it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news, with more accounts of success even in this weird time.

1. I’ve been a faithful reader of every post on Ask a Manager since 2017, and I also worked my way through most of the archives. Lately, however, I found myself sometimes having to skip the Friday good news posts. It was just a little too much, being in a position that was making me miserable and wondering why all these people could make it work while I couldn’t seem to. At my worst, I could always find a reason those letter writers were in a place to succeed that I would never find myself in. In case there are any other readers in that position, I wanted to share my story.

In 2019, I was pretty happy, but open to better opportunities. I had a full-time position at a small business that had some amazing perks but, despite being a nationally-recognized subject matter expert, after nearly a decode I had only recently started earning $15 an hour. (This sort of pay scale is standard in the industry.) There were also many of the issues you’ve often talked about accompanying small businesses that led to frustration (at best). I also had a successful freelance career and part-time job in another industry, but there is no such thing as a full-time job in my freelance role, and freelancing enough to earn a living would mean much more travel than I’m willing to do.

By April 2020, I was miserable. On top of the obvious worldwide conditions, while I had kept my full-time position, the role I was in had all but disappeared. I went from unique and largely fulfilling work to a generalized role as a cog in a profit-optimizing machine. On top of that, my freelance industry has been one of the hardest hit overall. After a few months of struggling to keep my head above water, I realized I had to find some energy to improve my situation with a job search.

I took your advice to tailor both my resume and cover letter to the organization and role, so due to my level of burnout, I knew I couldn’t complete a large amount of quality applications. I decided to focus only on jobs in organizations for which I could get excited about working and for which I thought my experience was a genuinely strong pitch. It massively narrowed my field, but any other approach seemed overwhelming and likely to leave me ultimately dissatisfied, so I decided to give it a try.

One of my first applications was to an organization that I’ve long been a fan of. I was called in for an interview and felt so good about my prospects. Despite trying to take your advice about putting the job out of my head and moving on as if I hadn’t gotten it, I got optimistic. The next week, the CEO called to tell me how much they enjoyed meeting me, but that there were a couple people with more experience who they were going to continue with in the hiring process instead. (He also specifically mentioned how much he appreciated my thank-you note, which was 100% thanks to your advice.) When I got off that call, I broke down crying. That interview represented my greatest hope for moving on, and I honestly thought at the moment that phone call ended that I had unknowingly sealed my professional fate years ago, and now I was trapped. There would always be someone better than me.

Well, remember that part-time job I briefly mentioned? It was pretty eradicated by COVID too. However, I’ve always loved working for them. They value employees in ways that matter. One week to the day after getting that rejection call, I had an email announcing a position they were recruiting for internally that it looked like I was qualified for and would enjoy. That was a Tuesday. On Wednesday I wrote up my application and sent it in. On Thursday I had a phone screen. On Friday I video interviewed. On Monday they offered me the job. On Tuesday I received the formal benefits package, and on Wednesday I negotiated (for the first time in my life!) for a salary increase and accepted the offer.

After a notice period that reminded me of every reason I was leaving my old job (seriously so many letters’ worth of material in those two weeks alone), I started my new job last week. I’ve gone from internal and external pressure to work overtime hours and not slack for a second to no time clock and a bunch of updates from coworkers who are setting time off to pick up kids from school every day or watch the inauguration. At my old job, working from home meant doing so on your own resources. Now I’m working on a work-issued laptop and have been told any use of my own phone is strictly optional. And I’m making over 30% more in this position with “room to grow.” Every day I’m noticing differences that might look small, but make me practically giddy.

I couldn’t have done this without you. I followed your advice from applying, to interviewing, to thank you notes (seriously, everyone mentioned how great those were), to negotiating the offer, to giving my notice. I was able to clarify my thinking and focus my efforts in a field I’ve never been comfortable navigating before. I can safely say that none of it would have looked the same if left to my own devices, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. Thank you.

2. I’ve been job-searching since I was furloughed in March last year. I was very fortunate that most of this furlough was on full pay and I survived a round of lay-offs at the end of it. Despite this, I was unsatisfied with my prospects for advancement and was feeling less and less enthusiastic about eventually moving back to the extremely high cost-of-living city I worked in (I have been living with family in a much cheaper part of the country since furlough started). Add in that when I was working again, I got moved from a lovely, warm, supportive team to a comparatively cold and hands-off, non-communicative one, and… well, things felt grim.

