tiny answer Tuesday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s tiny answer Tuesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Being asked to train your coworker

I started working for a new company about 10 months ago. A few months after I was hired, another person was also brought on to our department at one job level below mine. Recently, my manager has been asking me to work with (read: help train) the new person on some projects. Not being a manager myself (and still not being 100% comfortable with my job responsibilities because of the very difficult subject matter of our industry), I don’t feel very qualified to walk the new-er guy through anything at all.

Not having been in this type of situation before, is it normal for managers to ask their employees to train other employees? And should I speak up about not being a very confident teacher in this situation, or should I do the best I can to try to train my new coworker?

Yes, it’s very normal. You don’t need to be a manager to train someone in how to do tasks that you’re familiar with. If you really don’t feel confident showing him how to do this work, talk to your manager … but if I were your manager, I’d be concerned that you don’t feel more of a mastery of the material ten months into the job, so before you have that conversation, make sure that your objection isn’t just based on the feeling that you shouldn’t have to do this (which it sounds like it might be).

2. Applying to a job that seems beneath you

For the next couple of years, I am geographically tied to an area that is ideal for my wife’s industry, but much less so for mine (advertising creative). I understand that I need to form my cover letters to show my interest in and knowledge of the agency, but in almost every instance so far the more I find out about an agency, the less interested in them I am. What can I do when I am genuinely not excited by the work these agencies do? I hate to be disingenuous. I’d like to think that I could help them produce better creative, to tell them I would be a benefit to their agency, but I ‘m afraid it will sound like “Your work is beneath me.” If I can’t get excited about the work they’re doing now, should I even be applying?

No. At some point you might find that you’re interested in them simply because you’ve exhausted all other options, but as long as you feel like you currently do, don’t apply.

3. Should I ask my possibly-divorcing employee if everything’s okay?

My employee sent me an email today telling me that effective immediately she is going back to her maiden name. She specified it was her maiden name and I wouldn’t have known it was if she had not said it. That makes me thinks that she may be going through a divorce. I’m wondering what’s appropriate for a response. Should I just ignore the implications and tell her ok, or would it be polite to tell her ok and let her know I hope everything is ok?

Just curious. I would usually just go with option one, but she and her peer come from a culture that tends to share a lot and be sort of touchy-feely so I didn’t know what would be appropriate here.

Totally depends on her personality and your relationship with her. I’d go with your gut on this one. (How’s that for an unhelpful answer?)

4. Not volunteering your way out of a job

A local charity I would very much like to work for recently had a part-timer resign. I was hoping they would advertise the position and I could apply, but through discreet enquiries I found out that due to financial constraints, they will not hire for several months, until they can get more grant money. I already volunteer a little bit for a related, all-volunteer charity (i.e., there will never be a paid job there for me), and have previous paid job experience in the field. I was thinking of offering to do some of the work that is normally being done by the now-vacant position in an unpaid, volunteer capacity — both to help out this cause I genuinely care about, and to show them that I am a hard worker. But I don’t want to do so much that they feel they won’t need a paid worker and will just rely on me doing the work for free forever. How do I navigate this?

Offer to do it for a limited time period, like two months, and be clear that you’d also like to be considered for the paying position when it becomes available.

Read an update to this letter here.

5. Negotiating a conditional offer

If you have an offer which is conditional on the company speaking with your references, should you begin negotiating once you have considered the offer (but it is still conditional)? Or should you acknowledge receipt of the offer but wait to begin negotiating until you have received an unconditional offer? You don’t want to waste their time, but obviously from your perspective you want to be in the best position to negotiate.

If they’ve made you an offer and named a salary, start negotiating now.

6. References and conflicts of interest

I’m applying to a lot of jobs recently because my current work environment is untenable. I’m working my network as best I can to make myself stand out, since the positions I’m going for are going to have a lot of applicants due to the field and the job market. The more I use my network in this way, though, the trickier it starts to seem.

There is one position where a good friend of mine is in an administrative position in the institution and works closely with the department I applied to, but he does not have any direct hiring power or influence. He once brought me in as a speaker and we often talk shop, so while I can’t really list him as a direct reference, he knows my work and my character and I think it would really help if he put in a word for me, as it were.

He said he would do what he could, within the confines of “conflict of interest.” Is there any conflict of interest there, though? If he doesn’t think I’d fit into the culture that’s one thing, but if he thinks I would, is there any conflict in him saying so to the hiring manager?

