weekend free-for-all – September 22-23, 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: Room, by Emma Donoghue. It’s told through the eyes of a boy who has been held captive with his mother in a small room for years … and then they’re not. Obviously disturbing, but it will grab you and keep you up all night reading it.

open thread – September 21-22, 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.

employee calls out sick because she “ate too much,” texting cute photos to people on vacation, and more

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

1. Should I step down from a stressful union negotiating committee?

I am on the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) negotiating committee at my work, and we are in the midst of an ugly, protracted, battle with management. Every time we meet for negotiations, the management rep spends the majority of the time hurling verbal abuse at us, especially at the women on the committee. It is deeply demoralizing. We have several grievances pending with the National Labor Relations Board, but in typical bureaucratic fashion, the wait time to be heard is many months.

This used to be an organization that retained employees for life. Now we are seeing unprecedented turnover. I am looking for a new job, too, but haven’t had any luck yet.

My fear is that management intends to fire me or eliminate my position as retaliation for participating in negotiations. A department head drunkenly confessed on a recent business trip that he was being pressured to “get his people in line” because three of my fellow committee members work in his department, so I don’t think my fears are unfounded.

I know that this would be illegal and that my union would support me, but I honestly can’t afford the fight. I’m in the middle of an expensive divorce and am struggling with my new role as a single parent of two small boys, one with special needs. After every negotiation meeting, I am left feeling anxious and depressed for days. Should I step down for the sake of my mental health, and to hopefully remove myself from the crosshairs? Should I continue fighting for the benefit of the unit? I’d hate to let them down or signal defeat. I’m not sure what to do and would appreciate your advice.

Your company is behaving awfully, and this is a good example of how companies get away with violating labor laws, because the agencies charged with enforcing them are backlogged.

You have to do what’s best for you and your family. I don’t know if that means stepping down or not, but if you decide it does, there’s no shame in that. Of course you don’t want to let down your bargaining unit, but you can’t fight effectively in the long term if you don’t take care of yourself. You are not the one person who is holding this together (and if you are, it’s likely to collapse at some point anyway). I know that can be a dangerous argument — after all, if everyone lets themselves off the hook that way, who will be left doing the work? But you’re dealing with exhausting, emotionally draining, highly stressful things in your life right now, and it’s okay if you decide that you need to streamline right now. That wouldn’t mean you never advocate for anything ever again, just that in your (and your family’s) long-term needs to take a break right now.

Again, I don’t know if that’s what you should conclude or not — but there’s no shame in it if you do.

2. Texting pet pictures to employees who are on vacation

One of my direct reports is on vacation for the first time in a long time. We are in the middle of a very demanding project, and she has been working many overtime hours over the last few months. I think my employee’s time away will only help her build up stamina to see her way through the next four to five months of long hours and tough deadlines on this project.

Today was her first day away from the office, and midway through the day, my boss texted a group of us with cute pet pictures. That resulted in a bunch of replies from two of the four other people on the thread. This isn’t that out of the ordinary, and, yes, pet pictures can be a nice thing to bond over. But it bothers me that my direct report was included on the chain, even about something as innocuous as a dog update, when she should be enjoying her time away and not thinking about work.

My boss and my boss’s boss have both texted me multiple times while I’m away on vacation, either with work questions or with things like kid/pet pictures, so it seems like this is a part of their work culture that they enjoy.

Do I let this go because, hey, everyone loves a cute puppy picture and people can mute conversations if they want? Or do I gently ask my boss to rethink her texting habits when people are taking vacation time?

I get where you’re coming from because even though the text was social in nature, sometimes it’s easier to fully disconnect from work when your colleagues’ names aren’t popping up on your phone, regardless of the reason.

That said, are you sure that your boss remembered your staff member was on vacation? There’s a decent chance that she simply didn’t realize it (it’s normal not to remember the vacation schedules of staff two levels down from you), rather than that she intentionally texted a vacationing employee. If that’s the case, there’s not a lot you can do here, other than encouraging employees to mute work texts that they receive while they’re away.

But if you’re sure that your boss remembered your staffer was on vacation and included her anyway … well, if this weren’t part of a larger pattern, I’d still probably leave it alone. But the bigger pattern of your boss and her boss texting people while they’re away — both for social and work reasons — is worth addressing. I wouldn’t address this one dog photo specifically, but would have a “I want to make sure that people can truly disconnect from work when they’re on vacation” conversation. You also might need to announce before you go on vacation that you’re going to mute work texts while you’re gone (and then really do that), and encourage your staff members to do the same.

