my boss reminds me to do basic tasks, should I stand up when my manager comes to my desk, and more

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

1. My boss keeps reminding me to do basic tasks

My boss constantly reminds me of things I already know how to do. These are VERY basic tasks required of someone in my position. Early on, I would respond to these “helpful” “reminders” with something to the effect of “got it” or “yes, I know.” A few weeks later, it’s the exact same reminder, or something similar, so the fact that I already know how to do X or Y clearly isn’t registering. I’ve taken to just ignoring it every time he does this, but honestly, it sticks in my craw. My reviews have been uniformly excellent, and I’ve been told multiple times that I outperform everyone who held my position before me. I know he doesn’t think I’m incompetent, and he’s a very genial man, but the constant “reminders” feel infantilizing. For what it’s worth, I’m a woman in my mid-30s who’s been in this field for nine years and working under this particular boss for three; my boss is a man in his mid-late 60s. I’m one of two direct reports. The other is a man the same age as him; as far as I know, he doesn’t get the same “reminders.”

Honestly, I don’t think my boss even realizes A) that he does this quite so often or B) that it’s insulting. Is there a polite way to frame “Is there a particular reason you don’t seem to think I can handle my shit?” or should I just grit my teeth and let this one go?

Say something! It’s perfectly reasonable to say something like, “You’ve been reminding me recently to do some of the core tasks of my position, like X and Y. Have I done something to make you worry that I’m not on top of those things?”

There’s a decent chance that that conversation will get this to stop. But if it doesn’t, and he keeps doing it, then sit down with him and say this: “It’s important to me that you’re able to trust that I’m top of core tasks like X and Y. When you remind me about them, it comes across as if you don’t. Is there a way for us to assume that I’ve got this stuff covered, unless something specific comes up that makes you worry I don’t?”

2. Should you stand up when your boss comes to your desk to talk to you?

Small random question about office etiquette. When you’re sitting at your desk and your boss comes over to talk to you, should you stand up? Obviously it’s better to be on the same level for longer conversations, but you don’t always know how long something is going to last. I do stand usually because its awkward to have somebody hovering over me, but I also worry that I’m acting overly deferential and generally feel awkward either way. I’ve also noticed that some managers will just pull up a free chair if they want to talk about some substantial, but others just seem to loom.

I may be overthinking this, but its one of those things I feel awkward about whatever I do. I’m also one of the most junior people in the office, if that matters.

No need to stand up — and popping up when your boss shows up to ask you a quick question would probably, as you worry, a tad too deferential. It’s fine to remain seated. If the conversation starts going on for a while and you feel weird about it, you could say, “I could pull a chair over here if you’d like.”

3. Can I ask for a retroactive raise after leaving my job?

I have a question where I think the short answer is that I’m a little screwed, but as an avid reader I’d love your take. I recently left my job after about three years. This was partly because I found a great job that I love, but also because my past company hasn’t given raises in years, even for high performers, and didn’t have any plan to start. I left about a month ago.

Since I left, they announced that they’d be giving cost-of-living increases retroactive from the beginning of 2018, and performance raises for 2017 performance. I feel like this is a definite “no,” since the purpose of raises is to retain talent, but do I have any standing to go back and say “hi, I’d like my retroactive raise now?”

To add a smidge of additional context, I have one friend whose last day was the day this policy was announced, and he was told that he would receive his retroactive raise and bonus (the policy also includes bonuses for 2017 performance, along with the raises).

You’re out of luck on this one, unfortunately. You don’t work there anymore, so it would be very, very unusual for them to entertain this request. There’s just no incentive for them to pay additional money to someone who no longer works there. You might be thinking that there wasn’t a real incentive for them to do that for someone on their last day either — but it’s likely that they’re using an “everyone currently working here is eligible” rule and he got lucky with his timing.

4. My manager wants me to track down past program participants on Facebook

I work with a nonprofit organization that offers services both online and occasionally at in-person events. In the past, we’ve had some people who engaged with us and shared their stories for our website and other materials. At the time, we captured their email addresses and in some cases phone numbers.

Our work does not require ongoing intervention or outreach, but we do occasionally reach out to past participants to get updates and so forth. As time has passed, some of them have clearly changed their contact information, and what we have on file is no longer valid. Our supervisor is disturbed by this and wants us to use Facebook to try to locate these past participants in our programs.