No, there’s no conflict of interest. This guy is someone who doesn’t quite understand how this stuff works. (Or he’s being disingenuous with you and trying to get out of recommending you.)

7. Boss is lazy about enforcing rules

I work for a very lazy boss who has the habit of not really enforcing discipline upon my coworkers or even himself. He has several staff who’ve abused call-ins, late time, and are even blatantly insubordinate. However little he does, he’s still our boss and I strive to do as much as possible to make my day and his run a little smoother. Today, however, I was appalled when he came in from a staff meeting claiming that things were going to be changing drastically (as he does at least once a month), claiming that he and the other staff members in the upper echelon were going to be performing periodic checks to ensure that no staff were spending their work time on their phones and would be handing out pre-written reprimands.

Now, I don’t live on my phone, as most of our staff do, nor do I have a problem with my boss enforcing a positive work ethic. What bothered me was the idea that the forms would be filled out for an offense, and names and dates would be filled out later. I spent 4 years in the military and had a front line supervisor who attempted the same thing but wasn’t allowed to do so by her boss on the premise that these forms were lazy, invalid due to being pre-filled, and just downright illegal. I mentioned this to my boss, but he, in usual fashion, claimed that I was wrong in my claim. It infuriated me, moreso the way he refuted my claim, but infuriated me never the less. So I tried doing the research to find the answer, but have yet to find anything that even remotely speaks on this issue. So I suppose my question for you is: Are there any laws/rules that counter this blatantly lazy attempt at governing employees?

This is perfectly legal. I’m not clear on why you think it wouldn’t be. There’s nothing illegal about pre-filled forms. (I’m really curious about these random laws people think exist that don’t.)

It’s dumb, though, although certainly in keeping with a boss who doesn’t know how to assert himself.

{ 89 comments… read them below }

  1. Anony Mouse*

    #3: Can you make it about what she needs from you as a manager? Something like “Okay. If you need some personal time off, I understand” rather than “Okay, do you need a shoulder to cry on?”

    #6 I wonder if this guy is in a spot where he could get a referral bonus. In that case, I could see where he wouldn’t want to push a friend *too* hard, but really, the point of referral bonuses is to get your good people to give you their good friends/acquaintances.

    1. Anonymous*

      #3 – exactly this!

      As a manager, you should let her know if you can allow her some time off as needed to sort through any issues that pop up. Even if she wants a shoulder to cry on, she doesn’t really want YOUR shoulder to cry on, because you are The Boss.

      You should also be supportive of her efforts to get her name changed professionally. Look into what’ s required at your business. Most companies handle this easily. Others (like mine!) are still set up for some mythical nonexistent stone age, where only men worked and no man ever changed his name. It takes us over a year to get a name change through unless someone’s manager pushes the matter. If you’re at one of these companies, please do push the other departments to fix her name on office databases/email (+forwarding!)/nameplates/whatever.

    2. COT*

      Great ideas for #3. Another thing you could offer (if your employee shares any information about what’s going on, and if you feel comfortable making this suggestion) is a quick reminder that your Employee Assistance Program is always available to help employees work through any non-work-related needs.

  2. Eric*

    #1. (Training new coworker) It sounds to me that your problem might not be with your mastery of the tasks (I’m guessing you know them better than you give yourself credit for), but that you don’t have much (if any) experience training people.
    Trainer’s don’t have to have all of the answers in order to be helpful. Most times when I am taught something new (or teach something), I ask/get asked a question that I don’t know the answer to.
    If I am not off base here, if you approach your manager, I would to it with respect to not having experience training people, and if they have any pointers to help you out with that.

  3. Steve*

    re number six, remember when you ask someone if they are willing to provide a reference there are only two possible answers. 1. An enthusiastic yes! 2. Anything else. When ever you get answer number two always thank them warmly and do not use them.

    1. Anonymous*

      Thanks. All of my official references are enthusiastic “yes” ones, but I was just hoping that since he already works there, he could offer an extra nudge. Sad to hear that such a close friend might not have a very good opinion of me, though.

        1. Steve*

          Exactly – you can’t be sure why he is not comfortable so don’t use him, but don’t assume the worst either.

  4. nyxalinth*

    I think the whole “Is this illegal” thing is really just “I don’t like the way my boss/company operates, please tell me it’s illegal so I can get them to stop/do the thing they’re not doing.”

      1. nyxalinth*

        Well, I think it’s wishful thinking. They know there isn’t much that can be done about bad management, but the LAW can make it all better.

