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. Boss wants me to take a pay cut

I work for a company with less than 10 employees and no HR department. My boss is talking about me taking a pay cut as one of the top earners, but not everyone on staff, just me. At what point does the pay cut become so much that the job is no longer viable and unemployment benefits would be better? My boss wants me to resign so that I will not be able to collect benefits because she doesn’t want her unemployment taxes go up. It’s all very questionable and I want to protect myself and protect any future unemployment benefits.

I’d start by looking into unemployment laws in your state. You might find that by cutting your pay significantly, your employer is creating what’s called a “constructive discharge,” a term that means that any reasonable person would quit under these circumstances, and if that’s the case you might be eligible for unemployment after all. You want to know whether that’s true in your state and if so, what level of pay cut would qualify. Call up your local unemployment agency and ask.

Meanwhile, though, start an active job search. If your boss is trying to push you out, you’re going to need one at some point anyway, and it’s easier to find a job when you already have one.

2. Can I reschedule an interview that I earlier canceled?

On December 10, I received an email invitation to interview for a job, and made an appointment for the following week. Unfortunately, while the job was a perfect “next step” for me, the commute would be heinous (this is the D.C. metro Area) and the pay would is not quite enough to justify a move. I had contemplated the commute before applying, but it turned out to be a lot more involved than I originally anticipated. After much thought and consideration concerning how much I would have to go through in a day to get to this job and back (11 hour days using public transit), I cancelled the interview. I had also gotten a couple of other interview offers during the same time period, which helped to make the decision a little easier at the time.

I am now regretting this decision. Is there any point in contacting the company to see if they are still interested? I now feel that I might be able to make the commute a little more bearable somehow. Perhaps a vanpool or something to that effect.

You can certainly try, but be prepared for them to have already filled the job or moved forward with other candidates, or to be highly skeptical of your level of commitment. Employers are already often wary of hiring people with lengthy commutes, because they worry that the person will eventually tire of the commute and start looking for something closer. In your case, they already know that it’s a serious concern for you. However, you have nothing to lose by checking back with them and seeing if anything comes of it; if you’re truly interested in the job, you might as well try.

3. I made a typo in my post-interview thank-you note

I had a successful interview for a marketing manager position last week at a very small start-up. Because I’m also working full-time, I was swamped and quickly shot off a thank-you email including links to my work samples (my apps indicate that they have already reviewed my samples and email).

To my horror, I realized today that there’s a major typo in the subject line: “Thank You for the Inverview.” I have had maybe only two typos in my life and I’m panicking. Should I send them the thanks letter again to acknowledge my error “oops, sorry for the typo, I was really busy, I hope you don’t hold it against me, etc.” or should I avoid contacting them? (They aren’t writers…maybe they didn’t notice?)

I probably would — because it’s better to be the person who makes typos but notices them than the person who makes typos and doesn’t notice or care. But it should be shorter than your proposed language here — just “Please excuse the typo in the subject line; how mortifying!” or something like that.

(Also, only two typos in your life? That’s basically superhuman.)

4. Health insurance premiums at my new job are crazy high

I have a question about benefits. I started a new job last year, and beyond asking whether the company provided health insurance, didn’t ask any more details during the offer negotiation. After I started the job and saw a few of my paychecks, I was very startled to see how much the health insurance premium was — six times what the premium was at my last job. I’ve only ever worked at big companies before and am now at a small company, so I understand that makes a big difference. But it’s also very frustrating to see 10 percent of my take-home pay going towards health insurance. I have two questions for you — for the future, is it acceptable to ask what the dental/health premiums are before accepting a job and negotiating salary based on how much it might be? Is there anything I can do now to ask my company if there are cheaper options? In any case, I’m thankful to be healthy, have a job, and have health insurance!

Yes, you can absolutely ask about premiums before accepting a new job — it’s something that can potentially have a big impact on your take-home pay, as you’re seeing.

As for what to do now, you can indeed say that you were surprised at the cost of the premium (useful feedback for them to know) and ask if cheaper options are available.

