I’m biased toward midwesterners, cleaning up after a reply-all email storm, and more

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

1. I’m biased toward midwestern candidates

At the east coast company I work at, I’m frequently on hiring committees for competitive positions that typically include a wide range of candidates from all over the U.S. I recently noticed a concerning pattern in the candidates that I have advocated for hire. Essentially, when other qualifications are relatively equal, I nearly always prefer the midwestern candidate. (I am from the midwest and work remotely from the midwest) for their personability and communication style. And generally, my opinion holds a strong sway for who ends up being hired. While I’ve never advocated for a midwest hire who isn’t one of top candidates in terms of objective qualifications and interview responses, I still don’t think this is a great look.

What can I (and the company in general) do to reduce this type of bias during hiring? Should I just hold my opinion if we are between a handful of candidates and I prefer the midwestern one?

A quick caveat: I am, unfortunately, amazing at recognizing midwestern accents, especially in people from the Great Lakes regions (or from the city of Chicago).

Yeah, “like me” bias is really common in hiring, and it’s good that you’re recognizing it! We (often) naturally prefer people who remind us of ourselves and feel comfortable/familiar to us. It’s especially telling that you noted your preference is based on their “personability” and communication style, because those are two things that are really subjective and can be big sources of bias.

So how do you mitigate it? First and foremost, make sure that you’re assessing all candidates on the same list of must-have and nice-to-have traits, and that you’re clearly defining what each of those looks like and not just “I know it when I see it.” For example, you might assess communication style and personability through metrics like: enthusiasm for engaging with people; conveying points clearly; asking questions to understand others’ perspectives; listening carefully and asking questions to understand others’ perspectives; and being able to put people at ease, especially people different from themselves (that last part is key). Also, involve diverse voices in your hiring process (and make sure you get aligned with them about the must-have’s and how to assess those so that everyone is measuring against the same bar; otherwise people will default to their own criteria). Ask people to fill out written assessments independently, so they’re not overly influenced by what you or others think, and ask them to peg their ratings to observable behaviors, not gut feelings.

Those two things won’t solve it entirely — bias is a huge and complicated thing that takes significant work to mitigate — but they should help significantly, and should also surface places where earlier you might have been influenced by bias without even realizing it.

2. The right way to clean up after a reply-all email storm

My inbox was victimized by an external email storm yesterday, and it made me curious about how you’d advise the organization at the center to proceed in the aftermath. A university career center recently launched a new hiring platform to connect students and employers, and they sent a webinar invitation to recruiters across the region — corporate, public sector, school districts, etc. Something went wrong in the system and an automatically generated reply went to everyone, which then generated a service ticket email that also went to everyone. Enter Corporate Recruiter A, who responded, “I’m not sure why I’m on this service ticket.” For some reason this email also generated a subsequent service ticket email. Enter Corporate Recruiter B, who responded, “Same here.” (HELPFUL. Are both of you new to email? And technological systems in general?) City Employee chimed in, “I am getting multiple emails from this. Is there something you need from me?” And then Corporate Recruiter C opened the floodgates with, “Please remove me from your mailing list.” Cue hundreds of recruiters from the region asking to be removed from the list, followed by a handful of well-intentioned folks with the “STOP REPLYING” directives. Every one of these emails generated a separate service ticket email, so it was like the BOGO of email storms.

800 emails later, it has finally stopped. If you were the university, would you ignore all those requests from recruiters to be removed, since you need them to be recruiting your students and they were most unwittingly responding to one specific event? Or are you obligated to honor their request? Do you dare send a follow-up email to explain and apologize? Do you do personal outreach to the recruiters who participated in the melee to mend relations? Just to recruiters from high-value contacts, e.g. Fortune 500 companies and major local employers? Cut the registration fee for your next career fair as a mea culpa?

The emails were annoying, of course, but I mainly felt sorry and frustrated for the university employees. If I were them and I were instructed to send an apology email, I’m not sure I could stop myself from including some “electronic mail guidance for noobs” on how to disengage from an email storm…

Eh, people asking to be removed in that context usually mean “remove me from this shitstorm,” not necessarily “never contact me again.” I don’t think you’d need to unsubscribe all of them, as long as you’re very, very sure that the problem has been solved. You could send an email a day or so later apologizing and assuring people the problem has been fixed and won’t recur (make sure that’s true! the last thing you need is for that email to set up a whole new flood) and offering an unsubscribe link for people who want it. (That said, you’d want to look at CAN-SPAM and any other applicable laws to make sure you’re in compliance.)

I don’t think anyone would expect you to cut the registration fee or call people personally to apologize. (I’d actually be more annoyed by a phone call about it, in an “I still can’t get away from this?” kind of way.)

Related:
the burnt bagel, the excessive candor, and other reply-all email catastrophes

3. How open should I be about family stress that may affect me at work?

I’m tangentially connected to an ongoing family issue which is apparently on the verge of boiling over and causing some irrevocable damage to the extended family. There’s a high likelihood of my brother and his wife divorcing, and they have two kids under 10. There was a deliberate attempt to conceal the issues from me, up to and including lying to my face about how things are with them.

This affects my work only slightly: My work is pure physical labor. I deliberately made more work for myself when counting new stock as a healthy way to vent my frustrations and distract myself, and I explained my reasoning for doing that. At what point am I giving too much information, or at what point is giving specific details that there is an issue ongoing necessary?

Hmmm, it really depends on the details. If no one will even notice that you’re doing something differently to get more of a physical outlet, you don’t need to say anything at all. If it’s going to be noticeable, sure, say, “I”m working out some family stress on these boxes right now!” But there’s a fairly narrow window for how much of that is okay at work — tackling boxes extra vigorously is fine, but if it comes close to looking like hostile aggression (even though it’s directed toward inanimate objects, not another person), it’s inappropriate for work. If someone would be nervous about coming near you, you’ve crossed a line. Regardless, though, people don’t really need to know the details of what’s going on with your family.

