my coworker assigns me work, says “no rush,” and then checks on it an hour later

A reader writes:

I work as a receptionist/office assistant at a university. A large part of my job is small research projects for other members of my department. I am often working on multiple different things for various different people.

I have one colleague who will email me a task, and then walk down to my office to explain it to me. Which is annoying, but not the end of the world. However, he will often emphasize “no rush” on whatever task he’s assigning me, and then come back and check within an hour or so to see if I’ve completed it yet. He will also say, “no rush, but I assume you don’t have a lot going on,” which seems rude and also inaccurate since I’m working on separate things for different people, and not everyone knows what everyone else has assigned to me.

I’ve tried communicating what I’m currently working on (which is sometimes time-sensitive), or how long I think something will take, asking him if he’s sure it’s no rush, all to no avail. When he comes back and I haven’t completed whatever he wants, he says it’s fine but acts passive-aggresively, sighing, or getting sort of frantic. I’m starting to think it’s some sort of power play or weird, misguided way of communicating his importance in the department. (He is the same level as all my other coworkers who give me research projects to complete.)

I’ve started just putting his task first and trying to complete it as soon as possible, which isn’t fair to my other coworkers. At this point, I don’t know what to do rather than tell him straight-up that his constant checking up on me is only hindering the process of me getting any work done, but I was hoping for a more tactful way to do that.

Ooooh, he’s very annoying.

Say this to him: “I’m finding that you and I aren’t communicating clearly about timelines for the work you give me. When you tell me ‘no rush,’ I’m assuming that means you’re not expecting to have it back today. I’m often working on multiple different things for multiple different people, and so if you tell me ‘no rush,’ I’m going to finish the requests that came in ahead of yours first. But you’ll often check back on it after an hour, which makes it seem like it was a rush. Going forward, if you need something back within an hour or within the same day, please tell me that when you first give me the work. Otherwise, I have to prioritize it relative to the other tasks people have given me.”

I’d also be clearer about timelines when he first gives you work. For example, when accepting a project, say, “I’m pretty busy today so I’ll probably get this to you tomorrow afternoon.” Then if he checks in an hour later, say this: “Did you get my email earlier saying I’d get this back to you tomorrow afternoon?” Say this in a tone of genuine confusion, because confusion is an appropriate response to this.

Speaking of confusion, you should use that when he starts sighing or getting frantic when something isn’t done an hour later. When that happens, say this: “I’m confused — you told me ’no rush’ on this. Did I misunderstand?” Again, use a tone of genuine confusion and then wait to see what he says.

If it still keeps happening after that and you feel like the power dynamics in your office allow you to do this, say this: “Hey, this keeps happening and we need to solve it. Can we agree that I’ll get you work back on the timeline that I originally tell you, but that you won’t check in on it before that? Checking in earlier makes everything I’m doing take longer, since I have to stop what I’m working on to get you an answer. If for some reason the original timeline I give you changes, I’ll let you know, but otherwise please assume that’s the timeline I’m using.”

Also, if he makes any more of those comments about how he assumes you don’t have a lot going on, laugh and say this, “Really? That’s a strange assumption. I have a bunch of assignments I’m working on.” And if he says it again after that, say this: “You’ve mentioned a few times that you don’t think I have much going on, and maybe that’s causing misunderstandings about how quickly I can turn these projects around. I’m generally quite busy and working on projects for multiple people, some of them time-sensitive. Going forward, assume I actually do have a lot going on, since that’s usually the case.”

my former boss wants a log of all my work, “tell us in 140 characters why you’re perfect for the job,” and more

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

1. My former boss wants a detailed log of all my work

I was recently hired into a small retail company, and after two weeks I resigned. I’ve never quit a job in my life; my last one was six years long, I had the best performance rating one could receive, and only left because my division was closed down nationwide. As soon as I began my new role, I knew it was not right. The position was regional manager and I understood that the company needed tons of systems, training, development, and organization put in place. I quickly realized the reason these systems aren’t in place is the owner, who has severe ADHD (she will tell you) and in 24-hour crisis mode. Every day is a new crisis where any strategy or plan you had for the day or week is thrown out based on a mistake she made while being in a frantic state. She micromanages and doesn’t give direct feedback, she sends passive aggressive texts instead, and emails and texts at every hour of the night and on my days off. Her emails sent late at night are nonsensical, just every thought on her mind put in an email so you don’t know what she is asking of you. All of this I could handle, but I also soon realized she doesn’t trust anyone and sent her assistant to “watch me” on my second week of the job to make sure I was “working.” She also questioned whether I paid a few contract workers and asked for their contact information to confirm payment even though she saw me pay them herself.

Anyhow, she is now asking for a detailed log of all my work over the last two weeks and asking for the contact information of every person I connected with regarding the business, including my own personal contacts. Am I obligated to send her this information? Can she withhold pay if I don’t send her additional contacts? I sent the log of my work, contacts for anyone who worked part-time, and my email list that will help build her business. She’s now asking for more.

It’s not uncommon to ask for a bit of wrap-up when someone leaves, but (a) usually that’s done before the person’s last day, although I can’t tell how much notice you gave when you left, and (b) if you were only there two weeks, I’m skeptical that she needs much of anything at all.

In any case, asking for a detailed log of all your work is unreasonable, and so is asking for your personal contacts. I would say this: “It would be very time-consuming to put together what you’re requesting so I can’t do that now that I’m no longer an employee, but hopefully the detailed information I’ve already sent you will help. Best of luck!”