I worked with a great recruiter and did not struggle to get interviews but kept just missing out. I was going for a role that would be a promotion and was up against people who already had solid experience in that role. Feedback from the companies I interviewed with was very positive, so it was very… close but no cigar, basically.

Then in December I was contacted by an internal recruiter for a fantastic company in a part of the country I’ve wanted to live in for a while, for a job that is the next step up in my career and which I’ve been chasing for months. I gave the best interview of my life so far – thank you so much for your interview tips! – and got an offer this week. I’ve signed my contract, given notice at Old Job, and am counting the days until I move on.

I’ve frequently felt like I was never going to progress in my career and imposter syndrome has been kicking my backside for the past nine months or so. I can hardly believe I’m starting a new chapter of my life, but I’m so excited to do so!

3. In late 2019, I was fired from my job (just shy of three years when some of the benefits improved and vesting in the company 401k was about to kick in). I’m still not exactly sure why I was fired. I wrote the policy they accused me of violating in the official paperwork (which they clearly never read) and having spent the previous six months reviewing the department policies I can say with a great degree of confidence that the policy they say I violated was never in writing or told to me as a policy, and they definity didn’t have any record saying I was trained on this non-existent policy. As best I can tell, I was fired for asking for my salary to be raised to in-line with market rates for the new certification they required me to get and expressing my concern with the desired qualifications for the new director we were looking to hire for my department (which included an unnecessary certification and no managerial experience for a department of 20).

So I headed home and began sending out resumes. I started by contacting two former bosses who had since started their own companies. One had two open positions he was hiring for and the other wasn’t hiring but had a client who was. I had two phone interviews within 24 hours. Then another former coworker contacted me about a site that was looking. So within 48 hours, I had three places wanting to interview me.

I was able to be completely honest with my old boss and his business partner about why I was looking and they both had a WTF reaction to the story. They made an offer that was a 25% raise from the place that fired me (in line with market), had way better benefits, and at the location near my husband’s aging parents (who are increasingly taking up our caregiver energy) so I accepted.

Last week I celebrated my one-year anniversary here and I couldn’t be happier. My previous employer has not weathered COVID well and I would have likely been laid off last spring if I had still been there. I heard that they cut all wages by 30% without cutting hours and are now hounding staff about productivity. My new employer has really handled COVID well. Thanks for all your excellent advice that had me ready to shine when this opportunity presented itself.

4. After a promised promotion that didn’t come through for over a year and a half, I went on an active job hunt. The job I eventually signed with actually recruited me – and wanted me on the team so badly that they increased their budget for the position by $10,000! It’s a step up and I will be in a manager role for the first time. I promise I’ll take all your first-time manager advice to heart as I move into the next stage of my career.

5. Long-time reader here, writing in for the first time ever to share some unbelievably good news and to thank you and your readers/commenters personally. After I graduated college, I promptly moved to a completely different part of the country where I had no prior connections — and (unsurprisingly, in hindsight) struggled to find full-time work for roughly two years, begrudgingly freelancing and working part-time jobs that had nothing to do with my degree in the meantime. In an admittedly spiteful effort to prove that even if I put my all into searching for jobs, I would come up empty-handed, I applied on a whim to a very appealing remote full-time position… well, now I start next week. My starting salary alone is 30~35% more than my (heavily researched!) expectation, and the benefits have even my friends who work in much more lucrative fields than mine flabbergasted. I’m still in shock.

I wouldn’t have been able to undergo the multi-step interview process without the guidance that this blog so graciously provided me: both in preparing my resume and cover letter, and in writing questions for interviews that could both help me get a read on the culture of this particular company and signal to those interviewing me that I had researched the company beforehand. While I ended up not having to negotiate my salary, being prepared to do so gave me peace of mind throughout what was frankly a stressful and unfamiliar process. Checking this blog once every few days for the past couple of years has bestowed unto me lots of insight — and, on occasion, lots of laughter and bewilderment — that I have no doubt will continue to benefit and guide me as I head into my first full-time job EVER!!! Thank you.

open thread – April 16-17, 2021

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 (that includes school). 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 do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

lunch meetings when I can’t eat, I’ve fired my new employee before, and more

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

1. Lunch meetings when I can’t eat

I’m about to enter an industry that encourages people to communicate with each other, especially through the grand event of “let’s have lunch.” My biggest secret is that I have a rare lifelong eating disorder that makes it very hard to eat with people. When I usually have lunch with people, I’d rather sip on some coffee and still be engaged in the conversation. Knowing that buying someone lunch is a way to show kindness, especially between professionals, I am not ready for this. The worst case scenario is for the other party to think they are doing a very kind service of ordering something for me. Insisting that I eat when I am not in the right space can be insanely triggering and can lead to me having an emotional breakdown. These “rules” do have exceptions, however. For example, I am more likely able to eat breakfast than lunch and dinner.