(For what it’s worth, and I realize I’m saying this knowing almost nothing about the situation: avoid judging other people’s marriages and divorces as much as you can. Divorce is sad, especially when kids are involved — but lots of grown children, including me, will tell you firsthand that the damage to kids when their parents don’t divorce but should can be harder on them than a split would have been. Your brother also didn’t owe you a full account of what was happening within his marriage before he was ready to share. Again, I don’t know the details and certainly there are situations that would enrage any reasonable bystander — but when your feelings about someone else’s marriage are looming this large, it’s worth questioning.)

4. Do I owe a previous employer help with their questions now?

I gave two weeks notice at my job. My manager, the owner of the company, sent a message to all the team leads that I would be leaving and I sent the team leads and the other person on my team a message that I had cleared my calendar and would be happy to meet with them to facilitate my departure. I also created a document outlining several tasks that remained and where I was with each of them.

The other person on my team, Sara, set up a meeting with our accounting firm and participated in several meetings in which the managing owner and she were present but I was excluded. Which is fine, but I did not have any insight into what decisions were reached, so I assumed they had everything in hand. I had one meeting with the two owners and Sara, where they said they felt my procedures were excessive and overdone and instead of learning them, they said there was a better way to do my job. (That was fine with me — I was leaving anyway.) I also asked Sara if she wanted to set a time to go over procedures and how to do tasks, as most would fall on her plate, but she insisted she already knew. No one got in touch, no one asked questions, no one showed any interest in anything I had to share. I completed the document, wished everyone the best, and went on my way. No hard feelings, just excitement for my new role.

A couple weeks after I left, I received a message from Sara with questions — where things were, if I had finished a report. etc. etc. I did not feel like I had any responsibility to answer. I don’t have hard feelings, but I feel like no one wanted my help while I was leaving and now I don’t owe them anything further. I don’t think of myself as bitter or angry, just happy to move on. Am I wrong? Should I have answered all the questions?

You’re right on the principle of it: you tried repeatedly to help with the transition while you were still there and they made it clear that they didn’t want your help and felt they knew better. So it’s particularly irritating that they’re coming back to you now.

That said, it generally makes sense to be willing to answer one or two simple questions after you’re gone if you can do so very quickly, simply for the purpose of maintaining good will. But I’m talking about things like “do you remember where the X report is?” not “can you walk me through the history of this client and all the strategies we’ve tried with them in the past” — and also only one or two, not endless or ongoing contact. So if it would have taken only a minute or two to respond to Sara, I’d advise just doing it. You don’t have to, though; it also would have been fine to let the message sit for a week and then reply with, “Hmmm, I don’t know off the top of my head, but check the documentation I left.” (Or even not reply at all.)

5. I have no idea who to give my resignation to

I’ve decided to quit my job! However, I’m not sure who to give my notice to. My boss has left, and her boss is a C-suite executive I’ve never met. I’m sure I’m overthinking this, but I’m in a very senior role with no clear redundancy / transition plan for my responsibilities, and want to make sure I’m setting my team up for continued success after I’m gone. So who do I talk to about all of this? What are the appropriate protocols here?

Who are you going to for other management things right now? If there were a crisis in your department, who would you talk to? That’s probably the right person to resign to. If there’s no clear answer to that, then default to your ex-boss’s boss. If that’s impractical, head to HR, explain the situation, and let them straighten it out.

my boss is upset that I quit without more notice because I’m vital to the business

A reader writes:

I just left my job. I had worked at the same small company for six years. Over the years, I have seen admin staff leave with little notice and staff who gave notice but did not actually work through it. My boss, Amanda, told me that she actually did not want them to work those two weeks, so she gave them the option to leave immediately. I was not there for those conversations, so I only had her word. I also know from past interactions that she is not someone who is open to criticism.

When I left, I was the only employee. I did my job (which is a client-facing job and if something is missed, it can open the business up to liability) plus a large share of the administrative work. Amanda worked partial days while I worked extra hours to get everything done. I was vital to the company running smoothly.

Amanda had asked me multiple times if I planned on staying with the company. I always said yes, because I felt like I could not leave without damaging the business and that she would not be receptive if I told her I didn’t plan to stay.

But one day, I had a terrible day at work and all of the frustrations of the job just boiled over. I felt unsupported, used, and frankly like I was drowning in mismanagement. After a tearful phone call about how stressed I was, my fiance suggested that I look for jobs in his area, about two hours away. We had talked about it before, but now I was ready to leave. It was not a full-time search but I was keeping an eye open. I applied for two jobs. Within a week of submitting my second application, I was interviewed and hired. I told them that I would need a delayed start date so that the transition would be smooth. They agreed.

Amanda did not take the news well. When I gave her my resignation, I told her I could stay at least three to four weeks for a smooth transition. She said okay and walked away. A few minutes later, she told me to be done at the end of the week. I again offered to stay longer, but she said she “would figure it out.” The next day we had the conversation again. I even suggested she look at the calendar before she made a decision because some big events were upcoming. I thought she just needed some time to process the resignation. But she said the same thing, so I called my new employer and set my start date for two weeks later so that I would not be without a pay check for a month.

The next day, Amanda called me in tears and asked me to come in to help out on days when she would be busy. I told I could not do that. I explained that I had offered to stay four weeks and she declined, so I was starting at the new job sooner and would not be available. I told her I would leave her detailed notes and be available for questions. She cried and told me that I was screwing her over by not telling her that I had been looking for a new job. I told her I was not trying to upset her and that I offered to stay on longer for that reason, and every version of “its not you, it’s me” I could think of.

I know that I was a vital employee. I thought I was doing the right thing while still protecting myself. But now I’m not sure. Was I in the wrong? Should I have told her that my plans changed and I had put in applications somewhere else? Could I have handled this better?

No.

You never, ever need to warn your boss that you are job-searching.