She can’t withhold your pay, even if you send her nothing. And Google the name of your state and “last paycheck law” and you’ll find out how quickly she’s required to get you that final paycheck.

2. Should managers also be individual contributors?

I work at a big, well-established corporation, and I’ve noticed that middle managers do an awful lot of work I associate with individual contributors, like running a process or producing monthly reporting (i.e., not just signing off on a deck, but creating the slides themselves). Often the assumption seems to be that managing a team is something you do in your spare time around the edges of your “real” job. We also don’t have standard management training for new managers — it’s usually left to people to figure things out and get informal coaching.

My husband says this is outside the norm for corporate America — that well-run companies push (and train) managers to prioritize management activities and enabling their teams to create work products. Of course there are some functions managers are going to perform themselves, but he says their primary focus should be guiding and developing their team, and removing roadblocks to their work as needed.

This sounds like a good idea to me, but I’m wondering if a) this is generally accepted as the way things *should* be, and b) if a preponderance of companies actually *do* it.

It should be that way in some cases, but it generally depends on the size of the team being managed. If you’re managing two people, that’s not going to take up all your time and it makes sense for you to have significant responsibilities outside of managing them. On the other hand, if you’re leading a team of 12, you should be spending a sizable amount of time on the work of managing (setting goals and big-picture strategy, monitoring progress against those goals and course-correcting where needed, giving feedback, coaching, problem solving, hiring, etc.). Even then that might not be your whole job (although in some cases it might be), but you should have a significant portion of your time carved out for it — not try to do it on top of a full-time workload of your own individual stuff.

This is actually one of the biggest adjustments most managers go through — accepting that much of their time will be taken up by the work of managing rather than the work of producing something. They figure they should spend just as much time as they used to doing their own work, and they try to fit management in between the cracks. This leads to a terrible cycle, where the work they delegate gets done poorly because they didn’t invest the time to manage it well, so they take on more and more of it themselves, and then they have even less time to manage other work they should be overseeing. This isn’t always the manager’s own fault; sometimes it’s because their employer doesn’t fully accept that managing well takes a real time investment, and so they overload their managers and don’t leave them time to manage well.

Do a preponderance of companies actually see things this way? Well-run ones do by definition, since they’re not going to get well managed teams if they don’t. But as with anything, there are plenty that don’t fit that model.

3. “Tell us in 140 characters or less why you’re perfect for the job”

After many years of gainful employment in software sales, I have been laid off … and boy has the job application process gotten interesting! What’s the deal with either the online application itself or the automated confirmation email that you get after you apply asking you: “Tell us in 140 characters or less why you are perfect for the job!” This seems really dumb, like really a dumb way to gauge the worthiness of a prospective candidate.

Yes, it’s incredibly dumb. Most people aren’t going to be able to say much of substance about why they’re strong fit in that format, and I would bet money that there’s a low correlation between people who do well at that and people who do well at the job. Maaayyyyybe it’s different if the job involves heavy Twitter use, but even then I’d rather see them write some tweets about something actually relevant to the work, not about their own candidacy.

If you really want the job and otherwise like what you see from the company, play the game and do it … but have your eyes wide open for other signs of silliness from them.

4. Should I give this recruiter a third chance?

I work in a niche market and have 12 years experience so am quite valuable. I am leaving my current job at the end of the month (it was a contract that didn’t become permanent) so am currently on garden leave. I have had several agencies contact me. One person rang me twice and I went over all my requirements in two lengthy calls, then last Friday she rang and said her boss wanted to talk to me about my requirements, and could he ring in the next five minutes. So I got my CV, sat down in front of the laptop and waited, and waited and waited. About an hour later, I emailed to ask what was happening. I then got a call from the original woman saying she was sorry, her boss had something urgent come up. So she sent me a calendar invite for Monday at 10 a.m. I wait on Monday, CV ready, etc. 10:30 comes and goes, and I email again to them both and ask what’s going on. I get an email from the boss saying he had an emergency happening (again) and could we reschedule. Obviously I’m really annoyed by now that’s an afternoon and a morning were wasted staying in for this person to ring just to talk about my requirements. I say, “No, just cancel the appointment.” That’s literally all I said in the email, not trusting myself to say anymore.

So I get this back: “Hi Fergus, To offer an insight, I was keen to speak as I’m one of (company’s) strategic partners. They spend over £1million a year with me and looking at your profile, Jane felt we may be able to support your search. In short, I am managing a team during a go-live and two people didn’t arrive as planned this morning. Hence me being side-tracked. Once again, apologies for any inconvenience, but I do feel there would be value in us speaking.”

So I’m not sure what to do now. Half of me doesn’t want to do anything with them as they have wasted my time twice now, and what would they be like as an agency when they do this to prospective applicants? Then again, mine is a niche market and I don’t want to burn any bridges, despite the guy seeming to be a total womble. What do you think ?

Well, the reality is, recruiters are notoriously flaky and this kind of thing happens a lot — and can still lead to good jobs. So if you’re willing to give it one more shot, I would. If they waste your time again — especially after you’ve already made the point that you’re annoyed — then you can move on with no worries that you’re making the wrong decision. But I’d give them one more shot at it, given the guy’s explanation.

That said, if you feel like you have lots of other good options and can be really choosy about who you work with, there’s nothing wrong with passing on this, if you’re annoyed enough that you just want to be done with them.

