wee answer Wednesday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s wee answer Wednesday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions. We’ve got someone in love with a higher-up, listing eBay work on a resume, and more. Here we go…

1. Employee shares too much personal information

I manage a dental practice. Our dental hygienist tells patients too much personal information during appointment. Advice?

Um, tell her? You’re her manager, so you need to give her direct and straightforward feedback.

I don’t mean to be glib, but if you have a problem with this employee, why doesn’t she know it?

2. In love with manager

I think I’m falling in love with one of the managers at my place of work. I can’t seem to keep her off my mind and the entire situation is beyond complicated due to policy and restrictions. While she’s not the manager I directly report to, she certainly has authority over me. With her holding such a prominent position, and myself holding a supervisor role, I just can’t cross that line and even talk to her about it. While I don’t work directly with her, the situation is still touchy. Not expressing such strong emotions is driving me insane, but I don’t know how to get it out there without cracking the delicate walls of the workplace. Is there any advice you can give?

Imagine the worst: You tell her, she doesn’t reciprocate, and your working situation becomes incredibly awkward for both of you. Put her out of your mind and don’t act on it. (I suppose an exception to this could be if she were giving you clear signs that she returns your interest, but you don’t mention that. And if that were the case, one of you would need to leave your job in order to date ethically.)

3. Listing eBay work on a resume

In August, I was informed I would be laid off from my job after my maternity leave was over. I did look for another position but being that pregnant, it was not an easy task. I was laid off at the end of January as promised and because the daycare we’re planning to use doesn’t have a spot available until August, volunteering or looking for a job outside the home is not really a good option.

I’ve been searching for part-time freelance work-from-home positions in my field (marketing) but in the meantime, I’ve started an eBay store, specializing in a specific product area. Would it be odd to list “owner” as my current occupation on my resume so I don’t have the dreaded gap in positions? I’m obtaining the merchandise, developing pricing, product and marketing strategies, and managing inventory, logistics and profit margins. From a purely academic standpoint, it has been an intriguing business exercise and I’m learning a lot about how a business actually works.

I don’t see why you couldn’t list that. Go for it.

Also, you didn’t ask this, but your best bet for part-time work-from-home jobs is going to be via your network. That type of work is hard to find “cold,” but can be easier if you go through people who are already familiar with your work.

4. Personal statements for internships

I have found an incredible internship opportunity and am currently working on my application for it. It is an internship designed to give recent college graduates who want to pursue a career in healthcare an opportunity to gain research experience and clinical experience. The application requires a personal statement. I am familiar with the idea of a personal statement for graduate schools (“Why do you want to become a physician?”) and I am familiar with cover letters for job applications. However, I am not exactly sure how to approach a personal statement for an internship position. Do you have any suggestions?

Treat it similarly. Talk about why you want to do the work and why you’d be good at it.

5. Counting seasonal work

I worked in biology labs (doing research) during summers and winters through most of high school and all of college. However, it was just summers and winters (I worked IT as a work study job). How do I count this in something like a cover letter? I know that most employers won’t count that as “13 years of experience” but it does cover large portions of 13 years. Do I add up months?

Why are you adding up anything in your cover letter? You don’t need to include a statement like “I have X years of experience”; they’ll see your experience on your resume. If you’re summarizing your resume in your cover letter, it’s time to write a new cover letter.

6. How to get to know new coworkers

I recently joined a small software company of about 50 people as a mid-level manager. In a genuine way, I’d like to get to know people and learn about the company, culture, successes, challenges, etc. I really want to make a personal connection so I’d like to get together with at least one person a week for coffee. What’s a good way of doing this without making it seem as though I’m snooping? Also I don’t want anything to come across as inappropriate if I ask woman out for coffee any differently if I ask her male collegue. Is there a particular etiquette about asking those more senior to me out for a coffee. If I wait for them, it may never happen.

It’s not going to seem like snooping unless you ask inappropriately personal questions. Ask people about their work and their backgrounds and you’ll be fine.

