coworker gave my presentation without my okay, acupuncture as team-building, and more

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

1. My coworker gave my presentation without my okay

I recently had to call out sick last minute, which meant I missed a brief presentation I was supposed to give as part of a larger meeting. I told the meeting organizer I wouldn’t be there, and they told me I could just present at our next meeting.

My colleague, David, who works with me on our small team, also attends these meetings. Unbeknownst to me, he gave my presentation at the meeting while I was out sick. I should mention that he was in no way involved with or very familiar with the work that I was presenting on. He followed up with an email to me later that day with some questions from the audience that I had anticipated and planned to address as part of my presentation if I had been there. How can I tell him that he shouldn’t have presented work that he didn’t do and wasn’t familiar with? He’s been at the company for less than a year and I think he’s still trying to prove his worth.

First, make sure that your boss didn’t ask David to fill in for you or something like that. But assuming he just acted on his own, yeah, that is a huge overstep. You could say this to him: “I had arranged with Jane that I was going to give my presentation at the next meeting instead. I didn’t arrange for someone to fill in for me, because I wanted to give the presentation myself since I’m the person most familiar with that work. In the future, would you please check with me before stepping in on something like that, so that I have the opportunity to say that I’d prefer to handle it myself?” You could add, “That’s especially true with a project like this that you haven’t been involved with and wouldn’t be able to answer questions about.”

2. We’re supposed to try cupping and acupuncture as a team-building activity

My workplace is big on team-building and morale-boosting events. Normally the events are not bad and are something everyone can enjoy (everyone gets taken to lunch on company time/dime to a restaurant chosen from a list by all employees, motivational speakers who are actually interesting, an employee art display for individuals who like to draw or paint, etc.). The morale and working environment is good and I have never had any issues until now.

The newest activity my boss wants to do is for everyone to try both cupping and acupuncture. He is touting the health benefits of these “treatments.” How do I tell him I don’t believe in woo and no one is putting suction cups or needles anywhere near me? In my opinion, treatments like these are nothing more than snake oil and I refuse to have any part of them. I’m not the only one who feels this way either. Before this, everyone was always excited about the activities and events put on by the company, but most of the individuals I have talked to want nothing to do with this woo.

Are you required to participate, or “strongly encouraged to” even if it’s not technically required? If not, I’d just sit this one out. But if you’re discouraged from opting out, then say something like this: “I don’t feel comfortable participating in health treatments as a work activity, and as you probably know, alternative medicine in particular isn’t universally embraced. I’m hoping we can reconsider this event, or provide an alternative for people who aren’t comfortable with it.”

3. Inviting all coworkers except one to a personal party

I’m the manager of a small retail team, there are nine of us including myself, and we mostly get on really well. Recently we were struggling as we were understaffed and couldn’t find anyone suitable, so I took on the best candidate that had applied, let’s call her Sam. Even though she was far from ideal, we were really that desperate.

Although Sam’s performance hasn’t been great and she hasn’t integrated into the team at all, that’s not why I’m writing. Another of my team, Cat, has recently got engaged and is throwing an engagement party with her fiancé. Cat is excellent at her job, is well liked by everyone, and would like to invite the team, except for the fact that she cannot stand Sam and doesn’t want her there. I have a feeling I already know the answer, but is there a way to invite all but one of the team? (This isn’t a work event. It’s a personal event, but she’ll probably give out the invites when she sees us at work.)

Because it’s Cat’s own personal event outside of work, you can’t dictate who she does and doesn’t invite. But inviting everyone but one person is a pretty unkind act, and it has the potential to be a really toxic act, by making Sam feel clearly excluded and making others feel that excluding Sam is now a thing that happens.

While Cat can invite anyone she wants to her private event and you can’t control that, you do have standing to point out the problem to her and ask her to handle it differently. You could, for example, say something to her like, “Inviting the entire team except one person is really exclusionary and is the sort of thing that could impact the team dynamics here in a negative way. It will look like you deliberately singled out Sam, and that’s unkind, even if you don’t intend it that way. If you want to invite coworkers but don’t want to invite Sam, I’d ask that at least not invite everyone else so that she’s not so pointedly the only person left out.”

4. Explaining I was fired for ethical disobedience

I’m a college student, hopefully graduating in May. I’m in the middle of job applications, and there’s one issue I’m not sure how to handle. I was fired from a previous job for ethical disobedience. It made actual international news and is easy to find on Google (here’s an article about it), particularly since I have an uncommon name. I’m not embarrassed about what I did, but I’m concerned about what employers will think. On the one hand, that episode demonstrates my dedication to ethical behavior, on the other, it shows that I’m willing to disobey my boss if I think what they’re asking me to do is morally wrong and go to the press about it. How can I best explain this to possible employers and where? I feel like a cover letter is the best spot, but I’m not sure how to frame it as a positive.

