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

1. When an employee names his dog after his manager

One of your employees gets a dog and he names it after his supervisor and makes sure he tells all of his coworkers. I think this is disrespectful. What do you think? (And no, it’s not a common name.)

It’s either disrespectful or … a sign of honor! Especially if the manager has a sense of humor. It’s hard to evaluate it without more context, like what this employee is like more broadly. Are there problems with his performance or attitude? Does he seem to dislike the manager? If that kind of thing is true, then the manager should be focusing there — but I wouldn’t get too worked up about the dog name alone.

2. My retail experience is harming me with employers

I recently graduated with my B.S. in Business Management … only to discover that employers no longer seem to care if you have your degree. I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a 3.84 GPA. All employers see when they look at my resume is that I worked retail while I was in school. They feel I have no real skills in anything — even though I had held two different supervisory positions and maintained that job for 10 years. I do NOT want to work in retail anymore. I have a family and a different life now. This was a job I obtained out of high school and kept to get me through college.

I recently applied for a job at the corporate level with a different company. The recruiter loved me and said my skills matched the requirements perfectly. I got a second phone interview with my potential manager. I thought I answered his questions well on my part, but he seemed less enthused. I thought I would at least get a chance to complete the next step — a role playing assessment. The next day, the recruiter emailed me to tell me the manager felt my qualifications were inadequate.

Is there anyway to salvage this? Can I reach out to him and try to demonstrate that I am fully capable of doing more than merchandising (which by the way was listed as a requirement for the position)? Or would this just annoy him and burn bridges (which I really do not want to do)? If not, how do I get past this with other employers? I am really devastated about not even being given an opportunity to do the assessment. Most other companies just email me rejection letters a few months after applying. Am I doomed to be stuck in retail forever?

Sure, reach out and tell him why you’d be awesome at the work. Don’t couch it as “your decision was wrong,” but rather as “I’d love one more opportunity to tell you why I think I’d excel at this role, and what I can point to in my past to demonstrate it — but I also respect your decision if you’re not convinced” (followed by compelling evidence). If you approach it that way, you’re not going to burn a bridge, and so you have nothing to lose.

As for the broader situation, it’s true that employers often discount retail work and want to see evidence that someone else has already taught you how to function successfully in an office … which is legitimately a different thing than retail. It doesn’t mean that your retail work is hurting you, but the lack of office-type work probaly is.

If you have any non-retail work you can highlight on your resume — internships, even volunteer work — putting a stronger emphasis on it will help. (And this is why it’s so, so important to do internships in school, even if they’re only half a day a week and you’re doing them on top of paid work. It really helps once you’re out of school and looking for a professional job.) If you don’t, can you get some now, by interning, temping, or volunteering? It’ll help, in a job market where you’re up against tons of candidates who do have that experience.

(Also, it’s not that employers don’t care that you have a degree. It’s that it’s become such a prerequisite that it doesn’t qualify for you anything on its own.)

3. In my thank-you note, can I clarify an answer I gave in the interview?

I just interviewed with a great organization, and I’m really excited about the job. Upon thinking through their questions and my answers, it’s occurred to me that I didn’t quite make something clear, and it feels like it could be a deal-breaker. I was answering a particular question, and it led to other questions, which were fine, but I didn’t quite wrap up my train of thought before we continued. Can I include a short explanation/clarification in my thank-you note? Mostly in a “further explanation” sense, not in a “said the wrong thing” sense.

Absolutely. Phrase it as something like, “I also wanted to build on our conversation about X and mention that blah blah blah.” (And you’re right to make it further explanation rather than sounding like you’re second-guessing yourself.)

4. My employer ties pay to off-duty conduct

My current employer has decided that for the benefit of their employees, they will now tie the employees’ compensation to how safe they are off the clock at their homes. While documenting safety items you can and should improve upon, is it legal to hold you accountable on your yearly review for things you do at home on your own time? It just seems to me this is crossing a line and is an infringement of your right to privacy and freedom of choice.

As an example of what I am talking about, if I say I will use safety glasses while doing yard work, but then when cutting my grass I have an eye injury and was not actually wearing safety glasses, they can count that against me for the annual review rating for my raise.

What the … what? How would they even know if you wear wearing safety glasses when cutting your grass? How would they know that the eye injury was caused by that and not by, say, a rowdy gang of squirrels?

In any case, it’s possible that this would violate the law in California, where the state constitution provides broader privacy protections than most other states do. But aside from that or a similar state law, yep, it’s legal. It is, however, a ridiculous overreach and terrible use of company energy.

5. Asking an interviewer for a 12-month vision of the job

Sometimes when I apply for positions, they mention on the ad “position ends April 2015″ or “prefer candidate to commit for two years.” However, I had a job interview recently and the interviewer seemed offended when I asked about his 12-month vision of the job, like I asked what he saw this position looking like in a year or two because I was trying to gauge what kind of a commitment they were looking for and whether or not they mentored employees into other positions. Anyway, the bottom line is that he told me he had no idea what was going to happen in 12 months and couldn’t really comment. Do you think this is a fair question or should I avoid this in the future?