But you certainly shouldn’t ask women any differently than you’d ask men. That would be weird. Treat them all the same. As for asking people senior to you, it depends on your company culture. One possibility would be to ask your manager for her opinion on that; if she’s any good, she’ll be able to advise you.

7. Can I fudge my salary history?

I’m applying for new jobs (only been unemployed for 4 days and have had 4 interviews, which I think is pretty awesome!) and I’m nervous about employers asking about my former salary. I worked at a non-profit, where salaries are very below-market. I did some research (thanks to your blog!) and found out what the average salary is for the job I left. (It was about $15,000 more than I was making). Is it wrong (or illegal??) for me to fudge a little bit during my interviews and tell them it was in that average range I found online, and not the uber-low salary I was getting at my old job? I’m not giving out any exact numbers, I’ve been saying, “well, it was between X and X.” Should I be telling them my exact salary? Or is it normal for people to fudge a little bit on salaries when interviewers ask for them?

Well, there’s an argument to be made for not sharing your previous salary at all — it’s no one’s business, they should be able to decide your worth without that info, and all the other arguments that have been covered here previously.  If it were me, I’d say that your previous employer considered salary information confidential, but that you’re seeking to make $X – $X. But if you can’t get around the salary history question, don’t lie. Some employers verify it (either during reference checks or by asking to see old W2s — seriously), so lying is a really bad idea.

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. Dan*

    Thanks for the answer!

    I’d been told somewhere in the depths of beginning this process that some sort of “summary of self” statement in the cover letter, similar to a “profile” statement would be a good idea, such as “Biochemist with X years of experience.”

    It would appear that this was poor advice and I need to rework things! I certainly haven’t had luck recently.

    1. Elizabeth*

      What might seem more natural is to refer to your lengthy experience in the field in context. Something like the sentiment of, “Ever since I had the opportunity to spend my summer in a marine invertebrate lab when I was sixteen, I have had a passion for research and discovery.”

  2. KLH*

    Yes, put your eBay experience on your resume! My sister graduated college in biochemistry 10 years ago, but shortly after graduation started dabbling in Ebay and built up a store and clientele specializing in Victorian-era American silver. At one point she made the move into recruiting using her Ebay work as a qualification (showing sales, negotiation and customer service prowess) . She’s always done it part to full time and really likes running her own business. I’m super impressed by and proud of her.

    1. Amanda*

      Agree with this!

      I did eBay during my university years (buying at second-hand stores, selling for a profit on eBay), and it netted me a good $300 a week on top of my part time job. It’s great business/entrepreneurial experience, and I framed it as a business venture that proves I can work independently for great results. :)

    2. Anonymous_J*

      I also agree with this. On the side, I sell my art and photography online. The first entry on my resume is “Owner, [COMPANY] 2008-present (part-time).” Most of it consists of listing things in online shops. Occasionally, I do small photo shoots. The point is that you are learning how to run a business, how to finance it, how to advertise, etc. Those are all very valuable skills to bring to the workplace!

      Good luck!

  3. Joey*

    #2. Do you really want to risk your job if it doesn’t work out? That saying don’t shit where you eat is good advice.

  4. Malissa*

    #1–For the love of little apple pies tell her! I really don’t want to sit in the chair and be forced to listen to a pro and con list of why she should give her 13 year-old daughter a cell phone. Especially if it distracts her from reading the chart and putting a fluoride treatment with a flavor I’m allergic to in my mouth. Thus making me schedule all future cleanings on her day off. I’m just saying….
    #2 Start looking for another job. Then you can date her or just have distance.
    #6 After the second or third person goes with you for coffee, everybody will know what you are doing. So I wouldn’t worry about it being awkward.

    1. KayDay*

      I once had a hygienist tell me about how she was up all night because her BMW broke down on her way home from a “spa” weekend getaway and it took her until 1am to get a tow. I was terrified every time she got near me with those sharp pokey things and ready to go hot wire her BMW and sell it on craigslist after I shelled out $800 for the visit. I no longer use that dentist’s office.