5. Did I mess up this salary negotiation?

I went through all the hard work of interview prep and then interviewing and got an offer. I tried to negotiate and said that I would need $15K more than what was offered. It was declined after two days, and they said that unfortunately the original offer was the best that they could do.

So I sent the following email on Thursday: “Thank you for the update. I have decided to still accept this offer, as I would like to work on latest technologies that are being used in this position. Although money is an important factor, I would not totally base my descision on money at this time. Based on my experience, value that I can add to your team, and current market rates of my skill set and experience level, I would also like to see if you can at least consider raising base salary from $original offer to $original offer + $5k and accommodate my four weeks vacation request.”

It’s the end of Monday now and I haven’t received any response yet. I just wanted to get some advice from you that what are the possibilities here to get the job or has it gone down the drain by now? Should I send another email to get any updates from HR or wait a day or two more?

Ooof. It wasn’t a great email. You asked for more originally, and they came back and told you that the original offer was firm. You then ignored that by asking for $5K more anyway. Plus you said you were accepting the offer, but then went back into negotiating mode — which probably left them unclear on whether you were really accepting it or not.

This may or may not be salvageable at this point, unfortunately (especially if they haven’t gotten back to you by today, which is almost a week later). But to give yourself the best shot at it, you need to decide if you’re willing to accept the original offer without any additional money or any additional vacation time. If you’re willing to do that, then call them up today (don’t email) and say that you hope you didn’t cause any confusion and you’d like to accept the original offer if it’s still open.

my coworker uses the office bathroom as her personal phone booth

A reader writes:

At my company, we have large restrooms with 6+ stalls in both the men’s and the women’s bathrooms, with long counters that have three inlaid sinks. (I’m telling you this to let you know the rooms are large, echo-y, and there are no private “one-stall with a locked door” options.)

A coworker is choosing to use the bathroom as her personal phone booth. At least twice a week when I have to use the restroom, she’s in there chatting away on speakerphone. Sometimes she’s just “hanging around” in the area by the sink, but sometimes she’s also in a stall actively doing, um, bathroom business.

At first, I was embarrassed — can I flush? Should I wait? Does her caller not know she’s in a bathroom? But I’ve heard her flush a few times (she’ll acknowledge it into the phone, too, like “oh, I’m in the bathroom”), so now I’m just annoyed. I’ve also gotten passive aggressive about it; sometimes I’ll flush multiple times. Mostly I want privacy in the restroom and I don’t want to be subject to her loud conversation with her mother/daughter/whoever on the phone. And whether or not she’s comfortable flushing while on the phone doesn’t mean that I necessarily am (even though I am currently doing it out of spite).

Do you or your readers have any suggestions for how I can get peace while on the pooper?

Speakerphone? Why speakerphone? That makes it so much worse.

I’m tempted to tell you that you should go out of your way to make loud and revolting bathroom noises — perhaps play a recording of shockingly explosive diarrhea, if such a recording exists — but I know I personally couldn’t bring myself to apply that advice in reality and I suspect most people couldn’t either. (But if you can, I heartily encourage you to do it … although of course, she appears to have zero shame about her callers knowing she’s in the bathroom, so she might not care.) (Also, I’ve just grossed myself out.)

So, your basic options are:

1. Say something to her. For example: “I’ve noticed you’re often on the phone in the bathroom, which can make it hard to use it for its intended purpose. Would you mind vacating it when someone comes in to use one of the stalls?” (This doesn’t solve the problem of her being on the phone while actively doing toilet business, but at least you’d be addressing the hanging out by the sink situation.) Feel free to invoke “shy bladder” here — as in, “I know these aren’t private bathrooms, but it’s tough for me to use them when there’s a phone conversation happening right outside the stall.”

Or you could be less formal about it and just shout out, “Hey, could you take that off speakerphone? That’s really distracting.” Or even, “Hey, could you take that call out of here? It’s really distracting.” This is how I’d personally handle it — skip the diplomacy and just call her out when it’s happening.

2. Continue on with what you’re there to do. Flush multiple times if you want to, and don’t worry about being polite to her or the person she’s talking to. There’s no reason that you should be more concerned about being polite to her caller than she is.

Of course, part of the problem is that it’s uncomfortable to do this when someone is chattering away, but maybe you can reframe it in your mind to how you’d feel if she wasn’t on the phone but instead was talking in-person to another colleague who happened to be in the bathroom at the same time. That’s not always the most comfortable thing either, but it’s something that happens in the normal course of things, and so it might bother you less.

Mainly, though, feel bad for the person on the other end of the line.

my intern has a terrible attitude

A reader writes:

I’m struggling to figure out how to give feedback to an intern about the constant barrage of criticism she emits.

The intern in question, “Alice,” spends one day a week here, along with several other interns, through a graduate-level academic program that will last four years. All of these interns are over 21 and are paid; this work experience is a required part of their program.

She’s very bright and competent, but I think she sees herself as proactive and a problem-solver, when actually she comes across as simply complaining all the time. Her complaints range from relatively minor issues that are easily fixed (“this task takes too long!” — because she doesn’t know how to use a particular program efficiently yet) to issues that are endemic to the field as a whole, to things like the physical layout of the office (she suggested remodeling the office at an all-staff meeting). She often tries to offer solutions to the “problems” she identifies, but because of her lack of experience, her suggestions are often unwieldy, impractical due to costs or time requirements, or ignore external constraints like regulatory requirements. She seems to think that all explanations to this effect simply reflect a lack of will or energy to solve the problem on the part of the office. We’re generally pretty responsive to intern feedback and we’ve accommodated a number of the more reasonable complaints (getting her additional training on the computer program, revamping some of our orientation process, etc.), but obviously we are not going to remodel the office to her preferences or magically find a solution to a structural issue that affects literally every graduate program in this field.