3. Employee keeps calling out sick because she “ate too much”

One of my direct reports, “Stacia,” has been working with us for about three months. In this span of time, she’s called out sick five times all because she “ate too much.” Now, I’m no doctor but the symptoms she’s described like vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea seem a little extreme for just having overindulged at the weekend cookout. Plus, routinely she takes bathroom breaks that are upwards of a half hour long. All together, I can’t tell whether these call-outs stem from an issue that is frivolous and fully avoidable (which honestly, was my first guess — if eating too much fully takes you out for the entire next day, then maybe don’t do it Sunday night?) or whether this could be an underlying medical problem that will likely recur (my current layman’s suspicion). If it’s the latter, Stacia seems fully unaware of the possibility and writes all of this off as normal consequences of having too much to eat.

I’m not sure how to broach this. Any input is appreciated.

Yeah, calling out sick because you “ate too much” is going to come across a little odd if it happens one time. Five times in three months makes her look like she’s being strangely cavalier about coming to work reliably.

It’s certainly possible that this is a medical condition and she either doesn’t realize it or mistakenly thinks this explanation will sound better. Your job isn’t to sort that out for her, and it would be overstepping to try to do that. Rather, you need to let her know that based on the facts she’s given you so far, this is happening too frequently … that if it is a medical condition, you can discuss potential medical accommodations … and that if it’s not, you need her to be at work more reliably.

You could say this to her: “You’ve called out sick five times in the last few months, each time saying it was because you ate too much. We need you here to be here reliably, and I’m concerned that this has become a pattern. I want to be clear that if you have a medical condition that’s causing this, we can explore whether there are ways for us to accommodate that. But otherwise I do need you to be here more reliably.”

4. How do you bounce back from being an awful employee?

I have a bunch of disabilities and for many years did not have proper medical care for them. Because of this, while I was still working, I was an absolutely godawful employee. I was chronically tardy or absent, I never got work done on time and was sloppy, I frequently made very unprofessional comments, and I fell asleep at work. More than once.

Basically, I was one of those intern horror stories. It all makes me cringe now, but at the time I wasn’t getting the help I needed.

Because of all this nonsense, I have a very spotty work history. I have multiple jobs I’ve been fired from — sometimes in less than a week. I don’t have a college degree. I’ve done a lot of temping and freelancing, but I’ve never kept a “real” job more than six months. I’m not working right now, but I might have to join the workforce again sometime in the future.

So my question is: if you were the nightmare employee, can’t get good references, and have big gaps in your resume, how do you get yourself back in the game?

Typically a spotty work history like this doesn’t mean you can never get hired again. It means that you need to work for less desirable employers for a while — like retail, call centers, or other relatively low-paying jobs where it will be easier to get hired with this kind of work history — to build a solid work history back up. Do that for long enough and in time you can parlay it into slightly better jobs, and then into slightly better jobs again. That’s not a quick process, because you’ll need to stay at each job for a good solid amount of time — ideally at least two years, with three being better. So it’ll be slow, but it can be done. (There’s advice on doing it here.)

In a situation like this, it’s also easier to get hired by someone who knows you, or by someone who knows someone who knows you. People who know and like you will be more willing to give you a chance. So lean on your network and see if that turns anything up. If it does, it might be a shortcut through the steps above.

Also, keep in mind that you don’t need to list every job on your resume. Leave off the jobs that you were fired from after six months or less — they won’t add enough to make them worth the downside of potentially having to discuss the firing or having those references checked. Plus, it sounds like you can truthfully say “I was dealing with a health issue that has since been resolved” to explain some of those gaps or short-term stays.

And don’t discount the temping and freelancing. I don’t know how much of it you did, but it there’s a decent amount of it, you can probably group all the temping under one overall heading and all the freelancing under one overall heading so that it looks more cohesive and intentional than listing it all out separately. (“Freelance editing, 2012-present” with the details listed in bullet points below will look a lot better than just listing seven different short-term freelance jobs.)