First, kudos to you for what you did. I don’t think this article is anything to worry about at all — you come across sympathetically and while some people might side with your old employer, plenty more will side with you, or at least not be terribly concerned by it. A lot of people in your shoes would choose to help a suffering animal (and that’s a good thing), and it’s not the kind of disregard for instructions that’s likely to translate into most office jobs, where you won’t typically be running into injured animals.

You don’t need to address this in your cover letter at all! It might come up in an interview, at which point you can answer questions about it, but it’s very unlikely that an employer would see this and choose not to interview you because of it. As for explaining it if you’re asked about it, you can say something very simple like, “I felt strongly that it was the right thing to do, and that Scout law backed that up.”

5. HR manager is pushing for me — what does that mean?

I applied for a director-level position several months ago and didn’t get it but was told I was highly considered (I took the bronze). I was disappointed but understood their reason.

The position became available again, very quickly. I re-applied, and the HR manager emailed me and said he was glad I was still interested, he was going to reach out to me, I just beat him to it. He called a week later just to check in and say no decisions have been made, hang tight.

Two weeks passed, he emails, says the team is busy, haven’t met yet (they have a big event this weekend). I promptly respond that I’m still interested, and asked that he pass along to the general manager some additional information. His response back was a thank-you and he said he was pushing for me.

I don’t expect to hear anything for another week, but when an HR manager says they are pushing for you, does that actually mean anything and what kind of push do they have? Are my odds better or is it just fluff?

It’s really the hiring manager’s call. The HR manager may have some influence, but ultimately it’s not his decision. “I’m pushing for you” can mean anything from “I think you are the best candidate and I’ve told the decision-maker that, but it’s out of my hands” to a more general “You seem like a nice person and I wish you all the best, but who knows if this job will pan out or not.”

I would try very hard not to read anything into any of this — you’re trying to interpret things that you’re just not going to be able to figure out either way from the outside. The best thing you can do in this case is to assume there’s no offer coming — and then if they do contact you with an offer, it’ll be a pleasant surprise.

how to speak up as a group at work

I sometimes suggest that letter-writers who are concerned about a problem at work get a group of coworkers to all speak up about it together — because there’s strength in numbers and it can be harder to blow off a group than a single person. But I want to talk more about what that looks like.

The first question is how to get this group together in the first place. This doesn’t have to be a big formal thing where you’re sending memos and organizing clandestine meetings. Just talk to people and see what they think of whatever the issue is, and ask if they’d be willing to join you in asking for it to be reconsidered. For example:

You: “Hey, I’ve been thinking about this new request that we all have our tonsils out in order to cut down on sick days. It seems invasive and wrong to me, and I wondered what you thought of it.”
Coworker: “Yeah, I’m not happy about it either.”
You: “What do you think about several of us going to Jane as a group and pushing back on it? If a group of us spoke up about it, I think she’d take it seriously and we’d have a good chance of getting the policy changed.”
Coworker: “Yeah, I’d be up for that. But would it just be me and you?”
You: “Let me check with a few other people and we can see who else is up for it.”

From there, the group of you talk to your manager or HR or whoever the decision-maker is that you’re trying to influence. Do it in-person, though; this isn’t a memo thing or an email thing.

If you already have regular team meetings, it can make sense to bring it up there while everyone is present, and multiple people can easily chime in.

Or, depending on what the issue is, sometimes it makes more sense for multiple people to each bring it up individually with the manager. If you do that, you can be transparent about the fact that you’ve all talked. You don’t need to make it seem like it’s a coincidence that everyone’s raising it — it’s okay to say “I was talking this over with Jane and Bob and realized I think X.” You generally don’t want to speak for Jane and Bob, but it’s okay to acknowledge that you talked about it, and that that was part of developing your thinking on it.

For something more serious, you might say, “My sense is that a lot of us have concerns about this. Could we set a time to sit down as a group and talk it through?”

In general, though, I wouldn’t recommend having one spokesperson going and talking to the manager one-on-one on the group’s behalf. There might be a rare time when that makes sense, but most of the time it will be less effective. The manager is likely to wonder why a spokesperson was necessary, and how accurately other people’s viewpoints are being represented, and if the person is really speaking for everyone else they say they’re speaking for.

For the same reason, if you’re meeting with your manager (or HR, or whoever) as a group, avoid having one person do all the talking. You don’t want to create the impression that there’s one person who really cares and the rest are just there for moral support. You want multiple people participating in the conversation.

