wee answer Wednesday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s wee answer Wednesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. When you don’t want senior positions anymore

After 30+ years of steady employment (25 of them being part owner of my own small publishing company) I’ve now reentered the job market. The last few years of my company’s existence were not happy ones; in fact they were extremely stressful, and I’m not as young as I used to be. How do I let potential employers know that I don’t want to be in a high level executive position, that I’d rather not be in a leadership position?

Well, for starters, don’t apply for them! And in your cover letters and interviews, be straightforward about the fact that you’re seeking something less stressful with less responsibility. I’d say this proactively, in fact, since a lot of employers will otherwise worry that you’ll be frustrated by not being the boss anymore; let them know that you’re actually looking forward to that!

2. Asking for feedback on why you were offered a job — when you’re turning the job down

I am a teacher in Australia, and in preparation for the next school year, I have entered my curriculum vitaé and a short cover letter into the general Department of Education Pool for fixed term positions. This pool has already opened for school principals to choose employees from. I was offered a position for the new school term (in 1 week), but I am fully employed until February next year (new school year). I am rejecting the offer but would like to know how to ask for feedback on what made them select me from the pool even though I am rejecting the offer.

I suppose you could simply ask, but be aware that (1) it’s an unusual query (most employers figure that they owe the time to give thoughtful feedback to current employees, and a handful are willing to give it to candidates who took the time to interview with them but were rejected); (2) it will probably get you very little feedback from the employer, who will now be focused on moving on to the next candidate on their list; and (3) it will probably make you look less than confident about your own strengths and your ability to figure out what they are.

3. Pre-planned vacation time when you’re starting a new job

I have been looking for a job for some time, and during my jobless period my husband and I booked some plane tickets and hotels for a long weekend in November (at that time I didn’t know if I was going to be working or not). It turns out that afterwards I did find I job, and I didn’t think it was a good idea to tell the interviewers about these days off during the interview. I just signed the contract and will start to work in a week. I was thinking to let HR know about this during my first day. It is not the most comfortable situation (“hey, she just started and now she’s demanding days off?”), but it is something that has to be done. In your opinion, what would be the best way to do this?

This isn’t great. The time to ask was when you were discussing the offer, not on your first day. For whatever reason, it’s normal and understandable when you address pre-planned time off as part of the negotiation, but irritating and presumptuous when you do it after you already started. Your best bet now is to email your new manager today (don’t wait until you start work) and explain the situation. Be prepared, though, that there’s a chance that at this point you’ll be told that they can’t give you the days off.

4. Employer wants me to work a trial week for them

I am in a very odd situation. I had an interview at a small staffing firm and thought I was going in for them to find me a position elsewhere, when all of a sudden they asked me if I was interested in an internal position. I was, and then continued to meet with everyone there. Then I was asked to come and shadow a shift of the girl who would be leaving. I did and all went well. I thought I was getting an offer the next day, but the owner/manager asked me if I would come work the afternoons for a week (between my morning pt job and night part-time job) with pay, and then discuss on Friday. They are nervous because the girl leaving has been there 4 years and supports the very small office, but they told me I was the top choice and I feel like I definitely want the job. I am contemplating taking the manager aside today and telling her I would really like the position so that I can give my resignation to my other jobs so I am in the new place faster since the girl’s last day is Friday! Any thoughts?

Don’t do that. They’re not ready to offer you the job yet. You can’t push them to move faster than they’re comfortable moving, and you don’t want to look as if you don’t understand that.

5. I’m nervous that I asked for too high a salary

I was recently offered a job for $42k. This is somewhat reasonable — a $2k bump over my last job. When speaking to the hiring manager at the company, I stated I liked the company and was willing to be flexible, but somewhere around $50k was more where I was hoping for. Honestly, I’d like to make a larger than $2k move, but it’s not critical to me. The answer was, “I’ll talk to my manager and get back to you.” My real hope is to increase the offer to somewhere around $45k.

A couple of older friends in the same line of work both separately acted rather shocked when told what I’d asked for; apparently in their view that is much too high a negotiating position to take. The strength of their reaction makes me a bit worried — should I take some kind of action like emailing the manager to reiterate my willingness to be flexible? I don’t want to either undercut myself or lose this opportunity — I could use some perspective.

No. I keep getting variations of this question: People are apparently naming a salary range and then second-guessing themselves and wanting to double back to the employer and undercut themselves by saying it’s flexible. Do not do this. Be ready to name a salary range that you’re comfortable with, and don’t come back to them later with “it’s negotiable.” They know it’s (probably) negotiable. Circling back later to tell them it’s negotiable is like saying, “I’ve been worrying that I’m not worth as much as I asked for, so you can ignore that number I gave you.”

