fast answer Friday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s fast answer Friday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. How much time should it take to manage people?

I have been putting together a time tracking grid so that I can better delegate and account for my work time. I was really surprised to see that I spend an average of 50 hours per year on standard supervisory duties per employee. This includes weekly check-ins, quarterly performance checks, individual metrics reporting, goal setting, and annual reviews. I didn’t include the time spent on additional coaching, team meetings, specific performance issues, daily questions/assistance, etc.

I would be very interested in finding out if other managers spend the same/more/less amount managing their staff — is this something you’d be willing to throw out to your readers?

I actually think it’s really low! If you assume an average of 45 minutes per week on a check-in, that’s 39 hours right there. Then you add in everything else — reviewing work, ad hoc conversations, goal-setting (which can be time-intensive), performance evaluations (also potentially time-intensive), quarterly goals check-ins, team meetings, giving feedback, dealing with performance issues, etc., and you’re easily at a much higher number. (And if you think about it, 50 hours per employee is only about six days per employee per year — that’s pretty slim.)

It’s absolutely true that the work of managing is time-consuming and will account for a significant portion of a manager’s week/month/year. It’s just the nature of the job, and it’s one of the reasons that it’s so important to be clear on the most important ways to spend your time (and what you should not be spending time on — generally anything that you can delegate, you should delegate).

2. Applying with an organization where you previously did less than stellar work

I am applying for summer internships currently. I have already worked for the organization with the position that I want the most. However, I did a less than stellar job (by my own assessment; I was never told that specifically). It was 5 years ago, and my research and writing skills were not what they are now. I also did not flourish in the position, which involved many hours a day of researching issues on the computer and little client contact. The new position involves lots of client contact, and would be a great fit.

My question is how I address why I’m a different candidate now. The person making the hiring decision is the same as at that time. I know it would be unnecessary and awkward to specifically say I’m a different candidate, but I am wondering if there’s a good way to drive that home without outright saying it.

Well, if they weren’t especially impressed with you when you worked for them, there might not be any way to turn that impression around now. However, I’d emphasize what experience you’ve gained in the last five years, as it ties into the job you’re applying for now, and let them read between the lines. For instance, “I’ve spent a good portion of the last five years doing X, Y, and Z, and was able to achieve Impressive Thing A and Impressive Thing B as a result.” If you have achievements in the last five years that you can point to, and your performance before wasn’t absolutely prohibitive, they should be willing to give you another look.

3. Explaining on a resume that you did the work of four people

Last year, two members of my department were laid off. Then my remaining coworkers found other jobs (including my supervisor), leaving only me to cover the workload of 4 people. Not that I was able or expected to assume all their responsibilities on my own, but I did work independently for about 5 months, meeting all deadlines and producing the same quality work, until we were able to hire someone else.

In your “No. 1 Question Your Resume Should Answer” post from a couple years ago, you state that it’s good to add an accomplishment such as this. So my question is: how do I word this on my resume without sounding whiny or hyperbolic? I can see it potentially coming off that way, but I am not bitter about it or attempting to exaggerate anything.

Something like: “Covered four-person department’s workload alone for five months, meeting all deadlines and producing high-quality work.”

If applicable, you could also add something like: “received accolades from management for keeping operations running while short-staffed.”

4. Emailed about a promotion, but this is the first I’ve heard about it

Help! My boss’s boss’s boss (the head of our medium-sized nonprofit) emailed me on the last day of the year to thank me for my work and congratulate me on “my recent promotion and new role.” Sounds great, but no one told me that I got promoted or had a new role. I was told reviews were taking place in late January.

My gut was that she sent it to the wrong person or that it was a standard email, but it was actually personalized — specific to my accomplishments. No idea how to handle this one. Any help/guidance would be appreciated. I have a pretty great working relationship with my boss, if that matters.

Depending on the relationships you have with each, you could either (a) email her back and say, “Thanks so much — although this is actually the first I’m hearing of a new role, and I can’t wait to hear more,” or (b) ask your direct manager what the boss’s boss’s boss meant. Whatever you do, don’t ignore it — if/when she realizes that you had no idea what she was talking about, it’ll look weird that you didn’t ask anyone about it.

5. Making a job-hopping history less detrimental

I’ve been working since I was 14, but I’ve always worked in restaurants which have a high turnover rate, so my job history looks bad if you glance at it. I’m 20 and searching for a job (mostly at big chains) with no luck. I meet all requirements for every job I apply for, but still nothing (mind you, I understand jobs are hard to come by). Recently a potential employer informed me that my work history is why I did not get the position I applied for. What can I do to make my job history less detrimental to my chances of employment?