I’m deeply concerned that this crosses a line as far as their privacy, and think that if they wanted to remain in touch with us, they would have updated their contact information with our organization and remained on our email lists. If they have not, and/or they don’t return our messages, I think we need to respect that, especially given that there’s not an urgent need to contact them. But our supervisor insists that it’s not acceptable to have “lost contact” with anyone and that locating them through Facebook and using that to message them is an ethical thing to do.

What do you think? Am I being too sensitive? Is it really okay for organizations to try to locate past clients on social media?

It’s not a horrendous ethical breach, but it’s going to come across as … overzealous. The exception to that is if there’s some specific context that makes it make sense, like “I’m so sorry to track you down this way, but Oprah is interested in producing a movie based on the story you shared on our website and I wanted to gauge your level of interest.” But if it’s anything remotely close to “we want to send you email updates,” you should just let people move on. (Similarly, if you’re doing it for everyone in your database systematically, it’s weird. If you’re just doing it individually when something specific comes up that you want to contact one individual person about, it’s less weird.)

5. Will my old job care that I’m still in the city I said I was leaving?

I got a new job and I am moving from City A to City B. My old boss was two steps above toxic and City B is my hometown where I will rejoin family and friends. I am doing what is best for me.

New Job said I could start off in City A for a month and then transition to City B. This was helpful so I could work out my notice period, take a break, start my new job, and then move. It helped space out the process.

I have been leading people at Old Job to believe I am starting in City B right away. I was doing this so I wouldn’t be pressured to extend my notice period. It was also a way to have less to explain – “Moving to City B, BYE!”

But now I am wondering if this will get back to Old Job. We all work in the same industry. I am indeed ultimately transferring to City B. But I am wondering about what people might say when they find out that I am still in City A. How bad is this? Or is it none of their business? I don’t know what I might say if confronted. I guess I could say this came up later in the process and didn’t feel comfortable sharing details about New Job.

It’s not really any of their business, but if anyone directly asks you about it, you can just say something like, “Yeah, the schedule got changed around a little.” That’s it — you don’t need to get into any detail beyond that.

people keep sending me job postings that are way below my skill level

A reader writes:

I work in a director level position at a medium-sized nonprofit (not sure if my field is relevant to this question). Often times, I will receive emails and calls directly from friends and former colleagues with open positions in my area, or recruiters will contact me having been given my information from former colleagues. My problem is, the positions people are referring me for are either below my current level (think coordinator or low-level manager jobs) or are part-time jobs geared towards someone supported by another family member (I live in a very expensive area where even with a full-time job people have trouble making ends meet).

Is this normal for people to refer others for jobs that are lower than their current working level, or am I putting something out there that makes people not understand I work at a director level position, have the skills to be a director level position, and wish to continue at my current level? And how do I respond to these messages? I have been saying, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I love my current job and have no plans to leave in the immediate future” (which is true!), but is there a non-condescending way to say “Hey, I am more skilled than this position, please only send me job openings that are of a certain level?”

It’s totally normal. And yeah, it can be annoying and can make you wonder if your friends and former colleagues have totally missed what it is that you do, or if they think you’re at a far lower professional level than you’re at. In reality, though, people just never pay as much attention to other people’s jobs as they do to their own, and they’re just missing the details (both of your current job and of the jobs they’re suggesting to you). They see something involving teapots and they think “Hey, Jane works with teapots!” and so they send it to you, even though it’s for a teapot assistant job and you’re a teapot director. Or they’re not very good at parsing job ads and don’t even quite realize what the jobs they’re sending you are all about.

It can seem even weirder when it comes to recruiters, because you’d expect them to actually know what jobs would and wouldn’t be appropriate for you — but it’s common with them too because lots of recruiters take a scattershot approach to pairing people up with jobs. Some recruiter jobs (not all of them) are all about volume, and they figure that the more people they connect with, the more their chances of making what’s essentially a sale go up (because those types of recruiter jobs are sales jobs).