5. Manager wants to be notified whenever I use the bathroom

I feel silly asking this but I am also feeling a bit humiliated. I work in a very large office (and I mean very large). I have a manager who micromanages everything. She insists that every time we leave the area even to go to the bathroom we must inform her and we must inform her why. To me this is humiliating. I’m 55-years-old and I don’t need to ask permission to go to the john. I refuse to do this. How do I tell her in a professional but forceful way that I am not going to tell her when I need to leave my desk to go to the bathroom? I am a very good employee and one of area’s top producers as indicated by my reviews and my annual bonus. I have no disiplinary actions in my file..no warnings..nothing.

You can certainly say, “Jane, I’m an adult and an excellent performer, and I find it humiliating to inform you every time I need to use the bathroom. If there is a problem with my productivity, please tell me, but I intend to keep my bathroom habits private.” You can also talk to your HR department if you have one; they may not know your manager is doing this and might intervene if you tell them.

However, ultimately, if your manager wants to require bathroom notifications and HR doesn’t stop her, it’s her prerogative to do so. Her ridiculous, poorly thought-out prerogative, but her prerogative nonetheless. At that point, you’d need to decide how much of a stand you’re willing to take over it.

6. Can employers ask if you’re currently employed?

Can an employer can ask if an applicant is currently employed? Several jobs that I have come across for which I would like to apply have asked this question and I was not certain if this was legal or appropriate. So much of the job search is weighted against the applicant and this seems to put an applicant at a further disadvantage. And why is it easier to get a job if you already have a job? I don’t understand the logic.

Yes, employers can ask if you’re currently employed, just like they can ask about any other element of your job history.

As for why it’s easier to get a job when you already have one … There are a few reasons for this, some ridiculous and others less so. Some employers believe that if you were let go from a previous job, there must have a been a reason. Sometimes this is true, such as in the case of firings, and sometimes it’s not, such as in the case of layoffs where entire departments were cut — but employers often worry that they’re not getting the real story. And many employers believe that great people tend to be snatched up quickly, so if you’re still looking, they may assume you’re not a strong candidate — especially if you’ve been unemployed for a long time. What’s frustrating is that these things are all true of some unemployed candidates … but they’re not true of all unemployed candidates, and it’s short-sighted to paint everyone with the same brush.

One more thing: Employed candidates often come across as significantly more confident. They’re in a position to interview the company right back and it’s often clear they’re not going to jump at the first thing that comes along. That alone can make someone a more attractive candidate.

7. Love my recruiter, hate the job opening

I have a question about how to appropriately deal with a recruiter that I am working with. I recently went on an interview for a position she submitted my resume for and at the interview, I got the very strong sense that I would be extended an offer. However, after going on the interview, I truly had a bad feeling about the work environment of the company and the amount of uncompensated overtime they expected. While I am eager to get a job, I don’t want to accept one that I truly feel will make me unhappy. If an offer is extended, I am prepared to decline, but I LOVE the recruiter I am working with and do not want to damage the relationship if I turn down the position. I know recruiters work on commission, so any job offer I turn down is essentially money out of her pocket. Do you have any tips for dealing with this particular situation?

Talk to her candidly about your concerns — now. Don’t wait to see if an offer is made and surprise her with it then; tell her now what’s on your mind. That way, you’re not leaving her in the dark, and you’re also giving her useful feedback about what you’re looking for and what vibe this company is giving off. No good recruiter will fault you for turning down a job that you don’t feel is the right fit — but do fill her in about why.

{ 103 comments… read them below }

  1. Rana*

    #5. I have to admit the temptation to “overshare” would be large here. “Hey, Jane, just stepping out for a pee.” “Jane, gotta run to the loo. Too much coffee this morning!” “Jane, I’m going to be in the toilet for a while, in case someone comes looking for me.” “Jane, I’ve gotta hit the john; it’s that time of month, and you know how that is!”

    Live by the stupid policy, die by the stupid policy…

    1. Elizabeth West*

      LOL your post wasn’t visible when I posted, but we are thinking along the same lines here. Would love to be a fly on the wall if the OP and coworkers did this!