6. When should I expect to hear back about my non-interview?

I had an interview on Monday (or so I thought), but since the manager was busy, I didn’t meet with him. Someone else was appointed to interview me (unsure as to what their title is).This person asked me maybe two or three questions and then spoke about the position. After this “interview,” he left the room and a few minutes later came back and said that the manager would call and inform me as to what is it he would like for me to do. Since I didn’t ask when I should be expecting this call and I understand this can vary, what is the time frame in that a call is usually returned?

Totally depends. Could be this afternoon, could be a week from now, could be two weeks from now, could be never. There’s no way to know without asking. So send the manager an email, say you’re very interested in the position, would love to come back in and meet with him personally if he’d like, and and ask about the timeline for next steps.

7. Manager told my ex-husband about my trip

I have recently gotten a divorce from my husband. I went on a trip last week, and my ex-husband called my employer. She gave him info about where I went and who I went with. Was it illegal for my manager to release this info to him?

No, but it was stupid. You should talk to your manager, explain that you’re divorced, and ask that no further information be released to your ex-husband.

{ 62 comments… read them below }

  1. Amouse*

    Re: #3 I would explain and also apologize pretty profusely for not bringing it up at the offer stage. “I realize this was highly inconsiderate of me to not make clear at that stage.” Though I’m not sure how you’ll explain it away. If it’s only a long weekend presuming you work Mon-Fri, could you offer to somehow make the time up or take the day off without pay? That might be a way to show you understand your mistake in not telling them and potentially make it more likely for them to let you go?

    1. fposte*

      She may have no choice but to take the day without pay, if she’s in a job where your vacation days aren’t front-loaded.

      1. Amouse*

        By not front-loaded does that mean that the vacation needs to be earned through time worked? Sorry if that’s a dumb question it’s a phrase I haven’t heard much. I agree if that’s the case.

        1. mh_76*

          I think that some jobs have all of the vacation time for the year available from day 1 vs. those (many, probably most, jobs) that accrue vacation hours/days over time.

          1. AgilePhalanges*

            And some where it begins accruing right away, but you still can’t use it for the first X months.

        2. Jamie*

          Yes. Front loaded is when you come in with two weeks (or whatever) on the books. Typically done where vacation is allotted in one lump on an anniversary of hire date (or Jan. 1).

          Earning it through time worked is vacation accrual.

  2. mh_76*

    #4 – to add to Alison’s advice: DO work the trial week for them – worst case scenario is that you’ve made a little bit of extra money even if they decide to go with another candidate (but hopefully they’ll extend the offer to you). If you do get and decide to accept the offer, give your current employers proper notice (usually 2 weeks here in the US) and offer to start the new job part-time immediately w/ the same schedule as the trial week until your official full-time start date.

      1. Kimberley*

        We ask all potential new employees to do a “day in the life” before committing to hire them. The staffing industry is hard and often people don’t truly understand what the job entails until they are in it. Consider it a great opportunity to get to know the culture and environment.

  3. Jamie*

    #1 – I agree this absolutely needs to be addressed in the cover letter.

    I understand the desire to take a step back and want a less stressful position, but I’ve seen people struggle with going from being a decision maker to a role of less authority. It sounds great in theory, but in practice it was difficult for them to not put their two cents in and to understand they didn’t have a seat at the executive management table. That was stressful in and of itself – and if you are hiring a mid-level manager hearing how they did things differently when they ran the zoo loses it’s novelty very quickly.

    I’m not saying you would do that – just to make sure this is really what you want because it can be a big adjustment.

    1. GeekChic*

      I agree with Jamie. I went from a senior manager to sys. admin. and I addressed why in the cover letter (it helped that I was changing industries so I could talk about both).

      I looked forward to *not* having to make the major (and most of the minor) decisions and I definitely looked forward to not supervising (still don’t miss it). I must have done an OK job of it as the only question I ever received about it during my last round of interviews was whether I would be OK with not having an office (which I’m fine with).

    2. class factotum*

      My dad was a maintenence control officer in the air force. When he retired, he got his aircraft mechanic’s license, but had a difficult time in his job search. He was told that retired officers couldn’t take orders from other people.

      All he wanted was to work on airplanes, which he has loved doing since he was in the air national guard during college, and be outside in nice weather. He was tired of being the boss.

      But people do have a hard time believing that someone wants to let go of the authority.