In most cases, it doesn’t make sense to try to get people to refine the postings they’re sending you — most people are only casually interested and aren’t likely to retain the details of nuance of what you would and wouldn’t consider applying for (with possible exceptions for people you’re very close to, like a best friend or spouse, who you can reasonably expect to pay attention to the details). If someone sends you something truly ridiculous, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Thanks for thinking of me, but this is an entry level admin role and I’d be looking for something at or above director-level” … but really, it’s likely to be wasted breath. This is just a thing people do because humans are weird and find startlingly unhelpful ways to try to be helpful.

I showed up for an interview on the wrong day

A reader writes:

I have a job interview lined up that I’m really looking forward to. I like the organization, it’s an appropriate step up from my current job, and all that good stuff. So I did all my research and prep, took the day off work, put on my interview clothes, and headed off – only to discover that I had the day wrong. The interview was actually scheduled for a week later!

So aside from the fact that I feel like the world’s biggest bonehead, can you take a guess at what they might be thinking at their end? Is this the kind of thing that can be mitigated with an “I’m mortified and this is clearly a terrible mistake that is in no way a reflection of how I might perform on the job” type email? Or is it likely to be seen as a strike against me from the beginning, making me look really disorganized and not at all like a good candidate for the position?

I have sent the apology email already, and of course I’m going to go to the interview and be a superstar on the correct date as well. But if you could give me some insight into how big a deal this might be, I would appreciate it!

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

my boss wants us to all share our mental health needs – at every meeting

A reader writes:

I work at a small company where I like to maintain a professional persona, focusing on getting work done and keeping my personal life separate. The company is not well managed but I have a decent amount of autonomy, people are reasonably pleasant, and for a variety of family reasons the location, commute, and hours work really well and would be hard to replicate elsewhere.

My boss has started asking us to share reflections on mental health as an icebreaker at mandatory meetings in the name of “breaking down the stigma around mental health.” His intention is so genuinely good — he wants to support his staff. Usually I deflect by saying something relatively generic about limiting my social media use. However, this is increasing in frequency and the people who jump in first set the tone by going all-in and sharing super personal details about medications and therapy. It creates a lot of implicit pressure to share something similarly personal.

Aside from finding this uncomfortable, I’m noticing that these sharing sessions actually detract from my mental health. (I don’t have truly serious issues, but I do struggle with some anxiety and insomnia.) Work is by far the most significant stress in my life, because the organization is not well managed, roles/assignments are unclear, and some staff work glaringly harder than others with no one ever held to account for failing to produce. It’s not a toxic workplace or anything, but neither is it particularly enjoyable to see people coming late and leaving early while taking long lunches, while I’m glued to my computer.

I’ve suffered a lot from insomnia that’s offen triggered by workplace frustrations, so protect my mental health I’ve been working on creating a mental wall where I ignore what everyone else is doing or not doing except for my direct reports (mantra is “Not my circus, not my monkeys”) and focus on doing a good job on my own projects. These “mental health sharing sessions” break down this (sadly fragile) wall and I end up dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings again, often leading to insomnia that night, because when I really contemplate what I need for mental health, I re-examine all the frustrations of the office.

I want to manage my own mental fragility and not make it someone else’s problem or blame others, but I also want to protect myself from these spirals if possible. I also worry that others may be finding these sharing sessions helpful, and that by asking for them to stop I’d be standing in the way of someone else’s process.

Tl;dr: Boss wants us to share what our mental health needs and what would really support my mental health would be a better-managed workplace, but I don’t think that’s on the table and contemplating that fact is making me feel worse. Can you help me find a constructive way to address this?

This is … so inappropriate.

He might be well-meaning, but it is so not his place, or any employer’s place, to request this of people. Many, many people prefer to keep their mental health private, or at least not to share details about it with their boss and coworkers. And many, many people prefer not to receive information of that sort about their boss and coworkers, as well.

Frankly, he is asking for legal issues here as well, because by soliciting all of this mental health information from people, he might be (a) inadvertently creating accommodation obligations for the company that it doesn’t realize it will have, and/or (b) setting up the company for claims of discrimination if someone (incorrectly or not) later believes he treated them differently based on something mental-health-related they shared in these meetings, or feels that they were required to disclose a disability (even if he doesn’t feel he’s requiring anything).

But the legal issues are the least of the problems here. The far bigger one is that this is a huge invasion of privacy and wildly inappropriate.