Her attitude is starting to rub off on the other interns in her cohort. Even worse, she is taking all of these complaints back to her program, which initially assumed that the problem must be with our office. (Fortunately it sounds like they are starting to hear that she is exactly the same way in other settings, so that particular issue may resolve itself.)

We really can’t get rid of her unless she leaves the program, and her actual work is done well. But I would like to give her some feedback about how she’s being perceived, both for her benefit and for ours. I’m finding it hard to do because she’s not necessarily wrong about the individual things she finds annoying, but the sheer volume of complaints, lack of filter, and tendency to escalate issues to higher-ups regardless of the severity or validity of her complaint is making everyone in the office dread seeing her. One of the other managers referred to her as a dementor at a recent meeting, and it’s … not inaccurate. Being around her can be very draining. As I said, though, I feel like she sees herself as being a proactive go-getter and advocate and I worry that unless we phrase this very well she may simply decide that we’re just being defensive.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

my employee isn’t performing well — but is getting a ton of public praise

A reader writes:

I have a direct report who is not performing as well as expected after a year in his role. He is on a development plan and has clear objectives to work towards. He receives monthly feedback (positive and developmental) and we discuss ways I can help him to achieve his objectives.

My problem is this: others in my immediate network and some senior managers are praising him publicly for work that he has very little real ownership of and has not contributed to enough on his own merit. He requires a large amount of input, feedback, and suggestions on projects, which then also take several rounds of feedback and meetings with me to get to a “final” version, which he then sends out to others.

My issue is not that I myself want the credit; after all, it’s my job to coach him and develop him. But I do have an issue with him appearing as if he’s produced a great piece of work by himself, as I think it sends a message to him that is contradictory to what we are discussing as part of his development plan. I’m also concerned that it could appear that everyone except me is giving him great feedback and recognition. Outwardly his documents look polished, but nobody but me is aware of just how much of a struggle it is to get to that point. Whilst I am always the first to give credit where it’s due, I don’t feel with him that it IS due, as he’s had so much help.

Am I wrong in feeling this way? How do I handle this with those giving him praise which I don’t feel is in proportion to his actual contribution? I’m concerned I will come across as stingy with my praise when in fact I would rather he was praised and credited for things which really were his own work.

I don’t think you’re wrong to feel that way — but I also think there might not be a lot you can or should do about it.

There are two potential problems that you need to head off though. The first is your worry that he might think everyone but you loves his work — which might make him take your feedback less seriously and could make him think you’re off-base when you tell him he’s not performing well. It might also make him resentful that he’s on a development plan, if everyone else appears to think his work is wonderful.

Are you seeing any signs that that’s happening? If you’re not, I wouldn’t necessarily worry about it … but if you are, it’s trickier and there’s not a great solution. It’s unnecessarily harsh to say, “Hey, all that praise you’re getting is because of the corrections I’ve made to your work.” But you can try to connect the dots more subtly for him. For example, you could say something like, “We got a really positive reception from people on the X project after making changes A, B, and C — what lessons from that can you take forward for future projects?” (And that kind of debriefing and lesson-drawing is actually helpful to do anyway, totally aside from this issue.) It’s not perfect, but it’s probably the closest you can reasonably get.

The other problem is a perception problem; if people hear he’s on a performance improvement plan and they’ve loved everything they’ve seen from him, that might raise eyebrows about you as a manager. And if you end up having to fire him at the end of that process, it might be tough for people to understand (although experienced managers will know that there’s probably more to the story than what they saw firsthand). The most important thing you can do in this regard is to keep your own manager in the loop about what’s going on — make sure she knows that it’s taking you significant amounts of feedback, correction, and coaching to get his work to the point that others are seeing it at, and make sure she knows you have him on a formal improvement plan. (And possibly other senior managers too, depending on how that kind of thing works in your office.)

Those are the two areas that I’d focus on, because those are the ones that could have real impact. I’d try not to get hung up on the principle of the thing (that he’s getting more praise than is warranted) and instead see that as just one of those things that sometimes comes with the territory as a manager. You’ll always want to distribute the credit to your team when things go well. In this case, he’s getting more than his share, yes, but it really only matters as far as it impacts the two pieces above … so keep your focus there.

I do regular happy hours with only one of my staff members, asking a new hire to go by her last name, and more

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

1. I have regular happy hours with only one of my staff members

I manage a specialty niche team of four within a larger department that otherwise doesn’t have specific teams. My direct reports are the only ones in the department who only report to one manager (me). Last year, I hired someone I knew from a previous job, let’s call her Mary, where we were at the same level, but now she reports to me. I am a happy hour aficionado, and regularly host happy hours for my staff where they are all invited (with no pressure to attend) and I pay for everything, maybe once or twice a month. These happy hours are billed as “unnecessary calorie hour,” because the goal is to focus on spending time outside work together in a less formal environment, not drinking alcohol. I do drink at these events, and historically, people who don’t drink have most often chosen not to come, whether they don’t drink for religious reasons or because they have a long drive home.