5. Should I send an email acknowledging a mistake in my cover letter?

I recently committed one of the most egregious errors of applying for a job. It would be my first internship in college and while applying for the job, I accidentally addressed my cover letter to the wrong person. Now, it may be okay to attempt to address a cover letter to the wrong person rather than just “Dear Recruiter,” but in this case, I addressed it to the name of the company, thinking it was the name of an HR person. The company is referred to by its initials and the full name is not very well advertised if you Google it. Imagine that the company’s name was Anna Banana Cristiana or ABC, and I addressed the cover letter to “Ms. Cristiana,” TWICE.

I must admit, I hadn’t researched the company that well, but the company was exactly like one that I had previously interned at and I felt that I would be great for the role because of my prior experience with the position. But this is one of the companies I’m more interested in, and I’m so embarrassed and I don’t know how to go forward with it. Should I send them a follow-up email, apologizing profusely, or should I just not address it at all, hoping they will overlook it? Please help!

You’re almost certainly not the first person who has done it and they’re probably used to it — that’s what happens when you have a company name that sounds like a person’s name — but you’re right that it doesn’t look great in the context of a job application. I’d send a quick follow-up email saying something like, “How embarrassing — I know, of course, that there is likely no Ms. Cristiana there. I apologize for the mistake, and promise you that I’m normally able to put two and two together better than that.”

a salary negotiation success story

A reader writes:

I wanted to send you a note to thank you for all of your excellent advice, some of which I’ve recently been able to put into practice.

I’m a 27-year-old woman, and I recently negotiated my salary successfully for the first time. In my first job out of university, I accepted the first offer I received without even thinking about asking for more; I was just grateful to have a job. For my second job, I attempted to negotiate a higher hourly rate with the hiring manager via email, who told me he wasn’t able to offer anything more than the going rate (this was true) and I ended up accepting anyway. This job paid barely more than my first.

For my third job, an internal move to a different department at the same organisation, I was once again offered a lower salary than I wanted. The HR manager approached me in person with the verbal offer and salary, with a contract to follow. I made a half-hearted attempt to ask if there was room for negotiation, citing that market rates for the role were closer to $5k more than what they’d offered. The HR manager said that the salary for this position was standardized across the department, but that if I wanted to “contest it” she could look into this. Intimidated, and really wanting the job, I lost my nerve and accepted without “contesting” the salary any further.

I’ve stayed in this role for a little over two years, receiving excellent performance reviews, regular glowing feedback from clients, and two incremental merit raises of 2-3%. My confidence has really grown in this time, and up until recently I was keen to progress my career with the company. But after being unsuccessful in two promotion applications, I decided it was time to look at new opportunities.

I had a few phone screens and one in-person interview, but ended up self-selecting out as I realized the opportunities weren’t the right fit for me. Then, about two months ago I found a job online that sounded like a great fit. I got a great impression of the company from the five people I interviewed with (over two rounds) and asked a lot of my own questions. It sounded like we were very much on the same page.

Their initial offer was at the bottom of my stated salary range. I gave it some thought and realized that I wasn’t willing to settle for less than $5k more. I had a call with the hiring manager a few days later and explained that even though their offer was within my stated range, I had done some of my own number crunching and in order to move forward I was looking for a base salary $5k higher than their initial offer.

We had another phone call the next day and they had agreed to my number! Here’s the best part…my new salary will be a nice 20% jump from where I currently am. I really want to thank you again for all of your excellent advice, and these common themes in particular which really helped me:

  • Asking your own questions and interviewing the company as much as they interview you.
  • Not going into too many details or justifications for why you are asking for a higher salary. Just keeping it short and sweet and explaining what you need in order to move forward.
  • Knowing what you want and being willing to walk away if needed.

Sorry this is so long, but I thought that giving you the full story would help to explain why this recent negotiation has been so important to me. For the first time in my working life, I’ll be starting a job with the salary I actually want, rather than the lowest number I’d begrudgingly agree to.

That is awesome — congratulations! I’m hoping this will inspire other people to do the same.

Let’s tackle salary negotiation questions in the comments, in the hopes of getting more people more money.

my coworker treats me like his assistant

A reader writes:

I work in a small office, seven people total. I love my job and I’ve always received glowing reviews from my boss. However, I have an irritating, ever-present problem.