If you have six years of job-hopping, that’s going to look bad. However, there’s no reason that you have to list every job you’ve held going back to when you were 14. I’d list just the most recent ones, or just the longest-term ones, leaving the other ones out. Because you’re young and were in school for most or all of that time, you’re not going to face the same questions that someone older would face about having gaps on your resume that show no work for a particular period of time.

But make sure the next job you take is one you can stay at for a while. Even if these restaurants have high turnover, that doesn’t mean you need to be part of it, especially when doing so has the potential to hurt your future job prospects.

6. Former boss is in prison

More than six years ago, I worked for a doctor’s office for two years. While I now work in the financial industry and have for a little over six years, I still list the two jobs I had at the doctor’s office, because one job (admin assistant) details experience that could support future jobs of interest.

While I discovered a few months ago that the business had closed and the owner of the business (who I assisted) was facing criminal charges, I didn’t think anything more of the situation. However, I’ve been informed and have confirmed tonight that the owner has been sentenced to 18 years and is currently serving her time in federal prison. She billed insurance companies for services not rendered and lied about how much income the business made when she filed taxes.

Although this all occurred years after I left the employer, should I keep the two jobs I held there on my resume? I don’t want a future employer to get a bad impression of me if they decide to dig to find information on this employer. This is especially important because I’ll likely apply for a low-level HR support position (like admin asst or recruiting coordinator).

If the work that you did that sounds at all related to the activities that she eventually went to prison for, I’d leave the jobs off. But if someone looking at the situation — without input from you yet, since that’ll be the case with most employers screening your resume — would reasonably assume that you couldn’t have known or had anything to do with it, then I think it’s fine to keep them on there.

By the way, if this were more recent work or the only work you had in your field, I might encourage you to keep them on there and simply be prepared to explain to employers what happened, but since this was six years ago and in a different field, you might not lose a lot by removing them.

7. Can I apply for a new job after only six months?

I took a job five months ago. It was a very tough job market and they pursued me. However, the period of adjustment, about six months or so, is seriously intense. I don’t dislike my job, but my commute is an hour each way and my doctor has put me on anti-anxiety meds! A really good job just opened, and it is near my home. Can I apply for it, and what would I say for staying only six months?

Do you have other short-term jobs on your resume (excluding jobs intended from the beginning to be short-term, such as internships, temp jobs, and political campaigns)? If not, and this would be your first, go for it. However, if you already have some job-hopping on your resume, ideally you’d stay where you are for a couple of years in order to make your job history look more stable. (Obviously, if your mental health is at risk, that might trump that concern.) But basically, everyone gets one short-term stay without penalty. If this is going to be yours, go for it. After that, though, you start risking your employability.

As for what to say to the employer you’d be applying to, I wouldn’t attribute it to the commute, as they’re likely to wonder why you agreed to take it on. Instead, you’ll need an explanation about why the job or culture isn’t a good fit, with all the usual caveats about not badmouthing your boss, etc. Good luck!

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. class factotum*

    Alison, regarding letter #7, which is similar to my situation – that is, I took a job in July because I had to have a job but I would like a better one – what do you say when everything about the job you have is great except the pay? That is the reason I want a new job – I would like to make (a lot) more money. But I like the work, like my boss, like my co-workers. It’s just the pay is abysmal.

    1. KellyK*

      I think that if the pay is well below the going rate for your skills, you can just say that. I think if you phrase it in such a way that doesn’t imply you think your current organization is cheap and doesn’t badmouth them, it would be okay.

  2. EJ*

    Just out of curiosity, what would you consider a short term stay? I’m wondering if it would be 3-6 months or closer to a year or even two? I spent 11 months at my first job out of undergrad and 15 months at my next job, which was a move to the industry leader. I left for a nonprofit and to finish my masters a year and a half ago, but plan to stay for another 2-3 years or until I feel I don’t have room for growth. Am I a job-hopper?

    Thanks in advance for any input!

    1. FormerManager*

      In general, my rule of thumb is to try to stay at least a year. Any thing under 10-12 months strikes me as job hopping.

      You might also want to gauge the typical stay within your industry. (If you don’t have many contacts, you could look at your industry’s leaders LinkedIn pages to get a sense for the typical stay at a job.)