      1. GeekChic*

        I had a few people comment on that after I was hired if they found out what I used to do. I drily commented that I preferred money to authority…. (I was making more than I used to plus lots of OT). Plus you’d have to pay me a bucket of money to want the headaches that come with authority + supervising again.

        1. Anonymous*

          You and me both! I went down the manager trail three times before I figured out that there was no amount of $$$ worth it (yes, slow learner here!). Much better to just collect buckets of $ as an individual contributor without the headaches of employees.

    3. UK HR Bod*

      I’d add another note of caution to Jamie’s. I work in a well-regarded NFP, which is often seen as being ‘nice’, due to our offer and our working environment. People often come to us looking for a level-down role, but to be honest alarm bells ring when they write things like less stress / less pressure/ less responsibility. We work with the general public (who, often being members, have a sense of ownership), and even the most junior role has stress and responsibility attached. It can just come across wrong when people essentially say they are looking for a wind-down job, so it’s just something I’d keep in mind.

    1. fposte*

      Because there’s no US law saying that where your employee goes and with whom is confidential. There is no blanket law that requires confidentiality for US employees across the board at all.

    2. A Bug!*

      Lots of things that aren’t a good idea are perfectly legal.

      #7 is an especially bad idea though, and reading the question sure got my blood boiling!

      1. Jamie*

        No question it’s infuriating. I’d be livid had it happened to me.

        Sometimes I wish everything that makes me angry could be illegal. It would make life so much simpler if I could just go around having people arrested for asshattery.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Yes, especially since there may be issues that the person answering the phone didn’t know about. It may not be illegal and IANAL, but the company could be sued if something bad happened because the person gave the information.

          1. JT*

            You can almost always be sued. The question are, does the suit have enough merit for a lawyer to take it on a contingency basis (which increases the likelihood of a suit), and does the suit have enough merit that you might lose.

            Doubtful on both in this case – I don’t see real risk of a suit.

          2. KellyK*

            Yeah, I think there would have to be reckless disregard for the person’s safety. If there was a restraining order or a history of abuse and the company knew about it, that might be considered “reckless disregard.” Just releasing the info, probably not.

    3. Zee*

      I wonder if it would be illegal if there was a restraining order in place between the OP and her ex-husband.

      I’m not saying there is, but there has to be a line somewhere, right?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        A restraining order would govern what the husband could do (assuming it was against him, rather than the other way around), but not what other people around them can do.

        1. A Bug!*

          This is exactly right. The existence of a restraining order, unless the employer is a party to it, would make no difference to what is or is not illegal for the employer to do.

          There’s no practical way for people to be aware of the existence of a restraining order involving other people, and the protected person isn’t obligated to notify everyone who might come into contact with the restrained person. That would be pretty unreasonable, I think.

        2. OR*

          Honestly, this COULD be illegal depending on the state. Our state provides substantial protections for employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or criminal harassment. Our law states “Employers must provide reasonable workplace safety accommodations for employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or criminal harassment.” Maintaining confidentiality of employee whereabouts could be fall under these laws if the employee had notified the employer of any potential situations beforehand.

          1. Jamie*

            Right – if that were the case.

            It’s important to remember, though, in the vast majority of divorces no one is in danger. Just pissed and tired… and busy photo-shopping the ex out of old pictures.

          2. clobbered*

            It is completely unreasonable to expect the employer to follow domestic violence legislation if she had not informed the employer that this was the case.

            But everybody: no matter how helpful you want to be, the answer to ANY question about ANY other employee needs to be “S/he is not available, please leave your details and I will make sure s/he gets the message”.

            There is never a good reason to give out information about other employees, and it is fraught for so many reasons. ..

            1. JT*

              “There is never a good reason to give out information about other employees, ”

              Sure there is – it’s sometimes reasonable and helpful. I’m certain people in my office give info to spouses we know and who we know have good relationships with our co-workers. My father’s assistant gave info to my mom when she called and he wasn’t around.

              Not everything has to be firmly about risk avoidance.

            1. Zee*


              To reiterate to others, when I wrote about the restraining order, I mentioned the OP did not write it. I was asking as it crossed my mind to figure out when companies/employees should not give out this information.

      2. fposte*

        Maybe it helps to think of your employer as akin to your sister or your neighbor. There’s no law stopping your sister from telling people how much you have in the bank or what you said when you were two, and there’s no law against your neighbor’s telling people your license plate number; nor, in the US, is there any additional special law that restricts an employer from those things either. Even HIPAA has limited impact on most employers.