Increasingly, these invitations are only accepted by Mary, so we end up spending significantly more time together outside work than I spend with the others on my team. This isn’t a problem for me and I enjoy these outings, but I worry that the perception among the others on the team is that Mary gets special one-on-one time with me because she is my “drinking buddy.” I would be thrilled if others would attend and interact with me on a more personal level more regularly, but I also respect their off-work time and would never pressure them to hang out when they’d rather be doing something else. Mary definitely gets more of my attention because she chooses to join me at happy hour, and while it isn’t directly due to our prior relationship, I fear that it’s being perceived that way. But I want to keep doing happy hour because I really enjoy it! Since this is becoming less of a group-accepted kind of event, should I just stop doing it?

Yes, you should stop doing it. Regardless of your intent, the effect is that you’re having regular one-on-one social hang-outs with one of your employees, which can cause all sorts of problems with real or perceived favoritism. I get that it’s fun and so you’d rather keep doing it, but your responsibilities as a manager trump that.

If you want to keep having happy hours with colleagues, focus on organizing them with people who don’t work for you.

2. Asking a new hire to go by her last name

My name is … let’s say Arya. And I recently hired someone who is also named Arya. During the interview process, we discussed the awkwardness and potential risk-management-related issues with us being mixed up due to the nature of our positions and the fact that she is reporting to me.

She agreed it would be very confusing, and said she’d be happy to go by her last name, Stark. I have been introducing her as Stark to everyone, but noticed she has been introducing herself to people as Arya. I don’t want to be a jerk, but she had agreed during the interview process to go by Stark, and I feel pretty embarrassed at how this makes me look to the other folks who report to me, as if I forced her to go by another name, when really it was mutually agreed upon … or so I thought.

We have other folks in our organization who go by their last names and it has never been an issue before, so there is a precedent for this. How do I broach this with her without being a jerk? I can’t imagine what a nightmare it will be to have two Arya’s reporting to each other in our line of work.

Is it really going to be such a nightmare? It’s very, very common for offices to have two people with the same first name working closely together. Usually people solve it by using last initials and referring to Arya S. and Arya W. or something similar to that.

If she doesn’t want to go by her last name (and I realize she said she’d be okay with it, but it sounds like she might not really want to), you shouldn’t force her to do it; it’s not fair for her not to be able to use her name just because you were there first.

I’d talk to her and say something like this: “Hey, I know we’d talked earlier about you going by Stark to avoid confusion. I’ve noticed you’re using Arya — do you prefer that? If so, let’s start using Arya S. and Arya W. so that it’s clear who’s who.” And then if you’re talking to someone who doesn’t know the importance of including the initial, say something like, “When you follow up, make sure to ask for Arya Williams since there are two Arya’s here.”

3. Urging my severely diabetic coworker to get treatment

This morning a coworker informed us she would no longer be buying candy for the department because her tests came back that she has diabetes. I gently inquired if she received her A1C, not intending to inquire the actual number, and it came to light that the A1C converted to an average of 450 mmg/doL blood glucose. Using the American Diabetes Professional conversion calculator, that’s an A1C of 17.3. A diabetes diagnosis is made when a person has two A1Cs of 6.5 or greater in a row.

She says she’s going to try to control it with a ketogenic diet (which she admits will be challenging) and I asked if she was working with a dietitian and she said no. I asked if “they” (meaning her doctors), put her on insulin and she admitted she didn’t see a doctor. She ordered the blood tests herself and has self-diagnosed diabetes.

Not realizing how seriously her glucose was out of control, I simply encouraged her to test her blood sugar so she would know where she was and how her body handled her diet. (I am also aware of the risk of ketoacidosis.) She lamented the cost of test strips and when I mentioned that if she got a prescription for the strips, insurance would cover it. Then it came out that she hasn’t seen a doctor since the early 2000s and seems to have some baggage about seeing one.

After mentioning her glucose reading to a MD friend, he said he’d hospitalize her with insulin treatment if she were his patient, and said that a diabetic coma can occur at 500 mmg/doL. So apparently her diabetes is really severe and I’m concerned that she doesn’t realize how bad her health has gotten. I want to encourage her to see a doctor for treatment, but I feel out of place. You and your readers are awesome about phrasing things and I hope you can come through for me on this. We have a good rapport, but we don’t have a lot in common over which we’ve bonded. I’d like to handle this with kid gloves so she doesn’t shut down the topic altogether.

“I don’t want to pry into your medical situation, so I won’t bring this up again — but I know a bit about diabetes and the blood sugar level you mentioned is considered extremely serious. I believe a doctor would tell you that you’re in serious and possibly immediate danger if you don’t get medical treatment right away. Again, I don’t want to butt in and I won’t continue to raise this, but I’m worried about you and want to make sure you know that the numbers you saw are a really big deal and you might not have a lot of time to wait to see a doctor.”

At that point, you’ll have given her the information she needs, and it’ll be up to her what she does with it — so do stick to not asking about it again after that unless she brings it up.

4. How to show that volunteer work led to paid work

Would it be strange state on a resume that you were a volunteer for an organization, which then turned into an expanded and compensated role doing similar work on a larger scale? The new job was essentially created for me and not advertised, and I feel like this shows a certain degree of accomplishment on my part, especially as someone without a huge history of being promoted at work. I feel like it wouldn’t have the same impact with “Statewide Teapot Outreach Coordinator” in my employment section and “City of Teaville Outreach Coordinator” in my volunteer section.

Thoughts on how to do this effectively and appropriately?

Not strange. List the statewide coordinator position in your employment section, and have one of your bullet points under it read something like “began as volunteer focusing of city of Teaville (2012-2013); staff position was created for me in response to that work.” (You’re including the dates for the volunteer work to make it clear that the dates you’re listing for the job don’t include the volunteer period.)