    2. Soni*

      Yep, that’s totally what I would do. Only way more graphic. “Holy crap, Jane…last night’s burrito is fighting it’s way out like a chest-burster. I hope you won’t be able to hear me all the way out here.” Probably followed by an Ace Ventura “You do NOT want to go in there,” follow-up memo.

        1. Anonymous*

          If you have a Fat Bastard from Austin Powers impression, you could very easily go to your boss and say in a terrible Scottish accent “Jane, I have a turtlehead poking out! I’m going to use the loo!”

          I’m willing to be that would change her tune. :p

    3. BW*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. She wants details as to when and why you leave your desk? Give her details. Don’t be shy!

    4. Lisa*

      I say inform her when she is in a meeting or talking with her boss, some higher up, VP, CEO…but i am spiteful that way.

      1. saro*

        Lisa, you and I are spiteful in the very same way.

        “As you requested, I am notifying you that I am using the rest-room, oh, hello there Ms. Senior VP.”

        1. perrik*

          You’re being far too nice.

          “As you requested, I am notifying you that I am using the rest room. To fully comply, I’ve documented the volume of bodily waste and attached samples of each type. Oh, hello there Ms. Senior VP. My apologies, Boss, I don’t want to disrupt your meeting any longer, so I’ll just leave the form and samples here next to your coffee.”

    5. mh_76*

      I like all of your suggestions! I’m sure that there have been times that I’ve had to share TMI simply to spite a stupid person enforcing a stupid policy or to convince a retail manager that I should, in fact, be allowed to go to the loo…even threatened to use the trash can once or twice (not that I ever would but it worked wonders).

    6. Mike C.*

      That reminds me of a story I heard on “On the Media” this weekend. Fellow with a “middle eastern sounding name” is questioned for hours at the airport and the FBI finds out they have the wrong name. But rather than giving the guy a letter he can take with him every other time he’s going to get questioned, he starts calling them. About everything. And posting it all online.

      It’s quite hilarious if he weren’t getting so many hits from various defense and intelligence agencies.

    7. just me*

      Ha ha ! Exactly what I was thinking…. now is the time to over share with too much information…..

  2. Elizabeth West*

    #5 Bathroom visits
    That is just ridiculous. Why are managers allowed to get away with this kind of behavior? I don’t have any advice for the OP; I’m just appalled that someone would ask adults to tell them when and worse, WHY, they are going to the bathroom.
    The only thing I can think of is if everyone agreed to be really obnoxious about it, like calling her on the phone, “Jane, I’m going to pee now!” or “Jane, I’m going to change my [insert feminine product here] now!” But you can’t really do that, although it would be really amusing to mess with her.

    #6 Unemployed vs. employed
    In this economy, the rules have changed. Employers need to stop painting all of us with the same brush as someone who got canned because they suck. How are we supposed to get jobs if all the companies are, as a commenter a week or so ago put it, “waiting for Jesus?” Or if they won’t hire someone who is willing and eager to work, even though it’s not a job in their field, or they have experience? Or are over 40? It’s sooo frustrating.

    1. Worker Bee*

      Still cracking up “Jane, I’m going to change my [insert feminine product here] now!”
      I was imaging it in a classroom setting. Instead of calling her, raising your hand every time someone needs go potty..
      Can’t add anything helpful here. Just amazed by the weirdness of some so called managers…

      1. Jamie*

        Weirdness is right. I don’t need to know when people tell me they are going to be a little late, leave early, or when they are going on lunch if the work is getting done…I definitely don’t want to keep track of their personal evacuation needs.

        Can you imagine going from a manager like that to someone like me – and assuming all managers were like that. The first time you told me you needed to go potty we’d have a conversation about never, ever telling me that again.

        I long for the day where all sustenance is taken in pill form and elimination is a thing of the past.

        1. Lily*

          I had an employee who suddenly asked me for permission to leave the room when her sister was visiting. I can only think that she must have been sharing tales of what a tyrant I was. I should have immediately stated that she had never asked me that before and she needn’t ever ask me again!