      2. Anonymous*

        I think you might’ve missed the part where he’s coming from a military background. In the military, there are many things that are “illegal” for all intents and purposes that aren’t restricted for civilians. For example, military members don’t have full freedom of speech. They can not only be expelled from the military (“fired”) for saying certain things, they can also go through court-marshals (criminal trials) and face jail time. Their boss is usually also the equivalent of the local sheriff.

        I think it’s quite understandable that a former military member would have some trouble adjusting out of that mindset into the “anything goes” civilian business world. More understandable than most of your “Is this legal?” questions.

          1. Guest*

            It is (in the military), because in the UCMJ this type of write up is a commanding officer’s non-judicial punishment. Penalities without a court martial can include detention, temporary loss of pay, permanent loss of pay, ‘house’ arrest, extra duties, and reduction in rank.

            This is why it’s important that for a punishment, the officer has to have the details specifically match what happened with the service member
            (revisions over the years to the UCMJ and judicial precedents made it illegal). If you have the ability to imprison someone, you can’t have a form letter that says, “__________ was improperly on the telephone on ________ date and he will be detained for 30 days.”

            It also is poor leadership (what else is going on when you’re focused on so poorly managing one or two areas of infraction).

        1. Tommy*

          Thank you, anonymous, for understanding the difficulty in transitioning from the military to civilian side of the coin. It is rather hard integrating oneself from a place where the rules and regulations of a company are black and white to a world full of gray tones with puerile petty squabbler being the maker of all decisions. And thank you, Ask a Manager, for the quick and decisive answer. I wouldn’t say that I was hopeful for a different answer, but it would’ve been nice to have been able to point out a flaw where it existed in the hopes that I could redirect my manager towards a more pro-active choice.

        2. khilde*

          This is what I was going to say, too. When I transitioned out of the military (and I had only been in for 5 years), it blew my mind how….free….the civilian world was. And I actually went right into state government so it was still government! But still there were so many more shades of gray (can anyone use that phrase anymore without conjuring up the book? sigh) out of the military than there are in the very black and white military. There are such tightly defined parameters for behavior and prescribed consequences in the military that it was hard for me to wrap my mind around it. So I can understand a former military member asking, “is it legal?” because in the military there’s usually a Yes or No answer for most things.

          1. Not even close.*

            Eh. I’m a disabled veteran. My hubs is 12 yrs AD, heading for retirement, but it appears this OP is just delusional. Is he really sp brainwashed that he can’t separate military law from civil law? I call BS. Sounds like he’s used to calling the shots and doesn’t like taking orders vs giving them. Apparently he missed the mandatory separation briefing. I have a hard time buying that a sane person, veteran or not, cannot differentiate between civilian and military concepts.

            1. Tommy*

              I have a hard time buying that a sane person would be so rude as to have such a disregard for human frailty and the simplistic manner in which some people are confused between what they learned in their life before the military and the years upon years of having the military ingrained in their psyche. Perhaps you should share your special skills with those of us who’ve had a hard time making the transition from the military rather than blindly casting uninformed judgments from behind a glass screen.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I agree with you that that comment was harsher than it needed to be, but the reason people are responding this way is because you appeared to be lashing out at them in your comments originally. Whether or not you intended it that way, that’s how it came across. I would recommend not continuing to inflame the situation.

    1. Emily*

      And in #6’s case, he was coming from an employer who was the government (the military), where it’s probably a lot easier to commingle “the government’s rules” with “laws” in your mind.

    2. EM*

      I think most people really don’t understand how heavily employment laws in the US favor the company at the expense of the worker. I think many people thing, “Wow, this seems so unfair and unethical, so it might be illegal”.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s not always about favoring the company; it’s often about the government not legislating how managers manage (which is often a good thing).

  5. ChristineH*

    #1 – Showing people how to do things make me want to crawl under the table, so I feel your pain. I think I’ve read that it can take up to a year to truly master your job, so at 10 months in, I’m a little iffy about being asked to train a new person on entire projects. However, being asked to train on a specific task isn’t all that unusual. In my last job, I was asked to show a new hire how to prepare a certain monthly report; I had only been at that job maybe 7 or 8 months, and I’d only been doing the report myself for a couple of months. I was nervous about doing it, but it worked out well.

    I’d be careful how you approach this with your manager. I agree with Alison – make sure it’s because you’re nervous about doing a good job of training rather than an “it’s not my job” mindset (to me personally, it sounds more like the former scenario). If it is nerves, just say to your manager that this is new territory for you, that you want to help, and ask if there are any pointers she can offer. Are there any specific parts of the job at all that you feel comfortable with? If so, ask if you can start with those.

