It’s seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…
1. Can I ask employers for advice on how to get a job with them?
What’s your opinion of directly asking the organizations/companies that I want to work for in the near future advice on how to increase my chances of being employed there? Would that show initiative? Or desperation and naivete?
It depends. Some will give you helpful advice, and some won’t. Anecdotally, I’d say that smaller organizations are more likely to give you a personalized response than larger ones, but it really depends on the employer, as well as on the specific person you happen to reach out to. To maximize your chances, be very specific about the type of work you want to do (don’t just say “a job”) and include information about your background. Be prepared for most responses to be focused on experience — you’re more likely to hear “we look for candidates with a background in X, Y, and Z” than to hear “we only hire people the CEO likes” or “we reject a lot of people for talking too much,” even if both are true.
One thing to keep in mind though — if you’re doing this to “show initiative,” I wouldn’t bother because it’s unlikely to be particularly impressive. I’d only spend the time (and the time of the people you’d be reaching out to) if you genuinely want the information. If it’s just an attempt to impress, you should go with a great cover letter and a resume that shows a track record of achievement in the areas they need — which is far more impressive.
2. How can I decrease negativity among my staff?
I have recently been promoted to manage a department of about 20 people within a large organization. It is in a challenging healthcare field and I have been spending a great deal of time supporting my staff through some recent changes. The last manager did not seem very supportive and people used to complain about that, so I decided that I would be very supportive in order to improve morale and performance. I
instigated an open door policy and made it clear that I was there to help with any problems, especially with our patients, who are often stressed by their situation and can be very demanding.
However, I am beginning to suspect that this has backfired. I now seem to have people in my office all day complaining about very trivial matters that I’m pretty sure they could have sorted out themselves. For example, they will come to tell me if a patient has spoken out of turn to them; I expected them to consult me if a patient was offensive, not just bad mannered. Worse still, I feel as if there is even more of a negative atmosphere than before, and one of my (positive) colleagues told me that they often spend their entire lunch breaks moaning about the patients and saying that I should deal with them more firmly. I have to say that it is only two of the staff who do this, with another who joins in, but I’m really worried that this negativity is bringing down the whole atmosphere. Several of the other staff have complained to me that they don’t like the unpleasant things that are being said about the patients. How have I got this so wrong?
People will take their cues from you, and it sounds like you made a point of offering “support,” which they took as an invitation to air complaints and vent. Now you’re going to need to backtrack and make it clear what you want to hear about (issues that require your involvement to reach a resolution) and what they should handle on their own (anything that’s just venting and doesn’t require action from you). You should also make it clear that while you want to hear legitimate complaints, and while everyone needs to occasionally let off steam after a frustrating encounter, it’s not okay to chronically complain, particularly about patients (who presumably are the reason you all have jobs). And if it continues after that, you’ll need to have a more serious conversation one-on-one with the three complainers — laying out the standards of professionalism you expect them to meet.
Your job as a manager isn’t “to be supportive.” It’s to run your department well and get the results you need. Being a supportive person can be part of that, but it can’t be your #1 goal — and that’s where it sounds like you initially went wrong.
3. Rude treatment after I was turned down for an internal position
I didn’t get the internal position that I interviewed for. While I’m dealing with the disappointment and inevitable feeling of hurt, I respect their decision completely. What I don’t respect, however, is the way they handled the situation.
I work in a-15 person office. Out of the 5 people who interviewed me, two are direct supervisors, and two are the president and vice president of the company. After learning of the news from my supervisor, I immediately emailed all of the interviewers to tell them thank you and to assure them that I understand their decision and would join them in warmly welcoming the new person. I got one response. In my attempt to be gracious and make everyone feel comfortable, I was ignored.
I understand if this sort of behavior goes on in big office environments where the HR person facilitates everything. But I’m working in a small office and I see the people that interviewed me everyday, but they are trying to play it off like nothing happened. Granted, they are awkward people to begin with, but I just feel as though this kind of behavior is off. Am I wrong? Their attitudes and behavior are making me feel incredibly resentful and I feel like I just want to leave. Am I being irrational here? Or is this just really bad management?