If he wants to support his staff, he can do that by giving people reasonable hours and time off for whatever form of self-care they might need, using his influence to push for good company-provided health benefits, and otherwise supporting people’s individual mental health needs. It does not require a group therapy session at the start of every meeting.

Can you find out if any of your other coworkers feel uncomfortable with this? If they do, you and they could speak up as a group and say something like, “We’re not comfortable being asked to share such personal information at work. At a minimum, we’d like to be able to opt out, but we’d like to discontinue this practice altogether because it’s actually creating more stress for some of us. We’d like to be able to focus on the work we’re here to do.”

Or there’s a more blunt version if you prefer it: “This feels really inappropriate in a work setting, where people might have good reason not to want to discuss mental health with their boss and coworkers. We don’t want to participate in this.”

You can also say either of those on your own, but doing it as a group will create more pressure on your boss to cut this out.

You could also just go with “pass” or “I’m not into sharing this kind of thing” every time it’s your turn in a meeting, but that doesn’t address the fact that the practice in general is stressing you out, so I think you’ve got to tackle it more head-on, as in one of the examples above.

And I hear you that you’re concerned about taking away something that others might find helpful — but this is Just Not Appropriate at work, and you’ll be doing a favor to your employer (and to future employees who will come along later and be horrified the first time they’re at a meeting where this happens) by pointing out that this needs to stop. And keep in mind that if there are some people who really want to continue this, they could form their own private group to do it. It shouldn’t be part of meetings where people haven’t explicitly opted in, and opted in without pressure.

employer will only reimburse travel if I accept their offer, tired of covering for a slacking coworker, and more

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

1. Employer will only reimburse interview travel expenses if I accept their offer

I recently applied for a summer job at a nonprofit. It seems interesting, but the more I learn about it, the more challenging it sounds and the less sure I am that I’m qualified for it/would succeed in the role. They invited me to a in-person, three-day seminar this weekend, where all applicants will present a self-prepared lesson so their teaching skills can evaluated. Afterwards, it will be decided who will actually get a spot in the summer job program. Still, all applicants must stay for three whole days and watch/listen/give feedback to everyone else’s presentation.

As the nonprofit is, understandably, tight on money, we were asked to cover the travel expenses up-front and we’ll be reimbursed later. However, only applicants who *do not turn down the job when offered* will be reimbursed. If they don’t chose you, you’re good, but if you realize during the training that the job isn’t for you, you’ll have to cover the travel expenses yourself. Considering that the seminar requires quite extensive preparation (about two full days) and travel can be expensive (at least for college students’ budgets, and the job is constructed for college students), I’m kind of at a loss on what to do. What if I realize I won’t be good at/don’t want the summer job after all? I’ve then spent five days (two days preparing + three days seminar) *and* a rather large amount of money on travel for – basically nothing. I’ve bought my train ticket already (they asked us to buy ASAP to keep costs down). Can you give any suggestions on how to handle this?

Run in the other direction.

None of this is reasonable. It’s not reasonable to expect candidates to spend five days out of town (or even three, for that matter) applying for a summer job. It’s not reasonable to expect that for a longer-than-summer job, but the fact that it’s just for a few months makes it even more ridiculous. And as if it weren’t already sufficiently disrespectful of your time, a couple of those days are just to watch other applicants? No.

This is an organization that I can almost guarantee you abuses power dynamics with their employees too.

And the thing about only reimbursing travel expenses if you don’t turn down their offer?! No, that’s not how this works, and that’s not okay. They don’t need to pay travel expenses for candidates, but if they’re offering to, it’s not okay to make it contingent on “but you must work for us if we decide we want you or we’ll yank our reimbursement.” That is shitty, and that’s not how decent employers do this.

Train tickets are usually refundable. Go get a refund on the ticket you bought and stay away from this organization.

2. I’m sick of having to do my slacker coworker’s projects

My coworker, Cersei, is notorious for goofing off instead of working. It’s become a running joke that if we pass her desk we’ll be more surprised to catch her working instead of coloring or other crafts (I once caught her painting on a canvas). Mostly, the office as a whole has let it go because we realize that it is up to management to correct, not us.