To make sure that happens, be very explicit ahead of time that that needs to happen. Otherwise you may launch in and figure that others will speak up too, but in reality they may sit there silently, figuring that you’ve got it covered. Ask people to agree ahead of time that they’re all going to actively participate so that it doesn’t end up looking they’re not as invested.

In the meeting itself, the basic framework you want is this:
* “We’re concerned about X.”
* “We’re hoping we can share our perspective with you. Here are our concerns.”
* “Given those concerns, can we change the way we’re doing this/can this be reconsidered/would you be willing to try Y instead?”
* “Thanks for hearing us out.”

You don’t want to use this approach for every concern that comes up at work, of course! In most cases, it will make more sense to talk to your manager one-on-one. But when something is a particularly big deal or affects a lot of people, or when your manager has a tendency to personalize disagreement, this is sometimes the most effective way to go.

I don’t want to do Toastmasters with my boss!

A reader writes:

My boss would like me to work on speaking up more in meetings. I am by nature shy, and this is something I have always struggled with. I have a particularly hard time speaking up around authority figures. However, I am actively working on improving in this area and I’ve joined our company’s Toastmasters club. Almost immediately, my boss decided to join also because he said he wants to work on his public speaking skills also. He asked me if I would mind, and I said “No” because Toastmasters is supposed to be a really supportive environment, and I thought it would be okay.

Well, it’s been a few months, and I dread going to the club meetings because it is so anxiety-provoking. My boss is a very outgoing person who doesn’t have a lot of problems with public speaking. And although he is not a terrible boss, he can be very judgmental about employees’ abilities, and I am afraid of making mistakes around him. Consequently, Toastmasters meetings have become more like work meetings than a place where I can safely practice public speaking. I am extremely nervous before the meetings, and I don’t think I am getting much out of them.

I’d like to quit the club and find another place to practice my public speaking that does not feel so threatening, but I don’t want my boss to think I am flaky. Do you have any advice on how to handle this? If I switch, I think he may wonder why I am doing 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 to reject an internal candidate
  • Being asked to fill out a reference questionnaire instead of giving a reference over the phone
  • How do I know if I did well in an interview?
  • Approaching my boss about a weekly therapy appointment

what’s up with candidates turning down our job offers after we pay to fly them out?

A reader writes:

I work in the fundraising profession, and my role (not to mention the department that I manage) is somewhat specialized. My department has been expanding after a long period of being under-resourced and under-staffed (yay!) but one of the challenges I face with recruitment is that the talent pool in our local area is not very deep.

As a result, I usually have to conduct national searches for all but the most entry-level positions. This means that I’ve had to work pretty hard to identify applicants who are serious about the opportunities and would be likely to say yes if offered a position, given that we invest a lot of money both during the interview process (travel and lodging expenses, etc.) and if an offer is accepted (relocation assistance). My process has three distinct stages, culminating with an in-person interview for the finalist(s), followed by a period of feedback collection from the hiring panel, formal reference checks, and, if everything looks good, a verbal offer. (I should also mention that anyone who interviews with us in person is connected with a relocation firm, offered a real estate tour with a local realtor, etc. — all things that telegraph our interest in the candidate and also help them to think seriously about the practicalities of relocating to our area.)

Obviously, we don’t invite out-of-town candidates to interview in person unless we already feel confident that they a) can do the work, b) would fit in well with our team and organizational culture, and c) are as serious about us as we are about them. That being said, I have had the experience twice (in less than a year!) of going through this process with two separate candidates for two separate searches (same role, just two slots to fill) only to have my verbal offers turned down. In both instances, the candidates had expressed above-average interest and even enthusiasm for the position, for our mission, and for the region of the country where we are located (we’re in a diverse city with a fabulous year-round climate) and yet when I made the offers, they simply declined for vague “personal reasons.” If they had questions or concerns about the job, the work, or the relocation, they never voiced them, despite being given ample opportunity and encouragement to do so. Needless to say, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth — did they just want a free trip to our beautiful city? Were they trying to leverage retention offers from their current employers? Does it even matter?

I guess my question is this: what are the ethics of accepting an in-person, out-of-town interview (as a finalist, no less!) when you have no intention of accepting the position if it is offered to you? In my own career, I have turned down invitations to take the next step in an interview process when I know I’m not interested in the job. Personally, I wouldn’t dream of going all the way to the reference-check/verbal offer stage when I knew I wasn’t going to accept an offer — it seems like a colossal waste of the interviewing entity’s time and resources, not to mention wholly disingenuous.

