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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can you be a good manager if you’re shy?

by Ask a Manager on April 18, 2014

This was originally published on August 24, 2010.

A reader writes:

I’m shy. Sometimes people misinterpret this as aloofness or snobbery. Being outgoing and making friends with everyone I meet has never been a part of my personality. I just have a hard time making casual conversation (which is necessary for good relationships with coworkers), and I have a hard time in difficult/important professional conversations (which are necessary for good relationships with supervisors, AVPs, and troublesome clients). When it comes to work issues, I have plenty to talk about. When it comes to interacting with our clients it’s also not a big deal–it is strange, but it feels like when I’m at work I put on my work hat. With my “work hat” on, I don’t even stress about the interactions it just happens. But once I’m put into a more relaxed, social situation, I quickly run out of things to say….(at work anyways, with personal friends, this is not an issue).

At the same time, being shy has given me great strengths–I’m a fantastic listener, great attention to detail, I’m very focused, and great at observing other professional/political relationships and seeing where tensions and compromises exist.

What I’m wondering is, do you think that “shy” managers can succeed? To succeed do they need to totally overcome their shyness? Or do you think there is a way that I can work on the weaknesses pointed out above, and emphasize the strengths shyness has given me? I was asked ‘where I want to go within the organization’ after just 6 months of constant praise, and zipping through training that was supposed to take a whole year. I’ve already come a long way here, in my first professional job out of college–although I should add that I’m a late-twenties grad and I had 3 years of part-time experience as a student worker. My supervisor told me that she and her bosses recognize my potential and success, and they want to start molding and mentoring me for either mangement, or a higher technical/professional position, depending on my interests. I’m excited, surprised, and scared!! I’d love to try for management, I’d love to take on the challenege, but I’m concerned that my shyness would interfere with my ability to be successful.

This is a great question.

I don’t think that shyness and being a good manager are mutually exclusive, as long as the shyness isn’t cripplingly strong.

You say that you’re generally comfortable with interaction as long as it’s “work,” but once it’s a social situation, you get more shy. I think that’s workable — although you should be very sensitive to the fact that your employees might interpret your shyness in social situation as aloofness, and you should think about whether you can say/do things to counteract it. But in general, I think most employees care a lot more about whether their manager is fair, effective, and transparent than whether she comes to happy hour.

That’s not to say that forming personal bonds doesn’t help. But I think you’ll find you form personal bonds through the act of working closely with people regardless, even if you never talk about life outside work. And frankly, most people respect their boss more when she keeps a clear boundary up between work and non-work anyway.

The one thing you wrote that potentially worries me is that you have trouble in difficult or important professional conversations. There are a ton of these sorts of conversations as a manager — talking to someone about performance concerns, firing someone, responding to someone’s request for a raise, giving feedback in general, delivering the news that a project hasn’t been approved, and just generally being assertive about various needs. It’s crucial to be able to do these conversations well, and they’re ones that you don’t want to hide behind email for.

However, everyone feels weird when they’re first on the manager side of these conversations. Almost no one feels comfortable with them right off the bat; I think it takes most new managers close to a year to stop feeling weird about them, so you shouldn’t assume that your discomfort at this prospect signals that you’d never be good at it.

But you do want to think really realistically about whether this is something you can see yourself getting comfortable with over time. You might surprise yourself that you’re able to handle these just fine when your “work hat” is on. (Also, it’s worth noting that these types of conversations are all about being effective and getting results, which I suspect is a motivator for you — so maybe seeing them through that lens would help.) However, if you would dread these conversations, put them off, and suck at them when you finally had them — even after practice — management might not be the right direction. Because you do need to have those conversations, and if you put them off, you’ll do your staff a disservice.

I don’t know how successfully you can predict how you’d handle these sorts of conversations until you’re actually in the role, so one possibility would be to ease yourself in slowly, by starting out managing an intern or leading a team on a project, and see how that goes.

It would also be ideal if you were able to find a mentor to talk over these sorts of conversations with — how do you do them, what do they sound like — and even practice them out loud with. And since your managers sound so supportive, it might be worth talking over these issues with them too.

