short answer Sunday: 8 short answers to 8 short questions

It’s time for short answer Sunday once again — eight short answers to eight short questions. Here we go…

Weird interview question

I was recently asked in an interview if I thought I was smarter than my current boss. I ended up saying that I think I am equally intelligent but we sometimes have differing opinions on the best course of action or recommendation, which is largely accurate.  How do you respond to this question? I don’t want to throw my current supervisor under the bus OR be perceived as unsure of my own skills/intelligence by saying she is much smarter than me, whether true or not.

This is a really weird interview question, and I can’t figure out what they hoped to accomplish with it. I suspect that they have no idea what they hoped to accomplish with it, or how it would help them evaluate you for the job, and instead they’re just throwing out random questions because they don’t really know how to interview.

Anyway, I think your answer was fine.

Asking for comp time

I just started a new job two weeks ago!  So far, everything is going great and there are a lot of exciting things on the horizon.  The problem is that I have significantly less time off than what I had been getting at my old job and it’s not negotiable at this point.  That doesn’t bother me necessarily, but I found out that I will be working at events on the weekend — at least five over the next four months in other cities.  Is it okay to ask for an extra day here and there for personal affairs?  I have a summer full of weddings that require traveling, graduations and a big trip that had been planned way before I started. I think it’s only fair but would love to get your thoughts.

If you’re being required to work at events over the weekend, it’s completely reasonable to say to your boss, “Hey, since I’m working all day Saturday, can I take my ‘Saturday’ on Tuesday instead, without it pulling from my accrued vacation time? Or do we do any other kind of comp time?”  However, your manager’s answer will depend on the culture and practices at your new company; some do this as a matter of routine and others don’t. It’s a perfectly reasonable question though, and you should ask it.

By the way, I’m hoping that you’ve already told them about that big trip and aren’t just planning to spring it on them!

Applying for a teaching job at a Catholic school as an agnostic

I have a question about religion in the workplace. It’s not typically a subject I discuss with others, and I’m not a religious person. However, I’m looking for a teaching job, and found a local school hiring in my content area for the upcoming school year. I checked out their website, and their teaching philosophy and attitude towards students and staff fits me to a tee. The only catch is that it’s a Catholic school, and I identify as agnostic/atheist. I respect the diversity of others, and get along well with people of all faiths. I don’t push my beliefs on others, and expect to be treated with the same respect. Should I apply for this position even though I’m not Catholic? If I do apply, and get an interview, should I mention that I’m not religious? What should I do if they bring it up?

You should absolutely apply for the position. There are lots of schools run by religious organizations where religion doesn’t play a significant role in their teaching, and that’s particularly true if you happen to teach, say, math. There are others, of course, where a non-religious teacher might not feel as comfortable, and if you get an interview, that’s when you can learn more about that. If you get an interview, ask them what role religion plays in their curriculum and what duties related to religion you might have, if any. I don’t think you need to volunteer that you’re not religious unless you want to; their answers to those questions will probably let that conversation unfold (or not) naturally.

Read an update to this letter here.

Am I obligated to help another department?

Several months ago, I was hired in one department of a medium-sized nonprofit organization through a temp agency to fill in while they sought someone new for their department. I ended up working in this department for about six months, including about a month after they had hired the new employee to help her transition into her new role. During that six months, I went from being trusted to answer the phones while everyone was out of the office (I spent a lot of time reading) to compiling documents for committee meetings and taking minutes and organizing projects. Needless to say, there was a lot for me to show the new hire when she started. (By the way, I have no resentment at her for getting the job, I REALLY didn’t want it).

Now I’m back at the same organization in a different department getting ready to take over for someone going on maternity leave. I’m learning the ropes in my new job, but I have quite a lot of down time, and for the time being, I’m sitting at my old desk, which means my old boss notices quite frequently that I’m not busy. The problem arises when she assigns me little tasks because I know what I’m doing, but I feel like that’s not my job anymore. Am I obligated to help her? Should I just wait until my desk moves (two weeks) and hope that I’ll be out of sight, out of mind?

You have a lot of time with nothing to do, your old boss is asking for your help, and you don’t want to help her because it’s not your job? That’s pretty much the opposite of the way people get better jobs and good references. Particularly in a temp job, if the organization is paying for your time, it’s reasonable for them to ask you to help out in other areas when your primary area doesn’t need you.

But you report to someone else now, so check with your new manager. Explain that the old boss has been asking for your help, that you do have time to help her, and ask what she’d like you to do.

Explaining why I turned down a position

I recently interviewed for a managerial position. In the interview, I mentioned that I was offered a supervisory position by the person who recommended me for the job I was interviewing for, but turned it down. They asked why I turned it down and I told them that I did not feel as though what I would have to bring to the table to make the changes necessary would be valued. I told them I was looking for a position with true group cohesion and communication so that everyone would be free to not only express their ideas but to have them taken seriously. Was this okay to say? Do managers frown on those who pass up positions?