My coworker, Jim, refuses to learn our operating system, which includes all client data. He will walk up to my desk and interrupt whatever work I’m currently in the middle of to ask me to look up a customer and information about their service. He will even interrupt my lunch break (while I have headphones in) and ask me to look up client information. If he sees me on the phone with a client, he will instead walk over to the only other woman in our office, Mandy, and ask her to look up information instead. He will even call Mandy or me with questions about clients when he is out of the office, at home, sitting in front of his (company-issued) laptop!

Jim treats both of us as his assistants, although neither of our jobs are related to his. He will ask Mandy or me to prepare presentations for customers who neither of us have contact with. He’s asked me to help him format his email signature, or to save a picture onto his desktop, and other things that are incredibly simple to do. All of these tasks he has the time to do, but he just doesn’t want to do them. Our company operating system has been in place for years, and Jim has had mandatory training on this system. But it’s as if he’s scared or intimidated by technology, and won’t use the system.

Jim has worn a path in the carpet of our office, from his desk, to my desk, to Mandy’s desk, and back. There’s nothing he won’t ask either of us to do, and it doesn’t matter how busy we are. I’m starting to feel like he’s using Mandy and I to do his “busy work” because he thinks it’s beneath him. He’s never asked any other coworkers for help, and I feel like he’s asking Mandy and I because we’re the women in the office.

How do I politely but tactfully ask him to stop bothering me with tasks that he should know how to do? Mandy has worked for this company for a lot longer than I have, and I know it’s wearing her thin.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

my roommate doesn’t understand what it means to have a job

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” post. A reader writes:

I am sure that you aren’t the right person to ask about this, but my new roommate recently graduated from college and began her first full-time job. Every night, she comes home and complains about her work and her bosses and their unreasonable expectations. The reasons for her complaints are primarily that her boss asked her to stop using her phone/texting people while at work and that it is mostly grunt work.

She is now starting to look for a new job after only two weeks in this position. When she asked for advice, I told her that if I were the one hiring (and I have hired/fired people at my job), someone who has only been in a position for two weeks before looking for something else is a huge red flag for any potential employer and that I would probably not be interested in any candidate who is changing careers that fast. When she said that her boss was upset that she was always texting at work, instead of putting her phone down, she just ignored them and continued texting, to which I responded that it probably wasn’t a good move and that she should not be checking her phone so often at work.

I am not that much older than her, only by a year, but I really want to help her understand that her actions at work are less than exemplary and that she will probably end up getting fired. I own the home that we both live in and obviously this makes me a bit worried when it comes to paying rent and bills. I am not sure how to go about this conversation so that she doesn’t get upset but I don’t want to sit through her complaining about her boss not wanting her to text on company time for the next six months and pretend like that is acceptable workplace behavior.

Readers, what’s your advice?

using unlimited time off to work a second job, a sexist conference organizer, and more

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

1. Can I used my unlimited time off to do part-time nanny work?

I recently started working at a company with “unlimited discretionary time off.” The policy was explained to me like this: just tell your manager when you want to be out, and as long as your work is getting done, you can take as much time off as you like. Because I’m new, I’m still working out exactly what the norms are, but it seems like people regularly take large chunks of vacation (2-3 weeks to travel internationally, for example) and are very quick to take days here and there for errands, appointments, days off of school for their kids, etc. with no apparent issues.

Before I took this job, I was working part-time, and supplemented that with a nanny job for an awesome family that I love. The child I took care of started preschool around the same time I started this job, so they no longer need a regular nanny, but her parents are asking if I would consider coming back once in a while for days when school is closed, or if she isn’t feeling well. They also asked about my availability to occasionally cover pick-up if they are both caught late at work (this happened no more than 1-2 times/month when I was their nanny), and about my interest in still accompanying them when they travel, which I did regularly and enjoyed before.

Because my new job is so generous and flexible with their time-off policy, I was planning to say yes, with the clear understanding that New Job is my first priority, so they may sometimes have to find a different childcare solution. I know from experience that the parents are very reasonable people and will not push my boundaries or pressure me around what I say I can or can’t do. However, when I mentioned this to a few friends, they were absolutely appalled and said I would be basically lying and taking advantage of New Company by taking paid time off to do another job that I’m also getting paid for. One of my friends insinuated that it’s actually illegal and something I could be fired for.

