companies that we provide sponsorships to. She does an excellent job and is a top performer on the team. Recently, she’s been receiving some unwanted attention from one of the point of contacts at a partner company. She’s mentioned that this person has repeatedly asked her to get drinks or have dinner outside of working hours. It seems like the point of contact wants to make more of a personal connection with her and it’s making her uncomfortable. I can understand that she is in somewhat of an awkward situation, since her job duties include maintaining the relationship with this person, but this person is taking advantage of that and trying to make a personal, rather than a professional relationship.

As her manager, any recommendation on how I can handle the situation? She hasn’t asked me specifically to take any action but I feel like it’s my duty to make sure that all of my employees feel like they work in a safe space where they don’t have to deal with this kind of unwanted attention.

In a nutshell: Give her some guidance on how she can shut the behavior down, make it clear that you’ll back her up and she doesn’t need to worry about repercussions to her job for doing that, and tell her that if it doesn’t stop and/or she wants you to step in at any point, to let you know immediately and you will.

As for what guidance to give her to shut it down, I’d suggest that she clearly and firmly say to the contact (if she hasn’t already), “I’d like to keep our relationship professional and stick to work-related meetings.” I wouldn’t advise such an aggressive shut-down on the first or second invitation, but at this point, when he’s asked multiple times? It’s warranted because he’s already ignored her attempts to shut it down more politely. If it continues even after that, she should say, “Please stop asking me to meet outside of work. Now, about (work-related topic)…”

As for where to go from there if more ends up being necessary: What exactly is the relationship here? He doesn’t sound like he’s a client, and it sounds like your company may even provide something to him that he needs (the sponsorships you mentioned). If the latter is the case, that makes it even easier to tell him to cut this crap out, but even if that’s not the case, if it continues after she’s clearly told him to stop, either of these next steps would be reasonable:

1. You call him and tell him to cut it out. You’d say something like this: “Jane has told me that she’s repeatedly asked you to stop asking her out and it’s continued. I can’t let you continue to do that to one of our employees and I need you to stop.”

2. You or your staff member calls his boss and tells his boss put a stop to this (and potentially asks them to give you a different rep to work with). The message here would be, “Your employee is being gross with one of our employees and has ignored requests to stop. We need you to fix this.”

But the key thing here is to make it clear to her that she’s not expected to put up with this, and that you’ll back her up in getting it to stop.

my wife is modeling jeans for her boss, old owner keeps showing up, and more

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

1. My wife is modeling jeans for her boss

My wife works for a very small company, and it is only her and her boss in the small building. I will also add that his apartment is connected to the office. He takes her to lunch almost every day. Last week, I get a pic sent to me by a friend that showed the two of them drinking wine with lunch. A little troubling to say the least. Yesterday they went to a convention in a neighboring town. They had some downtime, so they went to a store. She was seen trying on jeans, and he was right there looking on as she modeled them. Should I be worried about this? I don’t want to be a jealous jerk.

Unfortunately, I can’t really tell you if you should be worried; that depends on things I don’t know, like what your relationship is like, whether she’s given you reason not to trust her, how the two of you communicate, etc. And also, I don’t know who’s reporting this to you and what their motivation is, and whether there’s anything that would make their decision to report to you less strange than it seems on its face.

However … Going to lunch with a colleague isn’t a big deal, and I don’t think the presence of wine changes that. Lots of people dine and have wine with coworkers. The friend who sent you a photo of that is stirring up drama and should be told to stop.

The jeans modeling does seem a little … unusual. That doesn’t mean anything inappropriate is going on, though (and you might not be getting a fully accurate picture of what happened there).

Really, I think the thing to do here is to pay attention to your relationship, reflect on the source of the info (and at a minimum tell the lunch photographer to knock it off), and consider laying this all out for your wife (in a collaborative, “help me understand” way, not an accusatory way) and talking it through.

2. Old owner keeps dropping in

I run a branch location for an equipment dealer in the Midwest. This location was a single dealership and was sold to a multi-location dealer about two years ago. They brought in a manager from another location to run this one until a permanent manager was hired (which is me).

Here’s the dilemma I have now. The previous owner will not go away. Except for times when he is gone on multi-week vacations, he will come by the dealership 2-3 times a week. Every time I feel like I’m making progress with employees, he comes in and knocks us back to the “good old days.” It’s very disruptive, and he’s even gone so far as to have hats made for employees and customers with the old dealer’s logo on it. Is it wrong for me to tell him he’s no longer welcome here and ask him to leave?

Nope, it would be reasonable to ask him to stay away. I wouldn’t frame it as “you’re no longer welcome here” though; that’s pretty adversarial. Instead, I’d say something like, “Having you come by so frequently when we’re moving forward with new ownership is creating a distraction and making it harder to rally the employees around our new management. I’m sorry about this, but I need to ask you to stop coming by. I appreciate you understanding.”