You should avoid that interviewer in the future because he sucks. If he truly has no idea what was going to happen in 12 months, he’s got some serious planning problems.

The question itself is fine. Or at least it’s fine as long as you’re not implying that you’d hope to be promoted or doing significantly different work in a year or two, but it usually takes longer than that to get promoted — and employers want to think that you’re excited about the job as it currently exists, not what it might turn into it.

{ 20 comments }

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Interesting fact:

People who start their cover letters with “I am confident I am the best candidate for the job” never are.

Literally, never.

I’ve now seen it stated enough to state this with confidence.

{ 249 comments }

my coworker’s stress is stressing me out

by Ask a Manager on April 22, 2014

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A reader writes:

I’m “team leader” for a group of two (I’m one of the two). We hired the coworker who I lead about seven months ago. We generally each have our own projects to work on. The projects vary from very short-term to fairly long-term.

My coworker is extremely skilled at the job’s primary task and produces good work. However, our work can be fairly fast-paced and often necessarily involves being able to shift back and forth between projects. Our work also provides significant autonomy in structuring and scheduling one’s own work. My coworker really struggles with these aspects of the job, and I’m running out of ideas on how to deal with his struggle but also wondering if that is even something for me to try to fix.

The main way he’s shown that he is struggling is by literally saying, several times a week, one or more of the following: “I feel so overwhelmed”; “I find this job so stressful”; “Oh, god, I just got another X to work on!” (when X is a fairly routine, two-hour task); “I don’t know how I’m ever going to get Y done when I keep getting X’s!” (with Y being a major, longer-term project).

Just to clarify, this is a position that generally does not require more than a 40-hour work week. With the exception of peak periods, I generally work about 40­-44 hours a week. In the time he’s been here, my coworker has worked on one project that had two nonconsecutive weeks in which some overtime was required. Initially, he thought he might have to work more OT for that project than he actually ended up having to (about five hours total, for which he earned OT pay), and this very much worried him.

Things I’ve tried to help him get acclimated to the job and not feel so overwhelmed:

  • Basic training
    • Suggesting strategies for organizing files and emails (fairly good results)
    • Suggesting putting up a calendar and noting key deadline dates (fairly good results)
    • Showing the steps I follow in completing a particular type of project (okay results)
    • Sending him links to specific resources and suggesting that he bookmark the site or create a shortcut to the file (okay results)
    • Asking him to take notes when we discuss processes (okay results)
    • Providing process documentation (fairly good results)
  •  Listening sympathetically and acknowledging that certain projects and coworkers can be challenging (okay results; this sometimes just brings on more expressions of distress)
  • When he asks me if I find the job stressful, telling him that yes, I do, in A or B regard, but also emphasizing (truthfully) that I find the job fun, interesting, and challenging (not sure of results)
  • Making it clear that he should always feel free to use his personal time to take off time when he needs it and happily approving the time he does ask off for (produces comments from him that taking off time will prevent him getting work done)
  • Trying “tough love” in response to his balking at certain tasks that are well within the job’s scope and his stating that he’s really bad at these tasks (Me: “This is just part of the job. It’s not my favorite thing either, but it’s not unreasonable.”) (bad result, continued distress)
  • Ignoring his comments about stress and feeling overwhelmed (not sure of the results, but I haven’t tried this consistently)
  • Trying to bolster coworker’s confidence in his abilities to do this role by writing a glowing (and true!) end-of-probationary-period review highlighting the great work he’s produced in the short time he’s been here (seemingly no effect)
  • Talking to our boss on behalf of and in front of my coworker about extending the deadline for his primary long-term project. Boss was very receptive (and extended the deadline), knows that the workload is high with additional projects our department has taken on, and has already started the process to hire another person. (seemingly no effect on coworker’s stress)

So how to handle the constant kvetching? Try to consistently ignore it? Would it be inappropriate to just tell him he needs to stop expressing distress?

If you were just a peer, you’d have two basic options: Ignore it or say something. But as team lead, you have a higher obligation to speak up.

As a peer, you could try, “Bob, you’ve been pretty vocal about how stressed the job makes you, and so I’ve tried to find ways to help. At this point, I’m not sure what else to suggest, and I’m not sure how to respond when you talk about being so overwhelmed. To be honest, it’s making me stressed out, when I’m generally not. Can I ask you to rein it in, unless there’s something specific I can do to help?”

As a team leader, you can and probably should frame it as: “Part of this job is figuring out how to structure your work, shifting back and forth between projects, and rolling with the punches when things change. It sounds like you’re really struggling with these elements of the work. Are there specific things that would be helpful to you in navigating this?”  And depending on what the answer is to that, you might also ask, “Knowing that this is the reality of our work here, do you feel like this is the right job for you?”