Hmmm. It’s totally fine to turn down a position, but — depending on the way you worded it — the specific reason you gave might sound a little grumpy/prima donna-ish/negative. So I don’t love that particular answer, frankly.

How to resign when my boss is away

I have 3 bosses. One is currently in town and working, one will be gone on vacation until Tuesday, and the third will be on vacation for 1 1/2 weeks.  I would like to give my official 2 weeks notice tomorrow (Friday), but only one boss will be present. I am concerned that my one boss will panic and call the other two bosses, interrupting their vacations – which will not help me as I attempt to leave without burning any bridges.  What would you do? I could wait until Tuesday when there will be two bosses present, but I cannot wait 1 1/2 weeks for all three to be back at work.  Do you have any resignation etiquette advice for this situation?

Resign now. It’s not your fault that two of your three bosses are away, and if your boss who’s there freaks out and calls the others, that’s really not your fault or your problem. You know you’re leaving; you owe it to them to share that information with them.

Is 8 months long enough to stay at a first job?

After graduating in May with a Master’s degree in administration from an ivy league university, I struggled to find a job for a couple of months.  Despite several excellent interviews (and second and third interviews), hiring managers told me that I ultimately lacked experience and that they decided to go with another candidate.  I was ultimately hired in my chosen profession, but the pay was about 10K less than I’d hope to make (i.e. 33K instead of 43K).  Now, with 8 months of work under my belt, I’m hoping to leverage my experience into another full-time position.  Does this seem like enough time?  Do I need to wait a full year?

I’d love to stay in my current role, but with loans and other expenses (I live in an expensive northeastern city), it’s difficult to sit tight as I increasingly need to cut costs to make ends meet.  Additionally, how can I answer potential employers’ questions about why I’m leaving my current role?  Should I say it’s because of the money?

Ideally you’d wait a full year, at least, so that you look like someone who keeps commitments and isn’t a job hopper — especially with a low level of experience in this job market, when you’re competing against people with more experience and solid work histories. When you do start looking, it’s better to explain that you’re looking for new responsibilities and challenges rather than just more money.

Read an update to this letter here.

Should I bother pursuing this job?

This week 3 recruiters contacted me for job opportunities. They just found me on LinkedIn. One of them asked my expected salary and i said I’m making x. She said, “oh, I can work with that.”  I explained I’ll need more to consider changing jobs. She said she can negotiate for more after the probation period is over.

Should I even bother going for the interview and skill test? Its software position and it may be good practice. I may say no later. Or its just a waste of time? I never applied for this job but might do it for $5-10k more. I didn’t get any promotion or raise in my current job for 3 years, and at times received warnings about my performance.

If you’re getting performance warnings at your current job, I’d seriously consider these other opportunities, unless you have explicitly been told by your manager that you’ve turned your performance around and are now performing at a high level. So yes, I think it’s certainly worth your time to learn more about these other positions; you’re not obligated to accept them if offered, but having options is always a good thing.

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    For the Agnostic applying to a Catholic school:

    I was a student of Catholic schools for grades 1-12. I have had teachers who weren’t Catholic, but they did identify themselves as another form of Christian. There were Jewish students in my high school. I don’t think that’ll be a problem as long as you are respectful.

    That being said, you should also realize that every day begins with a prayer, classes usually begin with a prayer, and you’ll have to bring students to Mass on occasion. Also, teachers, from what I have been told, are kept on a strict moral basis (unmarried pregnancy is looked down upon for example – not that that applies to you, it’s just what I’ve heard).

    But from what I remember, religion really only plays a roll in religion class. The other subjects are just what you’ll find in public school. I suggest you see if you know someone who goes to that school or a similar school (or teaches at). These schools strive to have great teachers and if you fit that, then I think you don’t have anything to worry about.

  2. Nate*

    From my experience, not all instructors within a Catholic school are Catholic, or even religious for that matter.

    Like any office culture, there are expectations about how you use your class time and what is expected of you in that environment. They may expect you to conduct religious ceremonies (as Anon said), and other tasks that may not be in line with your religious preference.

    If you respect other people’s religious viewpoints to the point of honoring their traditions in a school setting, then apply. If you can think of something that may offend you about pursuing the position, perhaps it may not be a good fit.

  3. Anonymous*

    I looked into a job at a Catholic school and it required you to submit a “statement of faith” before being considered. I’m not sure how much weight it carried when choosing candidates but it was enough to keep me from applying.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m the first anonymous poster. I just wanted to say that not all Catholic schools require a “statement of faith.” The two I had applied to never mentioned such a requirement, and when I mentioned I had gone to Catholic schools growing up, the interviewer pretty much said it didn’t matter. Now I don’t know if that meant it didn’t matter with her at the first stage of interviewing or if it didn’t matter at all.