I once traveled to interview for a position at an organization that told me they would reimburse me for just half of my travel expenses initially, and for the other half only if a) I was offered and accepted the job or b) they decided to go with another candidate. I remember thinking at the time that that was a little odd, but now, as a frustrated hiring manager, I’m thinking it’s something I might want to talk to my HR department about putting into practice!

What suggestions do you have for sussing out how serious out-of-town/out-of-state candidates really are, because I’m clearly failing on this front! I try to be a good steward of my budget, and I’m tired of spending money, time, and energy on candidates who aren’t really serious. (And please know I’m a very empathetic person — I understand that stuff happens and people’s circumstances change. An opportunity that seemed feasible at the start of the process might not be feasible at the end for reasons a candidate can’t control. Personal and family concerns can intervene, etc. But in both of the instances I’m referencing above, I felt that my organization was deliberately misled and, quite frankly, used.)

(As an aside, applicants are given information on things like salary and benefits early on in the process, so they know how much they’d be earning up front and can make a decision right away about continuing if compensation is the issue.)

Two rejected offers in one year isn’t really a lot. Of course, it depends on how many total offers you’re making — if you only made two offers and they both got turned down, I can see why you’re worried. But it sounds like you’re doing more hiring than that, and in a context where plenty of your offers are being accepted, I wouldn’t look at this as a problem at all.

Some portion of your offers will be turned down. That’s how interviewing and hiring works!

It sounds like you’re assuming that by the time someone is flying out for a final interview, they should know whether or not they’d accept the job. But that’s not the case. Just like you don’t know whether or not you want to hire them at that point and are still doing your own assessments, candidates are doing their own assessing and reflecting as well. The point of having them out for that final in-person interview isn’t so that you can do a one-way evaluation of them; it’s so that both sides can figure out if they want to work together. Just like your decision will sometimes be no, theirs will be no sometimes too. But that doesn’t mean that it was already a no before the interview.

And there are lots of possible reasons why that could happen. They could realize once they visit your office in person that the culture or energy there isn’t for them. They could find they don’t love the dynamic they have with the hiring manager or other people they’d be working with. They could spend that time getting to know your city and realize they don’t want to move there after all. They could decide to pursue a different job that they’re more excited about, or could have multiple offers to consider. They could just conclude that the job isn’t right for them, once they’ve finished the full process. The “personal reasons” they cited to you could be true — they could be dealing with a sudden family health crisis, or a divorce, or all sorts of other things.

People turn down offers! It’s a normal thing that happens.

It’s true that if someone knows for sure that they wouldn’t accept a job, they shouldn’t fly out on your dime. But there’s just nothing to indicate that that’s what’s happening here.

And you definitely should resist any impulses to hold back travel reimbursements unless someone accepts an offer from you. Candidates will rightly be turned off by that. You’d be conveying that you think there’s an obligation for them to accept an offer if you fly them out, and since there is no such obligation, you’ll come across as not understanding something fundamental about interviewing. It’s also simply wrong and unfair; people shouldn’t be financially penalized for deciding a job or company isn’t the right match for them. (And good candidates will turn down that arrangement anyway.)

What you can do, though, is to take a look at what might change for people in between their pre-interview enthusiasm and their post-interview lack of interest. Is there something about your culture that people are seeing in-person and being turned off by, and if so, can you be more transparent about it ahead of time so people can self-select out if it’s not right for them? Same thing if they’re getting turned off by a difficult boss or cranky team or something else that they’re only seeing once they arrive for the final interview. You also might ask candidates who turn down your offers for feedback.

But truly, you can do everything right and be an excellent place to work, and some of your offers will still get turned down by sincere candidates, because that’s just how hiring goes. You probably understand how it’s true on the other side — that your intentions with a candidate can be utterly sincere and you still might decide in the end not to hire them — and it really does work both ways.

my boss suggests hiring her boyfriend for everything, someone threw out my boots, and more

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

1. My boss suggests hiring her boyfriend for everything

My current supervisor is a real go-getter. In the way that she’s unaware of how many heads she steps on to be validated in her success. And successful she is! She’s roughly 27 and has worked for our Fortune 500 company for the entirety of her professional career, beginning as a waiter in the executive dining suite and progressing quickly through channels to reach her current, significantly elevated position leading the events planning team.

Leaving aside my personal feelings about her management style in general, I’m really struggling on how to approach her about her tendency to suggest using her boyfriend, let’s call him Sam, for a number of tech-related projects for our team. She always suggests this solution when her supervisor is out of the room, thus making her the ranking “person in charge” and always with a tone suggesting the boyfriend could provide this service to our team better and more efficiently than using the existing company-approved channels. In one meeting she even went as far as to say that we should hear what the company tech group has to say, and then “when they fail our expectations” we can bring on Sam and ask for forgiveness when it’s done.