Having a lunch meeting is inevitable. How can I still participate in lunch conversations without having to eat nor explain my condition?

If these meals are with groups, this will be easier to navigate; people won’t be as focused on what you’re eating or not eating and you can likely get away with just coffee and something small that you push around on the plate (if you’re comfortable with that). But in a one-on-one meeting, it can feel pretty awkward to be the only person eating and it’s more likely to become A Thing. So for any meetings that will just be you and one other person, suggest breakfast or coffee. People are often glad for the opportunity to change things up (and both of those can be shorter than lunch, which people often appreciate). But if someone is really pushing lunch, try saying, “I’ve got some food restrictions that make it hard to order off most menus, but I’m happy to just have coffee if you want to do lunch.” (Then it’s up to them if they want to be the sole eater.)

It’s unlikely that someone will order something for you (that’s not something people normally do in business situations, especially if you’ve already said you have food restrictions) but if someone does, jump in with, “Thanks for offering but I hate to waste food, so I’ll stick with coffee.” Typically when someone pushes food in a context like this, they’re worried about you not having what you need or that you’re unhappy/being deprived, so the more you can be breezy and cheerful about it, the better: “Oh, I’m used to it, I don’t mind at all!” — “Any time I have coffee is a win for me!” — “Nah, I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me at all. So tell me about Work Topic X!”

2. I’ve fired my new employee before

I recently took a job in my same industry and city. In my new role, I’ll have a team of eight reporting to me in various capacities and functions. During the interview process, I got a brief read-out of the team and a high level talent assessment. Nothing stood out as an issue. On my first day, I met the team reporting to me. One of the people on the team is someone that worked for me before and who I terminated for cause due to performance at my previous job.

What do I communicate to my new manager and/or HR about this situation? It feels weird to say nothing because ultimately, this could be a management issue — I’m sure this employee doesn’t feel great about the situation. On the other hand, I don’t want to risk harming this person’s reputation at this company if they are doing a good job so far. This person is pretty new here, too, and my impression is they are either doing a better job in this role or management has not yet identified an issue with their performance.

Have you talked to the employee yet? That’s important because they are undoubtedly really uncomfortable, if not outright panicking. Ideally you’d tell them that you’re happy to be working with them again, you’ve heard good things about the work they’ve been doing (if that’s true), and while you know your last time working together didn’t go the way either of you wanted, this is a different situation and, as far you’re concerned, both of you are starting fresh.

I do think you’re right that you need to mention it to your own manager or HR. It sucks because this person is entitled to a fresh start without the firing following them to a different job, but I’d be pretty concerned if I found out someone I managed didn’t share something so potentially relevant with me. It’s relevant not as a predictor of the person’s work now but because it could affect the dynamic between the two of you, and either of you could struggle not to interpret things through that old lens. I’d keep it very brief — “I managed Jane at an old job and unfortunately the fit wasn’t right and we ended up parting ways. I’m very willing to start fresh with her and I’m hopeful the role she’s in could be a great a match, but I figured you’d want to be aware of the prior work relationship.” Also, if it’s been a while since you worked together, stress that too.

3. Visible nipple piercings at work

I work in healthcare, and one of our front desk staff has nipple piercings that are easily visible through her shirt (to the degree that it is obvious what type of jewelry she is wearing).

Although I am generally firmly in the camp of “your underwear (/piercings) are your own business,” is it appropriate to ask her to conceal her piercings more effectively? If so, how does one have that conversation?