Unfortunately, we’ve started to find it harder to let go because we’ve started to have to do her work for her because she can’t do it on her own. The manager usually passes out whatever work she can’t get done to the rest of the team, which creates a problem because we now have to drop what we were already working on to make sure Cersei’s work gets out on time. Is it okay to tell my manager that I don’t want to do Cersei’s work anymore? I can’t think of a respectful way of saying “if Cersei spent her time wisely, I wouldn’t be needing to do her work in the first place.”

Often in a situation like this, you can say, “I can do X (your own work) or Y (Cersei’s work) but not both. Which would you like me to do?” But this isn’t always a perfect solution — sometimes you might genuinely have time for both but still be annoyed on principle that you’re picking up Cersei’s slack, or the answer might be “please stay late if you need to” (which would be really unfair in this context), or you might be worried about it taking you away from lower-priority stuff that you’d still like to spend time on. Or you might just care about the long-term morale impact of being asked to constantly cover for her.

If you have decent rapport with your manager, there might be room to say, “Is there another solution for Cersei’s work rather than redistributing it to me and others? It’s happening regularly, and while I of course don’t mind helping out when someone is really busy, it’s frustrating to be asked to cover her projects when I frequently see her doing crafts at her desk.” Bonus points if you get a group of coworkers together to say this to your manager as a group.

3. Giving notice when my manager is away

I’ll likely be receiving a job offer in the next couple of days and I’m ready to accept the offer if it meets my expectations. However, my manager is currently off work for the week dealing with a parent in very poor health. It’s very rare for my manager to take time off work because she’s unbelievably busy (and luckily loves her job!). She’ll undoubtedly be under a huge amount of stress having to catch up on her missed work from her time off as well as cope with her parent’s ongoing health battles.

How do I delicately give notice so that she won’t be too overwhelmed when she gets back? How should I give notice if she needs to take extended leave to take care of her parent?

What’s best here depends on what you know about your boss. Some managers would want you to call them while they’re away to deliver this news, so that they’re able to get some pieces in motion before you get back (like getting your job advertised, talking to you about what’s most essential for you to do before you leave, etc.). Other managers wouldn’t want their time off interrupted and would prefer to hear about it when they returned (in which case you’d give your notice to your boss’s boss or to HR, depending on your company). If you’re not sure which of these categories your boss falls in, I’d default to the second one and ask whoever you give you notice to for their advice on whether to contact your boss while she’s away or not.

As for how to minimize the impact on her during a stressful time … there’s not a lot you can do there. It’s bad timing, but resignations often are, and she’ll make do. All you can really do is be as proactive as you can in helping with a smooth transition during your notice period, and leave your projects in good shape with plenty of documentation. Resignations are rarely convenient, and sometimes they are especially inconvenient, but people get by.

4. Answering questions about why I’m at work early

I’ve recently started a relationship with someone whose working life is completely different to my own – I’m in a creative industry, he works in construction. He starts work at seven in the morning and I tend to find it easiest to just leave at the same time as him when we stay with each other, as whenever I’ve tried to go back to sleep afterwards, I end up oversleeping and being late.

However, on a normal day I’m usually not in the office until bang on our start time or even a fair bit later (on a time scale my director has described as “early for a publicist”). This director (my boss’s boss) is usually the only other person there when I get in early and always asks what I’m doing there at that time. It doesn’t feel very professional to explain about a new relationship – particularly as it always invites lots of follow-up questions because of our very different backgrounds. (My industry is known for being ridiculously middle class and I don’t think any of my colleagues have met a plumber outside of employing one. Hell, until my boyfriend, neither hadI!) My office is very friendly and we have lots of socials, but equally it’s my first permanent job and I don’t want to overstep the mark particularly with senior management. Can you advise?

This makes me think of the advice to parents not to go into all the details about procreation the first time their kid asks where babies come from; it’s enough to just say “they come from a woman’s tummy” because usually that’s all the kid is interested in knowing at that point. In your case, you’re worrying that you need to explain the whole situation when a much shorter, vaguer answer will be enough! They don’t need to know about your new relationship or the logistics of how it works when you spend the night with each other. You can just say, “Oh, I’ve been waking up early lately, so sometimes I come in earlier!”

5. Are online degree programs reputable?

I’m wondering how recruiters/employers feel about candidates who have earned their college degree via online courses. I’m an adult who’s been in the workforce for 20+ years, and I’d love to go back to school to finish the bachelor’s degree I started many moons ago, but due to a heavy workload and varying schedule, it would be very difficult to attend classes in-person, so I’ve been considering an online degree program.