Worth mentioning — I happen to know that Sam, with whom she lives, is currently unemployed and working as a “consultant for a financial thing.” So does everyone else on our staff. I mention this because his employment would have a clear positive effect on her financially as well, given their cohabitation, and it makes it feel extra-sticky inappropriate for the workplace.

In as much as it irritates me that she is influencing our very young staff (I’m only 36 but I feel ancient in this crowd) to believe it’s okay to ignore company policies and procedure in favor of a personal connection — and others are beginning to imitate her behaviors — I also think that this makes her appear very immature and that it’s inappropriate. Is there any way to politely tell her how unseemly these proposals sound?

Agh, yes, that’s really inappropriate.

How does she normally handle opinions that are different from her own? And what kind of relationship do you have with her? If you have decent rapport with her and she doesn’t penalize people who disagree with her, I think there’s a lot of room to say something here.

First, check to see if your company has a conflict-of-interest policy. It probably does, and she’d probably be in violation of it if she gave paid work to her live-in boyfriend.

Then, approach her privately, one-on-one, and say something like this: “Jane, I know you’ve suggested a few times that we could hire Sam to do work for us. I wanted to mention that I think we could get in trouble if we do that. Because he’s your boyfriend, we’d be in violation of the company’s conflict-of-interest policy. I figured you might not realize that.” (The “we” here isn’t strictly accurate, of course; it’s Jane who would get in trouble. But sometimes that formulation can make this kind of thing sound less adversarial, without changing your actual message.)

2. Someone threw out my boots

I have a question about lost property and responsibility for it. When I come into my office, I wear snow boots that I take off and leave in my recycling bin so they don’t get the carpet wet. I have other shoes at my office that I change into. I was under the weather on Wednesday and wasn’t really myself. After I left the office, I realized I had walked out in my office shoes and not the snow boots. I worked remotely the next day since I was still not feeling great, and when I arrived on Friday there was nothing in my recycling bin.

I’m afraid that my boots were thrown away by the cleaning staff, which would be really upsetting — they were expensive and I’ve only had them for a few months. I reached out to the person who manages the property and she also thinks they were probably thrown away. Had I been thinking clearly, I definitely wouldn’t have left them, but I also can’t understand why someone would have thrown them away rather than erring on the side of caution and thinking, “These don’t actually look like garbage.”

The janitorial team is contracted through a vendor and are not employed by my company. Does anyone have an obligation to me here? I just can’t believe that a momentary lapse in memory resulted in my $140 boots being thrown in the garbage.

No, I’m sorry. I totally get why this is upsetting — it sucks! But … well, you left them in the recycling bin, so it’s understandable that the people in charge of emptying recycling bins assumed they were being thrown out. It’s not that different than if you’d put them in your trash can and they’d gotten thrown away. They aren’t expected to double-check that the things in trash and recycling bins are really meant to be there. You could certainly try contacting the janitorial vendor on the off chance that they know anything about the boots, but if they don’t, there’s no standing here to ask anyone to compensate you.

3. How much weight should I put on bad Glassdoor reviews?

I am a college senior, and I landed an interview with a very prestigious company (in a month). When looking through Glassdoor, I started to get really worried about the company culture.

Many people are complaining about the work-life balance, but I think you have a lot of good scripts on how to handle unreasonable requests! What I am more worried about is what one reviewer said is a company culture of subtle racism and sexism. White male researchers supposedly get more complex and exciting work than women and minorities. As I fit into those categories, I’m obviously concerned. Is there a way during the full-day interview to try to suss out if this has changed at all over the last few years? Also, the CEO has a reputation on Glassdoor as screaming at people, being emotionally abusive, reducing even senior staff to tears at meetings, and often switching priorities with no warning so that hours are suddenly crazy.

This place is really prestigious, and obviously I’d really love a job. But I’m really new to the work world, and I’ve only had really great experiences interning. Should these be major red flags? How much weight can I give these Glassdoor reviews?

Yeah, they’re pretty major red flags. If the majority of reviews are positive and it’s a small minority that are negative, it wouldn’t worry me so much. There will always be some people where the culture just wasn’t the right fit. But if you’re seeing multiple people report that the CEO screams, is abusive, and make people cry (and it sounds like you are), I’d take that very seriously. Switching priorities without much warning isn’t great, but it’s not on the same level as verbal abuse and I wouldn’t let that on its own deter you. It’s the rest of the picture that’s an issue.

