It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. Slow employee is listening to podcasts while she works
We hired someone, Beth, a few months ago. She is doing usual entry-level work and is slow, with lots of mistakes. We hired another person, John, who’s doing the same work, but much better. So I know that it’s possible to do that work better as an entry-level worker.
Beth listens to podcasts and stories during work. I think that may be the cause of all the mistakes. How do I talk about this to her? We allow listening to music, but it feels like podcasts are different.
If Beth were performing at a high level, I’d tell you to leave it alone since it’s obviously not causing problems. But in this case, she’s slow and making mistakes, and it’s reasonable to wonder if eliminating distractions might improve her work.
Have you given her feedback on her work yet? Does she realize that she’s slower than she should be and making too many mistakes? If not, that’s actually the more important issue; she’s not likely to improve if she doesn’t realize there’s a problem, and telling her that might prompt her to stop with the podcasts on her own, although you can also suggest it as part of that conversation. But if you’ve already given her that feedback, then just check back in with her and say you’d like to see if eliminating the podcasts improves her speed and accuracy.
In either case, I’d word it this way: “I’ve noticed you listen to podcasts and stories while you work, and I think it might be impacting your focus. Let’s try a couple of weeks without them and see if it helps you improve your speed and accuracy.” You could also add, “To be clear, it’s fine to listen to those things as long as it’s not impacting your work, but in this case, I think it might be. So I’d like to eliminate whatever distractions we can and see if we can get your work up to the level we need it at.”
2. Explaining why I left a job at a religious college
I am curious about how to describe my reasons for leaving a job; it was 10 years ago, but the position has a lot of relevance to the kinds of positions I’m looking for now. The position was at a private Christian college and required adherence to a statement of faith and a code of conduct. They’ve been in the news lately for their firing practices, so there’s a small chance an employer will know them. I lasted a year there and left because I got a divorce. Working there became unpleasant, petty, and solely about me explaining my (totally justified) divorce over and over, up the ladder, and to bigger committees. My director loved me, but ultimately couldn’t shield me all the way up to the president. I wasn’t fired, but I left before it got to that.
Because I was newly divorced and broke, I took several jobs at once that were low-paying and beneath my “qualifications,” and performed them well until I found a “better” position that was more in line with my degree. Employers since then have asked about reasons for leaving the college, and I never know how personal to get. My record demonstrates I didn’t leave for something better. If I say, “I violated their code of conduct and statement of faith,” it sounds like I was cooking meth in the student lounge. If I say “we had philosophical differences,” it sounds like I wanted to come in late everyday. If I say, “I got a divorce,” that is taking the conversation to a weirdly personal level that I hope doesn’t matter in the real world outside of this bizarre college. I’m remarried, have kids, and live a completely stable and happy life — I don’t even want to tell anyone I’ve been divorced. I rarely even think about it and don’t want to live in a world where my employer does. And I hate that I’m forever professionally associated with a school that I’ve come to detest and a religion I’m slowly leaving. (It’s complicated, but I don’t want an employer to think I am complicated.)
Is there a smooth way to answer this question on an first-round online application? Is there a smooth way to address it in person? Can I do it without badmouthing a former employer while also signalling that I am no longer a wacko religious person? (Don’t answer that last question.) And please reassure this ex-fundamentalist that the rest of the world isn’t as concerned about my every move.
How about: “Religion ended up playing a stronger role in their workplace than I’d anticipated it would, and I found that I prefer a more secular environment.”
Really, when interviewers ask why you left a job, they’re just looking to make sure there are no red flags (or to get a better understanding of a move that raises question, like if you left after six months). This answer will make sense to people, and it’ll also do the double duty of conveying “I am not going to bring religion into your office in ways you might be worried about.”
3. Greeting interviewers when you have a cold
What do you think is the appropriate etiquette when greeting job interviewers while you have a cold? I recently interviewed someone who opted to forego the handshake (which makes perfect sense! no one wants your germs!), but opted instead to grab the interviewers on the shoulder instead of the handshake (both in hello and goodbye). Is that a thing? It was a bit awkward, especially since the candidate did it to every staffer she encountered. I heard later some people didn’t appreciate being touched at all.
What do you think is the best approach to greeting someone when you have a cold?
Grabbing people’s shoulders is a bit weird. But it’s fine to decline a handshake and just say something like, “I’m getting over a cold so I shouldn’t shake your hand, but it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
4. Mentioning in a cover letter that I’m paying my way through college
I’m currently applying for several jobs in marketing and am wondering if it would be appropriate to include the fact that I’m putting myself through college on my cover letter. Here’s how I’d use it:
“In the past two and a half years, I’ve written more than 21 articles a week for publications including A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H… (I don’t want to include the exact publication names, but they’re very well-known). My freelance writing career began as a creative outlet during freshman year; 27 months later, it’s become successful enough to enable my financial independence and completely pay for my college education and expenses. I’ve managed to grow this “side job” while also managing several extracurricular and volunteer positions, graduating in three years, and maintaining a 3.9 GPA. These combined responsibilities have made me an expert in time-management, prioritization, and organization—strengths that would prove invaluable in the (X) role.
Furthermore, not only am I well-versed in identifying relevant topics, gauging audience interest, pitching articles, promoting content, building a brand, and, of course, writing, I’ve also learned how to communicate professionally with fellow writers, editors, influencers, marketers, PR representatives, businesspeople, and more. As your (job title), I’d use these skills to…”
Okay, you get the point. I’m conflicted because, on the one hand, I’m really proud of my accomplishment and think it says a great deal about my work ethic, drive, and capabilities. On the other, I can see how it would be a little off-putting—after all, I’m mentioning my personal finances in a professional context. What do you think?
Use it! It’s excellent. It’s not really about mentioning your personal finances; it’s about using concrete examples to demonstrate exactly the traits you’re talking about — drive, organization, etc. It’s compelling and convincing, and it’ll impress most hiring manages.
5. My coworker won’t wear a uniform when our manager isn’t around
I work at a major retail store that went through a dress code change within the last two years. We must now wear uniforms on top of our shirts. While all this is fine by me, one of my coworkers who only works the weekends refuses to wear a uniform—or rather he’ll wear a uniform while our direct manager is around and then immediately remove it when they leave.
Other managers (even the store manager) see this and don’t comment on it, but the fact he waits for our direct manager to leave before he does it implies he knows what he’s doing is unprofessional. None of the managers who care work on the weekends, and reporting to an assistant or store manager seems like it would just fix the issue for that one weekend before they forget and thing continue as they have. Thanks so much for any advice you can give.
I’d let it go. The store manager has seen it and apparently isn’t addressing it, so it’s not really a thing that falls to you to address.