      1. Samantha*

        I hate dental hygienists that talk. Your hands are in my mouth. What on earth are we going to talk about? I don’t want to talk about your kids, your family, your marriage etc. And I don’t want to tell you about any of these things. Just clean my teeth so I can get out of here faster.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          I don’t mind her talking to me about current events and such, but don’t ask me any questions I obviously can’t answer since I have two hands and tools in my mouth. And don’t talk about personal stuff.

  5. Elizabeth*

    #6, while I agree with Alison that you shouldn’t treat the women any differently from the men, it might not hurt to ask a male coworker first, and maybe to mention your reasons for asking (to find out about the company and get yourself connected to coworkers) instead of just saying, “Hey, want to grab a coffee?” In an ideal world, no one would misunderstand you, but unfortunately reality sometimes doesn’t match up.

    1. Anonymous*

      #7–not lying isn’t just a good idea for your resume or salary negotiations, it’s just a good principle to live by. You don’t always have to tell everything you know about every situation, but lying just isn’t a way to run your affairs professionally or personally. Times when you agonize over whether or not to tell the truth or the whole truth should be very few and far between.
      When I hear someone at work say ‘I didn’t tell my husband that I bought this purse’ or ‘I’m just going to tell her I forgot’ I wonder ‘what are you lying to me about?’ So few people tell the truth most of the time that if you do, you stand out. You build trust which can sometimes lead to much better opportunities with more responsibilities. My first week on my current job I made a big mistake which I could have covered up, but I told my boss and asked her how I could avoid this happening again. It was the beginning of a great relationship because she knows she can trust me.
      You can make it clear to an employer, if they don’t already know, that non-profit salaries are lower and that’s part of the reason you want a change.

  6. Anonymous*

    #6: As a manager, I would ask groups of 2-3 people out each week, rather than 1-on-1 to start. From an asking side, people will understand that you truly are just trying to get to know everyone, and that there’s no ulterior motives, and from a going side, it will be much more relaxed if your coworkers don’t feel like they have to hold up the other side of conversation by themselves.

    1. Andrea*

      I like this idea–small groups at first, and then everyone individually. I might feel uncomfortable if a new manager just asked me to coffee–what if they decided to take me out of the building to fire me, or what if they were going to use that time to give me an impromptu evaluation full of non-constructive criticism? Knowing that another person would be there, too, would make me feel more comfortable in that situation.

    2. Scott M*

      I got the idea that the OP was talking about coworkers, not subordinates. Either way, I would suggest simply having a quick meeting in the office, rather than a meeting outside the office. There is less risk of the request being miscontrued.

      Although I admit this advice is partly due to my personal preference. I’ve always been uncomfortable with ‘lunch’ or ‘coffee’ for discussing business issues. If you want to talk to me about something, just schedule an hour in a conference room.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Some companies I have been with have arranged informal Friday breakfasts which could be an option. The boss brings in a quantity of croissants, then everyone gets coffee, takes a croissant and has a chat.

          1. Jamie*

            I had a 7:00 am meeting this morning and I didn’t bring in muffins.

            I brought in muffins from Panera Bread for last week’s 7:00 am meeting.

            Trust me, people noticed. I’ll be stopping for pastry tomorrow morning, just to ensure no one cuts my brake lines.

            Never underestimate the importance of treats.

    3. Ry*

      I like this idea very much. Since you’re management, you won’t want to give the impression of forcing subordinates to talk with you or singling them out, especially since you’re new. Why not tell everyone what you’ve told us, that you want to get to know the people and the company, and ask them to help you settle in by having a cup of coffee with you? Small groups are a good idea, as long as that doesn’t make you feel singled out. Also, if you’ve framed it as a request for everyone’s help/input, then it shouldn’t seem strange if you’re a man and you include women colleagues in your coffee breaks. (If you just asked a random female coworker out for coffee, yeah, I can see how you might worry about that.)

      Are you able to take coworkers for brief meetings at a coffee shop nearby? I can’t speak for everyone, but I have a good relationship with almost all of my coworkers and would gladly step out for a few minutes to talk – and it would seem more of a treat than going into the break room. I like helping to orient new colleagues to our department; even when our tasks don’t overlap, I like starting off with a good working relationship and knowing a little about the person, as well as being able to fill them in on what I can of company culture.