If you were his manager, I’d advise you to have a serious conversation with him about expectations and fit. As team lead, you don’t have quite the same authority, but you can get close. And if that doesn’t work, your role probably means that you should be talking to your manager about what you’re seeing and putting it on her plate to talk to your coworker about — and not taking on quite so much emotional responsibility for “fixing” this.

And from there, I’d stick to the coworker script above — the one that says “hey, you’re transferring your stress to the rest of us.”

{ 134 comments }

how to survive work travel and keep your sanity

by Ask a Manager on April 22, 2014

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The first time I had to travel for work, I was about 24 and felt insanely adult and glamorous. But then I started traveling quite a lot and discovered that horrible airport food, living out of luggage, and returning to a soulless hotel room every night quickly loses its charm.

At Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I talk about how to maintain your sanity when you’re traveling for work (including learning to love dining alone!). You can read it here.

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

1. We’re having lighting wars … and half my coworkers want to work in darkness

Our cubicle farm office of about 90 people is undergoing “lighting wars.” One person asked to have the lights above his cube removed because the glare gave him headaches. That prompted another person to ask if the lights above her cube could be taken out, and then another, and another. When they found out that our facilities guy didn’t object to going up and down a stepladder 10 times a day, many people went along with it. Whole swathes of the open plan floor were suddenly plunged into total or semi-darkness, with no light source but glowing monitors. It seems to break along age lines, with people under 35 preferring the darkness. However, many of our jobs require people to look at faxed handwritten papers that are sometimes hard to decipher. I question how well that can be done by the light of a computer screen.

All of this might have stayed just an acceptable office fad if contiguous groups of employees hadn’t gotten together and declared their sections “light free.” New employees were given the option to have the lights above their cubes turned on, but not many did, knowing they were going against the will of the larger group. No manager wanted to step into this because they didn’t think it was worth the ill will. The capper came when a senior manager walked into a room on a dark, rainy morning and flipped on the overhead lights. She walked out a few minutes later, but had to return a second time and was surprised to see the entire room dark again, so she flipped on the lights again. This led one of the analysts to come completely unhinged and start raging at the senior manager at the top of her lungs, hollering and shouting. She had to be led out of the room and was sent home for the day – but she’s a whole ‘nother story. In any case, the lines have hardened: 1) lights off and the senior manager had no business flipping them on, to 2) who runs the show around here anyway? Has anyone had an issue like this? We have no policy about this because who would ever think that office lights would become such an issue?

The biggest issue here is your unhinged analyst who exploded in rage at the senior manager. Either this person is a problem in myriad other ways, or this lighting situation has been allowed to take up way too much emotional space in people’s minds. Or both. I think I’m guessing both.

Anyway, if people like it to be darker, let them have it be darker — as long as it’s not impacting the ability of other people to get the light they need to do their work. The concern is whether people, especially newer employees, are being pressured into accepting no lights because they don’t want to make waves with people who apparently feel quite strongly about this. Ultimately people’s right to work in space that’s sufficiently lit for their eyes and their work trumps other people’s preference to have it dimmer, so you’ve got to make sure that people who want light do truly get it. One way to do that would be to just turn the lights on everywhere (and you might point out to the people going overboard here that they’re going to ruin it entirely if they push your company into solving it that way), or to turn on just half the lights, or even to just buy lamps for anyone who wants them.

2. How can I address my employee’s bad attitude?

Reading yesterday’s post about the person sending the email to their boss and giving her the silent treatment made me wonder if you could share some tips about managing folks with attitude/professionalism problems like this.

I have to meet with a staff member this week who is generally good at her job but has become increasingly disrespectful and resistant to any direction. It came to head over an inappropriate email as well, though differently inappropriate, more disrespectful/borderline insubordinate. Her attitude makes it difficult for me to work with her, but every time I talk to her about anything she is so unpleasant about it and afterwards it is almost the silent treatment. Do you have suggestions for the manager to address the attitude without making the whole situation even more unpleasant? She wants quite desperately to be transferred to work anywhere but here, but doesn’t realize that her attitude is going to make that impossible. So I plan to make that clear in the meeting–but she is still griping about the time I told her they’d come up with a new procedure they wanted us to follow that was different from what she did.

I know I can’t make her respect me, but is there a way that discussing disrespectful attitude will result in better attitude and not just make the problem worse?

Managers sometimes worry that they can’t address attitude issues as straightforwardly as they would performance issues, but you can and you should. In fact, you should frame it exactly the the same way you would a performance issue — “what you’re doing is ___, and what I need is ___.” Just make sure that you’re specific about what she’s doing that needs to change (as opposed to just lumping it all under “bad attitude”). For instance: “Part of what we need in this role is someone with a cheerful, can-do attitude and a willingness to hear feedback. That means I need you to be pleasant to coworkers, participate in meetings, not roll your eyes or otherwise be dismissive when people talk, and be open to discussing areas where I ask you to do something differently.”