Okay, maybe in some very outlier edge cases, like your boss is about to invest significant time and money in training you to take over while she’ll be on leave to donate an organ, has asked you to level with her if you’re not the right person for it, and has done the work to create an environment where you know you could safely say you were considering leaving. Or your boss is about to spend significant capital getting you something you want and, again, has done the work to create an environment where you know you could safely say you were considering leaving.

But usually, you don’t warn your boss you’re job-searching. You don’t warn them because if you do, you risk being pushed out earlier than you want to leave, or sidelined from projects you want to work on, or because you might change your mind and don’t want to permanently be seen as having one foot out the door. You also don’t warn them because it’s simply not the professional convention to expect that you would. Reasonable managers understand the power dynamics involved in the relationship and know they’re not entitled to a heads-up, even if it would make their lives easier to get one. Reasonable managers also know that anyone could be job-searching at any time — or could be crushed by a boulder when they leave their house tomorrow, or have a too-good-to-pass-up offer fall in their lap unexpectedly, or win Powerball, or all sorts of other things — and so they plan for contingencies. A business that relies on everyone staying forever unless they give a ton of notice is a business that’s precarious and poorly run.

And all of that goes double for Amanda for two reasons: One, you’ve seen people leaving without working their whole notice periods and in some of those cases she told you she was part of that decision, so you had good reason to fear being pushed out earlier than you wanted to go. Two, you were the lone employee and playing a vital role, which made it all the more important that she have contingencies in place. If she didn’t, that’s on her, not you.

Not only did you not screw over Amanda, but you actually went above and beyond when you resigned. You offered more than two weeks notice to try to help her, and you were generous enough to extend that offer again after she had already rejected it once.

Amanda wants to be petulant in the moment (“No, leave this week, I don’t need you”) and then be able to retract that once reality sets in. But that’s not how business works. You are a person with your own interests and your own commitments that you can’t walk back just because she’s done sulking now.

You tried to tell her “It’s not you, it’s me.” But it’s her. It’s definitely, definitely her.

You did nothing wrong.

my employee is monitoring other people’s work

A reader writes:

We are a semi-remote team that uses a project management system to keep our workflow organized and distribute assignments. One of my employees, Jane, feels it is necessary to look at everyone’s work on this system and comment on it. She also uses it as a tool to fuel her immense paranoia (“Why is Boss watching my tracker and not Coworker’s)?” when I haven’t even looked at either — Jane misread!

It’s none of her business, and definitely not her job. Every time I have said something to the effect of “Jane, there’s no reason for you to be looking at other peoples’ work, focus on your own assignments and if there an issue I need to handle, rest assured that I will,” this has been met either with self-pity, pouting, remonstrations about how she’s just trying to help, or some combo of all three. Do you have any advice? I cannot set permissions to keep her from viewing other peoples’ trackers.

I answer this question — and three others — 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.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Colleague wants us to stay connected in cutesy ways
  • Bathroom breaks during video calls
  • Should I tell my employer my concerns about a friend’s wife who’s applying for a job?

the person who’s supposed to train me belittles me when I have questions

A reader writes:

I’m learning the ropes in a new job, and there are lots of things that are very difficult to figure out by yourself. That’s expected though, and I am supposed to ask Lawrence for help. Lawrence has been with the company for several years now, but we hold the same job title and are on the same hierarchical level.

Lawrence sucks at explaining things. During 10 minutes, he will waterfall off 30 separate complex items, without break, even after I said to slow down and back up a few steps, to make sure I can take notes and actually understand them.

Additionally, he makes condescending comments throughout. Here are some examples:
– “Why are you asking me this?”
– “I thought you said you were competent?”
– “I already mentioned this to you once before.”
– “Why can’t you figure this out yourself?”

Then he ends with, “Don’t forget to come back if you need any help!” … and then begins the next time with, “Why are you asking me for help on this? Can’t you figure this out yourself?”

I am not the only one experiencing this. Two others started at the same time as me, with the same knowledge level, and have confirmed to me they have similar hurdles in learning how things work.

I feel awful, and I do not want to interact with Lawrence. I need this job (the market is really difficult at the moment) and am really afraid of antagonizing one of the most senior people in this project.

How can I tell Lawrence to be more considerate when communicating? I would love to ask my direct boss for feedback, but it is impossible to schedule a meeting with him so I cannot rely on that option.

You really, really need to find a way to get a few minutes with your boss.

When you say he’s impossible to schedule a meeting with, what does that mean exactly? Most people who are over-scheduled and hard to get time with will still carve out time if you say “I need to talk with you about an urgent issue,” particularly for someone who reports to them. If you don’t like that wording, there’s also, “I know you’re swamped, but I really need 10 minutes with you sometime this week for a problem I’m running into.” Or however you want to say it — but make it clear that this is important and outside of routine day-to-day work stuff. (Also, for what it’s worth, it’s ridiculous for a manager of a new hire to be so inaccessible to you, but that’s a different issue.)

But I say that because this is squarely in boss territory. You need to let him know that Lawrence belittles you when you ask for help. And be specific — repeat the same quotes you used in your letter, because this isn’t Lawrence just acting a little put-upon; this is insulting and borderline abusive.

If for some reason your boss truly isn’t an option, you could try addressing it with Lawrence himself. For example:

Lawrence: “Why are you asking me this?” / “Why can’t you figure this out yourself?”
You: “I was told it’s normal to have questions on this sort of thing while I’m learning it and that you’re the person I should come to. Is that not correct?”

Lawrence: “I already mentioned this to you once before.”
You: “There’s a lot to learn and I’m doing my best to learn it all, but I’m going to have questions as I do.”

Lawrence: “I thought you said you were competent?”
You: “Wow, okay. I was told there’s a large learning curve to this job and it would take some time to master it. Do you have concerns about how I’m doing overall that I should talk to (manager) about?” This may invite further abuse from him, but “I thought you said you were competent” is such a phenomenally shitty thing to say to a colleague that it could make sense to name what he’s hinting at and ask about it point-blank.