        1. class factotum*

          Someone from a doctor’s office called me, looking for someone else who works at my company. I offered to try to help her and asked for the person’s first name, which she did not want to give, because of privacy laws.

          But she had already given me his last name.

          I guess it’s supposed to be a big secret that sometimes, people go to the doctor.

          PS I only know it was a doctor’s office because she told me. She could just have asked for so and so without identifying herself.

          1. fposte*

            However, she was at a health provider, so she was governed by HIPAA, whereas you would not be.

              1. KellyK*

                Does it make a difference what type of doctor’s office it is? If a general practitioner calls for Bob Smith, then the fact that Bob Smith is a patient there isn’t giving out any medical information. But if a psychiatrist or oncologist calls for Bob Smith, that’s a little different.

      3. JT*

        “I wonder if it would be illegal if there was a restraining order in place between the OP and her ex-husband.”

        I doubt that. Such an order is restraint on the husband, not other people.

  4. KellyK*

    For #4, a trial week when you’ve already got two jobs sounds like an awful lot. If you *can* do it, it’s a good idea, since it’ll show them you can do the job and you get paid either way, but that’s going to be really hard.

    Depending on the days you work at your existing jobs, would it be possible to do a couple trial shifts on days you’re *not* working two other places?

  5. some1*

    #4 OP, I don’t mean to be rude, but why wouldn’t it be a good idea to mention this in the interview/offer stage? I can see not telling an employer in an interview because they haven’t made their minds up yet so it’s irrelevant (& maybe presumptuous). But at the offer stage I don’t understand why you wouldn’t tell them. It’s only a weekend, employers realize people make vacation plans, it would be the deception that would bother me.

  6. Kou*

    Regarding #3, I’m interviewing for some positions that would start in the middle of November, but I need to go across the country for Thanksgiving to see my family. It’s the only time of year when we all see each other. My plan was to fly down the Wednesday before and come back on Sunday, which would necessitate taking time off if I did get hired.

    I know for a fact that in all instances, it would mean taking the time unpaid because I would have no vacation time earned yet. I may be starting work just the week before. Do you think this would be a big problem? I’m hoping that so many other people will also be taking those days off that they won’t mind if I do the same.

    1. AgilePhalanges*

      I’m sure it depends on the actual job description and how much supervision/training you’d need and whether the people doing that supervising/training are taking the whole week off or only Thursday, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t be a big problem in most circumstances because they’re likely also off and wouldn’t want you to have to be on your own so early in the job. Though of course take Alison’s advice and bring it up during negotiations after being offered the job, but not before or later than that. :-)

    2. A Bug!*

      It may be a problem because so many other employees are taking the time off. Depending on how the office functions, an employer might be expecting you to help cover for employees who booked the time off long ago. (Some offices are down to a skeleton crew close to the holidays. I know a couple offices I deal with basically don’t have anyone other than their receptionist in to accept packages and answer the phone when it’s the Friday before a major holiday.)

      Of course, it might not be a problem at all! But you should find out before you accept any offer.

      Best of luck!

      1. Kou*

        Ah yeah, that actually wouldn’t be a problem at all for at least one of them. It’s an org that does outreach to a specific vulnerable population, and my job would be to provide counseling and support groups to people in community centers. This is also a brand new program so the odds of us doing much other than training and planning in the first two weeks is pretty low, and as far as I know there are only three people working on this project at all.

        The others are as researchers on clinical trials at hospitals, and I’m not entirely sure what their needs would be around a holiday or what point in the trial I’d be coming in on.

        1. fposte*

          I also think Thanksgiving plans are less likely to be a surprise, since it’s a known time of year for traveling. For all of them, though, it’s best not to spring it on them after you’re hired–mention it at the offer stage.

  7. Anony*

    Re: 3. Pre-planned vacation time when you’re starting a new job

    Wait a minute, I just did an internal transfer early Sept and asked for a week off in Nov. Was that wrong? I assumed that it was ok since all of my vacation days are given at the beginning of the year and b/c it wasn’t like I asked for a week off within the first few weeks.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Internal transfer is different, in that you already have accrued vacation time. That said, if you have existing vacation plans, it’s smart to let them know during the offer stage, because it gives them a chance to say “actually, we need you at work those days because it’s our big conference” or whatever, and then you can decide what you want to do about that.

      1. Anony*

        Oh thanks AAM! I appreciate the response. I was a bit worried there for a sec! I didn’t let them know until the first day I started, but it was approved so I guess it’s ok.

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