5. Is it worth continuing this conversation with a recruiter?

I had a recruiter reach out to me about a position that he felt I was the “perfect” fit. I politely responded, as I always do, that I am open to discuss new opportunities, but that my family and I are not interested in relocation at this time. Usually this is the end of the conversation and we wish each other well.

This recruiter has requested that we chat anyway. Should I expect him to try and sell the company and location – or – should I get my hopes up that the company will entertain the idea of remote work?

I don’t want to waste his time — we truly are not interested in leaving the area. Should I agree to discuss with him?

I wouldn’t worry about wasting his time — you’ve been up-front with him that you’re not going to relocate, and you’re not responsible for any belief he might have that he can change your mind. I’d be more worried about wasting your own time. But if you’re not too concerned about that, you could say this: “If doing the job remotely is possible or if you have other jobs in this area, I’d love to talk.”

Some recruiters are really terrible about ignoring what people tell them and trying to convince them to do something different, and it’s possible that’s what’s happening here. Or it’s possible that the employer is open to remote work, or that he just wants to get to know you in case he has something else come up that you could be the right fit for; a lot of recruiters are constantly trying to build their network of people they know because the person could be right for something down the road. (And of course, if you get on the phone and it’s clear he’s ignoring you about the location, you can always end the call.)

an employer invited me to interview but never responded to my reply

A reader writes:

I submitted a cover letter and resume a couple weeks ago for a job. Four days ago, the hiring manager’s assistant emailed to ask if I was available for an interview with the hiring manager on a specific date and time next week. She only gave me one option, and unfortunately I had a very important conflict. So I emailed back that day expressing enthusiasm for the job and said I was glad to hear from her, but asked if it would be possible to do another day. I gave her four alternative dates and times.

I waited two days and she hadn’t responded to my response, so I emailed again today saying I was just circling back to confirm the date and time. It’s only been a day since my follow-up email, so I know there is still a good chance she will respond to my follow-up. But I’m concerned — what if she doesn’t? What is my next move? I’ve not encountered this situation before. I don’t like the idea of sending a second follow-up, and contacting the hiring manager directly seems tattle-tale-y. But do I have any other options, other than forgetting about it and praying they get back to me eventually? This is the least appealing option. I am lucky to currently have a good job so I’m not desperate, but I prefer to be proactive in my job search whenever possible.

I should also add that this is a dream job for me. It is a stretch job, but I am very ambitious and have been applying for it at different organizations for months. I was very excited to get the news that they wanted an interview, and it’s pretty crushing to feel it slipping away and not know why and feel like there’s nothing I can do.

This is one of the most frustrating things about job hunting: that ultimately it’s the employer’s call whether to interview you, and that remains true even in a situation where they’ve initially expressed interest but then disappear … and that ultimately there’s not much you can do to nudge them if they’re not contacting you to do that.

Of course, it’s possible that the assistant will still get back to you and this will be moot.

But if she doesn’t, the most likely scenario is that they’ve moved forward with other candidates and she’s (rudely) neglected to explain that to you. That is a thing that happens — some employers will not bother interviewing people who don’t make it really easy to schedule an interview, meaning that if you turn down the first offered date, you may not hear from them again.

To be clear, for most jobs that’s really poor practice. Candidates aren’t interchangeable and you won’t make the best hires by eliminating people who aren’t available on a particular day and time. But there are plenty of employers who don’t care about making the absolute best hire and instead just care about “good enough” — and when that’s the case, and they’ve already scheduled three or four of those “good enough” candidates, they won’t always bother getting back to the person who didn’t easily fit in the original schedule. You also see this happen when a manager has identified one or two top candidates who they’re most interested in — they may offer interviews to a couple of others, but the initial times don’t work for that latter group, they may decide it’s not worth it to pursue them.

Or, of course, if the hiring manager’s assistant doesn’t get back to you, it’s possible that she has dropped the ball and that her boss would have wanted her to get back to you to find another time. That happens less often, though, than the other scenarios.

This tends to be very unsettling to job seekers, because it makes them feel like they need to make themselves available at whatever initial date and time an employer offers, lest they lose the opportunity to interview altogether. The reality is that sometimes that’s really the case. But it’s rarely the case with good employers. Good employers want to hire the best people, and if they’ve asked you to interview, they’re going to try to find a time that works on both sides. (There are some exceptions to this. For example, sometimes the schedules of everyone involved in the process are so hard to coordinate that they have three days they can all be available and can’t offer any others. Or sometimes they need to do the interview this week, because they’re going to lose a top candidate if they delay the process any longer. Or sometimes they might being willing to delay things for a truly superb candidate, but not for a borderline one. But in general, good employers will try to work with you on scheduling and will explain why if they can’t.)

So, where does that leave you? Unfortunately, right about where you already are.  You’ve followed up once, so they know that you’re interested and at this point it’s in their court. At most, you could try calling the assistant for one final follow-up; that risks being annoying, but she’s lost the standing to be too annoyed by that since she’s ignored your emails. After that, though, there’s nothing else to do other than accept that it may or may not pan out — that’s just how this stuff goes. (And you’re right that contacting the hiring manager isn’t the way to go; you’d seem like you were trying to circumvent their process.)