      FWIW, one industry’s idea of job hopping could be another industry’s standard tenure at a given job. For example, I started out in a finance-related non-profit working with people who’d been with the organization for 5, 10, 20, even 40-some years! Then after some drama (a lay off and a short term job that in hindsight I should not have taken) I worked for a start up where an employee who stayed longer than three years was a rarity.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        The structure of your industry is another thing to consider that I don’t think early-career people often do think about.

        How many companies are there that your experience is applicable to? I realize in some fields (maybe like IT or accounting) this doesn’t really factor in as much as it does in mine where 99% of my value is industry specific. So, in my case when you narrow down the list to similar companies that have someone exactly like me on staff, that’s like <10. God forbid M&A whittles that down more. (Obviously, I can branch out to companies that are maybe only 75% similar and positions that are 75% similar and get more options, but I have to be careful about not making rash career moves.)

      2. Elizabeth West*

        This is true. Some industries that have regular layoffs are subject to this. It doesn’t just hit shop personnel, either.

        I’d say less than six months, myself. Last time I was unemployed, I had a job for a few months that turned out to be awful. We mutually agreed it wasn’t for me. I left it off my resume entirely. There just wasn’t any point in putting it on; I didn’t really learn anything there except what I won’t put up with from coworkers.

    2. KayDay*

      First of all, it really depends on the industry, so keep that in mind. In general, I agree that a year is the key marker. However, imo, it’s not a big deal if your first job out of college is shorter. In fields where Master’s degrees are the norm, it’s also expected that pre-masters jobs terms will be on the shorter side. I think 11 months at your first job and 15 at your second then off to a Master’s program is pretty normal (at least in my area).

      The farther along you get in your career, the longer you will be expected to stay.

      Also, Alison has mentioned it before, but job-hopping is usually only a problem when there is an established history of short term stays. One short-term stay isn’t usually a problem.

      1. Carrie in Scotland*

        I would also like to point out that in the current job market you might not be offered a permanent position. My current job is a temp one guaranteed until the end of March (re-structuring). The last jobs I had were only for “up to 51 week” contracts. The job before that was seasonal but before that I had roughly between 1-2.5 years in any one place.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Temp positions are excluded from job-hopping, as is anything else designed from the beginning to be temporary, like political campaigns. The question is how quickly you leave jobs that are designed to be more long-term.

          1. Laura L*

            Quick question:
            My first year after college, I did a 1-year volunteer program (not Americorps, but similar), which I successfully completed. Should I indicate that on my resume?

            I was thinking of saying something like: position, org, dates (1 year volunteer commitment)?

            I’ve done that in the past, but removed the info because I needed more space.

            1. COT*

              I did a full-time volunteer year, too. I wrote it as Organization Name (via Volunteer Program Name) so that people understood why I was only there a year. My particular program (Lutheran Volunteer Corps) and FT volunteer programs in general are fairly well-recognized in my social-services circle so that seems to work for me.

              1. Laura L*

                @COT-Funny, I did LVC too!

                I don’t work in social services, though, and I’m (hoping to) transition to a career that’s even more removed from that kind of thing.

                I want to make it clear to people who are unaware of it that it was supposed to be a 1 year commitment!

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d say it’s more about the total picture than one specific job. If you have a string of one-year stays, or even a string of 18-month stays, that’s job hopping to most hiring managers. On the other hand, if you have a couple of 3-4 years stays and one 1-year stay, that’s no big deal. It’s more about looking at the overall picture: Is this someone who seems inclined to jobs quickly (for me, that’s usually about 18 months or less), or do they generally stay for at least a few years?

      Basically, a hiring manager is going to figure you’ll be as quick to leave the job she’s hiring for as you have been in the past, so she’s looking to see what your pattern is. Most people want hires who will stay at least a few years, if not more.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I have one thing where it was a little over a year, and I got fired, and then right after that the same thing, only it was layoffs, followed by a year of temping. But my last job was six years. Would that kind of cancel out the three-year hop? *please say yes ha ha*

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Six years is good! Are you young enough that you can leave off the first job, the one were you were fired, without having a gap with anything before it? If so, might be worth trying.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            No, unfortunately, it’s kind of right in the middle. And I’m old, ha ha. But I explain it by saying that it was due to issues that are long since resolved that interfered with my performance. No one ever asks what they were, because that sounds like health issues and they don’t want to go there. If they do, I just say “health-related” and they move on. (It was severe situational depression, actually.)