You could also consider saying to Lawrence in response to his crappiest moments: “I was told to come to you for help and that it’s normal to have a learning curve in this job. You often seem to think I shouldn’t need any help and you’ve been insulting about my capabilities. If I shouldn’t be coming to you with these questions, is there someone else I should talk with instead?”

But given that Lawrence has proved himself a raging asshole, I’d rather you skip all that and take the whole thing to your boss.

candidate no-showed for a high-level interview, leaving over a matter of conscience, and more

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

1. Can I work remotely across the country if I’ve been having health problems?

I am a primarily in-office knowledge worker who gets Fridays to WFH. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been having heart-related health issues that rest seems to help. I’ve asked for one, maybe two days to WFH on the days that it is intense and I can’t get the flare-ups to go away on my own. Nothing wild or egregious. WFH is an incredibly touchy subject at my office because so many people are resentful of having to come in when this “requirement” is not being consistently enforced.

I was granted a week to work from home while the rest of my team (including my boss and the entire leadership team) is out of town for a big event that I’m not supporting. Almost no one will be online, and if they are, they’ll be focused on other things and not checking for me. I thought it might be nice to get out of town during this week for a change of scenery and not just sit in my house all week. I booked a trip out of town with the intention of being online during my team’s usual working hours, since I don’t see a ton of difference between being online at my house and being online in a different city if it’s the same hours and level of responsiveness.

My coworker made a point that the optics of this trip aren’t great, because asking to WFH a couple of times because of heart issues is out of sync with flying across the country and exploring a different city. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal since I’ll just be in my hotel room during business hours and very gently exploring the town outside of those hours, but I see her point. I hadn’t considered that until she said something, and this is someone whose judgement I trust a lot, especially when it comes to how leadership perceives our actions.

What do you think — are the optics of going out of town with health issues odd, or can I safely do this if I’m not super outspoken about where I’ll be logging in from? I’ll need to tell my boss I’ll be offline for a bit on my travel days, but not sure how specific I need to be. Would love your perspective on this so I don’t throttle my reputation on this team. (I’ve been here three years and my boss thinks highly of me, so I’m feeling pretty good about my personal capital, if that helps.)

People with heart issues can travel. There’s nothing incongruous about taking a trip while also occasionally needing to work from home for health reasons.

That said, there are potentially some optics issues that have nothing to do with your health: some managers will wonder whether “I want to fly across the country and work from there while the rest of the office is gone” actually means “I think I’ll vacation that week and just do the bare minimum while everyone else is gone anyway.” If you have a good track record, they shouldn’t think that — but since your office is already weird about people working from home, adding in the trip might be pushing it. (If your office were more chill about WFH, I’d give different advice.)

There are also all the usual issues about security and tax compliance when you’re working from a different location (which your office may or may not care about, but you should be aware of them).

2. Candidate no-showed for a high-level interview

I’m on a panel interviewing for a director-level role at a major national nonprofit. By the time I talk to them, candidates have already gotten through a screening process which asks about relevant experience, completed a phone screen, and interviewed with the hiring manager. For this role, we received at least 80 applications and are holding five panel interviews, hoping to narrow down to one person for the head of the department to consider.

So today we’re on the Teams call for the 60-minute panel interview; it’s our fourth this week, getting pretty routine. The scheduled time comes and goes. We give it 15 more minutes. Nothing from the candidate; no contact in any way (phone or email) to anyone in our organization, including the hiring manager, HR, or our general switchboard. Eventually, we all sign off.

If the candidate had some crazy experience that prevented them from signing on, we will of course reschedule — we’re all parents/dog-owners/humans too, after all — but what if they just … forgot? This isn’t an entry-level position where the candidates are likely applying to everything within reason so maybe an interview here or there could fall through the cracks. This would be a major upgrade for a late-career professional, so I’d be surprised if they just ghosted.

We do have other candidates, including some with experience that’s a slightly better match — which we were going to give this person a chance to discuss! Does this incident (again, barring a legit excuse) automatically disqualify them? Should the hiring manager have reached out to them after 10 or so minutes to ask if they’re still planning to join, or take it as a sign that this wasn’t meant to be?

It the person wasn’t a strong candidate anyway, I’d just drop it and move on to other candidates. If they contact you with an explanation and ask to reschedule, you can decide at that point.

But if they’re a promising candidate, I’m a fan of emailing after 10 minutes or so: “You didn’t connect for our 3 pm call today; I hope everything is okay. Please reach out if you’re still interested in the position.” That way you’re acknowledging that something big may have gotten in the way, but leaving it in their court to contact you and explain if they want to. (That said, if you see other signs of disorganization during your dealing with them, take those very seriously.)

3. Should I say something about a coworker’s public LinkedIn job search?

I’m a manager on a classic “small but mighty” team, responsible for many of the company’s back office operations. We are exceedingly understaffed — each manager’s team (including my own) is down at least a headcount, if not more, with no word from upper management on go-forward plans, no acknowledgement that the situation is unsustainable, and currently no hope of backfilling open positions (because the lion’s share of the division’s budget went, very visibly, to other teams). Analysts are being asked to pick up way more work than they have before, and managers have taken up analyst tasks as well to fill gaps in addition to their own work – unsurprisingly, everyone is stressed, overworked, and demoralized.

I paint this picture to ask about how I should handle a situation that I came across on LinkedIn: an analyst on our team, who reports up to a different manager, has been commenting publicly on LinkedIn posts stating that they’re highly interested in an available position, that they applied for an open position and are enthusiastic about it, etc. I do not blame them in the slightest for looking elsewhere (though I personally wouldn’t go about it quite so publicly while still employed), but given the staffing challenges we’re already facing, is this something I should let their manager know about in some way, or is it none of my business? Normally I would have concerns about risking this analyst’s job by saying something, but given how short-staffed we are, I can’t envision anyone getting fired for anything short of an actual crime … and given how short-staffed we are, we really can’t afford to lose another good team member, at least not without a fight. How should I handle this, if at all?