As is usually the case when you’re waiting and wondering if an employer will contact you, the best thing to do is to tell yourself that they must have decided to focus on other candidates, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do get back to you. I know that may seem defeatist, but it doesn’t change any actions you’d take; it just ends the waiting and agonizing, which is better for your peace of mind.

here’s the right way to format your resume

usnewsThe hardest part of writing an effective resume is figuring out the content – how to talk about your achievements in ways that tie to what an employer is looking for. But people also do an awful lot of agonizing about the smaller details of a resume – things like format, length, and even font choices.

Let’s put those worries to rest. At U.S. News & World Report today, I answer the most commonly asked questions about how to format a resume. You can read it here.

how to say no to coworkers who ask me to take on work I don’t have time for

A reader writes:

I have a question about interacting with colleagues. I work in a client-facing organisation. For the past six months, we have been understaffed and I have been managing projects pretty much on my own (client management and the delivery). I’ve been with the organisation around five years and it’s my first job out of college.

As I’ve moved up the ladder, I’ve taken on more and bigger projects but it’s only recently that we have taken on some more staff to help with the workload. I now work across two teams, managing projects for both, and I have recently been asked to manage one of our biggest projects.

This all is great for my career but I’m getting seriously stressed out. I am getting irritable at people at work, and I’ve gained 15 pounds because I’m living out of a suitcase and I barely see my husband. All of this would be fine (not fine, but easier to swallow) if I was paid in line with market rates but I’m underpaid!

My manager (who is great) has said everything I’ve achieved warrants a raise and that some projects can be shifted around to ease my load so I can concentrate on this big project. He said to push back if people in other teams ask me to take anything else on.

I really need some Alison phrases I can turn to when colleagues add more tasks to my list (“I have 60 emails to deal with already!” doesn’t seem like the most calm and professional way to go about it). How can I push back without it affecting my raise request? Often colleagues who add to my workload are more senior but aren’t my manager so they don’t fully understand my workload.

The good news here is that your manager has explicitly told you that it’s okay to push back when other teams ask you to take on more work. Knowing that he has your back on this makes this a lot easier.

So, phrases:

* “Normally I’d love to help, but Cecil and I agreed I shouldn’t take on anything new because I’m swamped with the X and Y projects.”

* “Realistically I wouldn’t be able to get to that any time in the next four months because X and Y are taking up so much of my time, so I’m not the person to take it on, unfortunately.”

* “Oh, I’m sorry — I can’t. My plate is completely full right now because of X and I’m not able to take on anything new.”

* “Cecil asked me to be really disciplined about not taking on anything new right now because I’m already overloaded with X and Y. Sorry I can’t help!”

(The language that invokes your boss is particularly good to use with people who are senior to you, so that it’s clear that you’re not arbitrarily turning down work but that this is a directive that has come from someone above you.)

Generally this should be all you need to say. But occasionally someone might push back and say something like, “Oh, I don’t care when you get to it — can you just add it to your list for whenever you have time?” or “It’s really quick — it’ll just take 20 minutes.” If that happens, say this: “I’m sorry, I really can’t. Cecil and I agreed that I wouldn’t add anything to my plate right now.”

Also, remember that people aren’t deliberately trying to overload you with work. In most/all cases, they probably don’t have a good sense of what your existing workload is and are just assuming that you’ll let them know if their request is a problem. I mention that because it’s easy in your shoes to start feeling resentful of the people who ask you to help with additional projects, and it’s important to realize that they’re not being thoughtless or unreasonable. It’s just that generally no one is going to be as familiar with how much work you’re juggling as you are (even your manager won’t generally have as good of a sense of that as you will). That can be hard to remember when it feels obvious to you that you’re drowning in work — but generally other people really don’t know that.

my boss goes overboard for Halloween, hiring manager called me seven times in two hours, and more

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

1. My boss goes overboard for Halloween

I’ve worked six years for a man who goes way over the top with Halloween. Our office becomes a haunted dungeon with spooky lighting, a disturbing soundtrack, gothic pictures and dust covers, and toys that use sensors to jump out at people and make loud noises. For reasons I don’t understand, my boss loves this.

I hate it. I have PTSD from a bad childhood and the whole thing increases my anxiety. Especially the soundtrack can make me spin out. If I didn’t have an office with a door, I wouldn’t be able to work here.

My boss is also a workaholic who seems to have been spinning out the last few years, but has been better lately. Last year he didn’t do the Halloween decor because he was too busy. I hoped he had realized not everyone likes it and wouldn’t do it again. But no… As I write the decorations and lighting are going up. It used to be the whole month, at least now it’s only one and a half weeks. Meanwhile people are waiting for his input on time-sensitive matters.

I’ve thought of asking him not to do it. He probably would stop if I asked — but then he would resent me for years. Maybe forever. I don’t want the damage to my career. I’ve heard several people say they don’t like it, or are afraid of the toys, so I’m not the only one. But no one wants to burst his bubble, and there are a handful who enjoy it. I have some earplugs I bought for a music show I ended up not going to and I think I’ll bring them in so I won’t have to hear the soundtrack when I leave my office. Thank God for my door.

When you have legitimate grounds to worry that you’ll be penalized in some way for asking your boss or employer to change a policy or practice (and “penalized” includes just having a more tense, less positive relationship with your boss), and when you’re not the only one who would like that change, it’s often best to speak up as a group. Why not speak up with a few of your coworkers, and at least address the music and the motion-activated toys? You could all explain that it’s distracting and even unsettling, and ask him to retire them. He’d have to be special kind of jerk to hear that and still insist on forcing a “celebration” on people that they’ve told him outright they find disturbing.