And if the problem is severe enough that it could conceivably lead you to replace the person without significant improvement, you should be transparent about that: “I want to be clear that this is important enough that without significant improvement in the next few weeks, we would need to move you out of this role.”

Also, read this.

3. Shouldn’t this CEO have asked me about salary?

During a second and final interview with a CEO, he didn’t ask me how much I would ask for a salary, although during the first interview with executive managers I did indicate a salary range after they had asked me to. I found it strange that a CEO wouldn’t ask me for a salary indication. What’s your advice?

He didn’t ask because he’s focusing on other things in his interview with you — and besides, someone else already asked you, anyway. The assumption is that you’re not going to give different answers about salary to different people, so there’s no need for him to raise it with you a second time. (But even if someone else hadn’t already covered it, I wouldn’t assume he would have — his role is to evaluate you in a more high-level way.)

4. How can I ask how likely I am to be laid off?

I work at a unionized nonprofit. Recently we were told that layoffs were possible if we didn’t receive renewal of a certain grant. It is possible that the grant will be fully funded, partially funded, or not funded at all. We won’t have a decision on this for a couple of months.

We were given a list of worst-case scenario positions that would be eliminated, and mine was on it. They were listed in no particular order. I think a partially-funded grant is more realistic than no funding, which likely still means some layoffs. My question is: How can I approach my boss and ask him how high my position is on the layoff list?

You could say something like, “Do you have any sense of where my position would fall on the list if we were to be partially funded but not fully funded?” However, it might not even be worth asking, since either way, your next move here should be the same, which is to start job searching. Your employer has given you this heads-up so that you can steps to be prepared if it does happen, and even if your boss told you that your job is last on the layoff list, you should still be actively searching. You’re not obligated to take a job if it’s offered to you, but if you’re laid off, you’ll be glad you had a head start.

5. Being forced to pay a penalty for leaving without three months notice.

When my friend started her new job, she signed a contract. That contract included a clause that stated that if she left within six months of employment there, she would be required to give one month notice; if she left between seven and 12 months of employment there, she would be required to give two months notice; and if she left after 13 or more months of employment there, she would be required to give three months notice. Failure to do so would mean she would have to pay her employer the difference in the notice she gives and the required notice, based on her current base salary.

Is that lawful? Does she have any recourse?

She’d need to consult with a lawyer to be sure, but since this would bring her pay for that period below minimum wage, I’d think it would run afoul of minimum wage laws if nothing else. If I were her, I’d give whatever damn notice I pleased, decline to pay this ridiculous penalty, and go instantly to the state labor board if they were late in paying my final paycheck — for all time worked — in full.

{ 339 comments }

update: my assistant keeps commenting on my appearance

by Ask a Manager on April 21, 2014

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Remember the letter-writer whose office admin kept commenting on her appearance? Here’s the update.

I am the OP who wrote in asking about how to address my unit’s administrative assistant commenting on my appearance. All the comments were very helpful and I am thankful for all the great advice from them!

Right after writing in, I was out of town for a week and not in the office for about a week and a half. After coming back, I was waiting for her to make another comment so that I could address everything in the moment with her. Well, to my surprise, shock, and utter embarrassment, she went a step further. I was at my desk after lunch one day in an area with 3 other male coworkers. She comes back with a young man and proceeds to call out my name and bring him over to my cube. She then tells me in front of him how nice he is, repeatedly, and about his favorite after-work activity, which is one that I have zero interest in or knowledge about.

What made it truly awkward though is that while there, she looks over and drops something off to male coworker 1, but doesn’t bring the man over to the male coworker for introductions, and then as they are leaving, she skips over introducing this young man to male coworkers 2 &3, even though she was walking right past them. When they cleared the area, one of the male coworkers shouts out, ” So that was a set-up, wasn’t it?” Followed by laughing and lots of comments about how uncomfortable it was.

Needless to say, a day later I had a conversation with her about how uncomfortable it made me and that I would prefer in the future not to have her do any of that. She attempted to say it wasn’t meant to be anything and explain her way out of it, but ultimately I just stated that it made me uncomfortable and I would like to keep my work environment as professional as possible and would like that, as well as comments on my appearance, to stop. I also addressed that I would like her to come to me with any issues she sees with my work, rather than other coworkers. She nodded and agreed to all of it, and thanked me for talking to her.

Ever since, she has kept her distance from me, but I feel much more comfortable with the situation now than when I was before. Thank you so much for your help and advice in this situation!

{ 82 comments }

how to make your new boss regret hiring you

by Ask a Manager on April 21, 2014

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featured-on-usnHow you handle your first few weeks on the job can set the tone for your relationship with your boss throughout your entire stay at your new company. Handle yourself well, and you can quickly start to be seen as a valued new member of the team. But misstep, and your new boss might start wondering if she should have hired you in the first place.

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about nine ways you can go wrong in your first weeks at a new job — including starting out with all the answers, coming in late or leaving early in your first few weeks, and more. You can read it here.