I was so surprised by their reaction! It seems to me that the impact is no different than if I was leaving early to get my own kid from preschool, taking a day off to get my car fixed, or spending a week traveling with my partner — all of which are normal and even encouraged. Now I’m questioning my judgment, though. Is this different? I’d love to keep working with this family, but I don’t want to jeopardize my new job and the career I’m trying to build. What do you think?

Yeah, unlimited time off policies are not generally intended to let you work a second job; they’re intended to let you take vacation, run errands, recharge, and so forth — not fit in separate paid work. Your friend saying it’s illegal is wrong, but the chances are very high that your employer would be put out if they found out that’s what you were taking time off for.

It’s not entirely intuitive, because if you got a specific number of paid days off a year, there would be nothing wrong with using some of them to do paid nannying if you wanted. In that framework, you get X number of days off a year and they’re yours to use as you want. And frankly, at this job if you were voluntarily limiting your annual time off to a total of two or three weeks, it might be fine to do this. But in an unlimited time off situation, if you’re planning to take more generous time off like your colleagues do, using it to do other paying work is very likely to come across as abusing the policy.

It would probably be fine to do it only on very rare occasions, like a couple of times a year, planned well in advance. But taking off weeks to travel with them for pay or doing ongoing, regular work for them isn’t likely to go over well, especially if you’re leaving work with little notice (because the child is sick or to cover pick-up when the parents can’t) to do paid work somewhere else.

2. Speaking up about a sexist conference organizer

I recently attended a small conference for members of my field. The conference is an annual affair, organized by a nonprofit that is the only professional society for this discipline in my town.

Throughout the conference, the president of the nonprofit continually introduced the female speakers as “beautiful, attractive women” and tried to put his arm around their shoulders as they walked on stage. One woman looked visibly uncomfortable and tried to deflect the remark by saying that there were many other beautiful people in the audience. The male speakers were introduced with the usual superlatives: experienced, distinguished, etc.

I was upset. All the female speakers are respected professionals in their own right: start-up founders, high-ranking executives with industry knowledge, published authors, etc. Many of them had taken time off from their jobs to fly to our town to share their knowledge. But this man seemed to be undermining their achievements by treating them like pageant contestants.

Do you think there was anything I could have done? For context, I’m a woman in my late twenties and very new to this field. I don’t have many industry contacts, nor do I know many people in this field beyond a superficial level. Though highly specialized, this field is small and non-technical with low barriers to entry. It is well-known for being inclusive, collaborative, and diverse, and having an equal representation of men and women. As far as I know, the president does not report to any board of directors (his position in the nonprofit is voluntary).

Ick, that’s really off-putting and gross — and condescending and disrespectful and, obviously, sexist.

If you’re comfortable being assertive about this kind of thing in front of a large crowd, one option would have been to speak up during the audience Q&A, if there was one, and say something like, “I was dismayed to hear the women here introduced with comments about their looks, while the men were introduced with praise for their professional achievements. These are accomplished women and they’re not here to have their looks assessed.” I’d bet good money that you’d get applauded for that. That said, it’s totally okay if you wouldn’t be comfortable doing that. Lots of people — probably most people — wouldn’t be, especially at a networking event in a field they’re new to.

Another option is to send an email to the nonprofit that ran the event and say something similar, possibly cc’ing the speakers themselves so they have the satisfaction of seeing it being called out.

3. Is it normal to ask your peers if they’re okay with you applying to become their team lead?

My team lead is grooming me to take over part of his team as it has become too big for him to manage alongside his other tasks. I have several peers with the same job title that I would be managing if this goes through. All of them have started several years after me, and I have been responsible for showing them the ropes.

When the time comes for the internal interviews for the new team lead position, is it necessary or would it simply be a smart move to ask my peers if they’re okay with my application? I find this strange, honestly, but I know my team lead has done so when he was applying for his current position. That’s where my question is coming from. Maybe he only did it because we have a difficult team member who wanted to be team lead as well, but it seemed like my team lead would have asked either way.

I wouldn’t even know how to broach the topic, but even then it would feel like asking permission for something between me and my employer. What’s your take on it?