Maybe it’s because my brain is completely burned out after Wednesday’s speed round (in which I answered 76 QUESTIONS IN TWO HOURS and may never recover) but I’m honestly not sure where I stand on this. I can come up with a bunch of justifications for saying you can’t have distracting piercings at work (no matter where they are) and I can come up with a bunch of reasons why you should leave it alone. In general, my bias is to err on the side of giving people maximum freedom unless you have a good reason not to, but that doesn’t always work when you’re dealing with front desk staff who are the face of your business. If you had a “no visible non-ear piercings” policy, that would cover this — but I don’t want you to implement that policy just to deal with this since it would ban other piercings that you might otherwise have been fine with.

Ultimately, I think the right answer is that you can/should address it, but I can’t seem to get myself all the way there … and I’m sure it’s because I’m so tired of people having opinions about how women’s breasts show up at work … even though I know this is different from those situations. Thoughts from others?

(It’s also an interesting thought exercise to think about how you’d handle this if it were a highly visible Prince Albert piercing on a man.) (Do not google that at work.)

4. Can I use a second job offer to get more money after I’ve already accepted a different offer?

Last year, I (unsuccessfully) attempted to negotiate my existing contract with my employer of five years as it was no longer working for me and my family. My boss listened to my concerns, but I was told that our industry was hurting from COVID and the changes I was seeking were not possible then. A week later, I was furloughed for several months. At the end of my furlough, my employer let me know my job was still available to me, but my contract would remain unchanged. I had a job offer in a new role in the same industry, which I accepted, and told my employer I would not be coming back. We parted on good terms.

After six months at my new job, I realized this new role was not for me. After a chance encounter with my former employer’s biggest competitor, I was offered my old role at this new company, with all the terms I was previously seeking. I accepted the position and have a start date in the coming weeks.

My industry is small, and this morning my former manager reached out to me saying that he heard I’m going to this new company and was upset I didn’t reach out to him about moving back into my old role. He mentioned that they are expanding their workforce, and asked if I would be open to talking about changes that have been implemented there and what it would take to have me return! I accepted the meeting but have no intention of returning there regardless of how good the offer is. My intention was to see what they offer and then go to my new job, tell them my old employer made an unsolicited offer, and see if they can offer me a signing bonus. In my industry, signing bonuses are very common. I was not offered one with my initial offer, but I know they have offered them in the past to try and entice people to join their company.

Is this acceptable practice, or does this have the potential of blowing up in my face? I’ve never been in this position before, and I figure it doesn’t hurt to ask, right?

No, it could hurt to ask. You’ve accepted their offer, and you’d basically be going back to them and saying, “I might not take this job after all, unless we can renegotiate compensation” — which will make it look like you haven’t been operating in good faith. (What if they came back to you after you’d accepted the job and wanted to pay you less?) You can walk away from the new job if you want (it will likely burn the bridge, but you can do it if you want to take the old job), but you can’t say, “Wait, I changed my mind and now I want more.”

Frankly, I wouldn’t take that meeting with your old boss at all if you’re positive you have no intention of returning. That would be operating in bad faith with both employers and it’s not a good way to navigate your career. (There’s usually no harm in hearing people out, but in this case you’d be wasting their time solely in the hopes of using it to get more money from someone else, and you risk that someone else telling you that you should go ahead and take the other offer, which you don’t even want.)

5. My colleague keeps canceling on me, and it’s jeopardizing a deadline

I am supposed to be trained on a particular platform for evaluating students. The person responsible for this training has said they would meet with me on three different occasions, but they have never shown up; always something came up. I have done what I can in the system by reaching out to fellow colleagues, but the next steps must involve the training person. If the data is not submitted by end of April there will be tough consequences, district and state-wide. How do I approach them with a firm understanding that we must meet? Do I go to my supervisor? Help!

Do two things: let the person know that you absolutely must have the data submitted by the end of the month, which means you need the training no later than X (to give you time to actually do the work after you’re trained), and ask how to nail down a time that they can absolutely commit to. Then give your boss a heads-up about what’s going on and how you’re handling it, so that she’s aware of the situation and so she can intervene if she wants to.

have I destroyed boundaries with my team during Covid?

A reader writes:

I’ve been a manager for four years, all at the same location and mostly with the same reports (three people). I’m a pretty private person and didn’t love a previous job that tried to force out-of-work friendships on staff. As a manager I’ve always been a friendly-but-not-friends type, they’re lovely people and I have a general idea of what’s going on with my reports from chat on breaks/check-in during supervision; I’ve never socialized with them except for out of office team-building on company time and shared meals during conference travel.