Many reputable colleges and universities (University of Missouri, University of Arizona, etc.) are now offering online degree programs, but I’d hate to waste my time and money if the degree would ultimately be considered “worthless.” In the past I’ve heard recruiters be very dismissive of candidates with degrees from the University of Phoenix, and similar schools, but I’m thinking maybe a degree from a more reputable online program might be better received. Any advice or thoughts you have on this subject would be very much appreciated.

The thing to look at isn’t whether a degree program is online or not; it’s whether the school is nonprofit or for-profit. For-profit schools (like the University of Phoenix) have a terrible reputation, and rightly so. But many nonprofit schools run excellent, reputable online programs, and you would be fine with one of those.

weekend free-for-all – June 16-17, 2018

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

Book recommendation of the week: The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner, about a woman serving two life sentences in prison, how she got there, and how she survives. I was riveted from the first page, and it stays with you.

open thread – June 15-16, 2018

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

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

my boss won’t let me give my staff feedback in case it hurts their feelings, and more

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

1. My boss won’t allow me to give my team constructive criticism in case it hurts their feelings

I have been working at a small company for the last two years, and I’ve been in a management role for the last year. I’m proud of my performance and feel that I’ve helped raise the standards and the quality of work we produce.

My problem is that the CEO rarely lets me actually manage my team. This hasn’t been a huge problem until recently, when a few members of my team began to slack off and the quality of their worked suffered significantly. It has damaged our reputation and relationship with our largest client.

The CEO prefers to skate around these problems so as to not hurt anyone’s feelings. Nothing gets clearly addressed, so nothing gets fixed. It makes it seem that she not only tolerates but also encourages bad work.

This is not my strategy. I think firmly but professionally identifying the unacceptable behavior and correcting it is the way to go. It is best for the business, and it is best for the employees because it sets the proper expectations. But any time I give my team constructive criticism in front of the CEO, she undermines me and tells the employee, “No, no, no, that’s fine, you’re doing a great job.”

What is the point of being a manager if I’m not allowed to manage? Am I way off-base here? I feel like I’m going crazy.

You’re are not off-base and you’re not going crazy. There’s no way to manage if you can’t give any feedback or hold people accountable to any standards. You’ve been told that you’re responsible for doing a job, but you’re not allowed to actually do that job. And your (terrible) boss is actively undermining you. Get out, get out, get out.

2. Asking for a higher salary after learning more about the job

I am interviewing with a company for a role I would be a great fit for (I have had three interviews and each person has basically said, “wow, it is like we wrote this job description while looking at your resume!”). My first call was with the recruiter and, as is pretty common in my field, we discussed salary. Their range was a bit on the low end of market, but it was something I would consider so I moved forward in the process.

After speaking to the hiring manager and the head of the department where the job is housed, however, it is clear this position entails a lot more responsibility than originally advertised. The job is listed as an individual contributor, but the department head made it clear he expects the person hired for this position to build and manage a small team. Before this team was in place, essentially all the responsibility for one essential function of the department would fall on this position. I have had experience doing exactly this with great success at two previous companies, so I am not concerned with the responsibility. The issue is that I would not do it for even the top of the salary range I spoke to the recruiter about.

The company is now wanting me to come in for a full-day interview with multiple people, but I don’t want to waste anyone’s time if I would not accept any eventual offer. I also don’t want the recruiter to feel like she is the victim of a bait and switch because we had discussed the range before. Can you help me formulate a way to tell this company that although I am interested in the role (and would be a great fit) I can no longer accept the salary I previously indicated I might (which I understand means I may need to withdraw my candidacy) now that I know more about the role?

“I’d love to come in and talk further about the role! Before we set it up, though, I wanted to touch base on salary. Since we originally spoke about salary, I’ve learned more about the job and it sounds like this person will need to hire and manage a small team and, until that happens, will be solely responsible for X. Given that, I’d be looking for a range of $X-$Y. Since we’d earlier talked about a different range, before I learned the position’s full scope of responsibility, I didn’t want to take up your time with the next set of interviews if that’s prohibitive on your end.”