      2. mh_76*

        I’ve had a couple of bosses who would tell me when they were going to the loo (in no more detail than that). One was a Dean at X Univ and I would sometimes ask if he wanted me to take out a press release.

        1. Natalie*

          I have had a few bosses like that to. I don’t understand it – unless there is something going on that I *really* don’t want to know about, you’re going to be gone for approximately 3 minutes.

          1. Jamie*

            Do either of you know what the mindset was?

            Was it so you wouldn’t worry?

            That’s so weird to me. I have told people “I have to go in there now and you stay out here” – but only when it was men absentmindedly following me into the ladies room because they took the opportunity of seeing me in the hallway and decided to dump 6 months worth of computer issues on me for the first time when I was trying to use the restroom.

            Seriously, people need to stop doing that – if you follow me into the bathroom your problem goes to the bottom of the queue…that’s the rule.

            1. mh_76*

              I’m not sure that there was a deliberate mindset beyond maybe letting me know that he wasn’t going to be gone for more than a few minutes in case someone called for him or stopped by.

              I admit that I’m guilty of mentioning where I’m headed if I’m in a cube-farm conversation (work or other) and it would be rude to just get up and walk away…but I don’t share details (well, maybe discretely and vaguely when the hot sauce that the sautee-station guy put in my lunch tied my gut in knots… colleague said that plain hot water would help and she was right).

            2. Natalie*

              My over-sharing bosses (there were 3; 2 have quit) had a crippling fear of being out of the office during standard hours. When I say crippling I’m not exaggerating – a standard part of their positions is frequent site visits, which none of them did.

              My former vice-boss was just plain paranoid. She interpreted the most innocuous as grave insults. I’ve seen run of the mill emails that she described as someone “yelling at” her. I imagine over the years she started to interpret normal comments like “I missed you earlier” as “WTF are you doing away from your desk for even a moment!”

              Story time! I used to be the receptionist, and whenever I was out of the office my co-workers would cover the phone. My co-worker B had just started working there, and one day when I was out for some reason he went on a site visit. (Again, totally SOP.) Vice-boss called him while he was at the site, panicky, and demanded he return to the office immediately. So he drives back, wondering what sort of emergency has come up while he’s been gone.

              Turns out the vice-boss had been waiting for him to come back so she could go to the bathroom. She actually stood in reception waiting for him so she could go as soon as he returned. And then our main boss had a serious talk with him about being in the office most of the time and making sure everyone knew where he was at all times.

    2. Lulu*

      Ugh, I get peeved at having to clock in and out, I can’t imagine going along with Bathroom Break Announcements except in the most over-the-top way possible. Awesome way to knock down the employee morale a few points, there!

      And as usual, Elizabeth, +1 on the hiring (or lack thereof) frustrations. People ask “how does someone just give up trying to find a job?” – well, when you’ve been told the only way to get a job is if you have a job, preferably at the company you want to interview with, doing the exact job you’re interviewing for but for half what it SHOULD pay… but only as long as you’re 28 with the experience of a 50 year old… well, hard to keep one’s New Year’s resolution to be more positive in the search!

      1. soozun*

        @lulu Thank you!! This is exactly the frustration I am feeling. So many of these hoops workers and job seekers are made to jump through are counter productive.

    3. Another Jamie*

      At my first office job out of college, I told my manager I was leaving to go to the bathroom. In my defense I was used to retail jobs where they really do need to know where you are. This happened once. The (totally deserved) mocking that followed kept me from announcing my bathroom habits ever again.

      At one retail place, a guy fell asleep on the toilet once. It was a midnight shelf-stocking job. You’re kind of isolated in that type of work, so nobody noticed for a very long time. For as long as I worked there, he never lived that one down.

  3. PEBCAK*

    #5 Is this a coverage issue? I once worked somewhere that phones were NEVER supposed to go to VM during working hours. If I left my desk, I had to forward the phone to someone else in my department. So, the issue wasn’t telling someone exactly where I was going, but more like “hey, I’ll be back in five” rather than “I’m going to a meeting that will last an hour”.

      1. Jamie*

        But I think the “and why” was general why are you leaving the area (bathroom, lunch, affair with the delivery guy in the parking lot) and not why are you going to the bathroom.