No, you’re not typically expected to ask your coworkers if they’re okay with you applying for a position managing them. It would be weird if you were — what would you do if someone told you no, after all? There are times when the dynamics on your team might mean that it would be helpful to talk to people about your interest in the role, but I wouldn’t approach it as asking for their okay. Instead, you could frame it as “I’m thinking about applying for the X role, and wondered if there’s anything you’d want me to take into account if I did that.” That way you’re not implying that you won’t move forward if they don’t like the idea, but you’re opening the door for them to ask questions or share potential concerns, and you’re showing that you care about their perspective.

4. How forthcoming and apologetic should I be about using most/all of my sick leave?

I’m starting a new position I’m excited about. More money than my last job, so far looks like a better environment, and the sick/personal leave is slightly above the industry norm. I have some specific excitement about the latter because my toddler has a chronic illness. Her condition isn’t daily life-consuming and likely she’ll live a full life, but she also has doctor appointments and the advice to avoid daycare if an illness happens to be about. I don’t foresee being gone all the time, and if I can’t take the day off, my husband can, and we plan to attempt to split missed days as fairly as possible.

However, there is a possibility I will be using a good chunk, if not all, of my sick leave. I firmly believe it’s there for me to use and if they didn’t want to have it they shouldn’t give it to me, but I also agree it’s prudent to not take unnecessary advantage of it. I did not bring this up when I was offered the position, though a few coworkers are aware of my daughter’s condition. Should I have mentioned up-front I’d likely be using a lot of the sick leave? Do I apologize for it?

Nope, you don’t need to announce that at the outset or apologize for it, any more than you’d need to announce or apologize that you plan to take all of your vacation time. That said, it’s true that sick leave can be more disruptive than vacation time because it’s usually last-minute. And it’s also true that some employers see sick leave as a sort of safety net that’s there if you need it, but get alarmed if you’re steadily going through all of it, especially when you’re new and they don’t know your work ethic and work habits yet. So at some point in the first few months you’re there, it would be smart to mention the situation to your manager so that she has context for last-minute absences and isn’t wondering if something else is going on. Don’t frame it as an apology — just as “hey, I want to let you know about this so you’re not wondering when it happens.”

if I didn’t have enough experience, why did they bother to interview me?

A reader writes:

I found out a couple days ago that I didn’t even pass the 20-minute phone screening to the next round of interviews for a job I applied for, and it’s really a huge blow of confidence.

I applied to a position a couple weeks ago at a dream company and I got an email saying the recruiter was interested in setting up a phone screening. I spent days practicing potential interview questions, and I thought I answered pretty well the day of the phone call — despite the recruiter being five minutes late to call me after our scheduled time. I honestly felt confident I should at least move on to the next round. LinkedIn calculated that I was within the top 10% of applicants who applied, although I am aware not all applicants apply through LinkedIn.

Then I got the rejection email with some boilerplate information about the competitiveness of the selection process, how ultimately I wasn’t a match, and how I should have more experience (it’s an entry level job with one year of experience minimum — I have about 10-11 months of professional experience with proven results).

I wasn’t sure if it’s a generic email sent to all rejected candidates or if my recruiter was being serious about the “getting more experience” part, so I wrote a gracious follow-up email thanking her and using tips you recommended on writing a post-rejection, follow-up email asking for feedback.

She responded by referring me to their company’s hiring guidelines, which list criteria such as academic, leadership, experience, etc. that come to play and urged me to apply again next year.

What’s bugging me is that I provided all the information that was asked in the pre-phone call screening logistics. She knows my experience from my resume and I elaborated on them in the interview and she has copies of my transcripts and my GPA (3.8). If I wasn’t a match then, why allowed the phone interview to take place? Wouldn’t it save them 20 minutes of talking to a candidate they weren’t going to hire?

I’m just so disheartened I didn’t even make it pass a phone screening. I get and respect that ultimately I may not be their ideal candidate, but the whole process felt like me jumping through hoops for something I was never going to get.

Can you offer any perspective on the HR side of things that I may not be taking into consideration?

Yes. Hiring is always about grading on a curve. You’re being compared to other candidates. No matter how qualified you are, there could be a dozen candidates (or more) who are more qualified.

It’s not “if you meet all the criteria we’re looking for, you’ll move forward to the next stage.” It’s “if you’re in the top five (or whatever) candidates we’re looking for, you’ll move forward to the next stage.”