Leave it alone. If your colleague’s manager doesn’t realize that people in the situation you described might be job-searching, I’m skeptical they have the ability to handle the info well if you did offer it.

At the very most you could say something like, “I’ve seen some indications some team members are job-searching because of the workload, so if there are people you definitely wouldn’t want to lose right now, it might be smart to talk with them about how we can retain them.” But don’t name the person you saw.

4. Should I tell my company I’m leaving over a matter of conscience?

I saw the recent letter “Should my resignation letter include 700 words on why I’m leaving?” and had a similar question. I’m considering resigning over a matter of conscience. I don’t know if I will, but if I do, do I tell them why? I’m not interested in causing problems or creating drama, and I certainly don’t expect anyone to share my convictions/conscience (they’re personal and they’re mine). But I’m torn. On the one hand, I feel that if I’m leaving over a matter of conscience, it would be cowardly or disingenuous to not tell the truth about why (and I ​will be asked). But on the other hand, the matter of conscience is personal, so is it even their business? I don’t want to burn bridges. I have a good relationship with everyone I work with, and I’ve been there for quite a few years. What would I say if not the truth?

This depends on so many things — what the matter of conscience is, how big the company is, how much you’re valued, how much of a loss they’ll see your departure as, how you’ve seen them respond to difficult feedback in the past, whether the feedback itself is in line with issues they’re already concerned about, whether your objection is to something fundamental in their business model or not (i.e., if you’re leaving big tobacco because you don’t like big tobacco, there’s not really useful info to offer there ) … it’s nearly impossible to offer broad principles when it’s so situation-dependent.

What I can say is that if (a) the matter of conscience is something they’d care about if they knew (like embezzlement or, I don’t know, behavior toward clients that’s out of sync with their values) or (b) you’re very valued, it’s a relatively small organization, and you have the ear of someone high up or with significant influence/power, it can be worth explaining why you’re leaving. Not by letter, like the person in the question you linked wanted to do, but in a real conversation.

You don’t have to do that. But if you want to and can check at least some of the boxes I listed above, you can.

5. Is something weird happening with my references?

My job hunt has lasted more than a year: I am currently employed and trying to be discerning. This week — for the second time in this lengthy search — I was asked for additional information after all my references were called. In this case, the employer requested writing samples and an explanation of how the job fits with my career goals. I provided the requested information, but it has left my mind reeling and my expectations low because of my previous experience.

Eleven months ago (different employer and position), I was asked for another interview after my references had been interviewed via Zoom, in addition to being asked follow-up questions in writing. Despite my apprehension at the non-standard procedure, I agreed because I really liked the employer. When I asked if they had concerns about my technical skills, the employer indicated they had additional questions about whether I would enjoy the work they do. Ultimately, the employer cancelled my interview with only two hours notice and a flimsy, one-line excuse that they “decided to go in a different direction.”

I have to wonder if it is me! I know that my references are not saying anything bad because they volunteer to divulge what they said and/or wrote. Also, I did not use all the same references both times.To me, calling references is the final step in the process, so this is honestly making me feel increasingly insecure. Is calling references no longer the last step in the interview process?

Checking references usually happens late in the process, but that doesn’t mean that employers only do it for a single finalist. Some employers check the references of everyone who’s still in the running at the finalist stage, or at least the final two candidates, and then use that info to make their final choice. And occasionally a reference check will spur an employer to go back to the candidate to clarify a particular point. However, that’s pretty rare — and I’m concerned that on two occasions now your references seemed to leave employers less certain about you.

In both those cases, the employer seemed to doubt your interest in the job: one wanted to know how the job fit with your career goals — at a much later stage than something so fundamental would normally be discussed — and the other wondered if you’d enjoy the work. That makes me think at least one of your references is introducing doubt about whether these positions are right for you. That wouldn’t have to be something a reference did deliberately; they might have no idea that they were even raising concerns for employers. (For example, is one of your references waxing on about how devoted you are to X and it’s your life calling, but the jobs you’re applying for have nothing to do with X?)

You said you used different references each time, but was there any overlap at all? Either way, I’m concerned that something is happening on those calls that you need to dig into.

my interviewers interrupted my timed interview presentation

A reader writes:

I’d be really interested to hear your take on a situation that cropped up for me while I was attending an internal job interview this week.

I’d been asked to prepare a presentation of “no longer than” 10 minutes. I practiced plenty in advance and was generally coming in at 8 minutes, 30 seconds, so comfortably within.

On the day of the interview, I was halfway through presenting my slide deck when one of the interview panel interrupted with a question, which I answered. This turned into three or four minutes of other queries and broader chat amongst the panel members — all very positive about the content — before they asked me to continue. I’d barely got any further when I was warned that I had less than a minute left: They hadn’t stopped the clock for their conversational detour. As a result, I had to push through the final couple of points far more swiftly than I’d intended.

Fortunately the rest of the interview went well, though ultimately I didn’t get the role. During the call to inform me, the interviewer explained that another candidate had more management experience than me (fair). But upon asking for any other feedback, I was told that I should have had more confidence when presenting, particularly during the last minute or so, and that I could have planned the timing better.

I thanked them for the feedback but I’ve been left wondering what I can really do with this for next time? I was hardly in a position to ban any questions, but putting my foot down and demanding extra presentation time to make up for their interruption sounds like a guaranteed way to lose the job. How can I work on this feedback?

It’s unlikely they wanted you to demand extra time to make up for the interruption.

But it’s very possible they assessed you in part on how well you handled the interruptions, like whether you were able to diplomatically regain control over the presentation and keep going — especially if presenting was a core function of the job. (In fact, if it was, they may have even interrupted intentionally to see how you handled it.) This isn’t necessarily 100% fair, because a lot of job candidates wouldn’t feel comfortable redirecting their interviewers — and if they wanted to assess that, they’d get better results by telling you beforehand that they wanted to see you demonstrate those skills, so you’d understand they were role-playing audience members and not worry as much about “interrupting” your job interviewers.

Or, if not that, they might have assessed you on whether you were able to recover smoothly and adjust on the fly in the time you had remaining.