            I had a job in a materials testing lab right before it that I LOVED. Its tenure was short because the business closed. I will be sad when that one drops off. If it doesn’t fit on the application, I sometimes talk about it when they ask what kind of work environment I like. :)

      2. Vicki*

        I once interviewed an Engineer who had a lot of very short jobs on his resume. I asked him about them.

        He said “Those companies are all gone. I’d really like to work for a company that stays in business so I can stay for more than 6 months to a year.”

  3. Karyn*

    #6 hits close to home. My mother worked for a sole practitioner attorney for seven years – during which he apparently mishandled client funds in some major ways, and also owed the IRS a substantial sum of money. He was like an uncle to me, and he was always very kind to my mother, but she had NO idea what was going on until the feds showed up on our doorstep one day asking about him. She, truthfully, told them she had no idea what they were asking about, and found out, through his trial, all the things he’d kept from her – specifically so that she wouldn’t get in trouble for any of it later on. It was like he knew he was going to get busted eventually but wanted to keep innocent parties out of it.

    Anyway, she went onto law school and during the bar application process (as well as during potential employer interviews) she had to explain why no one could really contact him for a reference, even though her time with him made up a substantial portion of her resume. Employers (and the bar examiners) were surprisingly understanding. I think in the wake of things like Enron, Madoff, and other corporate scandals, people have realized that not everyone who works for a crook IS a crook themselves. I remember my mother telling potential employers something like, “I had no idea what he was up to, and had I known, I would have left immediately. I know that he would give me a positive reference, and you’re welcome to TRY to contact him at X prison, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get a response, obviously.” That way, it left the door open if they really wanted to follow up – but explained why they might not get an answer. Maybe that’s something you could try?

    1. Anonymous*

      Well whatever his faults are, at least this man isn’t one of those people that drag everyone else down with them!

  4. Lisa*

    #1 – How many employees do you have? If you have more than 20, then you are prob spreading it around equally enough. If you have 2 then you are not spending enough time.

    1. fposte*

      That’s an interesting idea, that smaller staffs should have more management contact than larger. I think it does tend to happen in practice because of simple logistics, but I bet it leaves larger staffs undermanaged a lot.

      1. Lisa*

        Yea, not the best, but if that is your team number you can’t ignore some over others. Ignoring the competent employees that do their job well and never have issues breeds resentment because it looks like you only care about the problem employees or the employees with problem clients (ie have more interaction with and more likely to consider for raises / promotions than the ‘good / don’t need to worry about’ people) who end up leaving because they dont get enough praise or face time to be considered for perks.

        1. fposte*

          And usually managers have their own production expectations aside from staff management, too, so there’s no way you could give a 50-person staff an hour a week per employee and do anything else.

          1. Lisa*

            “there’s no way you could give a 50-person staff an hour a week per employee and do anything else.”

            This would be the very definition of managing people only (schedules, tasks, time off, HR problems) versus managing a department (people stuff + projects and dept direction)

            Which goes to my question – Would you rather manage people or lead a department ? In bigger orgs, it seems like two different jobs mainly because managing people is so time consuming similar to account / project managers that don’t do the work, but manage the flow of work and interactions. I would hate to only manage people for my work and do nothing else than keep tabs.

            1. fposte*

              I’m with you on that. (In academics, we seem to “solve” the problem by undermanaging everybody.) But there are definitely places where there are “lead a department” numbers with direct managing expectations, which sounds even worse.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              There’s really no way anyone should have 50 direct reports though — that’s way too many and you won’t be able to manage effectively. Generally, once you hit 8-10, you’re at your max, and even that is pushing it. At that point you need to have a less flat structure and start building in some layers of management in between. Otherwise there’s just no way to manage them all well.

              1. fposte*

                I totally agree, but managing is an area where the inexperienced/low-budget organizations seem inclined to cut corners–or, to put it more kindly, be unacquainted with how much time it takes to manage. I know I wouldn’t have had any idea how much labor hours to build into an organizational structure for management a few years ago.

                1. GeekChic*

                  Oh yes… I left my management position in large part due to the stress of having too many direct reports (25), plus being responsible for for department lead numbers. Add in a major renovation project and my doctor insists I nearly collapsed from overwork and stress.

                  Why yes, it was non-profit with wretchedly small budgets….. :P

    2. The IT Manager*

      #1 that’s a very interesting question, but it is very job dependent though. For managers with large staffs, they may spend the majority of their time managing the people even if it’s not all direct reports. Whatever other time is spent managing the mission, vision, etc.