        She insists that every time we leave the area even to go to the bathroom we must inform her and we must inform her why

        As funny and completely horrifying as it would be if she were asking for specifics of what one needed the bathroom for I think the “why” would be covered by “bathroom.”

        If this is about coverage just letting people know if it will be a few minutes or an hour long meeting would suffice.

    1. Cruella DaBoss*

      I was thinking the same thing, (a coverage issue) but the “and why” has me puzzled. Do you think that she might want an “and why” for long absences, such as attending a meeting or speaking at length with someone on a project ?

      I wouldn’t mind a “Hey, I’m stepping away from my desk, so I won’t be available” with out the gory details.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      A possible way around this that would make the micromanager and the employees happy would be to start using Office Communicator. If you are stepping away from your desk or don’t want to be bothered, you can change your status to Do not Disturb or Busy, and if you’re going to the bathroom or to get coffee, there’s a Be Right Back status. It automatically changes your status to busy when you have Outlook appointments. The software does more than that, but it’s a way to keep track of people without keeping track of people. (How does the manager get anything done with people telling her 4x per day that they’re stepping away???)

        1. Cruella DaBoss*

          Sounds great…unless you don’t have an instant message program.

          I really like the low tech version, but not sure it would work in a retail, reception, or call center situation where the desk or telephones had to be covered.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      At Exjob, there were a couple of people who listened for the phone and would grab it if I had to be elsewhere for a few minutes. I did have to wait for my backup to go to lunch, though. If he wasn’t there, we just put it on the night ring and I made sure I got back from lunch on time so it wasn’t like that too long.

  4. Lulu*

    #2 – I can sympathize with second-guessing your decision when it feels like you may have let a potentially good opportunity go, but don’t underestimate your commuting issues. In general I have refused a lengthy commute (after having dealt with some bad ones early on), but decided to give it a go once more for a job that I thought would be “worth it” because hey, so many other people spend 3+ hours on the road every day, maybe it’s not THAT bad… Wrong answer. For me, the traffic-sitting-exacerbated back problems, inability to have an after-work life, and other issues that arose because I had an inflexible boss and 2 area codes to deal with made my life miserable for the four months I survived that choice. That’s not to say it can’t be done – obviously many people DO choose the commute, and some people have flexible hours &/or bosses that make it more doable, or ultimately have no choice but to slog it out. But not everyone has a lifestyle (or constitution) that lends itself to that kind of existence, so I’d just encourage you not to discount your reservations and make sure you’re being realistic about what you’re really willing/able to deal with long term.

    1. Jamie*

      This is really good advice. I have a long commute and not only don’t I mind it, I kind of like it. I refuse to get bluetooth for my car and unfortunately unless your hands free you can get a ticket for being on the phone, so darn – I just don’t answer it while I’m driving. (I do have a code where if work calls and immediately calls again I will pull over and call in – but those are emergencies only.)

      I find I need the alone time and transition between work Jamie and home Jamie (there is actually less difference between the two than you’d think – but I like to pretend I’m carefree on my off-hours). When I had a short commute, about 8 minutes, at one of my temp jobs I hated it…I absolutely came home crabbier and still laden with work crap.

      I used to think it was because my commute was the only place I smoked – but I still like the time since I quit so that wasn’t it.

      But I know people with shorter commutes and it kills them. This is one of those things that if it bothers you, the odds are it will just bother you more – not less – as time goes on.

      Trust your gut on this one.

      1. BW*

        Commuting stresses me out more than work, so the shorter the better! About 20 years ago I worked a mile from my home. I totally miss that convenience. The sooner I can get home, the sooner I can relax.

        1. Tax Nerd*

          I’m like BW in that commuting stresses me out more than work, so the shorter the better. I’d much rather pay more/have a smaller place/deal with urban wildlife rather than have a long commute.

          I always boggle at people like Jamie that decompress during their commute. What planet are you people from? Did you attend brainwashing camp? (If so, don’t tell my other half, who prefers the ‘burbs.)