3. What to say when I hear someone has been laid off

My field is experiencing layoffs right now. How do I respond to folks when I get the email saying “I’ve been laid off, but let’s stay in touch. Here’s my personal address…” Of course I’m going to stay in touch, but it’s the condolences part I’m having trouble with. What do I say? “My sincere condolences!” “I’m so sorry” “That really sucks and I’m so sorry that you’re going through that.” Or, do you have an opening to suggest?

I’d go with “so sorry to hear that — I’ve really enjoyed working with you.” (You could also add specifics about what was great about their work if it would be genuine.) I don’t think you need to lean too heavily on the condolences beyond something like that; most people really aren’t looking for much of that and want to focus on what comes next.

4. Time off around the holidays when starting a new job

I’m starting my very first full-time job on December 1! I know it’s typically frowned upon to take time off in the first months of employment, but do you have any suggestions on how to navigate this with Christmas and New Year’s coming up? The hiring manager mentioned that typically employees take most of their vacation time at the end of the year. Is this something I can address before day 1?

Time off around the holidays is often — but not always — the exception to the “don’t ask for time off when you’ve just started a new job” rule. (Also, note that rule has an exception for time oft that you already negotiated as part of accepting the offer, which is always the best way to handle this, but it’s too late for that now.)

It’s possible that it’ll be a slow time so not a problem to take a few days or a full week off. It’s also possible that they won’t want you taking off this soon. But it’s reasonable to ask. You could send your new manager an email before you start saying something like, “I wanted to check with you about how you normally handle time off around the holidays, especially for a new employee who won’t have accumulated vacation time yet. Should I plan to work through the holidays, or would it work for me to take off, say, the day before and after Christmas? I can make it work either way but wasn’t sure what would make the most sense.”

Also, as you get more senior in your career, this will be less something you need to ask for and more something you can just arrange.

5. Applying for a job with a company that’s a potential client of my current employer

I am looking to switch jobs very soon. I’ve been with my current company for quite a while and want to make a change for many different reasons.

I went to a meeting with a potential client of ours to discuss the results of a pilot program of our services we ran with them. Our contact there happened to mention an opening within their organization and asked my colleagues and me to send along anyone we knew who may be a good fit. Well, I think that person is me! The role is similar enough to what I’m currently doing, just a little more senior. There are so many positives to this job – a step up from what I’m currently doing, it’s a company I am passionate about, and it cuts my commute down significantly. I’m really excited and want to apply soon.

If I did get the job, I would have no intention of jeopardizing my current company’s relationship with this client. In fact, I would welcome them and if they did decide to pursue a partnership, I would have a lot of knowledge about what we do and how to make it work for this client. However, I just don’t know the “politics” of applying – do I send my resume through their application system or try to get our contact’s email and apply through him directly? Will it look bad to this client if I express my interest in leaving my current role? If I *don’t* get the job, the client will know I want to leave and may not end up pursuing a future relationship with my current company (if they have a negative impression of “the company must not be good if their employees want to leave”). I know that’s a little unlikely since people leave jobs all the time, but I would like to figure out the best way to approach this to not hurt my current employer for this deal (it will likely hurt them a lot if I leave, but that’s an entirely separate issue).

Is there any chance that it will feel like a conflict of interest to the client since they’re currently considering working with your company? If so, I’d call your contact there first and say, “That job posting you shared with me was so in line with what I’d like to do that I’d love to throw my hat in the ring. Will that cause any conflict of interest on your end?” Then, assuming your contact tells you to go for it, apply through the regular channel.

If you’re positive that won’t be an issue, I’d apply first, then give your contact a heads-up (saying something like, “That job posting you shared with me was so in line with what I’d like to do that I couldn’t resist throwing my hat in the ring and just sent in an application — but either way, best of luck filling it”).

I wouldn’t worry at all that they’ll assume your company must suck just because you’re applying for a single job somewhere else; people do that all time without it meaning anything about their current company.

how to negotiate a 50% increase in salary

A reader writes:

When I last moved jobs, I went from being a big fish in a little business to an “experienced professional” non-managerial role in a corporate environment, and I read a lot of your salary negotiation advice to prepare for what I knew would be a way more formal interview process than I’d ever done before. I came out the other end with a seriously impressive jump in salary – 50% increase plus stock options. Thanks for all the great advice!

I wrote some notes down for someone else, and I thought I’d send them in case they’re useful for your readers too.

I had a “salary expectations” chat in a phone interview with an internal recruiter, without them naming a figure. I gave them a target salary based on norms for my area, one I would have been willing to let them talk down on, as this would be my first job in this specialty. When they made an offer, it matched my request plus some really nice benefits, so I didn’t negotiate back and forth at all – I’d set expectations carefully, the company had been happy to meet them, we both won!