By the way, the strengths you described are very important ones — being perceptive about other people is a huge advantage as a manager. And so is self-awareness, which you clearly have.

P.S. I’m not shy, but I’m definitely introverted and I’ve found that managing has made me more comfortable talking to strangers and dealing with unfamiliar social situations. Being forced to interview countless strangers and have countless awkward managerial conversations has left me feeling comfortable talking to pretty much anyone about anything at this point, which was not the case a decade ago. So there’s something to be said for just jumping in and forcing yourself to swim, if you don’t think doing so will cause you or your future managees significant pain.

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open thread – April 18, 2014

by Ask a Manager on April 18, 2014

olive smallIt’s the Friday open thread!

The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything 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.

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

1. My employees say another employee slacks off when I’m not around

I supervise three people (all at least 20+ years older then me; I received this promotion due to very odd circumstances). All of them are great, and wonderful workers. However, I am starting to hear more and more gossip. The two women who work the front are telling me that whenever I am out, either on vacation or working in another department, the woman who works in the back doesn’t do anything. They say that she works on her side business, makes personal calls, and goes off to run errands on the clock. However, I have no other way to vouch for this other then the word of the two women at the front, who do not like her.

I’m having a hard time trying to figure out if they are telling me the truth or if they’re trying to get this woman in trouble because they don’t like her.

Find ways to observe it for yourself. Since the allegation is that she’s doing this when she you’re not around, make a point of coming in in when you’re supposed to be somewhere else. There’s no reason you can’t say you’ll be out of the office for the afternoon or working in a different department and then pop in unexpectedly. Do it a few times, and you’ll probably get a better sense of whether there’s anything to this. And if you have any peers who are in a position to see this if it’s happening when you’re not around, discreetly talk to them too. You might even be able to enlist them in these spot checks when you’re not around. (Make sure that these are other managers who will handle this discreetly themselves.)

And if it turns out that you have staff members are who lying to you to get someone else in trouble, you have a big problem to deal with.

2. Can I mention an impressive job I was recruited for but didn’t get?

I have a terminal graduate degree, stumbled into teaching high school kind of by accident, and found I absolutely love working with teenagers (I know, I was surprised too). Fast forward a few years, and I’m leaving public secondary education because the system has just gotten too awful– insane workload, no resources or materials, salary cuts, no salary compensation for advance degree, no legal protection or job stability, etc.

I would like to move on to a more administrative/organizational position within something education-related (although not in the public school system) and am actively applying for jobs that loosely fall under the “community organizer” category.

I was recently approached by a departmental dean of a well-respected university to see if I would be interested in being director of one of their summer programs. I was recommended by the outgoing director, who is someone I’ve worked with for years in multiple different capacities (and I’ve taught at the summer program in question as well). I ended up losing out on the position to an internal candidate, but was really honored that they even asked me, considering I’m young (in my 20s), very barely qualified, and currently don’t have any official organizer experience– it shows a lot of faith in my abilities from the outgoing director.

When I (hopefully) get interviews for community organizer-ish jobs that require skill sets directly related to those of the summer program directorship, should I mention that I was approached for this job, even though I didn’t get it? On one hand, I think that saying “Hey, University X thinks I’m awesome enough to run this program, even though I’m only [20something]” could reflect well on me, but on the other, it seems iffy to bring up any failures in a job interview.

It’s possible that you could drop it into the conversation in an interview if you could find a way to do it naturally, but it would have to be done exactly right. You don’t want to sound like you think it’s more impressive than it is — because ultimately, they didn’t select you do it, and as far as your interview will know, it’s possible that the reason they didn’t hire you because they realized upon closer examination that they’d been wrong to encourage you to apply. So if you mention it, it has to be a true aside; it can’t sound like something you’re putting a lot of weight on. And once we’re at that point with it, it’s almost not worth mentioning at all. (Plus, I’m not convinced it would be a huge help anyway. Presumably once they’re interviewing you, they have much stronger reasons to be interested in you.)