Or they might not have intended to assess you on any of that, but a different candidate handled those things really well and that gave them an advantage.

It’s also possible the feedback means nothing at all — that when you asked for additional feedback beyond what they’d already offered, the person you were talking to just grasped for something without it being a factor that mattered much in their decision.

It’s hard to know whether there’s really anything here that would be useful to work on — but if you’re looking for something, I’d say it’s planning for audience interruptions and adapting in real time when they happen.

my job wants me to do public speaking … I don’t want to

A reader writes:

A few years ago, I accepted a job as a director of strategy at a small agency. One of the perks of this job was that I would deal with clients less, because this company had client managers to do that, and wouldn’t have to do things like public speaking. To be clear: This wasn’t a promise, just the way the job was laid out, and I liked it as I have never been a big fan of formal corporate work. But now that is changing.

For a while, I was able to minimize my direct client relations work and time spent leading meetings, which was great. Unfortunately, in 2023 we had to downsize. Many of the roles that were buffers between me and clients have been lost. Now I am leading a ton of client calls, which I begrudgingly tolerate.

In addition, though, my company has started pushing me to give huge strategy presentations, appear on panels, lead trainings, present at conferences, etc. I do not want this! I do not want to get better at public speaking, or learn how to teach more effectively — I just do not want this, full stop.

Whenever I talk about how stressed I get when I have to speak, they tell me, “We could never tell! You did such a good job!” and say I am good at it. Which, great! I do not care! All I want is to work quietly. I get that I can’t always avoid client meetings, and I have no problem with presenting internally. I’m not trying to never speak in public, but this has branched way out of my comfort zone.

Besides this, my company is wonderful, and I’ve worked at enough places to know that I have it good. I don’t want to work full-time anywhere else. Ideally, I would move back to freelancing, which I used to do, but the market is imploding and I have a baby and toddler in daycare. I am very familiar with the types of full-time jobs that are available in my area, and they are not a good fit.

Ideally, I would tell my company that I want to walk back on all this public speaking — but their growth strategy includes the person in my position doing this, so if I were to say “no thank you,” I would very much risk losing my job. It’s a small company, so there’s no one else on my team I can punt to.

I feel like there’s no solution between “leave my otherwise good job and try to cobble together some kind of freelance career again” (which, *gestures wildly at our capitalist hellscape*) or “spend the rest of my career doing something I really don’t want to do.” Is there?

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

can I report my boss for getting me sick?

A reader writes:

I want to go to HR about my boss coming in sick, resulting in me using all my vacation time for an upper respiratory infection, but I’m not sure I should.

We work in a cafeteria, so we have an HR but we also serve food.

My boss came in Wednesday and Thursday last week with a sore throat, no mask, just Neocitran to handle it. We didn’t see each other for more than 20 minutes each time.

Friday morning, I started getting a sore throat. I’d originally called off for a mental health day but ended up in bed the whole day plus Saturday. Sunday morning, I go to urgent care after coughing so hard I wake up my neighbors in the house next door. Doctor assures me I’m not contagious based on when it started, gives me a steroid, and says I’m fine to work if I feel better. I got back in time to take my 11pm shift, so I worked while wearing an N95 mask. I worked one more shift before I suddenly lost my voice. Went back to the same clinic, get told this time it’s an upper respiratory infection and I’m contagious until it clears.

I text my boss about it because I literally can’t speak. After some thought, she canceled the rest of my shifts this week and we’ll see how I feel for my Sunday night shift. I had been using my vacation days because I can’t afford to just miss work, but now all of them are gone. I had seven.

I kind of want to complain the HR about my boss getting me sick, resulting in my losing my vacation days I was going to use to visit my parents in August. She probably won’t even believe she got me sick since I’m so much worse, but I had just finished a round of strong antibiotics for something and that can make viruses worse.

I worked every overtime shift except two because I had nothing going on, it was going to be tight because of car issues but at least with the vacation days it wouldn’t have been impossible to go up north, but now I get to use them to sit at home in pain. This also resulted in me pushing back an important appointment a month, as well as pushing back looking at new places for rent.

On top of that, HR was supposed to visit me and my coworker about a customer who’s harassing my coworker (asked her out and is not taking the no well) and to a lesser extent me (just bullying) and they won’t ban him from the cafeteria until they talk to us both, so she’s still dealing with him while I’m gone.

Is it worth it to contact HR over this? There’s been a lot of other stuff going on too but I think this is my final straw. I am looking for new jobs for around the end of the summer, but this one has benefits which I really need and are hard to get in kitchens.

I’m so sorry. I would love to tell you that you have recourse here, but you probably don’t.

Part of working around other people is that you’ll sometimes be exposed to germs. The only real way to protect yourself from that is for you to wear a mask — because if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the last few years, it’s that you can’t count on other people to wear them themselves when they should. Even when they’d be willing to, though, people don’t always realize they’re sick until it’s too late. So if you absolutely don’t want to pick up something at work, or when you’re just out and around other people, wearing a mask yourself is the safest option (although I realize most of us don’t do that anymore, including me).

Should your boss have taken more precautions herself? Absolutely. Coming into work sick and not masking was a crap move. But reporting her for getting you sick isn’t likely to be seen as actionable by the company. They (and we) can’t actually know she’s the one who got you sick, and food service (unfortunately) has a culture of people working while sick. They’re not likely to address it with him.

At most you could push for a policy that people who don’t feel well need to mask at work — which would be a really good policy for every workplace to have anyway. (If you’re thinking the policy should be that sick people should stay home, sure. But in practice, things like colds can take weeks to fully pass and most people can’t afford to miss work for that long. If employers considered offering more sick days though, it would be a step in the right direction.)

getting called a Nazi at work, coworker didn’t tell me he was applying for a promotion, and more

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

1. Getting called a Nazi at work

I work for local government in a region that is currently experiencing a drought. Part of my job involves working with people who break drought restrictions, with engagement ranging from education and outreach to levying fines or outright limiting their water. Sometimes people are not happy with this and call me a water Nazi. I am Jewish. I lost family in the Holocaust. This is an extremely homogenous population, many of whom have never met a Jew before. Can you help me come up with some responses that are professional but make it clear that this is not an okay thing to say? My managers fully support me pushing back and are willing to take calls if things escalate, but currently I just end up sputtering incoherently in rage.