{ 79 comments }

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A reader writes:

Longtime reader, first time question asker! I work in a small, two-person office for a nonprofit, was was hired on only a little over 2 months ago. Before me, it was just my boss, the executive director, by herself for a year.

I have really loved my job and boss up to this point and have been great at my work, but my relationship with my boss hit a big snag at the end of last week. I raised my voice at her a bit when she hinted that she doubted my thoroughness on a task that I had worked on for hours. I went home that day pretty annoyed and wrote a long and admittedly somewhat unprofessional email to her, explaining two of the factors that had likely culminated in my raising my voice: 1) feeling that she doubted my work ethic and meticulousness, two qualities I take great pride in, and 2) the frequency of her romantic phone conversations with her significant other while I sat only 10 feet away. I explained that the romantic phone calls had become increasingly annoying over time, as the conversations put my focus in the office on my “singledom,” while I ought to be focusing on my work instead. That might sound like I need to grow a backbone, but I have been single for over 7 years—a long time when you’re in your late 20s—which is the most distressing aspect of my otherwise happy life. I explained all of this in the email and that those reasons made her lovey-dovey conversations extra distracting. I asked her to please consider not having the phone calls while I’m around the office, as they negatively affect my productivity.

My boss sat me down for a tough conversation at the beginning of the following workweek, addressing the unprofesionalism of my email, the need for me to better understand my role in the organization, and that the concerns I had laid out about her managerial style were unacceptable to express. Regarding the romantic phone calls, she was defensive, claiming that they weren’t “recreational” in nature (which was a total lie). She said I should put on headphones if I didn’t want to hear her personal conversations.

The atmosphere in the office was pretty tense for the next two days, as I ended up giving her the silent treatment for what I considered her callousness in addressing my concerns. At the end of that second day, she had one of those romantic phone calls, and I ended up walking briskly out the door without saying goodbye to her. My silent treatment was probably not the most professional or mature way to handle the situation, but it did work to some extent, with my boss trying several times to extend “olive branches” to me, which I was unresponsive to till the middle of the week (I could tell this really frustrated her). Even though she had tried to be nicer to me to close out the week and I had warmed up to her again, on that Friday she had another one of the romantic phone calls. In response, I gave her mostly silent treatment again for the rest of the day, though she didn’t take the bait this time and actively tried to not let my attitude bother her, continuing to act happy and nice (though also emailing me to inform me that she was going to add more structure to my role by making me fill out timesheets). Before she left the office, she tried calling her significant other again but it went to voicemail. She ended up bidding me a warm goodbye, which I acknowledged as minimally as I could without being a complete jackass.

I would like to figure out a way to peacefully put an end to the phone calls, since I’ve been unsuccessful so far. I believe that my boss having them while knowing they affect my productivity in a negative way is borderline harassment. However, I don’t feel very comfortable telling her that because she has interpreted concerns that I have with her managerial style as being unprofessional. How should I approach my boss if the distracting phone calls continue unabated?

Some more clarification: The relationship I’ve had with my boss had been very friendly and sociable up to that point, but her response so far to adverse situations like this has been to be more of a hardass. I feel that she probably believes I don’t respect her authority, which could not be more untrue. I work better and am more focused and productive when there is a culture of workplace harmony and open communication, and when I’m able to be completely accountable to my boss without hating her at the same time. My boss, on the other hand, has never managed people in her career till now and seems to have taken my concerns as a sign that she needs to consolidate her power and add more structure to my work experience—which she feel might be a good move on her part but is exactly the wrong direction from how I best work.

Working in a two-person office is hard. There are other complications in the relationship as well, such as the fact that my boss and I coincidentally know a lot of the same people from both during and outside of work hours. My best friend, for instance, is one of her longtime friends and the brother-in-law of one of her best friends. Also, another one of my good friends serves on the same nonprofit board as her significant other. I could go on. I’ll also add that I had already been to my boss’s house by the third weekend after I started—for a non-work-related party—and that my boss and I have been Facebook friends since day one and ‘like’ each other’s posts from time to time. We’re both young people who share a lot of the same interests, both related to and not related to work. I have greatly respected and looked up to her up to this point, because, until I blew things up with that email, she was very easygoing. I have much less respect for callous power-hoarders, but as a new manager she seems to have headed gradually in that direction, a bit wary perhaps that her direct report might be increasingly insubordinate or nipping at her heels (neither of which have ever been my intention).

Whoa.

This is probably not the answer you are expecting, but you are wildly, wildly out of line here.

You cannot give your boss the silent treatment. That is … well, it’s extremely unprofessional and, frankly, would come across as prohibitively juvenile to most managers — and by prohibitive, I mean a good manager would be questioning your fit for the job. (And if your manager is not, it’s likely because of her inexperience.)