          Then again, I tend to work long hours during tax season, and I want to maximize my time available for sleeping then, and people tend to frown on sleeping while driving.

          1. The IT Manager*

            The type of commute can make a big difference. Although I’d never choose a long commute time, I don;t mind my current 45 minute commute when traffic flows smoothly. Slow speeds, stop and go is much more frustrating and stressful.

      2. Lulu*

        I hear you on the upside of having detached time, too – living TOO close (i.e. 2 blocks walking distance) can be convenient OR make you feel like you never. ever. leave. There’s a lot to be said for at least a bit of decompression time! (Although personally, I’d still choose the walk.) I think there must be a sweet spot between “I may as well just move into my office” and “I am going to abandon my car here and find the nearest bar” that everyone has to determine for themselves…

      3. Elizabeth West*

        I like a fairly short commute, but it’s also nice when the job is close to things I do after work–like school, skating, etc. I’ve been trying to get a job downtown for ages, but I keep ending up in industrial parks way out there, or someone calls me for an interview and they’re twenty minutes from there. :P

        Plus, I’m still paranoid from having an old car for so long. My newer one can totally handle it, but I just freeze up thinking what would happen if it died and I had to pay a cab for to go clear across town. Not to mention my car only has 36,000 miles on it. I have to make this thing last as long as possible.

    2. mh_76*

      Lulu and Jamie both give good advice – if a long commute isn’t for you then the opportunity, no matter how good, may not be a good choice for you (should you get an offer).

      I live in a large city, can see some of the tall buildings and the state capitol dome out my living room window, and most of the contacts I’ve been getting from recruiters* are for jobs in the suburbs. I don’t mind renting a car to go to an interview but I’m hedging my bets that, because the job market is still lame, I won’t get put in for a lot of jobs and few interviews will result (I’m not pessimistic, the market is slowly improving, just being realistic*). The catch, though, is that the job would have to pay me enough that I could get a car of my own, even if it means asking my folks to help with the initial deposit. And I’m not going to tell that to every local recruiter who contacts me (only working with local ones…there are plenty here).

      The irony is that because of where I live, I shouldn’t even have to use the lame public transit system to get to a job, never mind commute. But if I do get a farther-out job and need a car (instead of just wanting one), it will also make most of my non-work life a hell of a lot easier because some of that is in the suburbs or occasionally at an ungodly hour of the night after transit has shut down (thanks to vol. stuff).

      In general, look at the +/- of a commute (which it sounds like you’ve done). If you are offered an interview, take it and see what the commute is like (keeping in mind that transit at rush hour sucks) and whether/not it would be worth it for you to look into a car (should you get/accept the job offer) or whether/not it’s worth it for that opportunity or at all.

      1. mh_76*

        *Recruiters are my primary search tool because I have a lot of variety on my resume and most people aren’t smart enough to see the value of that so I need the 3rd party “endorsement”…snarky, I know, but sadly true.

  5. RF*

    “But it’s also very frustrating to see 10 percent of my take-home pay going towards health insurance. ”

    Is that all you pay for health insurance? Is that a normal level in the US? I am asking because I pay more and well, I live in a country with national health care. So 10% seems reasonably low to me.

    1. Eric*

      I have a “good” job at a respected employer and pay around 5% of my gross pay for coverage (employer covers 80% of the actual plan cost) for my family of four (medical, dental, vision, and prescription coverage). That’s just for the coverage though, there are co-pays and deductibles and other expenses that come out of pocket at time of use (varies based on status of care provider).

    2. KayDay*

      The amount that employees pay for their health insurance varies hugely in the US. Anywhere from 0% to 100% and everything in between. I actually don’t even think that there is a “normal.”

      1. Jamie*

        I think the percentages they were talking about is the percentage of their take home pay – not the percentage of the premium for which they are responsible. While I may agree to pay 100% of my premium, if that was a 100% of my take home pay that would be a little tough to live on. :)

        1. fposte*

          Exactly. And that also means that we often (okay, I don’t) know how much the premiums actually cost–we just know what we pay.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I pay about $500/yr family, they pay about $10,000. Multiplying that out by employee count. . .it’s a huge number.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      My out of pocket is very small — less than $10/week for family. This is a big factor in working here vs. competitors. I get a lot more benefits for the same base salary, so you have to get a pretty decent increase to leave. You should always look at the total compensation package of your offers.