      The only time I think it would be important to know the teacher’s “statement of faith” is when someone is applying for a religion teacher position. Then, of course, they want to make sure you know Catholicism inside and out and a prime example of a person of said faith. I don’t see how it would be important if you’re teaching Honors Americans Literature.

      1. JessB*

        Actually, as a Catholic, if I choose to send my children to a Catholic school, I would do so because I want them to be taught in a Catholic environment – which means every class, not just R.E. In fact, at my Catholic high school from Year 9 onwards, we spent time every year exploring other religions in our R.E. lessons, not just our own.

        So for me, a statement of faith would be important for every position if I was hiring for teachers at a Catholic school. It wouldn’t worry me if you weren’t Catholic, but I would need to know that you would support Catholic values* while you were at school and with students.

        *by Catholic values, I mean things like transubstantiation – where the bread and wine become the body of Jesus at Mass. I wouldn’t want teachers to scoff at that, or say it was ridiculous, or to eat it if they aren’t Catholic. Not that I’m saying anyone here would do that! I just wanted to give an example of what I meant.

        1. Anonymous*

          I totally understand your position. However, I come from a non-Catholic family in which my parents thought the Catholic schools in my area held much higher standards than the public schools I would have attended.

          Never had I heard or saw a teacher show utter disrespect towards the Catholic teachings. But I do remember some teachers bypassed opening a class with a prayer. I knew we did practically said it everyday in Spanish (and in the Spanish language), but there were some classes where it just wasn’t done. So basically it comes down to the culture of that specific school and how much Catholicism plays a roll in the classroom (in terms of how much you see).

          And like yourself, my senior year religion classes took a look at the other religions and philosophy.

          I don’t know if a “statement of faith” is really something they can hold a person accountable. Some, not all Catholic schools (depends how much of a private school they are) received funds and textbooks from the local government so they might have to still really abide by the laws in terms of not discriminating (although try to prove it, right?).

          1. Dataceptionist*

            In Australia you have to be Catholic to teach at Catholic schools, and they ask for your baptismal record and a reference from a priest to prove it.

  4. JessA*

    Regarding comp time:

    How do you negotiate this when you are interviewing for positions? Additionally, how do you negotiate this in terms of hours i.e. if you work 72 hours in a week?

    Thank you so much.

    1. Jamie*

      I cannot suggest strongly enough that this should be discussed in the salary negotiations after the offer has been made.

      This is a very slippery slope for exempt personnel. For example I work in IT, where a 40 hour work week is complete apocryphal – much like unicorns. Everyone has heard of such things, but they don’t really exist. As that’s the deal few people negotiate for the extra comp time on any level. Big mistake.

      Know the situations which will totally breed resentment in you (and conversely, what you can live with) and mitigate them up front. Personally I don’t keep track of my +40 time, because I don’t really mind and I consider it part of the gig. But I know if I have to come in on a weekend or holiday for things I can only do with no users in the system…then that’s a comp day.

      As long as everything is clearly defined it’s very simple. For me: Come in on a Saturday to get caught up that’s on my time. Come in on a Saturday for a software upgrade or server maintenance…or stay till midnight due to a server problem beyond my control, then it’s comp time.

      It is almost impossible to cement a different deal than your co-workers if you wait until you’re hired.

  5. Charles*

    “are you smarter than your boss?”

    Funny, I was asked that once too. I answered much worse than the OP here as I’m pretty sure that I rambled on about how we cannot really measure intelligence rather we had to look at how someone used that intelligence; yada yada yada yawn. I also got the feeling that maybe they had a problem with the previous person acting superior and that was their real reason for the question. As I did not get the job I never found out their reason asking. (at least they didn’t ask if I was smarter than a fifth grader!)

    A non-Catholic applying to a Catholic school.

    Yes, by all means apply and go to the interview if you get that far. I’m not Catholic but attended a Catholic school. We had several lay teachers whose beliefs were NOT know to the students. Aside from the one Jewish teacher who taught us Jewish customs (and the nun would explain how they related to Catholicism; i.e. the Last Supper most likely was a Passover Feast, etc.), the nuns taught religion class. Even Catholic lay teachers would NOT be expected to teach religion. To have someone other than an “expert” teach a subject is not expected. Just as they wouldn’t have an English teacher teach biology; wouldn’t have a math teacher teach English Comp, they wouldn’t expect someone without the “religious instruction credentials” to teach religion.

    That being said, not all Catholic schools are the same. Some might be okay with you being a self-proclaimed agnostic. Others will definitely expect you to agree to “support the Catholic Church’s mission.” (whatever that means; individuals will define “support” differently) But, I think that no matter what that school’s attitude is do NOT expect it to be okay for you to discuss your religious beliefs with the students, especially if this is K-8, the school officials might be okay, but some parents will not. And it is to the students and their parents that you ultimately answer.