3. My performance review keeps getting delayed

I am a young professional, and I started my first full-time permanent position last July, in a small consulting office. My initial 1-month review went well, and the principals of the firm indicated that they would most likely roll my 6-month review into the year-end performance reviews that normally occur in January. They mentioned mid-February that they would schedule them by the end of that month, and it’s now April and reviews have still not been scheduled. I understand that schedules get busy, especially as we had a conference to prepare for in January, and our busy season starts in April, but I am looking for a way to tactfully raise the issue, as I would like to get feedback and discuss becoming licensed in my field, as I have already started the process with their knowledge/approval. I don’t want come off as pushy, but how do it bring this up?

It’s not pushy to ask about this; it’s just appropriately assertive. Say something like, “We’d talked about rolling my 6-month review into the January reviews but we didn’t end up doing it. I’d really like the chance to step back and reflect with you on how things are going. Could we plan to do it sometime soon?” (Also, keep in mind that what you really want here is feedback; it’s not essential that it be in the form of a formal evaluation, so if it looks like there will be further delay, just sit down with your manager for a less formal discussion of how things are going.

4. Helping a manager with hair loss from cancer

My manager (a senior exec) is battling cancer, and she is losing her hair. She’s normally very tough and resilient, but I can tell that losing her hair is really bothering her and making her self conscious. Since her hair has started falling out, she styles it differently to cover the bald spots. When she talks to people, she frequently pats her head and smoothes her hair as if to make sure everything is still in place. She normally does not fidget with her appearance. I have noticed some people have stopped making eye contact once she starts fiddling with her hair. A couple of people have commented to me that they have a hard time seeing her and conducting business as usual while she appears to be suffering (with the chemo pack on, losing hair, thin frame with very loose clothing). Is there anything I can do or say to help?

Well, you can point out to your coworkers who find it hard to see the outwards signs of cancer treatment that it’s significantly harder for your manager to, um, be the one with cancer, and that the best thing all of you can do for her right not is to get awkward or weird around her or treat her like The Cancer Patient.

5. How can I explain an 18-month internship?

Like many recent graduates, I got stuck in the internship grind – I was at my last internship for 18 months. When I started in my senior year of college, I was told that the company liked to hire interns and I had many coworkers who had been hired from internships. After graduation, my supervisors reassured me that I was doing great work (I was there full time doing the same work as regular employees) and they hoped a position would open up for me soon. Fast forward 7 months, and I had been passed over for 2 positions in my department for external candidates. I know that an internship is no obligation of employment, but after all the encouragement I had received, I was feeling pretty humiliated and embarrassed and could no longer pay my bills on an intern’s paycheck. I was reassured by my supervisors (who weren’t doing the hiring), and even by those who were doing the hiring, that it was nothing wrong with my performance or attitude that had caused this.

How do I explain this to potential employers without coming off like a naive millenial? My experience at this company is getting me interviews, but I suspect that length of time I spent there without being hired is coming up a red flag.

I actually wouldn’t assume it’s a red flag at all. It’s not particularly shocking to spend 18 months in an internship; in fact, the fact that it wasn’t a shorter time can help you; you’ll look like you got deeper experience than if you were in and out in, say, five months. Keep in mind that to hiring managers, 18 months isn’t a long time at all; in fact for a non-internship job, that would be a fairly short stay. (Plus, they’re not going to know the details of whether this was paid, unpaid, terribly paid, or what.) So I wouldn’t worry about this at all.

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You sit down with your manager to discuss your work performance – and end up fundamentally disagreeing with her feedback to you. How can you respond and state your case without seeming argumentative or even insubordinate?

At Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog, I talk about four key steps to responding to feedback that you disagree with. You can read it here.

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the winner of the hiring advice contest is…

by Ask a Manager on April 17, 2014

In response to this week’s call to share what you wish you knew before you started hiring people (or what you wish hiring managers knew), you all created a huge compendium of fantastic, real-world hiring advice. It’s a seriously amazing resource that anyone who wants to be better at hiring should read through.