3. Division of labor with my former intern / new coworker

On the same day that I accepted my current job, I found out I was pregnant. A few months after, I hired my intern whom I trained to be able to do my job while I was on maternity leave. I also recommended my boss to hire her as my temporary replacement, which she did.

Fast forward to yesterday, it was announced that the organization is keeping her full-time (in addition to me) and is giving her the same title even though I have many more years of experience and was her supervisor for five months.

I find this to be awkward because there would be no hierarchy and people within the organization wouldn’t know who is responsible for what and who to reach out to for what issues. Furthermore, my boss sends out assignments with both of us CCed in the email without specifying who should be doing it and my replacement responds that she will do it before I get a chance. Also, I would like to attend events and training with my boss because I have seniority and more experience and I’m wondering how that will work if we both have the same title.

I think this is much more than an ego thing. I have worked hard to get to where I am today and completely restructured/improved many of the processes in place today. I am also in charge of higher-level type work like designing materials, writing and reviewing while she does more assistant-type work (the types of things I hated doing when I was alone).

I’m really glad she’s here because we do need an extra staff person, but I’m trying to figure out how the logistics would work and what I should/can ask for without stepping on anyone’s toes. I feel like this should be something my boss thought of but it seems like she’s just happy to have the help and hasn’t thought about how it will affect us. I would love any recommendations on how to make this a smooth and easy transition for everyone involved.

It’s not unreasonable to want some recognition that you’re working at a much more senior level than your new coworker. People care about titles because they matter. It’s possible that your title should be adjusted to reflect the difference in your roles (which could even be as simple as adding “senior” in front of your current title).

But the bigger issue is working out what the division of labor will be between the two of you. Why not sit down with your coworker and propose a division of labor and systems for allocating work? Or, depending on how involved you sense your boss wants to be with this, it might make sense to run a proposal by your boss first. Either way, you’ve got experience and seniority and it makes sense for you to take the initiative and say “here are my thoughts on how this can work.”

4. Should I mention to interviewers that I had a baby during school?

I recently graduated with a master’s degree and certificate from a good university. I earned a 4.0, and during my studies I completed an AmeriCorps internship and worked as a graduate teaching assistant.

I’m currently job searching, and wondered if it would be a bad idea to mention that I had my first baby in the middle of my last semester. Maybe this sounds silly, but I think it really shows that I am hard-working, organized, and motivated. I wouldn’t put it in my resume or cover letter, but should I hide that fact during interviews?

You don’t need to hide it, but don’t make a point of bringing it up. If there’s any hint that you’re mentioning it because you think it will demonstrate work ethic, organization, or motivation, it’s as likely to annoy people as it is to positively impress them — because it’s generally not considered appropriate evidence of those things in an interview context, and some people will worry you don’t realize that. There’s also still plenty of discrimination against women with young children, from interviewers who annoyingly will become convinced (consciously or otherwise) that you’ll want lots of time off, be less inclined to work late when needed, etc. etc. It’s better not to intentionally inject something that risks triggering that bias, at least without sufficient likelihood of payoff in the other direction.

an employer told me I was their back-up candidate in case their first choice didn’t work out

A reader writes:

I recently applied for my dream job at a highly competitive company in my city. After two phone interviews with the hiring manager (Jane) and others, I was invited for an in-person interview with Jane and another staff member.

The interview lasted about an hour. My nerves got the better of me, so I’d say it went okay, but definitely not my best performance. At the end of the interview, Jane thanked me for coming in and let me know that the next round of interviews would take place a week from that day with her grand-boss (Sylvia), and that the final candidate would be asked to interview the following Monday with the CEO. She also said that the company was committed to letting candidates know the outcome either way and wanted to have a “transparent process where no one was left hanging,” so I’d be hearing back tomorrow — or at the very latest, the day after — to know where my candidacy stood.

Well, an entire week went by and I didn’t hear anything. The day she’d identified for interviews with Sylvia came and went with no word, as did the day of the interview with the CEO. So, I emailed Jane to check with the status of my application. She wrote back and said, “So great to hear from you! I’m so sorry we haven’t been in touch; Sylvia is taking longer than expected to review the candidate pool. I promise to keep you in the loop!” I assumed that the interview dates had been rescheduled, so I just waited to hear.