Can you find anyone in your network who’s connected to someone who works there or has worked there in the past? If so, that person might be able to talk with you confidentially about their experience there.

I’ve also got some advice here about how you can spot problems before you take a job … but candidly, it can be hard to suss that out competently when you’re brand new to the work world, so I’d put a lot of weight on what you’re reading. (And pay attention to the age of those reviews too — how recent are they?)

4. The person who got me an interview just got fired

I’m looking to switch fields, and networked my way into a coffee appointment with a hiring manager who seemed to like me. However, the friend who got me the coffee appointment and subsequent offer of an in-person interview and portfolio presentation just got fired. I’m really not sure what this means for me and the prospects at this company. I only know their side of the story, so I’m trying to work out whether this lead is worth pursuing or whether this will affect my candidacy.

It’s hard to know from the outside! If you and the person who got fired are very good friends and they know that, it could potentially impact their interest in hiring you. (For example, they may worry that you’ve heard a not-very-accurate version of what happened from your friend and that they’d be starting things on a weird foot, and if they have other good candidates, it might be easier for them to just not deal with that.) Or if they were basing their interest in you largely on a glowing recommendation from your friend, and they now don’t trust her judgment, that could have an impact on your candidacy. But in a lot of cases, this wouldn’t impact you — your friend did the work of connecting you, and if you’re a good candidate, they might just proceed with you the way they would in any other case. It’s going to be hard to know until you see how it plays out. I’d just move forward with the interview and see how things go.

5. Running into my interviewer after I interviewed badly

Earlier this year, I applied for a job and didn’t get it; I underprepared for the interview and really wasn’t at my best that day. Now I’m starting an organization in the same very small industry, and I’m very likely to run into the CEO of the company where I didn’t get the job. I’d like to stay on positive terms with her if and when we see each other at the same conferences. Should I be worried that she’ll hold a grudge against me? Should I be doing something preemptively to smooth things over?

It’s very unlikely that she would hold any sort of grudge against you! Sometimes interviews just don’t go well. Interviewers don’t normally take that personally or hold it against the candidate in non-interview contexts. If anything, she may worry that you feel negatively toward her and the company; that’s the more common concern with rejected candidates in a small industry. When you see her, just make a point to be warm, friendly, and normal!

weekend free-for-all — February 17-18, 2018

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, by Melissa Dahl. If you didn’t win this week’s giveaway, get it for yourself. It’s awesome.

open thread – February 16-17, 2018

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

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue.

talking about “adult” experience in an interview, rejected candidate’s parent called us, and more

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

1. Talking about “adult” experience in an interview

I have a very strange situation. A few years ago, I hosted a small sex party that was a great success. Attendees recommended other attendees, and the list of invitees grew.

I decided to treat the group like a real organization. I put systems in place to handle the administrative aspects of finding hosts, teaching hosts how to throw a good event, and handling event registration. On the human resources side, I paid a lot of attention to when the groups “gelled” and when they didn’t, and was able to start identifying factors that led to successful experiences for the attendees. The factors ranged from the environment to the mix of personalities, body types, and preferences. We have explicitly developed and refined systems for guaranteeing physical health, dealing with consent, screening new attendees for fit, and so on.

The group has been a tremendous success. We have hundreds of members, and I’m very proud of the culture, the extreme respect that members feel for each other, and an atmosphere that everyone praises as being safe, consent-based, and accepting. We now have several hundred members and if this were an activity that could be done above board, I would be trying to turn it into an actual business.

Running and growing this club has given me experience that is directly relevant to a management job, and much of what I have done would be great to talk about, if it weren’t a sex club. Is there any way to bring this experience into the mix when talking with prospective employers, or does the subject matter forever relegate it to the NSFW category, no matter how relevant it may be?

Yeah, I don’t think you can, unfortunately. You could be vague about what the club entails, referring to it as an activity club of some sort, for instance. But if you’re asked for details — or worse, a reference connected to your work there — you’re going to quickly get into territory that requires you either to lie or to make your interviewer very uncomfortable. I know that’s crappy, but I can’t see a way around it.

2. Should I tell a rejected candidate that their parent protested our hiring decision?

I recently rejected a candidate who wasn’t a good fit for the position for a variety of reasons. They responded with an email debating our decision (in a tone that validated we made the right call) and I found out the next day their parent also sent an email to our CEO (they have a loose professional connection) debating my decision (and also implying I did it without management’s blessing … ugh).

In this situation, would you give the applicant a heads-up that this happened? Based on their response, I wouldn’t be surprised if the parental interference was requested, but it just comes off so wildly unprofessional it’s really soured us on a person who was good but not great and turned them into a never-ever. What do you think?