And then COVID. We are all pretty conscientious people in a state full of anti-maskers and never went remote so have been working in the office this whole time. None of us are really seeing anyone outside of close family and each other. I feel like I’ve increasingly drifted in the friends-with-reports direction during this time with one person in particular, and somewhat with another. The third is super reserved and isn’t really friendly with anyone. By that, I mean 10-15 minute check-in chats daily, occasional half-hour office hangouts during downtimes, sharing family photos and videos, recipe and cocktail recommendations, etc. We are all similar age and single. It’s honestly helped keep me sane, and during our annual reviews last week they each mentioned something about their good work environment and relationships helping them get through COVID.

But … we are all currently or soon to be vaccinated, so I’m beginning to think about what to do after/if things do go back to normal. I don’t want them to think I don’t like them anymore if I cut down the personal conversations, but I also don’t want to have inappropriate personal relationships or make any new staff who come on board feel excluded. Any thoughts?

Having 15-minute chats, occasionally socializing for half an hour during downtime, and sharing photos, recipes, and cocktail recommendations — that doesn’t seem like a crossing of boundaries to me! Those are all things managers with appropriate boundaries can do with their teams. You’re being warm and friendly and developing deeper connections with the people you work with. That’s fine!

Inappropriate would be things like wanting your employees to listen to or help you solve serious non-work problems in your life, having weepy conversations about your family or love life, badmouthing your own boss, or expecting them to prioritize chatting with you over their own work or outside interests (or them expecting any of this from you). It would also be things like getting drunk together or hanging out regularly outside of work. But trading recipes and photos — totally normal and not a sign of problematically relaxed boundaries!

So I don’t know that you need to worry particularly. A warm, friendly environment isn’t inherently problematic. You do need to be careful that the third person doesn’t feel excluded; you should always attempt to include her even if you know she’ll likely decline, and make sure the others don’t have special access to you that she doesn’t have. You should also make a point of watching how often you initiate these conversations versus how often the others do; the power dynamics mean they may feel obligated to engage with you on demand, so you’d want to watch out for that.

But a team that gets along well and enjoys talking to each other isn’t the same as a team that’s obliterated professional boundaries. (If I am misunderstanding and there’s more to it than the specifics you named in your letter, please write back so I can course-correct!)

how to screen out micromanagers in a job interview

A reader writes:

I am part of the interview team in finding a replacement for our ex-manager. And our department would really like this person to not be another micromanager.

Any ideas for questions I could ask? Or any red flags in the interviewee’s answers/demeanor to watch out for?

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.

how have other people helped you in your career?

Let’s talk about how people have helped you in your career, especially if you grew up in a family that couldn’t provide much guidance. What specific things did others do that helped you? Hopefully this will be good fodder for all of us to think about what things we can do to help other people, too.

Let’s discuss in the comment section.

new employee has gone AWOL, asking someone to mentor me, and more

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

1. New employee is AWOL

I’m writing this question on behalf of my husband, Wakeen, who is a managing attorney at a small firm that is entirely remote, with lawyers spread out across the region. He recently hired a mid-level attorney, Fergus, who is based in a different city and who reports directly to Wakeen.

Fergus started 10 days ago and to date appears to have done no work. Beginning on day one, he began telling Wakeen and other senior attorneys that he was having a “temporary personal crisis” and needed more time to finish the assignments he was given. He didn’t specify the nature of this crisis, and no one has felt comfortable probing. Given all that’s happening with Covid, they have tried to be accomodating. But now deadlines are approaching and they have no sense of when or if Fergus will be able to turn around his assignments. He appears to have billed zero hours using the firm’s time-keeping system, but everytime they have checked in with him, he emphasizes that the crisis is temporary, will be resolved soon, and says he can turn some things in the following day — implying that he’s been working on these matters. But he never turns in anything.

What do you advise they do at this point? It’s a small firm with no real HR and none of the managers have ever dealt with a situation like this before. FWIW, there was one potential red flag during the interview process: Fergus had quit his last job of five years with no other job lined up. He said he quit because he couldn’t stand working there anymore. Wakeen decided to overlook this because he comes from a similar Big Law environment as Fergus, and he thought Fergus was a good fit for the firm’s needs.