    1. Anonymous*

      “I think I’ve read that it can take up to a year to truly master your job”

      Yes to this! I’ve been in my current role just at a year now, and this morning was the first time I’ve really felt I was able to bs my way through (I mean competently answer, of course!) questions during a training I conducted, and I’ve been leading training sessions for months now. Each class I train, it gets a little bit easier, and I get a little more confident (plus, they all ask the same questions for the most part, so I’m able to work some of those right into the material and have answers ready for others now).

      OP, you don’t have to be completely confident in every aspect of your job to be able to train someone. And training itself takes a lot of practice – look at this as a great opportunity to develop that skill. There are going to be questions you can’t answer, but that’s ok – you can find out the answers and get back to the trainee later (“That is a great question. I need to look into it, but I will let you know once I get an answer for you.”). Or you can point the trainee in the right direction to find out the answers for herself.

  6. Emily*

    #1 – Being asked to train someone new often (though certainly not always) signals that your manager thinks you’re good at what you do, and that’s why she wants the new person to learn from you. Becoming the go-to training person on your team/department is also a way of being groomed to eventually become a manager. It’s a baby step that gives you a taste of supervising and instructing someone else for a short time, and if you do well with it, you may find yourself getting increasingly more managerial responsibilities–supervising temp workers, then perhaps managing an intern. In the future, these things will be a big help if you want to apply for a job where you’d have staff under you. Instead of having zero management experience you’ll be able to point to your experience training new staff, supervising temp workers, and managing interns.

      1. JT*


        Also Training someone one-on-one by showing what you do, step-by-step, is often not that hard. And it will probably help you your own understanding of what you are showing, or at least give you more confidence about your abilities. It’s also possible that it might even help you understand more specifically areas in which you need improvement. Overall, this opportunity is not a bad thing unless it is cutting into the time you need to do other key tasks.

  7. KayDay*

    #1 Train the new guy: Almost all of my “training” has come from people at my level, not managers. I only worked one part-time job that had a real training program (there was a group of advanced associates who were the official trainers). Training new co-workers can be a great opportunity. Sometimes, the best way to really cement your skills is to train someone (note: I’m under the assumption that you are simply not confident in your work, as opposed to actually not knowing how to do it). Secondly, it’s a great way to gain some people-management skills in a more informal way.

    #3 Possible divorce?: I would second everything Anony Mouse and Anonymous said above, especially regarding doing manger-y things (like allowing time off) vs. friend-y things. Also, you don’t necessarily have to mention a possible divorce, or even say “is everything okay?” (which can sometimes come across as accusatory) to show kindness and caring towards your employee. Just be open and ready to listen to her, say hi and ask how her weekend was, etc. If she wants to tell you more she can, if not, she won’t feel awkward.

    1. OP 3*

      Hi OP 3 here. I do like the suggestions above and I think I’m going to take that approach. Part of the problem is that this person literally sits on the other side of the world from me 9 hours ahead. So we don’t have as much of the informal interaction as you would normally have from people who are in the office together. That being said she and her peer both send me family photos, copies of invitations to family events, and other similar things which is normal for their culture so that’s what had me second guessing my approach.

      Thanks All.

  8. Anonymous*

    I am the person who asked #4. I like your answer, though as I don’t know the timescale of when they can hire (and am not sure they even know!) giving a deadline may be difficult. I sent an email saying I’d like to help out, but am job searching so not sure how long I’ll be able to help, and to let me know what they most need help with.

  9. sparky629*

    Here’s the thing…you’re not in the military anymore.

    There’s going to be actions/issues that come up in the private sector that would never EVER in a million years happen in the military.

    I know. I struggled with that for years after leaving the military. It caused me a lot of frustration, and some really big. ass. headaches.

    I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out…in the military, everything was black or white, there was a clear hierarchy, most everyone strove to be best, and there were clear directions and outcomes (most of the time).

    But you know what? I wasn’t in the military any longer so I had to learn how to adapt to my current work environment so I could be successful. I made the choice to leave the military. I now had to leave all of that behind and start over in an environment that felt like living in another country where I didn’t speak the language or know anything about the culture.

    But everyday became a little bit easier to navigate the terrain and learn the language of my new home. :-)

    The day that I figured out that my boss, who really and truly hated managing people, was being the best manager she could be and it did not in any way impact me professionally was a truly liberating day.