Stuff I did in the conversation that seemed to work well:

– When asked about how much my job currently paid, I talked about “they hired me at X, and since then my role has grown to include Y and Z, and my pay has reflected that.” I wasn’t lying, just being very indirect. I’d been being paid very well in contrast to my colleagues, but still well under what you’d expect for the role I was in.

– I used the mention of my role changing as an opportunity to tell the recruiter about the cool stuff I’d done and how it had directly grown the business, with examples: due to X we were able to take on 4 new people in [position], I hired and trained two direct reports, etc.

– Then *without naming specific figures for how much I was being paid now*, I answered the “what are they paying you now” question with “I would have to think hard about leaving for less than [amount].”

– A bit later, I checked in with “How does that fit with the range you had in mind for this position?” I got a really reassuring bit of information back from doing this, which was “it’s at the top of the range, but if we like you that wouldn’t be a problem!”

All in all, this gave me a lot of confidence in how to shape this kind of discussion with a prospective employer around what you can offer and what you’d want in exchange. Thanks, AAM!

This is great. Thanks for sharing this, and congratulations on your new job!

8 things you should never tell your interviewer — even if they’re true

usnewsIn an ideal world, an interview is a candid discussion between candidate and interviewer of the job and whether the candidate is the right match. And indeed, candor will usually increase both side’s chances of ending up with the right fit. But there are some things that can hurt your chances if you’re honest about them with your interviewer.

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about are eight things you should never share with your interviewer. You can read it here.


my mother is a destructive force in my professional life

A reader writes:

I emailed you back in August when I was struggling to find a job, and I was worried about the backlash I would get from my family if I went on benefits. (Note from Alison: This was a private email exchange rather than a post, so there’s no past post to link to.)

I decided to apply for benefits, and joke’s on my family because I’ve landed a job through the benefits center! It’s a four-week admin contract, and it’s great. I love my job and my coworkers are great too. I started on Friday, and my boss pulled me aside today to say that three customers came to him to say that I did a great job with them and really helped them.

However, my family are still on my back. My mum is insisting that the way to get a job is through social media. I already know that this is a big no no.

She’s insisting that I should send Facebook messages and tweets to companies to ask about vacancies and apply through them. She has her own Twitter account, which is VERY political. It’s dedicated to all things politics, and is very heavy towards the party she supports. She’s tweeting companies in our area to tell them I’m looking for a job and asking if they have any vacancies. It’s very embarrassing, she’s tweeting them my full name, my age, location and the type of work I’m looking for. I’ve asked her to stop so many times, but she downright refuses and keeps doing it, which is reflecting terribly on my behalf. I know you said to never take your parents’ advice, but she’s doing this herself and insists that this is the correct way to find a job these days.

She’s insisting that she’s going to set up a Twitter account in my name, and she’s going to tweet companies saying: “Hello, my name is Jane ____, I’m 21, I live in ____ and I would like to work with you. How can I apply to work for your company?” This is incredibly embarrassing and she won’t stop. She’s also writing on companies’ Facebook walls and sending them messages telling them I’m looking for work.

Do you have any advice on how to deal with this? It’s making me feel so embarrassed, and it’s honestly harming my chances of finding a job.

Whoa. This is awful. Leaving aside the fact that she’s 100% wrong in her beliefs about how to find a job (and she really, really is), forcibly insisting on “helping” you in ways you have clearly said you do not want is so very much not okay.

Honestly, I’d lie to her and tell her that you have permanent employment (not just the four-week contract), because that might be the only way to get her to stop — or at least the fastest way, the one that doesn’t involve you spending weeks/months having to convince her to stop harming you. And if she continues after that, I’d tell her that she’s jeopardizing your job by making your “current employer” think that you’re still looking for a different job.

I’m not a fan of lying to people, but she’s ignoring your direct requests and potentially causing actual harm to your professional reputation and chances with these companies if you ever want to apply to them yourself. She’s putting you in a position where she’s being so unreasonable that lying may be the only way to protect yourself. I don’t really see what other choice you have — she’s out of control and potentially doing real damage to you.

More broadly, what’s up with your mom? I’ve got to think that this isn’t the only area of your life where she’s violating boundaries and running roughshod over you. It must be incredibly hard to grow up with a mother who acts this way, and who’s now actively attempting to thwart your adulthood and independence. I know enforcing boundaries is far easier said than done when you have a parent like this, but I would think very seriously about what other measures you might need to put in place to give yourself room to establish a healthy adulthood without her tearing it down as you try to put it up. (Captain Awkward is extraordinarily good with advice for people from boundary-challenged families, so you might consult her extensive archives.)