I had a heck of a time choosing one winner out of so many excellent contributions, but the $150 Amazon gift card provided by IT recruiting and staffing firm Modis goes to … Elysian. Here’s the winning entry:

I think that the difficulty for hiring managers come in two parts: (1) knowing what you want or need from a candidate and (2) knowing how to test for those qualities. Some people in charge of hiring might be good at one or the other, but not at both. I think it takes both to make a really good hire.

Some places just don’t know the kind of person that they need, and it’s no surprise that they can’t find that person. Maybe Jane leaves, and they want someone to fill Jane’s job, but don’t fully understand how Jane did what she did. Or they have a generic position title – “Social Media Specialist” – and a vague job description, but don’t really know what it takes to succeed in that role. On the other hand, maybe they know they need someone to be a good assistant and they know what the person needs to do, but get caught up in academic credentials (which don’t really demonstrate any skills).

I had a similar problem when I was a teacher – I might know what I wanted my students to learn, but had trouble isolating that skill in an exam (for example, math word problems test both reading and math skills, so its hard to know which one the student struggles with if they don’t succeed at the word problem). Or, I might be set with the evaluation (like a standardized test), but don’t really know what skills the students are supposed to learn (thus, I could be stuck ‘teaching to the test’).

Before people hire, I wish they would give serious thought to each of these two things. What should the great candidate be able to do? How can I target the interview for those skills? I think it would save everyone a lot of grief.

I love how this highlights the need to really think rigorously not just about what you need in a new hire, but how you’re going to know if you’ve found it or not.

(And I actually want to share a cool example of how to structure your thinking around this. This is a sample hiring plan that provides a great template for outlining your must-have and nice-to-have skills and how you’ll test for each one, as well as what a hiring process might look like from start to finish. It’ll download in Word.)

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We hear a lot of bizarre workplace stories here – from the boss who kept stealing people’s lunches to the receptionist who wouldn’t stop hugging people. But these are outliers; chances are good that you’re going to go your whole career without encountering them. What you almost certainly will encounter are the more typical obstacles that people hit in their work lives, like having the boss who always championed you resign, or receiving a bad performance review, or being overworked to the point of burn-out. And those are the issues you need to know how to tackle – probably more than you need to know how to hide your lunch from a hungry boss.

At the DailyWorth, I take  a look at eight of the most common problems people face at work and what you can do about them. You can read it here.

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now managers are calling millennials’ parents

by Ask a Manager on April 17, 2014

Harvard Business Review is claiming that some companies are now calling their millennial employees’ parents to report on their job performance … and that their employees actually like this, rather than telling their companies to back the hell out of their personal lives.

I … am just going to refuse to believe this is true. I know plenty of 20somethings and we have plenty of them as readers and commenters here. They appear to be pretty much like the rest of us where this kind boundary is concerned (and where most other things are concerned too, adjusted at times for age/experience level). I cannot imagine they want their parents getting calls from their managers, so I can only assume that this is an elaborate hoax that someone is perpetrating on the good people of HBR.

Here’s an excerpt:

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi revealed that she often writes letters to her direct reports’ parents to thank them for “the gift” of their children. Some of those parents even write back. (PERHAPS TO SAY, “YOU HIRED AN ADULT, SO PLEASE TALK DIRECTLY TO HER.”) Nooyi said her gesture has opened up new and intimate lines of communication not only with the parents, but also with her top employees. (I CAN THINK OF AN INTIMATE LINE OF COMMUNICATION I WOULD DELIVER IF I WERE ONE OF THESE EMPLOYEES, IF BY “INTIMATE” WE MEAN “PROFANE.”)

“And it opened up emotions of the kind I have never seen,” Nooyi told Fortune. “Parents wrote back to me, and all of a sudden, parents of my direct reports, who are all quite grown-up, and myself, we had our own communication.

… Nooyi also admitted that she has called the parents of potential hires, urging them to convince their children to accept a job with PepsiCo. She recalled trying to recruit a high-potential candidate who had an offer from another company. In order to gain some leverage, Nooyi called the candidate’s mother and explained why her son should take the PepsiCo offer. When he found out the CEO of PepsiCo had called his mom, he took the job.