    Her self imposed limitations did not stop me from growing professionally and learning new skills. That was her sh** to deal with not mine. So I kept pushing myself to learn and grow so I would be ready for my opportunity when it was time.

    Just saying, stop worrying about the boss and the co-workers and keep on improving you.

    They will either start to step up to the plate or you will move on. Either way, it’s a win for you. :-)

    1. Tommy*

      I appreciate your candor, however I refuse to lower the standards to which I hold my peers and betters. I understand a person not wishing to be in management who is forced to do so, however my manager in this particular situation actually chose his station in the company with his choice of schooling. He rose from the position in which I reside to become what he is today, knowing full well the requirements of said position. Therefore, I have no pity for his lax attitude towards the plight of his subordinates.

      1. Emily*

        You don’t have to pity your manager, approve of the work he’s doing, or even really respect him (as long as you’re not insubordinate, you can privately consider him a complete buffoon).

        What Sparky is advising is you need to file away your manager’s incompetence as OPP (Other People’s Problems). You can’t make your manager be a better manager, which leaves you two choices: let it upset you, or don’t let it upset you. If the ineptitude is so severe that you can’t be happy in your job (either because your manager gets in the way of your duties, or because you can’t put it in the OPP file and thus you spend your workdays being upset about it), then it’s time to move on to another job.

        We’re not telling you to let it go because you should take pity on him or feel sympathy in your heart for his plight. We’re telling you to let it go back your only other choice is to be angry/upset/frustrated/annoyed/resentful/some other variety of “bad mood” about your manager failing to meet your standards, and stewing in a bad mood without end in sight is not good for your mental health.

        1. Joe Schmoe*

          I agree completely with Emily on this one. I had a manager that was bad. In fact, bad does not begin to describe the way this manager worked. He would talk about his employees behind their backs to their peers. He would reveal things that were told to him in confidence. He would make disparaging remarks about his employees to other employees. When we were in a meeting, and he opened his mouth to speak, I would just put by head down. I didn’t want anyone thinking that this man represented me or my opinions, even though he was my boss.

          Someone called the ethics hotline on him, and an investigation was done. They set up a “team building” (basically a bash the boss) meeting which was held on my last day there. I applied for another job at another location in the same company and got it. I went to the “team building” session because my peers asked me to. They probably wanted me to bring things up because I was leaving and could speak more candidly.

          What happened?? Nothing – he is still in the same position treating those people the same way as before. HR did nothing, his boss gave him a verbal reprimand….then it was back to business as usual. Eventually (from what I’ve heard from those that are still there) the same things started happening all over again.

          So, my lesson learned – if you have a bad manager, and you can’t be happy, you need to leave.

          1. Ellen M.*

            This is a common scenario, unfortunately. I wonder if the bad manager got back at those who trashed him. I’ve seen that too.

            “Team building” is almost always BS and employees know it. Why do employers bother with this?

        2. Tommy*

          Thank you again, however my concern is not how to manage my emotions or views upon my manager. I didn’t make it this far being incapable of doing so. All of my remarks and observations were just that, devoid of my emotion or resentment. I was simply looking for the answer to the legality of the situation. Remember fully that advice not sought is advice unwanted.

              1. Jamie*

                Provides a public service. Gives us a place to go and keeps us from accosting strangers on the street with opinions.

                Keeps the advising drive-bys on the internets where they belong.

          1. Nodumbunny*

            “today, however, I was appalled…”
            “what bothered me…”
            “it infuriated me…”

            You don’t sound devoid of emotion. Nevertheless, if you choose to ignore the advice given above, you’re free to do so. Your participation in this website is voluntary, as is ours.

            1. Tommy*

              Thanks for the finger pointing, however this forum doesn’t have anything to do with my job, thus my emotions are not checked at the door. Hence devoid of emotion should have been followed by “when it comes to work time.” I work with mentally handicapped, thus my emotion doesn’t enter my workplace.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Nodumbunny’s point was that your comment certainly sounded as if you have strong feelings about this. You can’t fault people for taking your words at face value.

              2. Scott M*

                FYI, I can see this going back and forth for a looong time. Can I proactively suggest we drop this so I don’t get so many email notifications about these replies? lol :)

                Just a suggestion… not tellin’ everyone what to do

      2. fposte*

        Sure, but remember, your manager was right about the legality of his action and you were wrong, so he actually did know more than you in this case, and your annoyance at his disagreement with you was misplaced. It’s possible that that’s not the only case where he does bring knowledge you don’t, and that you’re perhaps noticing only his flaws.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Agreed, fposte. And Tommy, all of your responses here sound volcanically angry and resentful, and it’s probably not helping matters any if this seeps through in your dealings with your boss.