An entire month passed. Then, I heard from a friend who knew I had interviewed that a colleague of hers had gotten the job. Fine, but I was a little bothered that Jane had never gotten back to me. Then I got a call, which I couldn’t take since I was in a meeting. The voicemail: “Hi, this is Jane Smith! I just wanted to let you know that the position has been filled. The reason it took so long to get back to you is because we were keeping you on the back burner in case things didn’t work out with our other candidate. But, we really enjoyed meeting you and hope that you’ll apply again in the future!”

I was somewhat shocked, since as far as I know, this is not typical in the professional world. Certainly, I’ve gotten jobs and not gotten them, and have hired people and not hired them, but never has anyone actually told me I was the second-choice candidate, and I have never said that to a candidate I didn’t hire. A few hours later, I got an email: “Hi, it’s Jane here. I hope you got my voicemail. I just wanted to let you know that we have filled the position. Thank you again for applying– we loved meeting you and hoped that you will apply again with us in the future. I’ve copied Anne, our HR director, on this email. If you have any feedback about the process, please contact her.”

What do you think? Is it now normal to tell someone they’re the back-up candidate? Was this supposed to somehow make me feel better, or did it only serve to try and excuse the month of no communication? And what do you think about the HR director being copied on the email? Should I offer any feedback? On one hand, I think they could benefit from it, but on the other, I might want to work there again one day, and don’t want to hurt my future chances.

I don’t find this terribly outrageous!

It’s not insulting to be told that you were the second choice candidate. Second choice candidates are often excellent, and employers often happily hire them if the first choice doesn’t work out. Being the second choice means they though you were good enough to hire — someone else just happened to be a stronger fit.

It’s true that “we were keeping you on the back burner” isn’t the most thoughtful language to use, even though that’s an accurate description of what was going on. It sounds a little … inconsiderate of your time (and that you were waiting for an answer). It would have been better to say something like, “It came down to you and another candidate, and if she had turned down our offer, we would have been excited to offer the position to you. It took a little longer than I’d anticipated to work out those details, but we’re really grateful for your interest, blah blah.”

But really, that’s just quibbling over the language, not the substance of the message. Substance-wise, I think it’s fine for them to have told you what had been happening. And in some ways, it’s even good — employers so often don’t give candidates any transparency into their process, and it’s generally a good thing when they do. The alternative would have been to send you a bland rejection with no information in it, and you’d have less insight into their process and decision than you do now.

You’re right, of course, that they should have given some sort of update sooner, given what a big deal they made about not leaving you hanging. But hiring so frequently takes so much longer than people think it will, and employers’ timelines so regularly fall apart completely, that I’d just take that part of it as par for the course, unfortunately.

Because of that, I wouldn’t offer feedback on either of these things. The second-choice thing really is okay for them to share, and the month without updates is so typical that you risk alienating them. (Jane’s choice to copy the HR director on the email and to suggest sending her feedback is a little unusual — and I almost wonder if she’s annoyed with the process herself and hoping someone else will relay their own annoyances to HR — but there’s no real benefit to you in taking that bait if so.)

my coworker keeps pushing junk food on me

A reader writes:

A few coworkers and I have been working really hard to support each other in adopting healthier eating habits. I am admittedly weak around tempting treats, so I don’t keep these things on hand at home or at work. Our company recently hired a very sweet woman who is acutely obese. She has been bringing a lot (a LOT) of sweets, doughnuts, candies, cookies, and such into the office. Right now in the break room, there is literally a buffet of junk food, including doughnuts with Peeps in the middle, a barrel of cheese puffs, and a mixing bowl of candy. A few times throughout the day, she will walk around with a box or plate of junk food and offer it fairly insistently. I politely decline, but I don’t know how many times in a row I should have to say, “No, thank you.”

Fully recognizing that my ability to control what I eat is not her problem, is it at all reasonable to at least wish she wouldn’t bring so much junk food into the workplace? I know a lot of this is wishing someone else would stop doing something that bothers me, but that they have the right to.

I feel like it’s a distraction. A lot of attention is being spent on the food she brings in and the walking around offering it up to people. I know it’s coming from a kind place in her heart.

Most folks are trying to eat healthier these days. I guess at the end of the day I wish she’d keep her unhealthy eating habits to herself instead of trying to make it an office activity. That sounds horrible and mean, and I feel badly about it. Any suggestions?

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