I don’t think there’s a great response here. I mean, you could say “Nazis killed my family and that’s not an okay thing to say” … and some people might be chagrined, but others will just get defensive and escalate further. You could leave off the first part and just say “that’s not an okay thing to say” but lots of people won’t understand why or will think you’re being overly delicate.

But really, it’s an unacceptable thing to say to anyone, Jewish or not. So I’d argue you’re better off skipping the whole thing and moving straight to “I’m happy to work with you on this, but if you’re going to be abusive, I’ll need to disconnect this call.”

2. I’m in charge — how do I punish myself for a mistake?

I messed up. I’m the GM of a restaurant. There is no one above me. I constantly harp on my staff about responsibilities and paying attention to what they are doing. And I made a huge mistake.

I left a money bag out and stashed in a drawer. I went to fill in for someone who called in sick, and the opening supervisor forgot to load money in the drawers. So I hurried and loaded money in one drawer and made the change I needed. Because I had guests in front of me, I just quickly stashed the bags and didn’t put them back in the safe. Whelp, another supervisor found them and I had to fess up to the mistake. But how do I now create a punishment for myself so that they understand no one is above doing things the correct way?

As a manager, you shouldn’t be meting out punishments — that’s not the job. You should be ensuring people are well trained, coaching them when you see it’s needed, and holding people accountable for doing their jobs well. If an otherwise good employee did what you did, “punishing” them would be inappropriate. You’d talk to them, find out what happened, and talk about how to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future. If they seemed unconcerned or cavalier and you didn’t trust them not to do something similarly careless again, you’d address that part of it — generally through feedback and coaching — and if that didn’t solve it, you’d need to decide whether you could keep them in the job or not (which would be a natural consequence, not a punishment). Punishing really isn’t part of the job, at least not if you want to be a good manager.

If you’ve been managing via punishment up until now, you’re right to worry that you’ll seem to have a double standard for yourself. In that case, this should function as a humbling reminder that everyone is human and everyone makes mistakes. That doesn’t mean you should ignore mistakes! But your job is to talk with people when they happen and create systems that minimize/mitigate mistakes, not to punish.

3. My coworker didn’t tell me he was applying for a promotion in our sexist company

A long-time male acquaintance of mine, who I have known for 13 years, recently rejoined my industry after an eight-year hiatus and was swiftly promoted to the director of sales and marketing within just three months. Meanwhile, my male director was promoted to general manager. It has become apparent that my director has a preference for working with men, as he has openly expressed.

Despite my qualifications and proven track record of generating significant revenues for the company, I did not apply for the director position due to my aversion to male-dominated hierarchies.

I can’t help but feel that my friend should have checked in with me before pursuing the director position. I have been at the company longer and hold a senior sales manager title, he was hired at entry-level manager position, and I trained him. A simple conversation to gauge my thoughts or intentions would have been considerate and respectful. Instead, I feel as though he went behind our backs in an attempt to conceal his ambitions. This has left me feeling undervalued in the workplace. Should I be feeling this way or should I say something to him?

You should absolutely take issue with the fact that your new general manager says he prefers to work with men. That’s a declaration of intent to discriminate that gives you enough to talk with a lawyer if you ever wanted to go that route.

But your friend didn’t do anything wrong. He just applied for a job — one that you didn’t even apply for yourself! He may be merrily benefiting from a sexist system, but he didn’t really owe you a conversation before applying for the role. (That’s extra true if you are more acquaintances than friends; you used both words in your letter so I’m not sure which one is more accurate.) Lots of people don’t run their plans to apply for a promotion by friendly coworkers, and that’s not deceitful; it’s just that colleagues aren’t inherently entitled to that information. (There are some exceptions to that, like if you’d been open about applying yourself and he’d deliberately misled you about his own intentions in an attempt to gain an advantage or so forth.)

There are problems in your workplace, but your friend’s pursuit of the director job doesn’t sound like it should be near the top of that list.

4. References

I have two questions regarding being a reference. First is the “Is this person eligible for rehire?” question. I supervise student employees at a university, so as I complete their reference checks for their post-college full-time job, I am forced to answer “no” as technically they are not eligible for rehire once they graduate. I always try to add a comment if the form allows explaining why, but I’m wondering if this question is an automatic “no” for prospective employees, even if there is a comment explaining the logic behind the “no”. Should I be answering “yes” meaning “they parted on good terms” even if technically they cannot work a student employment position once they have graduated?

Second is something that I’ve started seeing, but I don’t know if it’s just one of higher ed’s many oddities. Some reference forms ask me if I would like to be contacted by the institution about future job openings at their institution. Is this just higher ed struggling to attract candidates? Is there any way I am hurting the applicant’s chances by saying yes? Would I be somehow unable to apply to work there in the future if I say no? It seems so strange to piggyback on someone else’s job search in this way.

You should answer that they’re eligible for re-hire. Because they would be if they returned as a student, right? Ideally you’d be able to explain, “We’d gladly hire them again if we could, but we only hire students.” But if you’re filling out a form and you’re forced to answer yes or no, answer in the spirit of what’s being asked, which is, “Is this person in good standing with you as a previous employee?”

Second question: It’s obnoxious for them to use a reference check to ask if they can spam you about job openings in the future, but that is what they are doing. Your answer won’t affect the applicant’s chances or your own in the future. No one is tracking your answer in a way that would reflect on anyone involved.

5. Who is on a “hiring team”?

I have a second interview with a “hiring team” and then the big boss. I’m trying to figure out who I might be talking to, or even how many, and realizing I’ve never seen a definition for “hiring team”!