2. Hiring manager called me seven times in two hours

I had an interview recently that seemed to go well. The hiring manager said he would call me within two weeks with his decision. I just graduated school and I’m not working yet, but I have a side job, which I was working at this afternoon. I saw the manager calling me at 12:31, but I couldn’t pick up as I was at work. He left a voicemail asking to call him back. He then proceeded to call me six more times in the next two hours: 12:47, 1:10, 1:22, 1:35, 2:00, and 2:33. Seriously.

I called him back after the 2:33 missed call, saying I was happy to hear from him but I wasn’t able to talk right then, and if it would be okay to give him a call at another time. It was a bit awkward, but he said sure, and that he wanted to offer me the position. I thanked him and said I look forward to talking with him more soon.

We’re in different time zones, but that still wouldn’t explain the need to call me literally seven times. Even if he were to be heading out of the office early that day and trying to catch me beforehand, surely it could have waited till the following morning. I’m trying to decide if this is simply a personality quirk or a red flag. He’s not somebody that I would be working with at all, he’s only involved in hiring and also said he attends the occasional meeting with the rest of us, but that’s it. The industry is notoriously difficult to break into, so I’m not in a position to be choosy. Scale of 1-10, how weird?

Hmmm. Four?

I mean, it’s weird, don’t get me wrong. But I wouldn’t turn down the job over it, assuming you’ve done your due diligence and have reason to believe that he’d be good to work for. Who knows — maybe he had a really tight schedule that day and was trying to reach you in between other stuff, knowing that he’d be harder to reach later. Maybe he was going to be out tomorrow and wanted to get the offer process rolling before he left. It’s still weird behavior, particularly in the age of Caller ID, where he should know you were going to see how often he was calling. But it’s not “run away!” level weird.

So maybe it’s like a six on the weirdness scale, but more like a one or a two on the red flag scale. Sometimes those scales converge, but not always. (Of course, if you go to work for him and he turns out to be someone who constantly nudges you about work that isn’t due for three more days, you’re going to kick yourself for not identifying this as a warning sign. But that’s where the rest of your due diligence comes in.)

3. My employees leave every two hours to move their cars

I am a manager of a public library circulation desk. Through a pilot program, the city I work in recently changed the parking to some metered parking mixed with the two-hour free spaces that were there previously. This has dramatically impacted my staff’s ability to cover the desk adequately, as they often have to leave their desk shifts to move their cars every two hours. While this wasn’t so much a problem before, the patrolled parking hours were extended and it takes them much longer to find free spaces. I find it completely ineffective and would like to nudge them towards locating all-day spots.

The problem is, they are quite attached to the two-hour shuffle, and the breaks they tend to attach to it. When I first started, I noticed this, but it is an ingrained office culture fixture that has not been needed to be tackled until now (there were much bigger hills to die on at that point). I know they’ll have to start parking further away to avoid the meters if this becomes permanent (and I am fairly confident it will be). How would you address this issue?

Explain that having people leave every two hours throughout the day is causing people to be away from work too often, and that by X date, you’re going to need people to move to all-day spots that don’t require constant tending. Have X be a month away, so that people have enough warning that they don’t feel like you’re springing it on them out of nowhere and so they have time to find other spaces and adjust to the change in their routines. Then if people keep doing it after X passes, talk with them individually, tell them that you can’t let them continue to leave every two hours, and ask them to make alternate arrangements.

Also, give people a list of all-day parking areas so that they can’t claim they don’t know of alternatives.

4. My manager told me to stop bringing in Starbucks because people will be jealous

I work for one of the five big banks. I have always brought in Starbucks coffee as my morning ritual to work. I have worked there for 10 years and I have had various supervisors and managers throughout this time. Today I was told by the bank manager I was not to bring in Starbucks coffee anymore because it offends some of my coworkers because they can’t afford to drink Starbucks. Really??? I know that other people also bring in Starbucks from time to time. They have not been singled out. Only me.

I can understand if they want to ban coffee completely, but I don’t think the manager has any right to ban my favorite coffee. Thoughts on how to handle this so-called new policy that Starbucks coffee is not allowed?

That’s ridiculous. Are you also banned from wearing expensive shoes or carrying a particularly nice bag because someone might be upset they can’t afford the same thing? And it’s just Starbucks coffee. It’s not like you’re bringing in cappuccinos with gold flakes in them (this is a real thing).

Anyway, not that you should have to do this, but you can circumvent the whole thing by just pouring your coffee into your own container.

5. My manager didn’t say anything about my five-year work anniversary

A major milestone work anniversary for me (my five-year work anniversary) came and went, and there was no recognition or acknowledgement from anyone in my chain of command. The HR system generated an automated email with a $25(!) gift card with my boss in copy, so I know they know. Am I right to be peeved, or should I forget and forgive?

This is not a major offense. Lots of employers don’t do anything for work anniversaries, or only do something for really big ones (like 20 years). And lots do the automated acknowledgment thing that yours did and nothing beyond that. And of course, plenty do celebrate them, and plenty of managers do acknowledge them — but it’s not a slap in the face that yours didn’t.

That said, if your manager has a history of acknowledging other people’s five-year anniversaries, then I can see why you’re disappointed. But I’d write that off to an oversight, not to a deliberate slight, especially if the relationship is otherwise good.

Your letter was well-timed, since there was actually a long discussion of how people’s workplaces observe (or don’t observe) work anniversaries in the open thread last Friday.