          1. Tommy*

            Maybe you’re just reading that way. I must say, I’ve never been accused of being angry without first spouting expletives. Maybe my responses could be seen as defensive, but I wouldn’t say I sounded mad. Perhaps if everyone’s initial responses weren’t so pointed, a simple explanation wouldn’t come across as heated.

            1. JT*

              Kelly wrote that you *sound* volcanically angry and resentful”, not that you *are” those things. That is, she included her perception in what she wrote, just as you wrote “maybe you’re just reading it that way.”

              So she actually said the same thing you said, yet you seem to want to correct or push back about that. I think that’s a sign you need to improve your communications or at least not take umbrage to suggestions or observations about it.

              1. Tommy*

                Well now I must sound “irate” because I am. I came to this site to ask a question for a line of research I was conducting into something I felt I knew so little about to better myself in that sense. Instead just finding the information, I have every other person who reads this casting their opinions on how I ask the question, rather than what I ask. This discussion isn’t even remotely germane to my initial reasoning for even coming to this site. I didn’t know that I was being analyzed by a group of sensor-judges (for those of you who know Myers-Briggs) out there who seem to only focus on the emotional portion of your question rather than the actual context of the question.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  You wrote to a website where that’s what we do — commenters will give their opinions of your situation, as well as my own opinion. And it’s very normal (and smart) to take into account HOW someone says something, as well as what they say.

                  If you don’t like this, obviously don’t stick around. But most people seem to appreciate the wide range of feedback.

                2. JT*

                  “casting their opinions on how I ask the question,”

                  How you communicate is important. And in your case, what you write appears to be dripping with emotion. The reactions are completely appropriate.

                  If you are truly not as emotional as it appears, it would be useful for you to learn to communicate in a more neutral-sounding way. To that end, rather than (or in addition to) telling people who perceive emotion in your writing that they’re wrong, you should think about what they’re saying and see if you could learn something from it. Perhaps even thanking some of them. We’re giving feedback that might be useful.

    2. khilde*

      The day that I figured out that my boss, who really and truly hated managing people, was being the best manager she could be and it did not in any way impact me professionally was a truly liberating day.

      Her self imposed limitations did not stop me from growing professionally and learning new skills. That was her sh** to deal with not mine.”

      Do you think any of this perspective could apply to dealing with boundary busting, passive agressive in-laws? As I was reading some of this it made me realize I could substitute their names in there and it might help me see it differently. Hmm…will have to think about this. Perhaps a side topic for the open thread?

      1. Unmana*

        Ha! Given that I just wrote about interviewing being similar to interacting with in-laws… I think there are many skills, and tactics, in common.

  10. Scott M*

    #1: You might be stumbling over different expectations. Your manager might just be expecting you to answer the occasional question, where you may be expecting to provide detailed instructions. So get straight on the expectations first, then go from there.

    I do think it is unusual to have someone with only 10 months experience on the job, train the new guy (unless it’s just answering an occasional question).

    But it is normal to have regular employees train new one. I wish it weren’t so, because being good at your job doesn’t automatically mean you will be good at training someone else to be good at the job. Like management, training may require completely different set of skills. But again, that’s one of my (many) pet peeves.

    1. fposte*

      We have some important positions that are held by grad students in a fairly short program. It’s therefore part of the position that you train the next person coming in, and it’s not uncommon for this to happen after a year. It’s worked great for us, and I think part of the reason is that planning for the handover is part of the job. (Handovers at any level seem to be the most vulnerable part of a procedure and a profession, so it’s probably helpful that we’re continually refining and improving the process.)

      While obviously this isn’t exactly the same, I think your situation has some reasonable similarities and some real advantages-it’s going to clarify your approach to your tasks, give you some redundancy in case you need to be out, and establish your authority and knowledge. It can also be an advantage to be so close in time to your own training, because you’ll probably know what you wish had been covered and what could have been dispensed with. You might also use this situation as a reason to create a manual or at least procedures guidelines for the tasks in question, thus endearing yourself to the company for years.

      You’ll be fine, OP. I think you underestimate how much you’re the expert on what you do.

  11. Anonymous*

    6: He could have a conflict of interest. Perhaps not a codified work one, but something internally. I wouldn’t take it personally.

    7: Though you don’t care for the management style, you mentioned nothing about the quality of work being done. Is that an issue?