Moreover, you can’t dictate the content of other people’s personal phone conversations. You can certainly let them know when you’re having trouble focusing because of their calls, but when it’s your boss, she gets to decide whether she’s going to modify her behavior or not. And you absolutely cannot tell people at work that their happiness is making you feel bad and so they need to rein it in around you, let alone your boss. Your unhappiness about your singlehood is so far, far afield from anything approaching an appropriate line of argument in professional situations that I am having to strongly resist typing this paragraph in all caps and making it flash at you like a Geocities website from 1999. I am having heart palpitations over how inappropriate this all is.

And when you throw in the social connections and the attending parties, this whole thing sounds like a clusterfudge to me. She erred by not establishing professional boundaries from the get-go, but you’ve taken that broadening of boundaries even further, and you’re not seeing your boss as your boss.

As for the calls themselves, I have no idea how frequent they are or how lovey-dovey. If they’re seriously mushy, yes, that’s inappropriate. But it is not your place to insist that they must stop.  Many bosses do annoying and even inappropriate things, but unless they violate a law or jeopardize your safety, it doesn’t fall in the category of “things you have the standing to insist they stop doing.” Sexual harassment would fall in that category, but unless these calls are highly sexual (and I’m assuming you would have mentioned it if they were), this isn’t harassment.

Look. She is your boss. That means that she decides what does and doesn’t fly in the office. You can ask her nicely, once, if you’d like something handled differently, but then she gets to make the call, and you need to respect that call. You can decide that you don’t like it enough that you’re going to find a job somewhere else, but being cold or rude to her, giving her the silent treatment, or raising your voice at her (!!) are not acceptable responses. If you are not able to control those responses, then you need to find a new job, because You Cannot Behave This Way.

While she appears to be tolerating this somewhat, I would not assume she will tolerate it long-term (and the fact that she’s already pointed out — correctly — that this is unprofessional is a sign that she won’t tolerate it forever). If nothing else, eventually she’ll mention the situation to a more experienced manager, who will urge her in the strongest of terms to shut it down and to seriously reconsider your fit for the role. And even if that never happens, this is still Very, Very Bad because you are learning terrible work norms that you will carry to your next job, where they will make your life significantly harder because this kind of dynamic will feel normal to you but will be unacceptable to those around you.

So. You need to cut this out. Stop trying to punish your boss for her phone calls or to force an end to them. Be pleasant and professional. Establish a boundary between work life and social life. Put some headphones on if you don’t want to hear her calls, as she suggested. And apologize to her for how you handled this.

Your job is not just to do your work. It’s also to be a pleasant coworker/employee and not to be a source of drama in the office. Right now you are failing on that score, and you must fix it.

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

1. My manager refused to back me up when a coworker complained about me

I had a minor disagreement with a colleague about a couple bucks worth of candy. There was some being handed out in the office over Easter, and I wanted to take some to leave for the cleaners, which my colleague disagreed with me doing and sent a really rude and disrespectful email to a group of people (me included), mocking my suggestion to include the cleaners, which I responded to by saying he was being rude and arrogant.

As far as was concerned, the disagreement was stupid and over and done with. He then went to my boss complaining about my email, stretching the truth and exaggerating what had happened. My boss then spoke to me and told me that while I’d done nothing wrong and they agreed with my sentiment, my email had caused some offence and in no way was I being penalized for my actions, but to keep the peace she had told the guy who complained that I would be spoken to.

Now I’m annoyed with my boss, and think she should have told the guy complaining that it was a petty complaint and unfounded so there was no reason for me to be spoken to. I think it’s really unfair that my boss privately approved of my actions and then publicly criticized me. Do you think I’m being unreasonable in expecting my boss to stand up for me rather than hang me out to dry when by her own assessment of the situation I’d done nothing wrong? It really bothered me that a higher priority was put on keeping the peace than being honest and straightforward about the situation. If I had been in the wrong, I would have no expected her to back me up.

Yes. Your boss sucks and needs to learn how to take a stand and be direct with people. Either she doesn’t think you deserve a reprimand, in which case she shouldn’t have told your coworker that you were getting one, or she does think that you do (which is why she told your coworker she’d talk to you) and needs to be able to bring herself to tell YOU that. Now you know that your boss isn’t always able to say things that she thinks people won’t want to hear, which might not be a huge deal in this particular context, but can be a huge weakness if it surfaces more broadly.

(That said, calling your coworker rude and arrogant wasn’t the best move — and that’s especially true if it was in a group email. So no one here is behaving impeccably, although your coworker and your manager both made bigger errors.)

2. Is being underweight turning off interviewers?

I’ve been aggressively job searching since January. I’ve had lots of interviews, but no offers. I don’t usually make it past the first in-person interview (I actually just had my first 2nd interview for a job I really want last week though and am waiting to hear back, fingers crossed!). Anyway, in trying to figure out what’s been holding me back, I’ve had a few people suggest that it could be my appearance, specifically my weight. I’m 5’3 and around 87-88 lbs. I’ve struggled with an eating disorder since I was 12 but it’s pretty under control right now and I’m healthier (physically and mentally) than I’ve been in years. The people who have suggested that this might be an issue in interviews are saying that because I’m noticeably very underweight and even unhealthy looking (I don’t see this), employers might be hesitant to hire me. The thing is though, the people who are telling me this KNOW about my eating disorder; I’m not convinced an interviewer who doesn’t know this about me would guess it just by my appearance… for all they know I could just be naturally thin.