Fergus has done no work in the 10 days he’s been employed there and isn’t communicating about what’s going on. I’m all for accommodating people when you can and understanding that life sometimes interferes with things in a big way, but this isn’t reasonable. The part that concerns me most is that he’s repeatedly breaking promises about delivering work (and he doesn’t address that when it happens, it sounds like?). That takes it beyond the realm of “maybe he had some really bad luck,” which you would want to accommodate if you could, and makes it seem more likely that he’s abusing your good faith.

If I were your husband, I’d call Fergus and say, “We want to be accommodating, but without a better understanding of what’s going on, we’re at the limits of what we can do. If there’s anything you want to share about what’s going on, maybe we can help, but otherwise we’re at the point where we need to hire someone else for the role.” Another option would be to tell him he needs to begin work by X date or they’ll assume he has abandoned the job — but with the way he’s navigated this so far, I’d recommend just cutting things off now unless he shares something that changes how this looks.

2. How can I signal that I’m not the bottleneck?

In my work, I work on things that pass through many hands and each person’s involvement is needed at those times. In most cases, those doing the work are a level above me and I am mostly coordinating the project/work. For example, I am working on securing a contract with an external consultant but it needs to pass through review by our attorney (who is not an employee). The external consultant is pushing for it to move faster and is setting up other things that are dependent on this contract being signed now. Yet the attorney is moving at a slower pace. I am being pressured by the external consultant for them to be able to sign the document. Another example, my supervisor habitually does things four to five days late.

I don’t want people to think that I am the bottleneck and I also don’t want to seem unresponsive, so I feel like I should respond in some way. For the most part, I don’t want their slower pace or missing deadlines to reflect on my reputation. Can you help me with a few ideas of how (or even should) I let others know that I am not the bottleneck? How can I phrase it so that, for example, the attorney knows and sees that the other party is starting to get impatient?

For the consultant, it’ll help to manage expectations from the start: “The attorney will need about a week to review this. I’m hopeful I’ll have it ready for you by Monday, but it’ll depend on how quickly she’s able to complete it.” And then if the consultant pushes after that: “I will check in with the attorney, but typically the process takes about a week.” Or “I’ll see if she has an updated ETA, but I know she’s fitting it in around other work.” You should also check with the attorney when the work first goes to her to see if she can give you an ETA you can share … but don’t bug her just because the consultant is antsy, unless the attorney truly is outside the timeline you would expect.

When people are waiting on something from your boss: “It’s with Jane but I know she’s swamped. I’ll see if I can nudge her / see if I can get an updated ETA.”

Sometimes, too, it will make sense to proactively circle back to people who you know are waiting on something you have no control over and say — even before they’ve followed up with you — “I know you’re waiting on X from Jane and hoped to have it by now. She hasn’t sent it back yet, but I’ll make sure it stays on her radar.” That can help signal that even if other people are holding things up, you are on top of things and responsive.

3. Letting a new manager know I cover my hair

I recently took a new job, and although it’s mostly remote for the time being, I will be going into the office once every week or so. My first visit to the office will probably be next week. My issue is that in the dress code it states that we’re not allowed to wear hats, and I cover my hair in public for personal religious reasons (I’m Jewish). I’m aware that religious discrimination is illegal, and as far as I know there shouldn’t be any barriers in accommodating me. However, I’m uncertain about how or if I should bring it up. I usually wear a plain-colored bandana coordinated with my outfit, so it’s not as immediately obvious/well-known as other styles of religious head coverings. Should I tell my manager beforehand? Simply come in wearing it and explain if anyone asks? Wear a kippah instead the first couple times and then switch back to my bandanas?

“No hats” probably doesn’t mean “no bandanas or scarves” so there’s a pretty good chance that you could just wear the bandana without having to explain it. But if you want the peace of mind of not having to wonder, you could mention it to your manager ahead of time — “by the way, I cover my hair for religious reasons, and I wanted to give you a heads-up in case it would normally violate the ’no hats’ policy.” That’s it! You could also go the kippah route at first, which would likely get the point across without having to explicitly address it, but I’m a fan of just spelling it out up-front (especially since then you can just stick with bandanas from the get-go, which it sounds like you’d prefer).

4. How do I ask someone to mentor me?

I am at a transitional point in my career, and I have a former board member who has tremendous skills in an area I want to develop. I would like to ask them to mentor me. We had a good rapport when they were on the board, but haven’t spoken since they termed off.

I don’t know how to write this email. It feels like asking someone out on a date! What if they don’t like me? What if I’m not clear in my ask? How do I do this?