Nah, I wouldn’t bother. This candidate already sent you an email debating your decision in a rude tone. That means that (a) the chances that they’ll respond well to this heads-up are significantly lower than with a polite/professional candidate, and (b) there’s no incentive here for you to go out of your way to try to do them a favor. Plus, it sounds like the parent would hear about this and go back to your CEO about it, and I suspect your CEO doesn’t want to deal with that.

And geez, I guess we can see where the candidate got this from.

3. Is there any benefit to me interviewing for a job that I’ll already be offered?

I’ve been in touch with someone at a company I used to work for about returning to work for them in a role almost identical to the one that I had previously (I left there seven years ago), but I’d now be working remotely (which is a key reason I’m interested in going back — I moved away and previously they didn’t support remote work but now they have a strong set-up for it). Once they heard I was interested my old department, they said they’d post a job for me to apply for.

I heard today they have approval to post the position and specifically to hire me into it, so they’re checking with HR to see if they even need to post it or if they can just direct hire and assign me. However, they said that if I still want to go through an interview process, we can go that route. I’m inclined to say no since any of the information that I might still need (like questions I’d ask in an interview) I can just ask of my contact, and some of the things I’d want to ask are more for after I have the offer in hand anyway (although I suppose if I was interviewing for a job I know is mine, maybe I’d ask them then anyway, rather than waiting?). However is there some other benefit for me to actually interview for the job, either in the process itself, or for when it comes time to negotiate salary, that I’d want to take advantage of and would miss by not interviewing?

If they do end up needing to interview other candidates, you want an interview too. Seven years is a long time to be away, and if they’re also talking to others, you don’t want those other people to be more fresh in their minds than you are.

If they’re not interviewing anyone else, then I don’t think you need to set up a formal interview, but I wouldn’t take the job without a pretty detailed conversation with the person who will be managing you. You want to know things like how the role may have changed since you last held it (a lot can change in seven years) and whether anything about it is different for someone who’s working remotely, and — unless you know your would-be manager very well — you want to get a better feel for her as a manager and for her to be able to get a better feel for you.

You can do that in a formal interview too, of course — and one possible advantage to a real interview is that if you’re super impressive in it, you could potentially increase your ability to negotiate salary. That said, there’s a little bit of a risk to a real interview too, in that if you have a bad day and flub it, they might end up with a sudden requirement to interview other people too.

4. Applying for a job with an old colleague — should I ask for a call to talk about the job?

I was recently forwarded a great job opportunity — I fit the job description, have the necessary experience and degree required — and better yet, this job would bring me closer to my hometown and family. It would also be a career jump for me since I’m currently working in a position with no room for growth.

I found out that the director at the potential job is an old colleague/senior from when we used to work at the same institution a few years ago. I was debating whether I should reach out to her separately from the application process to talk to her about the job and let her know I’ve applied, especially since she would be the direct manager for this position. The field I work in is extremely small and competitive and knowing the right people really does take you far. I was going to shoot her an email to reconnect, update her, and ask if we could talk over the phone regarding the job. What do you think? Is that a bad move?

Definitely email her and let you know that you’ve applied for the job and would love to talk with her about it if she thinks you’re a strong match for it. But don’t just ask for a phone call to discuss it — that’s pretty much an attempt to jump ahead in their selection process.

For what it’s worth, candidates love to make these requests for phone calls to “discuss the job” when they know the hiring manager or have a connection to them through someone else … and hiring managers will sometimes agree to the calls out of a sense of obligation if they already know the candidate or the mutual contact and want to preserve the relationship. But when there’s a clear application process already laid out, it’s generally pretty annoying when people try to go around that rather than following the instructions we asked you to follow.

So apply, and email her to let her know. If she thinks it makes sense to set up a call, she will let you know.

5. Can I praise my boss for her work turning around our organization?

I have a good problem. My boss (of a small not-for-profit) was recently moved into the top role when the CEO left and is now managing the whole organization. Things were not going too well when the former CEO left and morale was pretty low. My boss really stepped up to the plate and has turned things around and boosted morale, making things better for staff in a number of ways. She also goes out of her way to give us thoughtful (homemade and edible!) gifts at Christmas time (as context).

Is it ever okay to praise her for turning things around? How appropriate would it be for the staff to come together and buy her a small gift as a token of our appreciation for her hard work? Would us all individually stating our thanks be more appropriate, and how would this best be communicated? I’m very aware of the “never gift up” protocol in professional settings, but this seems like a bit of a grey area.