I go out of my way to ensure that I present myself in a very professional way, recently paying extra money to have interview clothes tailored to fit, for example. I’ve also come a long way in my recovery process and I’d like to think I’m not being discriminated against simply due to my weight. I guess I’m just curious if this is actually something hiring managers would pick up on and be wary of? And if it is, is there anything else I can do to help employers see that any concerns they may have are unwarranted?

Hmmm, it’s so hard to say without actually seeing you, but I do think that it’s possible that you look thin enough that people would be concerned about your well-being and it’s making them uncomfortable … but it’s also possible that it’s more about how you’re interviewing, since that’s something plenty of people struggle with. It also could be something like a confidence issue, if you feel uneasy about your appearance and it’s coming through as a general lack of confidence. Is there anyone you trust to give you an unbiased read?

(Also, congrats on your progress in recovery!)

3. My bosses haven’t acknowledged that I’m leaving

It has been a week since my manager sent out an email to my team informing them that I would be pursuing an opportunity outside of the company, and that my last day would be in two weeks. My bosses, who sit in offices right outside my cubicle, have not congratulated me or wished me luck, or anything of the sort. I got along with these bosses quite well. On my last day, if my bosses still haven’t said anything to me, do I need to copy them on my “final goodbye” email, or stop by their offices to say goodbye? I feel snubbed that they have not even acknowledged my departure.

They suck for not acknowledging that you’re leaving, but take the high road and say goodbye to them and tell them how much you enjoyed working there (whether or not you did) before you go, because it’s in your best interests to maintain good relationships with them (for future references and networking, as well as because of the fact that people sometimes pop up later in your work life in ways you don’t expect).

4. My wife had an affair with her manager

My wife is a server at a restaurant, which I would say it’s a pretty big name to in California. I recently found out that she was having an affair with a manager that lasted 6 months. I actually asked him to leave the restaurant before I went to tell their Human Resources that he was having sex with my wife, because they have rules against sleeping with employees, but he felt that I was menacing him and went and told HR himself. All I wanted is for my wife to be able to go back to work and be able to provide for herself and our kids. Because of this situation, she demoted herself to working during the day, because she not comfortable working around him. If their number one rule for managers is not to sleep with employees, shouldn’t they transfer him or fire him for breaking the rules?

They should take some sort of disciplinary action, yes, but that doesn’t always mean firing or transferring someone. It’s entirely possible that he was disciplined but you’re not aware of it (since that’s not information they should be sharing). Regardless, though, focusing on what happens with this guy isn’t really your concern; your relationship with your wife is, and that’s where you should be focusing. (And I’m sorry.)

5. I can’t get my application released for a different role

I applied to teach in a school district that I’ve previously worked for, since I’m moving back to the area. I was well liked and had a strong record of improving student achievement. During my phone screen, the talent recruiter asked if I might be interested in joining the talent recruitment team. She convinced me to apply. I had 4 interviews that went well and was told by the superintendent that I was their choice. I sent thank-you notes and they asked for my references (who I’ve used in the past and had no problems with).

Three weeks have passed, and I’ve sent 3 follow-up emails, which have all been ignored. I assume they chose another candidate, but the problem is they are talent recruitment and I can only get placed in a teaching job through them. I can’t apply for other positions in the district because my original teaching application was pulled for the recruiter position. I very kindly emailed the recruiter to let him know that I understood if they choose another candidate but needed a response or for them to release my application, but they just keep ignoring my emails! I’m really stuck – what should I do?

How frustrating. I’m not a fan of calling rather than emailing when checking on an application, but in this case, calling might be a more direct way of solving this. Call, and leave a message if you don’t get a live person. Your message should not talk about the status of your application for this job (since they’ve apparently decided to ignore those queries) but instead says something like, “I’m very interested in being considered for a teaching role, and hoped you could help me get my application for a talent role back into consideration for teaching.” If you get get ahold of your contact there and she doesn’t return your calls, then see if you can get a live person elsewhere in that department and explain the problem you’re having.

Alternately, if none of that works: You used to work in this school district, so presumably you still have contacts there. Is one of them well-positioned to intervene in this BS for you? That might be a more effective route if they continue being unresponsive.

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

1. I’m interviewing for a job working with a company that fired me for complaining on Facebook five years ago — should I mention it?

Five years ago, I was fired from a very good job as a project manager for a major airline. I had been venting about the frustrations of my job on Facebook and a coworker printed the posts and handed them to our boss. I learned a huge lesson from that and don’t post anything work-related on Facebook anymore.