  6. Anonymous*

    On the Catholic school teacher, put me down as a “do NOT apply”. Here is why. Parents are sending their kids there because they want their kids taught in an atmosphere where God is integrated with the teaching. In your example of Honors American Literature, there are ample opportunities to discuss God: the Crucible and the nature of sin, The Grapes of Wrath and how we are called to love one another. How are you going to answer a child who comes up to you and point blank asks you “Do you think God is real?”

    1. Jamie*

      This is an excellent point. I know teachers in the other classes in Catholic schools (and as others have pointed out, not all are the same) don’t necessarily teach religion, but answering questions of students is something that should be really clarified.

      As a Catholic parent I would personally have no problem with someone of another faith (or no faith) teaching my child math…however if my child asked a question pertaining to religion of any teacher I would expect it be answered in keeping with the tenets of the church. Anything less and I would have real issues about why I’m paying the big tuition.

    2. Anonymous*

      Not all parents are sending their children to a Catholic school for the religion. Where I live, it sometimes is better to go to a Catholic school because the education is held to higher standards than those of the local public schools. That’s my parents’ reasoning!

  7. RunCherylRun*

    Just a note on the compensatory time negotiation – if you work for a private employer use of comp. time may violate the FLSA overtime regulations so there may be little to no wiggle room for your employer to offer this.

  8. Wilton Businessman*

    In regards to comp time, it depends on the employer and the job. If the position is non-exempt then your employer may have to pay you for the overtime worked. If you are an exempt employee and your weekend work is part of your normal duties, then it depends on your employer.

    Personally, I’d just lay low and see how others in your department handle it. If nobody is getting a comp day for their once-a-month Saturday work, I sure wouldn’t want to be the one making a fuss, especially if I was the last one in.

  9. Cruella*

    Wow! You mean there are Catholic schools where all the teachers are NOT all nuns?! I might have actually enjoyed school there.

    1. Anonymous*

      Haha, my school had 4 when I graduated, a former nun who got married, and the rest were lay people.

  10. Talyssa*

    I think the “are you smarter than your boss” thing might be a good time to talk about strengths/weaknesses. Like “my boss is really great at BLAHBLAHBLAH and thats an areas where I sometimes struggle, so I find it really valuable to get her input there.” Or if you don’t have anything like that to bring up, something where they have a lot of knowledge or ability in an area that you can sound admirable about. I had the WORST boss ever (ok maybe not “ever”, but he wasn’t great) when I first started working and I’d probably have to say something like “He has a lot of experience and knowledge in the area of BLAH and it really adds a lot of value to some of our projects!”

    I think it could just be fishing for you to badmouth your current job or boss — easiest way not to do that is to say one nice thing about them and then swing the conversation back to you.

  11. anonymous*

    To “should I bother”???

    – If you haven’t had a promotion or raise in three years, and have received performance warnings …. then by all means, you have nothing to lose by pursuing another position.

    Regardless of the performance warnings/threats — even if you have been told that you’ve turned your performance around, those warnings are still in your file and will serve as an impediment to your advancement. There’s nothing to lose, and a lot to gain by following up.

  12. Michael D. Moore*

    “are you smarter than your boss” Very poor interview question but this happens. A positive response would be…”it is not whether I am smarter it is how well we communicate and how effectively we execute that counts.”

  13. Joey*

    I hope you’re talking about comp time for exempt employees because comp time for non exempt is almost always prohibited.

  14. Maddy*

    is 8 months long enough:

    I know exactly what you are going through. I recently just started a job, but am not being paid what I was hoping for; but little pay with some experience is better than none, right?…. Anyway, I also like the job, but at the end of the day I can’t justify the salary i am receiving.

    My point is, I think you should stick it out for a few more months… 8 months of experience is still nothing compared to 3-5 years– and that is the exact why you are at this job now, right?

  15. Tami*

    Re: comp time. I took a class on the FLSA, and they said that it was illegal for anyone other than a government agency to issue “comp time.” A person can take time off during the same pay period to avoid paying overtime, but the time cannot be carried over in a time bank. Of course, this is for non-exempt employees.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not sure that’s right — for non-exempt, you must pay overtime (and can’t substitute comp time), but I can’t imagine why you couldn’t offer comp time in addition if you wanted to (but of course, no one would do that — it’s generally either pay OR comp time, not both).

  16. Danielle*

    Hi Alison,

    Thank you so much for responding to my question. I have more confidence now to apply for teaching positions at religious schools. I wouldn’t apply to an environment I felt would be openly hostile toward my beliefs, and I feel so much more comfortable with the thought that I can apply and be myself in the process.

    Again, thank you so much.
    I truly appreciate all your good advice.


Comments are closed.