Definitely do let her know that you really appreciate her work, and be as specific as you can about the thing she’s done that you’ve noticed and the outcomes you think she’s achieved. Managing can be a pretty thankless job — in part because sometimes people aren’t sure if they can send praise upwards — and hearing that kind of thing can be a really big deal. You could do this in an in-person conversation, or you could do it in a note or a card. (The note or card has the advantage that it’s something she can keep and look at in the future, but really, any of these options will be lovely.)

But I would stay away from the gift, for all the same reasons that you shouldn’t gift upwards at work in general (including, in this case, that you risk making other people feel obligated to contribute to it).

is it reasonable to expect to be thanked when I go out of my way for a coworker?

A reader writes:

I’m just wondering how reasonable it is to expect politeness in the workplace. I’m feeling frustrated with a coworker who never thanks me for doing favors outside of my usual job function for him, but I have no idea if that’s a reasonable way for me to feel.

For example: recently he asked me to pull together some info for a meeting he was going to two days later. I spent a couple hours putting it together and emailed it to him. I feel like a typical person would reply back “thanks,” at the very least to acknowledge that they received it. But he never replied to my email or mentioned it to me at all.

This coworker is senior to me, but he isn’t directly above me. I don’t usually work with him. He has a habit of doing things like this (not just to me, to everyone) and I find it rude. I don’t need to be thanked for doing my job. So if he was my boss or the things I was doing for him were part of my normal job function, I probably wouldn’t care as much (though I still think it’s good practice to send over a quick “thanks!” even in those cases). But whenever I do things like this it’s essentially me doing him a favor — taking time out of my regular work to make his job easier. Is it normal work behavior to not thank someone for doing you a favor outside of their usual work duties if their manager asked them to?

And either way, should I mention anything about it or just get over it? I was thinking about just saying something like, “Hey, did you ever get that email I sent you? I didn’t see a reply to it and wanted to make sure it looked okay.”

Yeah, it’s rude for him not to acknowledge that you’re going out of your way to help him.

Of course, it’s possible that he doesn’t know you’re doing that — people aren’t always crystal clear on exactly what is and isn’t in someone else’s job description, and it’s possible that he assumes that because you’re doing what he asks, it’s part of your job. He should thank you regardless, simply because that’s polite, but he might not realize that you’re going out of your way to help him.

You could attempt to nudge him into realizing it, by saying things like “I don’t typically pull together this kind of info for the sales staff, but I can do it for you this time” or “Normally the sales staff does this themselves, but if you’re in a crunch, I can see if I can get it done for you later today.”

Another way of nudging him into realizing that he needs to acknowledge you is exactly what you suggested: saying something like “Hey, did you get that email I sent you? I didn’t hear back from you and didn’t know if it was what you needed or not.” Do that enough times, and you might push him into the habit of acknowledging your work before you follow up about it.

There’s also the option of saying no to some of his requests. If his requests would really be favors from you, then you’re not obligated to grant them if he has a track record of being rude to you. But only do that if you can genuinely defend a no by pointing to higher priorities that you need to deal with. Otherwise it could backfire on you and make you look unhelpful and/or petty to your boss or others.

And you mentioned that sometimes your manager is asking you to do this stuff for him. In those cases, the work isn’t so much of a favor for him; it’s an assignment from your manager.

In general, though, some people are just like this — they’re very transactional about work and miss the entire social context of dealing with humans and the fact that being pleasant in your interactions with people makes everything feel a lot nicer. This word view also misses the fact that even in the context of “just doing their jobs,” most people have some leeway on how quickly they respond or with what degree of attention to detail or in how far they go out of their way to help someone — and that being kind makes people more interested in prioritizing your requests and generally being helpful.

my employee argues when I correct her work

A reader writes:

I have a young employee who has a bad habit that needs to be broken and I’m looking for input in how to help her with this. I had a similar problem when I was her age and had it pointed out to me in a way that was rather hurtful, which is something I’d like to avoid.

She’s been with the company for two years as a part-time employee while she was in college and was just promoted to full-time. I’m her supervisor, but not her manager. I’m responsible for her training, her schedule, and those types of things, but I’m not responsible for her performance reviews or discipline. I’m the “good cop,” so to speak.

Here’s the crux of the problem: when I tell her something or ask her to change how she does something (because it’s incorrect), instead of acknowledging the correction with an “okay, I understand” she gives me an argument. Last night, I asked her to do X instead of Y because Y was the wrong thing to do. She then proceeded to tell me why she did Y.

This isn’t a case of Y could have been the correct thing to do if I’d just listen to her. Y was wrong.

I know I need to have a conversation with her and address it, what I’m looking for is some advice in phrasing “knock it off” in a way that isn’t hurtful.

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.