      When I think back to my military experience a lot of a sqaudron/flight commander’s time was spent managing people. I could easialy see a total of 1,000 hours a year (in total not per person). I used 20 hours a week for 50 weeks as an avaerage, but that does include dealing with performance issues and coaching which LW#1 excluded and lots and lots of time on writing performance review where he’s the rater’s rater or senior rater. It also includes thing like promotion and award ceremonies and going-aways which might be better termed leadership than management and time spent getting to know the troops.

      For a small department and a staff of two or three, the manager may have their own non-management work and managing the peole takes a little time especially if the staff require little direction. Specific managment tasks can also get hidden in simply working together as team.

      Personally, though, I still find 50 hours a year a very, very small number for everything management encompasses.

    3. Hooptie*

      Hi OP #1 here – Currently, I have 9 direct reports. Please note that the 50 hours estimate only included the things I could reasonably track, such as check ins, etc. – I didn’t include daily questions, coaching, team building, team meetings delegating, etc. I probably spend another 2-3 hours per week per employee doing those things, but it does vary.

      I DO have a supervisor position that reports to me, but it is in transition right now so I’m trying to balance a department manager workload with effective supervision of 5 normally indirect reports plus my regular 4. Making sure I’m spending enough time with everyone is very important to me, but sometimes it is hard to balance it with my other work (planning, reports, meetings, etc.)

      In response to the other comments – I enjoy managing the department more than direct supervision, as my #1 personal priority is to develop people based on their capabilities. I am more able to do this as a manager rather than a supervisor.

      1. Scott M*

        What’s the difference between a manager and a supervisor? I’ve always used the terms interchangeably.

        1. Jamie*

          I can only speak for my industry but in mfg a supervisor is someone in charge of making sure things are carried out and has some authority over entry level line workers, but doesn’t have hiring/firing authority nor do they do reviews, raises, etc.

          In the factory you’d have department managers who report to the COO and each department would have supervisors (possibly multiple depending on dept size) per shift.

          From what I’ve seen this may be similar to how it works in food service and retail.

  5. anon in tejas*

    #2. I would also suggest that you focus on the facts about the processes and procedures that you already know about the nonprofit. I would do this in the cover letter and in the meeting. Use it as an opportunity to leverage your previous experience into what you can do for them going forward (i.e. less training because I already understand the backend of the work, already understand organizational structure, understand some of the common partners/big clients, etc.). Even if you didn’t do great work for them, you can recognize that you do have some unique skills sets for applying a for a second position– highlight those.

  6. Frances*

    #4 – I’d mention it to your direct supervisor first. If you *are* getting a promotion and the big boss thinks you’ve already been informed, you might accidentally make your supervisor look bad if you go over her head to clear it up (even if the miscommunication isn’t really her fault). If you aren’t getting a promotion, then your supervisor should be able to advise on whether the mistake should be mentioned to the big boss or just laughed off as an innocent mixup. I’ve been in/observed far too many situations where a truly innocent miscommunication turns into a big fuss because someone got offended/embarrassed by how it was cleared up.

  7. skylark*

    Re: No. 2. I work at an insurance company that recruits agents relentlessly, oftentimes right out of college. It’s a tough business to succeed at because you initially get no income. We routinely terminate ‘poor’ performers but encourage them to contact us again in the future should they wish to give it another go. I guess it depends on the industry and firm.

    1. skylark*

      The principals would often add a handwritten note at the end of the official boilerplate termination letter, wishing them success and encouraging them to stay in touch.

      1. FormerManager*

        I wish more places were like this. What sort of reference would the company provide in this case?

        1. skylark*

          Officially, the starting and ending date of contract, but they can always contact the principals directly if they need more. I think it has a ton to do with the founder. He was a high school teacher for years before starting the agency, so he is naturally empathetic towards people. Unless you ran afoul of the regulatory rules, he’s not going to stand in your way of putting food on your table.

  8. fposte*

    On #2–were you in different phases school/lifewise then and now? I know internships aren’t always early life experiences, but often “summer internship” would mean that you’re either in school or a fairly recent grad–was your previous go-round when you were a minor or an undergrad? If so, that gives you a little bit of cover–while you have a better chance if you’d previously covered yourself in glory there, most places recognize that a person can grow considerably between, say, twenty and twenty-five.

    1. Anonymous*

      Yes! Thanks for all the comments everyone; this should help me strategize well for the cover letter.

  9. OP #3*

    Well, it seems rather obvious how to word it now after you spelled it out. ;) Thank you so much!

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