    4. Joe*

      I was going to suggest small groups, too. At my office, people will sometimes go out and grab lunch together, it’s a nice way to get to know each other. This could be better than 1-on-1 coffee dates, since there’s less pressure on any one person to be talking a lot.

  7. Kate*

    #5 – I have this issue as well, and I am also using a summary on my resume, with “I have X years of experience…”. This is because to just list the positions I’ve held would take the whole page! I’m trying to avoid the impression of being a job-hopper – these are summer internships that go back through college – and I’ve held several of these positions at once. I’ve found the summary really helpful for me to help cut down resume length. And of course, my cover letter highlights other relevant things from these positions. Allison, do you not like the idea of a summary at all? (I promise, it’s not an objective!)

    (And also, I’ve applied for some jobs with a online form that asks for years of experience – and yes, I’ve added up the months.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      On your resume, I think a summary or profile at the top is great. It’s just the cover letter where you shouldn’t summarize the resume (because it’s a waste of space to repeat what they’re going to see in the resume anyway). Use the cover letter to add something new!

  8. Grant*

    Thanks for the answer (regarding #2). Greatly appreciated.

    I most definitely have no intention of acting upon my emotions for her while I still work there. If there’s one thing I hold dearly in the workplace, it’s the line between personal and professional relationships. As stated before: “don’t shit where you eat”. I fully agree with that and have never had an issue dodging that bullet. Which is why this particular situation is ever so frustrating.

    However, I am going to start looking for a new job as she is most definitely showing signs of interest. (I need a change of scenery anyway, the pros to a new job are outweighing the cons by quite a bit.) Maybe her interest isn’t as intense as mine, but it’s there nonetheless. With any luck I’ll scoop up another job soon and I can say what I feel!

    1. Anon*

      Depending on the culture at your job, her personality/maturity level and your personality/maturity level, I would tell her you’re interested now. Who knows how long it would take to find a new job, or maybe once you start dating you realize you’re just better off friends, etc.

      My office is informal, so that might be coloring my bias, but I’ve witnessed more workplace romances working out than crashing and burning. Famously, there was one that still survived to have a decent working relationship even after a crazy ending (sugar in the gas tank, accidental pregnancy, money “loaned” for an abortion then hounded for repayment, etc). Amazingly, those two people continued to work in the same department for years after all the drama. The ones who have worked out have not been nearly as dramatic, so no impressive list of awesome success.

      But, up to you and your ability to honestly self-assess your own interest, hers and the environment you work in. ;)

    2. Ry*

      This is adorable. If somebody I found attractive was interested in me, and they went so far as to get a new job so that we could date, I would be charmed. (It sounds like you have your own reasons for wanting to change jobs, too – so you don’t seem like a stalker, which of course would be the less attractive possibility here, ha!)

      I wish you the best luck in finding a new job and asking your colleague out afterward! I also agree with your plan and AAM’s and Joey’s advice not to talk to her about your feelings while you work with her, even though she doesn’t manage you directly. If you did, it *could* be a perfect experience, but the chances of that are very much lower than the chances of some form of unpleasantness that could affect your work.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Charmed if you were interested, but probably a bit taken aback if you weren’t. That’s the thing about romantic gestures — they’re great if you’re interested in the person, but often uncomfortable (and sometimes really inappropriate) if you’re not.

        What worries me here is the question of whether or not the OP is right that the woman has indicated interest. There are an awful lot of people who see interest where it’s not there, so I’d hate for him to change jobs counting on the idea that she’ll be up for dating once he does, and then discover that he read the signs wrong.

        1. KellyK*

          I agree with that. The ability to ask out the person you like is a nice incentive for switching jobs if you already want to move on to something better, but the idea that someone switched jobs just to ask me out—that would be horribly uncomfortable. I mean, you might go on one date and decide you’re not at all right for each other. Do you really want to permanently change your career for that?

          1. Laura L*

            “but the idea that someone switched jobs just to ask me out—that would be horribly uncomfortable.”