Is Nooyi demonstrating the new best practice for recruiting top talent? Is this a caring gesture by a top business leader, or a creepy intrusion into the private lives of her employees? Does it cross a line between work life and personal life? (ANSWERS: NO, CREEPY INTRUSION, YES.)

PepsiCo is not the only big employer to reconfigure its relationship with millennial employees to include more interaction with parents. … These companies recognize that Millennials, and the generations that follow them, have a different perspective on their careers and the role their parents play. They also realize they can make powerful, personal connections with their employees when they encourage parents to be proud of their kids’ accomplishments.

What. The. Hell.

My brain has exploded and is in small pieces on my keyboard. (And yet, I will piece it back together without anyone needing to notify my mom.)

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

1. Can I ask my boss to move his vacation days during our busy period?

I work in university administration, and my boss is at the “use it or lose it” stage of his vacation time, so he will often take four-day weekends to use up the days. No problem. This time, however, the Monday of his four-day weekend coincides with the busiest week of the semester for us – for about seven straight workdays, my boss and I are in back-to-back meetings with nine different students each for 4.5 hours, with the remaining 2.5 hours theoretically allowing time to prep for the next day’s appointments. But by him taking off on one of these days, it essentially wipes nine open appointment times off the calendar, making an already frantic week extra frantic and increasingly stressful.

Keeping in mind that my boss takes offense easily and that presumably our business manager approved his time off, is it even worth me asking if he’d be willing to come in to work that Monday and move take off Thursday and Friday instead of Friday and Monday? And if so, how should I approach that conversation? If he were in the office that day, my stress level would be significantly decreased (and so would my resentment at him purposefully taking off a day that he knew would be busy).

“Looking at our calendar for that week, we have so many student appointments crammed in that I’m worried about losing two days of them. It’s going to mean we’ll have to move that appointments to the other days, making them more packed. I realize you might have plans that make this impossible, but I wonder if there’s any way to take your vacation days on Thursday and Friday instead of Friday and Monday?”

A reasonable manager wouldn’t have any issue hearing that. (Of course, a reasonable manager also would have looked at the calendar and figured this out on his own.) But you say that yours takes offense easily, so you might have to decide whether trying to get this fixed is worth dealing with his misplaced offense-taking.

2. I’m being laid off and don’t want a goodbye lunch

I was recently laid off, and my last day is on April 30th. My manager asked me if I want to go to lunch with the department. I feel weird about it because it’s like celebrating my termination. Also, my position is being eliminated but they are hiring a manager to replace me.

I would want to go to lunch but not with the whole department — maybe with just a few people. How do I politely decline the invitation or how do I let her know that I would only want to go with some people (like those I work with every day and have become my friends)?

How about: “Thanks for offering. I don’t think I’m up for a department-wide lunch, but I appreciate you suggesting it!”

Or: “Thanks for offering. I don’t think I’m up for a department-wide lunch, but I might ask Percival, Lucinda, and Zeus to join me for lunch that day, since I’ve worked with them most closely.”

3. I’m interviewing someone I used to work for — in a situation that ended in legal action

From 2006-2008, I moonlighted as a part-time lecturer at a local university. I was not considered a regular employee, but an independent contractor. So, my wages were not directly deposited into my account, but I had to fill in a weekly time sheet. Payroll consistently lost or failed to process my timesheets, and my pay was consistently late, sometimes by months. Our head of department, my boss, simply really did not want to get involved in the matter.

So I had to deal with the late payment problem myself. I must admit after 2.5 years of struggling to get paid, and a paycheck not showing up for Christmas, that I told her that as an independent contractor, I would need some sort of deposit for teaching future classes, with final payment after the grades were turned in. She basically said she could not do that, and that I was not to teach for the university any more. So I turned in my final grades and left. She subsequently emailed me and said she was personally sorry that I was having so many troubles with payroll but that she could do nothing about it. (Yes, I still have these emails). I ended up having to take the university payroll department to small claims court to get my last paycheck and they settled out of court, also having to give me a late payment penalty. The payroll manager ended up eventually getting fired. The head of the department stayed at the university.