    Off-shoot – There’s a great company – “Bob’s Your Uncle” I think – that makes these fantastic post-it notes/checklists. Everything from Fashion Police Citations to Do This NOW! to the voodoo doll paper pad.

    I gave one to my boss that said Attention:, what to do, when (one option was yesterday) and at the very bottom, in small print was “or you’re fired” with a check box. ;-D

    1. Tommy*

      Not really much of an issue with most. I’d say that there are three lax employees who take advantage of the manager in question.

      1. Jamie*

        Can you post a link to where to purchase that? That is too funny.

        I Googled Bob’s Your Uncle and can’t find these on the site. So while I tried, I now need help.

        1. fposte*

          The link from Emily was from knocknockstuff.com, and it looks like they have quite the range of amusing sticky notes. Maybe Bob’s Your Uncle was their old name?

        2. Emily*

          Hm, I thought I posted a link, it may have disappeared in moderation between my visits to this thread. But if you google “Apology Memo Pad” the hit for Knock Knock Goods is what you’re after!

          1. fposte*

            If you posted it in angle brackets, it doesn’t come through; you have to post it without enclosures, and then the comment gets moderated (but you’ll see it with a note to that effect).

  12. Anonymous*

    OP 6 here– I would hope not, but yes, “conflict of interest” could be code for “I don’t think you’re worth recommending.” Although he did agree to be a reference in other instances. I’m just confused, I guess, and I really need every advantage I can get in this tough market.

    1. Jamie*

      It could mean anything – from that to a weird territorial culture where people there get touchy with staffing suggestions from other departments.

      Like an unspoken you don’t tell me who to hire and I’ll keep my suggestions to myself kind of thing.

      Not a constructive culture, but there are places like that.

    2. Anonymous*

      I’m not saying that this is the case here, necessarily. But! It’s one thing to recommend a friend to some stranger. It’s another altogether to recommend a friend to the company that you personally work for.

      If the friend flakes out and you actually have to work with him, you suffer consequences for a bad referral. If a friend flakes out and you aren’t the one working with him, you don’t suffer as big of consequences for referring him.

      Another thought: “conflict of interests” could also be a not-so-subtle hint that this guy is either more involved in the hiring process than you thought, or he’s applying for the same job (or has already recommended someone). I’d personally take it as a politely-phrased “no,” take it at face value, and move on.

  13. Jamie*

    Re Training: Training people isn’t my strong suit, so I’m never turning a cartwheel when asked to do so. However, became competent at it over the years, because it’s unavoidable – definitely something I needed to learn as I don’t have an inherent talent for it.

    You may very well surprise yourself by how much mastery you do have, once you start sharing that with the newer hire. It’s amazing how people minimize their knowledge and skill…a lot of people do this.

    If it were me I’d take it as a compliment and if it makes it easier just think of it as showing him how to do something, rather than training.

  14. RLW*

    For #4: As a lawyer, I’d like to just advise you that this is a situation that might actually turn into something illegal.

    It’s very important that all employers (but especially nonprofits) keep the lines between “employee” and “volunteer” very carefully separate. In order to be a *true* volunteer, the volunteer must have no reasonable expectation of future employment or compensation. So if the employer says to you: “Sure, you can volunteer for us, and the next time a paid position opens up, we promise you’ll be first on our list” — that’s ILLEGAL (for them, not for you).

    But as long as you have no expectation of future employment, it’s fine to volunteer.

    1. ChristineH*

      Oooh, I didn’t know that. I thought volunteering is a good tool as part of job searching. In fact, I even had a volunteer position turn into a temporary part-time position a couple years ago.

      So if the place I volunteer at comes to me and says they’d like to bring me on as a paid staff member, I shouldn’t accept because it’s illegal for them to do so? (this is just a hypothetical question)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No, it just can’t be a quid pro quo — they can’t say “work for us for free and it will get you preference in paid employment with us.”

  15. Lisa*

    With regard to #3 of the person going from her married name to her maiden name…one of my girlfriends did that and it was years after she was divorced. She just decided at that particular time that she wanted to use her maiden name professionally. So we pushed to get her name plate changed, etc. Alison gave great advice. Go with your gut feeling. With me and my friend…she just wanted to start using her maiden name professionally.

  16. Ellen M.*

    For #6: Perhaps the “conflict of interest” is that he is putting in a good word for someone else for the job?