It sounds like you were on the low end of experience for what they were seeking — “a year minimum” means that other candidates probably had two or three years experience. That doesn’t make you a bad candidate; it just means that other candidates might have been more competitive.

You’re wondering why they bothered to interview you since they already knew your experience. They interviewed you because you looked promising enough that they wanted to learn more. But after they talked to you, they decided that, compared to the other candidates they were talking with, you weren’t as strong as others.

That’s a normal way for this to work out. Sometimes you get a candidate on the phone who was borderline on paper and they’re amazing on the phone. Sometimes you get on the phone with someone who was really promising on paper, but way less impressive once you talk with them. Sometimes you get a candidate who’s strong on all fronts, but four others are even stronger so you end up not pursing that first one.

That’s why we interview people! Otherwise we’d just hire off of resumes alone — but resumes are just a starting point. Resumes say “okay, this person could be plausible” but they don’t say “this is the person to hire.” Most information that leads to a hire comes out of actual conversations — where you learn more about how people work, how they think, how they communicate, where they’ve thrived, what they’re looking for, and so forth.

Plus, the curve that I mentioned earlier. You could be good on paper and good in the interview, and still lose out to someone who was simply better. Better at the work, better at some specific thing they want for this job (that they might not have even realized they wanted until they saw it in someone), better at communicating on complex topics, better at forming quick rapport with people — all sorts of things. It doesn’t mean you weren’t a solid or even strong candidate. It just means they happened to talk to someone else who was a stronger match.

You can look at this and be frustrated that it didn’t work out, or you can look at it and be pleased that you were strong enough to get an initial interview and have a chance to tell them more about you, even though it ultimately didn’t work out.

It’s better for your mental health to do the latter — and to go into a job search expecting that there will be lots of these situations, and that it’s just a normal part of the process, and that’s okay.

my boss yells, and it’s scaring my coworker

This week on the Ask a Manager podcast, I talked to a guest whose boss yells — and is making things quite unpleasant. Here’s the letter:

My boss can get worked up when things are not going according to plan and will often end up yelling for minutes on end. This usually happens in group settings, and he’s not yelling at anyone in particular, just about his frustration in general (although sometimes he’ll yell about a person who’s not present). I don’t enjoy this, but it’s also not the worst thing in the world for me to listen to — I know it’s how he processes things at first, and that he’ll calm down and solve the problem reasonably after he gets it out.

Recently, though, one of my coworkers, who is a close friend of mine and a survivor of domestic abuse, confided in me that because of her personal history, his yelling scares her. She’s not actually scared that the yelling about frustrations will turn into yelling at her, or that he’ll escalate his behavior in any way, but hearing someone yell about even an abstract problem is triggering for her. I think if he knew this he’d make a much stronger effort to find healthier ways to process his emotions, but it’s obviously not the kind of thing to lightly encourage her to share with him.

In my opinion, yelling at work, especially on a regular basis, is a baseline unacceptable behavior. I’ve discussed this issue lightly with him before, but he hasn’t really changed anything. In general, he’s open to criticism and we’re very honest with him, and he’s put in the effort to change other things we’ve brought up, but I don’t think he understands the stakes here. How can we address this with him meaningfully without sharing my coworker’s history?

The show is 22 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

If you’d like to come on the show yourself, email your question to podcast@askamanager.org … or if you don’t want to be on the show but want to hear me answer your question, record it on the show voicemail at 855-426-WORK (855-426-9675).

And if you like the show, please subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

You can get a transcript of last week’s episode here.

my former employee is badmouthing me to my staff

A reader writes:

To summarize the below story, I had an employee leave the company due to a bad interaction with me, and I’m not sure how to move forward with him or the rest of the remaining staff.

I’m a midlevel manager and I work for a small entertainment company. I recently had an employee who we hired in a pinch because we thought with his experience he could fill a gap quickly and efficiently, but it turns out he was terrible and either dishonest or in denial about his own skills. He often did not listen or follow instructions, and his customer service skills were just awful. Many times, even after after discussing corrective actions, he still was unable to complete tasks correctly. He often needed to be reminded of the same thing four or more times.

After about six months, he decided to resign. He wrote an email to my boss saying that he couldn’t work for me anymore because I am angry and hostile. He also wrote that after speaking with other employees about me, he has concluded that I am just an unhappy person with anger issues, and that he feels that attempting to change the atmosphere would not be possible, as this is just who I am at my core.