It’s not ideal that they didn’t respond, but your reaction seems more intense than the situation warrants. Yes, they should have responded to you, because they should want to put some effort into ensuring that you continue to feel valued, despite not getting the new position. But plenty of people (especially busy ones) don’t respond to emails that don’t ask direct questions — and in this case, if they saw your email as essentially a “thanks for the chance to interview,” it’s not outrageous that they didn’t write back.
Speaking of which…
4. I didn’t get a response to my post-interview thank-you note
I had an interview that I thought went very well. After the interview, the hiring manager gave me her cell phone number (she said she was going to be traveling), her office number, and email address. I took this to be a very positive sign that I was their top candidate. A few hours later, I sent a thank-you email to her and the other interviewer and was surprised to not receive a response. Does that mean the interview didn’t go as well as I thought? Maybe they had a chance to talk and realized I wasn’t a great fit. So nervous!
Whoa, you’re reading into things all over the place when you shouldn’t be. Don’t assume you’re their top candidate just because you had a good interview and the hiring manager gave you her contact info, and don’t assume that it means anything that they didn’t respond to your thank-you. Neither of those means anything. Some interviewers routinely give their contact info to all candidates at the end of an interview, and plenty of interviewers don’t respond to thank-you notes — it’s a thank-you, after all, and there’s no obligation to say thank you for thanking them. In other words, none of this means anything, you’re trying to read tea leaves when it’s fruitless to attempt it, and all you can really do is wait and see how it plays out. (And meanwhile, do yourself the favor of moving on mentally so you’re not agonizing while you wait.)
5. How can I avoid talking about politics at work?
My manager and some fellow employees love to talk politics. To be honest, I disagree with them, and, as the only American in the group, I sometimes feel like I’m being called on to defend U.S. policies. I’ve tried changing the subject, but it didn’t work. I tried just sitting there and not participating in the conversation, but someone apologized for “upsetting” me, which made me feel like I had to defend myself for not participating in their conversation. I could really use some advice on this one — how can I gracefully decline to discuss politics at work?
Not participating seems like your best bet. And if someone apologizes for “upsetting you,” even when you’re not participating, just say, “Oh, I’m not even paying attention. I try not to discuss politics at work.” Say it calmly and in a friendly tone, and repeat as needed.
You might not ever be able to change people’s minds about what your role should be in these conversations, but no one can force you to participate or be provoked by them; that part is all up to you.
6. How can I tell my coworker about the bad exit interviews she receives?
I was hired as an HR assistant for a contract to replace the HR assistant who was going for a maternity leave (in Quebec, so for more than a year, including training and follow-up after she came back). When my time was almost up, I started getting feedback from coworkers (peers, superiors, workers…) that they would love for me to stay (and from the plant workers that they don’t like that HR assistant because she treated them like **). My boss (the HR director) created a new position for me to stay at that company.
Shortly after the HR assistant left for maternity leave, I started conducting exit interviews. Most people are open with me as they trust me. Now that she’s back, a lot of the exit interviews include very good feedback for the HR team, except her; most people have something bad to say about her.
The thing is, she’s the one doing all the data entering in our HR system and I feel weird about writing a report saying “Marie is a 10 but Sarah is…” — well, let’s say I have to clean up the language a bit. How do I go about that ?
This is something you should discuss with your manager and find out how she wants it handled. Say something like, “I’d like your advice on something that feels awkward to me. In many of the exit interviews I’m conducting, people have great feedback for HR, except for Sarah, who they often have complaints about.” I have to give the data to Sarah to enter, and I feel awkward that she’s repeatedly seeing this. Is there a diplomatic way for me to handle this with her?” (This has the side benefit of alerting your manager to the situation, but you’d also be genuinely seeking her guidance on how to proceed.)
7. Can a criminal background check include broader checks?
If an employer specifies the type of background check they are performing (in this case a criminal background check), does that mean they can look into other aspects of a prospective hire in that check? I ask because I am past the reference checking stage but am still concerned that a “non-rehireable” status from a past employer may affect my prospective employment. The company’s offer stated they would be performing a criminal background check specifically, so should I be worried that the past employer can come back to bite me in the background check despite having no criminal history?
It’s possible, but if you’re sure that they’re passed the reference-checking and employment verification stage, it’s unlikely. If they told you that all they’re doing is a criminal background check (as opposed to using broader terminology, like “background check”), that’s probably all they’re doing.