  17. Just Me*

    #1 Training
    I think we also have to look at the fact that some people no matter how good at their jobs are not good at explaining and teaching it. **This is by no means a statement to the OP. It is a general comment.**
    While it is great to encourage people like the OP to just go ahead and do it as it is good for their career, co-worker relations and so forth it is under the asumption they can actually do it well.

    Doing a job and teaching it to someone else are 2 different skills sets.

    I may bake awesome chocolate chip cookies ( which I do of course… lol ) but can I succesfully ” teach ” someone?

    What if someone doesn’t get ” beat the eggs “? Do I know enough to change the way I am explaining it? Do I get mad? I mean after all, I GET IT why don’t they?
    It is not that easy to just say.. ” yeah.. go be a trainer “.

    Initial training for a new employee can greatly make or break a new persons outlook on the job and the company.

    OP… do you feel you can effectively train this person to do the job well and be ready for this person to ask a tons of quesitons, do things wrong and then correct them ( nicely of course ) as well as look at the way you might have presented it? Maybe you didn’t explain it well.

    If you are not comfortable with your job you should not be training. Your nervousness will show. If you decide to go for it I encourage you to get some education ( just look on line or get a book from the library ) on the basics of training. Make this exp for the new employee awesome.

    I love trainig myself as it is very rewarding and it helps me as well when I don’t know an answer and we can learn together.

    1. fposte*

      I agree that if the OP thinks she’s going to screw up the other employee’s career, she should pass. But I don’t really think that’s likely, and I think you’re postulating an ideal for training that most organizations really can’t manage. In most training situations, being obviously nervous isn’t really likely to be a problem–getting somebody up to speed on an interface, say, isn’t like lion-taming–and the alternative is that the learning employee just figures stuff out on his own, which isn’t better. “Awesome” would be great, but simply “not sucky” would be a success by most places.

      I think getting a book is a great idea if the OP wants to get a little more info, though, and you’ve made some excellent points about some of the things that happen during training that the OP might want to be prepared for.

  18. Sam*

    #3 Name change – If it were me, I wouldn’t go any further than saying “thanks for letting me know, I’ll get your email address / stationery changed as soon as I can.” There are myriad reasons why the employee is changing her name – divorce is probable, but it could be that she divorced some time ago and only now is comfortable changing her name, or maybe she and her husband have decided to both change their names to her maiden name. I wouldn’t feel comfortable making any assumptions, and I would leave it to the employee to tell me (or not) as she saw fit.

    Obviously, if the employee’s work is affected too, then you’d need to bring this up and maybe then ask if there’s anything that’s going on in her personal life that’s affecting her at work. If it is a divorce, I would still keep the focus on her work and things you can do to make her working life a little easier whilst she’s going through a difficult time (flexible with time off to attend legal appointments etc). As a manager, you are not there to be a shoulder to cry on and being that shoulder could be detrimental to the manager-employee relationship.

  19. Steve G*

    Being asked to train your coworker – Train em! Coworkers always train peers on the hows and ins-and-outs, managers don’t have time for that!

    Applying to a job that seems beneath you – I think you used the wrong term “beneath you.” I expected to read about someone who couldn’t find a job at their level so was applying to lower levels. However, it sounds like you just don’t like the work these companies do. My sister is an artist and had the same thing when she left art school in NYC and moved home broke and worked at a local newspaper putting together ads for used car lots, etc, until she had money to move to a real city for a “real” job. This sounds more like your situation. I’d apply for the jobs and learn to like the work they do…..chances are, they know the work isn’t high end 7th Ave editorial work – and chances are, they don’t need it to be, their clients can’t afford that, etc

  20. Cassie*

    #1 – I once read a blurb in a job search/advice magazine that said you remember X% of what you read, Y% of what you hear, etc, but you remember 100% of what you teach. I don’t know if that’s true, but training someone else can definitely help reinforce your own mastery of the material. Assuming you’re teaching it right, hopefully!

  21. Patti*

    Regarding #1 (“new” person training), I work in an team that has experienced a lot of rapid growth in recent years, so much that our entry level position has turned into a revolving door. This, of course, means that our new people are being trained by members who haven’t been here very long at all. My running joke is that the person who’s been here for 5 minutes is being trained by the one who has been here for 15 minutes. (Of course, I’ve been here for 15 years, so anyone who doesn’t have at least 5 years in is still “new” in my mind). My point is, I don’t think it’s unusual for someone without a lot of time in a position is asked to do the training for their position. It depends on the staffing situation at the company. I know that I, as a manager, would never have time to effectively train someone, and I’m probably not the best person to do it anyway.

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