In my mind I know what I want to learn from them, an idea of frequency for meetings, and I will understand if they decline (they’re busy and might want space from my employer). But how do I start this email?

I’ve always found the best mentorships are the ones that spring up naturally, as opposed to a formal arrangement from the start. It’s also a pretty big request if the relationship hasn’t already been moving in that direction on its own (or if the person hasn’t already indicated their willingness to make that time investment, such as by signing up for a formal mentoring program, etc.).

So I think you’d be better off just asking for a single meeting first and seeing how that goes. You could frame it as, “I really respect what you’ve achieved in A and B, and you’ve been a model for me as I work to develop skills like C and D. I would love to run some questions by you that I’m grappling with about my career.” If that goes well, you can continue to build the relationship from there — but I think it’s a lot to jump straight to requesting formal, ongoing mentorship right off the bat.

5. Posting on LinkedIn when you’ve been laid off

I was just laid off from a startup today. It’s been the second time I’ve been laid off from a startup in 2.5 years. Both times I had gotten rave performance reviews, but was still laid off with a group of others due to budget issues. I know it’s part of the culture and not due to my performance, but it still stings a bit.

I was kind of embarrassed the first time it happened and didn’t ask for help on LinkedIn. However, a few months back my company laid off a bunch of people. They were very honest and asked for help on LinkedIn posts and I saw a lot of support and offers for interviews.

As a general rule, is it a good idea to post to LinkedIn when laid off to let your network know you’re in the market for a new job?

Yeah, this is a thing people do, and it can generate job leads! Don’t let it take the place of reaching out individually to your network, but it’s a useful thing to add to whatever else you’re doing.

And don’t be embarrassed — people get laid off all the time, and even more so this past year. It might help to remember that by letting people know you’re looking for work, you could be helping them, if they’re searching for someone who does exactly what you do or if it lets them make a really good referral to someone they know or so forth.

Ask a Manager speed round

It’s the Ask a Manager speed round! Until 4 pm ET today, I’ll be answering as many questions as I can live, in the comment section below.

How to ask questions: Submit a comment below with your question. This quick format is best suited to questions that don’t require lengthy, nuanced answers. Questions won’t appear until they’re answered.

How to stay anonymous: Pick a user name (not your real name!) for the “user name” box.

How to comment: You can comment as normal, by replying below. Comments won’t appear until approved due to the moderation function necessary to set this up.

Update: The speed round is now closed! You can read it below.

do I really have to have career ambition?

A reader writes:

I’m the type of person who works for one and only one reason: to earn a living. I do a good job, but this is 100 percent because I’m terrified of starving in the streets and 0 percent because I genuinely care about work or want to build up a “career.”

There aren’t any jobs in the universe I’d ever actually want to do. I’ve never read any job description and not thought, “well, that sounds awful.” The highest bar I’m interested in setting re: work is finding something that isn’t too awful to bear every day, and performing well so I don’t get fired.

I accept that having a job also means being required to nod and smile along with all the company BS. I do. But I struggle mightily with my company’s obsession with everyone’s “career development.” It’s fine that this stuff is there for people who are interested—what I don’t understand is why those of us who aren’t interested, and are never going to be interested, are forced to participate too. No matter how many times, year after year, I smile and repeat “I’m fine with where I am now, I don’t have any goals beyond performing well in this role,” I can’t seem to escape it.

Is it too much to expect that I can simply have a job that allows me to earn a living and that’s it? Or will I really have to keep dealing with this CAREER nonsense until retirement? If so, how do I navigate this? Do I need to come up with some convincing fake “goals” and “passions” to appease the powers that be? If so, I’m completely blank on ideas for what to say and would appreciate suggestions.

You can read my answer to this letter at Vice today. Head over there to read it.

my coworker is a talker and whines when I ask him to stop

A reader writes:

I’m a mid-20’s woman and I share a tiny office with two coworkers who each have multiple grandchildren. My male coworker, Bob, is a talker. I have tried everything — the staring at my screen, typing furiously as he starts a conversation, the distracted “mhmm, ok”’s as he rambles, and straight up asking him to stop talking by saying “I can’t talk right now, I need to focus.”

He does several things that I find absolutely infuriating.