            Same here. Be careful about the dating thing.

        2. Anonymous*

          I agree but he did mention he was ready for a change of scenery anyway. I think that looking for a new job and seeing being able to ask (big emphasis on ask) her out as a perk of getting one is fine.

        3. Anonymouse*

          Sorry to be another downer, but signs of interest in a flirtation is not automatically interest in a relationship. Interest in a relationship is not necessarily interest in a serious relationship.

          Romanticized, unrequited yearning in the movies is grand; in reality, it means the person is mostly likely afraid of attainable love. The fantasy is the driver, not the woman.

          Make sure you see HER for who she really is, not just your passion.

  9. Ask an Advisor*

    Re: 4. Personal statements for internships

    AAM is right on, personal statements for internships are just like personal statements for grad school, which is just a longer-more-in-depth-cover-letter-of-sorts. Think of it as your opportunity to say, “You’re awesome, I’m awesome, and here’s how and why we’ll be awesome together.”

  10. Anonymous*

    Coffee with everyone in the office…could work well if done well, but could appear really strange if not done well. Maybe best to learn the culture slowly – ask your closest colleagues to coffee first, and get a sense of how people interact with superiors, etc.

  11. Hazel Grace*

    So… what is the answer to the actual question being asked in #5? Ignoring the fact that they’re talking about summarizing their resume in their cover letter, how DOES one count a bunch of little seasonal jobs like that?

    I found it really odd that you didn’t actually answer the question. Normally you’d answer the question AND point out any other flaws you see in their description of what they’re doing/what they’ve done.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In these short answers, I usually (not always but usually) answer the direct question being asked. Because they’re short answers. He asked “how do you count this in a cover letter?”

      There was discussion of this question a week ago too. You add up the actual amount of time that you spent doing the work. And you should be reasonable/realistic about it — if you were doing the work at an intern level or as an assistant to someone else who was mainly responsible for it, then you weight it accordingly.

  12. Jamie*

    I seem to be a lone voice of dissent, but I would find a new co-worker systematically trying to form a “personal” connection over coffee with co-worker after co-worker to be creepy.

    I’m sure that’s not how it’s intended, and I don’t even mean creepy as it could be misconstrued…just in a forced and trying too hard kind of way.

    I think getting to know people works best when it’s organic – this sounds like a plan for mini-interviews. I can’t see a personal connection arising from that.

    There is nothing wrong with making an effort to get to know your co-workers by being interested and engaging them in conversation. But this reads to me like a schedule and a ticking off of a to-do list – seems off-putting.

    FWIW I took a quick poll of the people standing in my office at a couple of minutes ago and all four of them agreed that if a new person here did that here we would think it was bizarre. Then again, maybe the people who like me well enough to stand and chat in my office all have a similar aversion to suspicious friendliness.

  13. Rixter*

    I’ve been casually getting together one-on-one and it’s worked out well. The owner of the company has breakfast nearly every morning and I’ve even initiated a coffee with him (asking first for permission to join him). While reading a book First 90 Days, there were 4 questions that they suggest as a framework and that has been working out really well so far. I’ve been focusing on 3 of them:
    – What’s your biggest challenge?
    – What is the greatest untapped opportunity do you see?
    – What do you think needs to be done to reach the opportunity

    Obviously I don’t do it as a script but those are the general themes

  14. anon*

    #4 Questions like this give me heartburn.

    This is a highly specialized internship which AAM can’t possibly know the details of. If you have to ask her about it, you HAVE NOT done enough research. You should be trawling through your network, grad office, everything to try and find people who’ve applied for or done this internship. This is the difference between people who apply for things cold on the internet and people who get the job. Start emailing *now* and don’t submit anything until you have some concrete information.

  15. Anonymous*

    Re: #6

    You could always send out a group email to everyone that you want to have the coffee meetings with to let them know what you want to do. This shows that you’re asking everyone in the office and could avoid any of the awkwardness you’re afraid of encountering. It also avoids anyone being offended or nervous that they were asked first or last since you’re asking everyone at the same time.

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