This first interview was with people who would be more like my peers. When I hear “team,” I think of the people I’d be on a literal team with.

The hiring team is the group of people in charge of hiring for the job, whether than means making the final decision or just providing input. It will nearly always include the hiring manager (the person who would be your manager if you got the job) but from there it’s a crapshoot. The most likely options include would-be peers, others who would work closely with you, stakeholders from other departments, representatives of HR, and/or higher-level managers — but really, it could be anyone, just depending on how this particular organization handles hiring.

Related:
what does “hiring manager” mean and other work terms you might not know

the napping hideout, the cat protector, and other stories of sleeping at work

Last week, we talked about napping at work and here are 10 of my favorite stories you shared.

1. The hideout

I worked at a big box home improvement store for a few years, and we hired a couple young guys to work the lot. Bring back carts, help customers load heavier items or large orders, flag for the forklifts, etc. Well, these two, no one could ever get them on the radios for help. They would just disappear, then show up much later claiming they had been busy helping a customer. This went on for weeks.

Our assistant manager went looking for them one day when we were slammed and had a bunch of customers needing loading assistance. She’s walking the aisles trying to find them, and calling them on the radio over and over. As she’s walking through the insulation aisle, she hears herself calling them on the radio. About two shelves above her head. Turns out, these two had built themselves a hideout in the upper shelves of the insulation aisle, where they would climb up to nap and hide from work whenever they felt like it (which was apparently 95% of their shift).

2. The medical concern

I did a brief stint in data entry, and it was so mind-numbing and physically uncomfortable (noisy, smelly, bad chair) that I’d get sleepy. The complex was massive, and one day I found a little nook with an exit door, a sort of unused hallway off another unused hallway at the end of an unused wing. I spent my lunchtime and breaks in that nook, lying on the floor on my side. Until the day two security guys rushed down the hall, one carrying a first aid kit, and woke me up, then grilled me about what I’d eaten that morning and if I needed to go to the hospital. I’d been spotted on a security camera, and looked “sprawled out, like you died.”

3. The drywall

One day I heard a huge thud from Frank’s office. I went to see if he was all right. He said he was. But Frank was known to fall asleep at his desk. I noticed a fresh hole in the drywall by his office chair. Later when he was out I went into his office, placed his chair on its side, and gently slid it up against the wall. Bingo! The caster lined up perfectly with the new hole in wall, which was even the same distinctive shape. The thud I heard had been Frank falling asleep and flopping out of his chair, running it into the wall.

4. The phone call

I used to have a coworker who would go into a small closet, sit on the floor with his knees up and phone positioned just so on his ear and then fall asleep. So that if someone opened the door, they would just think he was doing the very normal action of taking a phone call in a small dark closet…

5. The family nap

I was training a group of new hires in a Teams meeting. One guy had his camera on and was working from his bedroom. At one point during my presentation, his wife/girlfriend came into the bedroom and flopped on the bed for a nap. Then their dog followed her and curled up on the bed. A couple minutes later, he got up from his chair, crawled into bed, and started napping with them. I don’t think he realized his camera was on.

I turned his camera off and continued with my presentation. He had to redo the training with a one-on-one trainer who made him leave the camera on the whole time to make sure he wasn’t slipping away for a snooze again.

6. The cover

At my first job, which was an apprenticeship program at a media company, we had a monthly rotation. So, every three months, I would be on a team that refused to give apprentices any work. Since this was a media company, we had private suites for phone/Zoom interviews. They weren’t soundproof but the doors were fully opaque, and you would usually determine if someone was in a “phone room” by listening at the door.

So! I would go in, pull up a recording of an old interview on my phone, play an “office keyboard typing ASMR” video on YouTube, and take a nap. Anyone who came to listen at the door would hear me asking questions and typing, with the interviewee on speaker. Worked like a charm.

7. The box

We found a temp sleeping in a large box on our manufacturing floor. He was angry that we had woken him up!

8. The microscope

I worked in a clinical lab one summer. The lab technologists had stereoscopic microscopes at their cubicle desks. One of the technologists apparently was on a PIP because she was caught napping at her desk. She didn’t just lean back in her chair or lay her head on her desk, though. She would sit at the microscope and would nap with her head (maybe closed eyes even?) resting on the eyepieces of her microscope in an effort to look like she was working when she actually was sleeping.

9. Chad

I work for a public accounting firm. During tax season, everyone works extra hours, but we have a lot of flexibility – we have core hours we are supposed to be there, and then you can come in early or leave late, whatever you need to do to get your work done.

Several years ago, a manager popped her head in my office door one evening about 7:00. She asked if “Chad,” who had the office next to mine, was still there, or if he had left for the day. I said I hadn’t seen him since around 6, and she said, “His light’s off, he probably went home. If you see him before I do in the morning, tell him I need to ask him something about a client and to come see me.” She went back to her office and her work. About 10, she went home. She walked through the office, noting all lights were out. She set the alarm, locked the door and left.

A few hours later, one of the partners got woken up by a call from the alarm company. There was movement in the building. The partner met the cops there, and they found Chad … who had turned off his light and laid down on the floor behind his desk about 6:00, thinking he’d take a quick nap. He woke up eventually, and decided he’d make some coffee and then work an hour or so before going home to change for the next day. He never thought about the alarm being set. Until the cops came in. Poor Chad – it took years for him to live that one down.

10. The cat protector

Previous warehouse job, was really chill, kinda miss it, but they had a shop cat, and that fluffy orange menace would hop onto my shoulder and start purring while I was eating lunch. One day I woke up four hours after lunch with the fuzzy feline purring on me non stop. It was later reported to me that each time someone came in to wake me up, they got hisses to ears and paws bapping at their face to get them to leave me be. Everyone took the hint from the orange menace.

Naturally wasn’t paid for my nap, but I really couldn’t care less if I was or not, that was the best nap I had in my life. Only time I fell asleep at work as well. And I swear that nap fixed me for at least a few weeks after.