Also, for the record, you do not deserve this kind of crap from anyone, least of all your family, least of all your mom. I’m sorry you’re dealing with it.

restrictions on plus-ones at a company dinner, employee sent abusive texts from a work phone, and more

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

1. Only spouses and significant others are allowed at holiday dinner

Is it typical for office holiday dinners to restrict an employee’s guest to include only a spouse or significant other? I’ve worked as a doctor for more than a decade in a very successful privately owned clinic with fewer than 30 employees. The clinic recently changed hands, making this year its first holiday under new ownership.

Being single, I was looking forward to bringing a close friend to the dinner, but was told by my employers that only spouses and significant others were allowed to accompany employees. Is this a common practice?

Yes, extremely common. Probably more common than not, actually. The idea is that etiquette has long treated married couples (and now other significant others) as a social unit, so they’re invited to social events as a unit. The idea isn’t “bring any plus-one you want,” but rather “we’re not going to ask you to leave out a spouse/spouse-equivalent during this non-work-hours social event.”

2. Employee sent abusive personal texts from a work phone

I have an employee who is off work due to personal reasons. This is a long-serving employee with a good track record. I like this guy, and we have a good working relationship. However, he used his company phone to send abusive texts (non-sexual) to his ex-partner’s new boyfriend. The boyfriend has complained and threatened to go to the police if we, the company, do not do something about it. The phone contract has now been terminated. What can I say to this employee to make him realise how serious this is for the company?

“It’s unacceptable to use a work phone to send messages like this, and you’ve exposed the company to potential legal problems. This has shaken my trust in your judgment, and I’m going to need you to work to rebuild it. As a start, I need you to agree not to use company resources for personal business going forward. Can you do that?”

People who send abusive messages to the new partners of exes tend to have some serious maturity and boundary issues, so you might keep an eye on that as well.

3. Mentioning a recent job offer when asking for new types of work

I am an admin assistant at a university and recently interviewed for and turned down a teaching job offer at a local private high school (the start date wasn’t ideal, the pay increase wasn’t substantial, and it seemed more of a temporary assignment). I have my master’s degree and I love being a part of a university, but my ultimate goal would be to teach in higher education. The job market in academia, however, is not friendly to master’s degree-holders, and even PhD’s, especially in the humanities.

My current supervisor was recently promoted and I would like to request a performance review with him before he begins his new assignment (I have only been at this university in this position for about six months—my current supervisor hired me). I would like to use this opportunity to discuss creative ways I could perhaps integrate more academic research tasks into my current position. I have received a lot of positive feedback so far and think my current supervisor would be willing to hear me out, but how could I phrase it? Is it wise or useful to mention the teaching job offer I turned down to ask for an opportunity for a stretch assignment in an academic department or student activities department? The job offer I turned down offered a couple thousand more than I make now; is it unreasonable to request a raise only 6 months in?

Yes, you really need to wait a year before you ask for a raise, and you should base the request at that point on contributions you’ve made in the past year, not on a different job offer.

In theory, it could be possible to mention the offer in the context of explaining that you’re strongly interested in working in an academic position, but I think that’s trumped by the fact that doing that would make it obvious that you were seriously considering leaving only six months into your job, which is a bigger strike against you than any help the rest of it would provide. So I’d leave it out and just make your ask without that detail (and really, I don’t think that detail would provide so much help that it’s a huge loss to leave it out).

My bigger question is whether it’s realistic to expand an admin assistant role into one that includes academic research. I suspect it’s probably not, but maybe commenters working in academia can weigh in on that.

4. Employees did unpaid work for “contest”

Recently, my company decided to hold a contest to develop a software that, once implemented, will save the company a lot in the next couple years. Participation was voluntary.

A few hourly employees invested 80 hours+ per week to finish in the short time of the contest, but did it outside of work hours. The people who worked on the software volunteered, but the end result is of enormous value of the company–it feels uncomfortably close of the conditions under which many unpaid interns have sued their employers. At the very least, the contest has been incredibly demoralizing for employees; they feel their work is being devalued.

My question is, can this get the company into legal trouble?

You’d need a lawyer to tell you with 100% certainty, but yeah, I’d think so. Calling it a contest doesn’t change the fact that they have employees doing actual work.

5. Can my resume include a company on my resume that went out of business?

If I previously worked for a small company (film editing) that closed down, should I still include it in my resume even though it is unlikely its existence can be verified and I no longer have contact information to my former boss? I’m hesitant to tell an employer that these smaller film companies start and shut down often but that I was too naive to try to make a record or portfolio of my work.

I am a student and it really is the most impressive paid work I have ever done, but I don’t want anyone to think I am a liar if I describe my work without supplying a working reference.

Companies shut down. It’s very unlikely that an employer will think that you’re lying simply because the company is no longer in existence, unless there’s something else that appears shady about the way you talk about it. You absolutely should list it.

That said, you should try to track down your former boss using LinkedIn if you can.