I feel that it was really unnecessary for him to evaluate me as a person. It’s one thing to raise the issue that our professional interactions were not positive (which is valid, I admittedly lost my patience with this guy), but it’s another for him to say that I’m an unhappy person at my core. He doesn’t know me.

Additionally, I really hate that he did this from the perspective that he was a great employee. He even joked in the email to my boss about a project that he left improved, saying “at least that’s in better shape now” even though that particular project was delayed significantly because he didn’t follow the project instructions and had to start over.

This guy was a huge pain and was terrible at this job, and left me with more work than if we had not hired him. If I’m honest, I just didn’t feel like I had a lot of recourse, and I was really angry about it. He really frustrated me several times a day with just general incapability. I admittedly stopped putting forth effort to really handle his shortcomings in a better way because I was just tired of it.

I really want to set the record straight with this guy, that he doesn’t know me personally and I’m not an unhappy, angry person. That I failed as a manager, but he also failed as an employee. Is that even worth it? Could I even do it if it were since he already left? I’m sure the answer is probably no and no, but would feel better hearing that from others.

More importantly, I want to set the record straight with my staff. How do I move forward with them?

Definitely don’t pursue the idea of trying to set the record straight with this guy now that he’s gone. He no longer works for you, and it would be odd to contact him now to tell him he’s wrong about you. It will look to him — and more importantly, to anyone else who hears about it — like you’re inappropriately holding on to a work disagreement that ended with his departure, that you’re overly invested in what a former employee thinks of you, and that you’re not recognizing appropriate manager/employee boundaries (which generally mean the time for trying to change an employee’s perspective is while they’re still working for you, not afterwards).

I totally get the temptation to try to set the record straight with him. It’s frustrating to hear that someone’s take on you is so wrong. But the door is closed on this one.

Your staff who are still there are a different story. Even with them, though, I’d be very cautious about attempting to address this. They’re going to believe what they know from their own firsthand experience with you. If you’ve been a generally good manager and not angry or hostile, his words aren’t likely to carry a ton of weight (and that goes triple if they saw the shortcomings in his work).

The best thing you can do is to conduct yourself well and trust that the people who work for you will see that. That will garner you far more respect than trying to tell them your side of what should be a private personnel issue.

The exception to this is if it’s become truly disruptive on your team. If people are gossiping about the situation and it’s become a distraction, you’d need to address that. But even then, you wouldn’t get into all the details of what happened. Fairly or not, people expect their manager to be the bigger person in a dispute like this and to be discreet about whatever went down with a toxic former employee.

But the thing I’m most concerned about in your letter is how the situation got to the point that it did. Hiring mistakes happen, but once you’ve realized someone isn’t doing the work at the level you need and isn’t responding to feedback, you’ve got to take pretty swift action to resolve it (which generally means warning them you’ll need to let them go if they don’t do XYZ, and then following through on that). You felt like you weren’t able to do that, and I’m curious about why. If you don’t have the authority to fire, you presumably do have the authority to make a case for firing to someone above you (which also would have given you some protection from this guy’s accusations later on, since your manager would have already known there were serious problems with him and would have seen his complaints through that lens).

What you can’t do is to just stop trying to manage the person — which is what it sounds like happened here, and then you got angry because you felt you didn’t have the tools to resolve the situation. But frustration and anger are Not Okay for a manager to display at work. You can certainly experience them privately, but a manager displaying anger at work creates a really unpleasant environment for other people (in fact, my podcast episode today is about that), and it’ll make people lose respect for you because you’ll look like you don’t know how to exercise your authority appropriately. (More on this here.)

So while I’m sure you’re right that you’re not a fundamentally angry or unhappy person like his email accused you of being, it sounds like you did bring those emotions into work in a way that wasn’t okay. You’ve got to take responsibility for that and figure out how to avoid in the future.

That complicates my advice above about how if you’ve been a generally good manager and not angry or hostile, this guy’s words won’t carry much weight with people … because it sounds like you were angry and hostile toward him! And if people saw that, they may indeed give it some weight. You can’t change the past, and you can’t argue against what really happened — but you can resolve to handle this kind of situation differently going forward, double down on managing effectively from now on, and trust that in time people will see that.