So, 5.5 years on, I am now a permanent professor at another university, and I have been placed on an interview panel for a pro vice chancellor position. We are interviewing four candidates, and I found out that my former head of department is one of the candidates. She would be my boss’s boss. As my last name has changed since my part-time position, I suspect she will not realise I am on the interview panel. Should I tell the upper admin on the panel of my experience with this candidate, or just keep my mouth shut, be professional at the interview and see what transpires?

When making hiring decisions, I always want as much information as possible; I don’t want someone deciding for me that something is irrelevant or wouldn’t be worth me hearing. I’d prefer to make that call myself — and if I agree that it’s irrelevant or not helpful, I can discard it. Moreover, in a case where you had direct experience working for her, it would be really weird not to mention that fact that to your other interviewers. (Whether or not they will listen to you is a different matter, since academic hiring is often ridiculously rigid about what will and won’t be considered.)

I’d say something like this: “I worked for Jane for two years as a contract lecturer. My experience working with her was ___.”(Fill in the good and the bad — not just the pay situation, but all of it.)

Also, it’s possible that your pay situation really was out of her hands, which can often be the case in large bureaucracies. But it sounds like her manner of dealing with you left something to be desired, and that’s relevant information here.

4. Employer asked me to be an “alternate finalist”

I just had an interview via Skype that was the second round in a three-round process. The interview didn’t go great and I wasn’t surprised to find out that I wasn’t a finalist. I was surprised when they asked me to be an “alternate finalist” in case another finalist didn’t work out. My feeling is that this would be a waste of my time… They already decided they didn’t think I was a good fit, so why would I continue the process? But, I’m having trouble with how to gracefully say no to this offer. I start with, “I appreciate the opportunity… ” but am unsure how to complete that sentence.

Is this a common practice? Am I looking at this incorrectly and should accept? If I turn them down, how would you word it?

The only part of this that’s weird is the “alternate finalist” thing. Employers often have alternate finalists, but they don’t tell them that they’re alternate finalists. They just don’t invite them to final interviews unless they end up needing to. So it’s a little unusual that they’re announcing it to you (although on the other hand, some people might appreciate the transparency).

But I wouldn’t assume it’s a waste of your time at all. Employers often have multiple good candidates who they’d be happy to hire but only one slot — so they end up rejecting (or even not interviewing) plenty of well-qualified people. That’s not an insult to those people they don’t interview or hire; it’s just a matter of math. And I’ve certainly hired people who were at one point my second or third or even fourth choice — because other candidates turned down offers or ended up not being as strong as I’d originally thought they were, and/or because those runner-ups proved themselves stronger over the course of more conversations.

You wouldn’t still be in the running at all if they didn’t think you could do the job well, so you shouldn’t turn it down because you’re insulted or think it’s a lost cause.

5. Listing a degree I don’t have for another month

I will graduate next month. Can list that I have my bachelor’s now on my resume?

No, because you don’t. List it this way instead:

University Name, Degree Name (expected May 2014)

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Remember the letter-writer wondering about how to talk to coworkers who were planning Halloween costumes that included blackface and other racist tropes? (You probably do, because it was the most commented-on post of last year.) Here’s her update.

I read through everyone’s advice and decided to speak to the office manager about my concerns and suggest that perhaps she make a small announcement regarding costumes, since it seemed that many people were just unaware of what is considered inappropriate. She actually shared with me that they were already considering asking people not to come to work in costume because of a few issues with very revealing costumes the previous year. She was glad that I felt comfortable enough to share my concerns with her and said she would look into it.

The firm actually ended up banning costumes in the office, instead of making a long list of announcements regarding what is and what isn’t allowed. This also extended to a cancellation of the office Halloween party. They did encourage people to be festive if they wanted to (themed earrings, make-up, clothes, etc.) So a few people did cat makeup or doll makeup, wore festive ties/pumpkin sweaters, etc. but were dressed in business or business casual attire.

A few of us had a happy hour after work in lieu of the party, and all was well! I was really relieved that no one was really upset about the change and that I wasn’t the only one with costume concerns.

I want to thank all of your readers for their input! It was certainly an interesting discussion and I was very grateful for the guidance.

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