1) If I am giving off body language that shows I’m trying to focus but he has something he really wants to share, he overrides all my subtle cues. He has in the past shoved his mobile phone right in front of my face to show me a photo of his grandkid, the latest funny/inspiring video clip he needs to share, etc. He has poked me in the arm to get my attention when I have headphones on.

2) When I explicitly say that I can’t talk right now, he does a suuuper strange, whiny, childish voice mocking my request (e.g. “ooh nooo, Sansa has to focus, she’s put her boundaries up”). He usually does this for 5-15 seconds, which I ignore, then leaves me alone.

I feel like I need to put up with his ridiculous whiny whinging about not being able to talk for 5-15 seconds as a down payment for an hour’s silence. Maybe this is just what I need to do, but it is so incredibly draining and frustrating and I honestly tense up every time he opens his mouth.

He is otherwise a really friendly, extroverted person and I don’t mind chatting over lunch, but he often starts chats just as I really need to focus. His desk is literally right next to mine (our chairs are probably about half a meter apart), so this is starting to really grate on me. He also regularly talks to himself and chuckles out loud at things on his screen, but that is honestly a smaller problem compared to everything else. Help!

What the hell?

It would be one thing if Bob were just bad at picking up on social cues — in which case you’d just need to be more direct — but he knows you’re trying to focus because you’ve told him and he  chooses to whine and mock you for that? As if you’re there to meet his social needs whenever he feels like it, as opposed to .. working.

And I know how exhausting it is to always have to talk about sexism, but it is no coincidence that you’re a woman. The Bobs of the world rarely use these specific behaviors with men. On some level, he resents that you’re not serving his needs in the way he wants — or he at least feels entitled to insist on it in a way that he probably doesn’t do with men. (Can you imagine him poking and whining at, say, a 50-year-old dude?)

Bob might be friendly in other contexts, but he’s acting like a self-absorbed child and a jerk.

You’ve tried all my usual advice — say explicitly that you can’t talk at the moment, use body language that reinforces that, ignore the person and keep typing — and it’s not working. If anything, it sounds like Bob takes all of that as encouragement to be more obnoxious.

So at this point you have two choices:

1. You can continue you’re doing now: tell him you can’t talk and accept that he’s gong to whine for 15 seconds but then will leave you alone.

2. You can push back much more aggressively — and I do mean aggressively, because he has created a situation where handling him politely isn’t working. For example:
* When he shoves your phone in front of your face, say in an openly pissed off tone, “Take that out of my face. You can see that I am am working.”
* If he pokes you (!), say in an even more pissed off tone, “STOP TOUCHING ME.” Follow it up with, “I am working right now. If you need me, please email me and I’ll see it when I’m free.”
* Most importantly, every time he interrupts you while you’re working, say, “I cannot talk right now, I’m busy.” If he starts whining, look him straight in the eye and say, “Why are you talking like a child?” Or, “You must not realize how off-putting that sounds from a grown man.” Or, “You are being rude. Stop.” Or, “That makes me never want to talk to you, and it’s really getting old.”

He’s not going to like that. At all. And that’s fine. He is the one who has created a situation where you’re forced to be this blunt. If these exchanges feel bad to him, that’s on him.

You probably won’t like it either, because that’s a much more aggressive way of speaking to colleagues than people normally have to use and it won’t feel polite. But all of these responses are warranted. You won’t be the one crossing lines; you’ll be the one responding to someone else’s line-crossing. It’s okay if he feels stung or embarrassed; he should feel embarrassed, and it may be what it takes to get him to stop. Or he might just stop liking you, which is also okay — unless that could cause political problems for you at work, in which case move to the next step.

If this doesn’t work — or if you can’t bring yourself to be as direct as I’m recommending — two other options are to have a big-picture conversation with him or with your boss.

If it’s with him, you could say something like, “I want to talk to you about how you respond when I’m busy and can’t speak to you. You insist on getting my attention anyway and complain if I won’t give it to you. It’s getting in the way of my ability to focus, so if I say I can’t talk, I need you to let me work.” Who knows, maybe he’ll back off. Or maybe he’ll find that hilarious and it’ll egg him on further.

If that’s the case, then at that point you’ll have plenty of standing to go to your boss because this is something that’s interfering in your ability to work. You’ll have tried to address it on your own, Bob will have openly refused to leave you alone, and you’ll have exhausted your options for handling it yourself.

(If that doesn’t work, consider digging a large pit right under Bob’s chair for him to fall into one day. You can send down food and water.)