I have a new job opportunity with a different company in the aviation industry. This new position would be an on-site account executive with the same airline that fired me, which is a customer of the company I’m applying with. The hardest question to deal with in a job interview is why you left your last position. Now that it’s been five years since that incident, the question doesn’t come up. Should I volunteer this information since this position is on-site with this airline? I would hate for a previous coworker to see me out there and the information to leak out that way.

If it’s likely that you’ll be working in the same area as people will know you from before, or that you’ll cross paths with them, I’d seriously consider whether this is really the right job for you. If it turns out they don’t want you on the account (and I wouldn’t be thrilled about having an account rep who I’d fired for publicly badmouthing my company a few years ago), you could end up getting fired — which is far worse than just not getting the job to begin with. This position is working directly with a company you’re not really eligible to work with anymore, so it really might not be a role you should be going after. (That said, airlines are big and it’s possible this wouldn’t come up; you’d probably have a better sense of that than I do. But even then, I still think you’d need to disclose it and let the new company make that call.)

2. I work for my parents’ business and am frustrated by a coworker’s constant complaining

I recently started working for the company that my parents own. It’s a small business with about 25 employees. My office is right near the reception area, and I can hear everything that goes on in the common area. Last week, I overheard some issues being discussed during a meeting of about 15 people, including 2 brand new employees. While I was not involved in the meeting, I could hear everything being said. One employee was constantly complaining and making negative remarks about management during the meeting. While some (not all) of the issues he brought up were true, it was not relevant to what the meeting was about. Additionally, no one from the management team was at the meeting to correct him. I felt it was creating a very negative work environment, which is especially bad with the two new employees.

After I overheard this, I went to my parents to see how they wanted to handle it. The employee was talked to about his negative complaining in the meeting. He was not told who brought it to their attention.

The next day, I was working on a project with the same employee. He started complaining and making comments about something else having to do with management. He told me that I “better not repeat what I’d heard” from him because he had just gotten in trouble for this behavior. It made me uncomfortable, but I did let it go. Ever since, I can still hear him talking in the common area to other employees complaining and being negative. It really drives me nuts, and I feel it is really making our work environment negative. Any thoughts on how to handle it?

You could talk to him directly and tell him that his regular complaining is creating an unpleasant environment, and suggest that he talk about his concerns to someone in a position to do something about them. And/or you could talk to his manager (who may or may not be your parents) about your concerns; I’d sure want to know someone who worked for me was spewing that much negativity. You could also ask your parents how they want you to handle situations like this in general, without getting into the specifics about this guy. If they want to hear stuff like this from you, you’ll want to think through the ramifications of that for your role and your relationships with people — it will definitely change those dynamics, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you’d want to be realistic about those outcomes.

3. Pitching telecommuting after I move

I’m moving cross-country at the end of the year to be closer to friends and a larger LGBT community; I’m fairly isolated in my current city and it isn’t especially gay-friendly. I’ve started to look for a job in the city I’m moving to, but I’d like to keep my current job if I can. Everything about it is perfect–manager, work, company, benefits–the only problem is that I can’t take the city anymore. I’ve worked there for two years and have had excellent reviews.

Three of my coworkers in similar roles work remotely, but their reasons for moving from the city had to do with family or marriage. I feel as if my reasons won’t be seen as serious enough, especially since I’m young and single. I want to discuss this with my manager when I’m closer to the move date, but I don’t know how to pitch working remotely in a way that will be seen as a win/win. Can you help?

Well, if you’re planning to make the move regardless, you don’t really need to convince them that your reasons are “good enough.” Your pitch should be “I’ve decided to move to ___ in June, and I’d love to continue working for ___. Here’s my proposal for how to make that work.”

If asked about your reasons, you can certainly explain them, but this should be about the business case for keeping you on as a telecommuter, not what’s drawing you to the new city in the first place. Good luck!

4. Can your resume list new skills you’re in the process of learning?

My question involves taking time to learn new skills on your resume. I know trying to improve is always a good thing, but how would you go about showing that on the resume? For example, I’m learning Python (a programming language) on my own free time but hopefully should be more proficient soon. I know I’ve mentioned on cover letters how I’ve spent time trying to stay sharp while job hunting.

It’s fine to put something “learning Python” in your Skills section.

5. Is this too much information for a cover letter?

My husband and I are looking to relocate out of state this fall to be closer to family and friends. While I was keeping an eye on the local paper in the area we would like to move to, I came across an accounts manager position that I thought might work well for my husband (who has an economics degree), but upon inspection of the company, I discovered it to be an ingredients supplier for nutritional supplements, which is right up my alley because my professional and personal life has surrounded health and wellness in dietetics and physical fitness.

Anyway, I’m thinking of forming this into my opening for my cover letter. But is the idea that I had originally had interest in the position for my husband cross the line from conversational to over-share?

Yes. Not over-sharing in the TMI sense, but in the “just not really relevant” sense. You should absolutely talk about why the position appeals to you, both personally and professionally, but the fact that you originally started looking at it for your husband doesn’t add anything relevant or important to the point you’re making to the employer and so shouldn’t be included.

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