      1. Jamie*

        Second this. My husband pays about $17 every two weeks for or family of five and we have excellent coverage.

        This is a significant part of your compensation and well worth asking about in an interview.

      2. BW*

        My last 2 jobs, at companies that employed about 200 people, my premium for coverage for just me was $100/month, and that was actually really good compared to a lot of places. My employer paid 80% of the premium. When I moved to a huge company (tens of thousands of employees), that dropped by half and have better coverage. My current employer also bases the employee share of the premium on salary level. So people who are not paid as much have a more affordable premium, but even at the top tiers it is less than everyone was paying at my last two jobs.

        1. Jamie*

          This is where a large employer can really benefit an employee.

          My employer would love to offer rates as low as what my husband pays – but he’s one of 40,000 + employees for the county government so they get the great package deals that an SMB can never match.

          The more people in the pool the easier it is to negotiate rates with the insurance company.

          1. KayDay*

            I don’t know the details of our plans, but I’ve always worked at small non-profit organizations (small as in < 25 employees). We've always had really great insurance, and the most I've every had to pay was $20/paycheck. I've also always had the same insurance plan, just through different employers, so I think there is some sort of pooling, where a lot of these small orgs are grouped together. But again, don't know the details of how this all came about, and the orgs all have the own separate contacts.

    4. RG*

      To put that in perspective, the Affordable Care Act is defined affordable health care at 9.5% of your wages (for determining whether your employer is offering affordable coverage). So, 10% seems pretty reasonable. Yes, it might be more than what you were paying before, but when the company is smaller, you may be absorbing more of the cost than you were before.

    5. Natalie*

      Typically US employers pay for a significant chunk of the premium as well, so the total cost is probably higher than what you’re thinking. With that higher price, we cover fewer of our citizens because insurance is tied to employment.

    6. Anonymous*

      It really varies… at his last job, my husband was earning in the low $20s and was paying $600/month for insurance (covering only him!).

      It was a pretty small company and it was sort of a vicious circle because, since the insurance was so expensive, most employees didn’t participate. Which made the group smaller, which in turn made rates go higher. At one point he found out that the only people on the insurance were him, his boss who had a heart condition, and a couple of older men who also had a lot of health issues.

      When he got laid off and signed up for COBRA, he realized that the company had not been paying anything toward the plan cost and was having the employees cover the entire thing.

    7. Victoria HR*

      Also, that’s totally something that the OP should have researched before opting in to the health insurance when he/she started working there. They’re required to tell you what your premiums will be per paycheck before you sign up, AND provide summary plan benefit booklets that detail all of your coverage. If you (general) don’t have that information, contact HR and get it. There may be a lower priced option, however you probably won’t be able to switch to it until open enrollment.

      1. Anonna Miss*

        I agree that the OP should have researched the health insurance premiums but often, people don’t receive that information until they start the job. They have already accepted the job, and quit their old job. I know I didn’t think to ask about the cost of premiums until I was already working the new job. If I had given it much thought, I would have expected that I’d pay somewhere between $50 – $100 per paycheck for a single non-smoker at my age. That was what I had the first ten years of my career at very large companies, for top-of-the-line insurance.

        So when I started a new job at a smaller company, I was surprised to find that I’d have to pay $170/paycheck for a fairly low-coverage plan. (One that likes to reject everything, and only pay a small fraction of costs even after I’ve met the deductible.) Thank god I don’t have a family, especially one that needed very good coverage. That was something like $1,500. I’d be working for just the health coverage.

        1. Julie*

          I have been at my current company for 10 years, so it’s been a while, but the last two times I had job offers, I wanted to find out what the benefits were before I accepted. Both times, the people I spoke with at the insurance companies had a difficult time believing I was looking into the benefits before I accepted the offers. When I asked for specifics about the benefits, they said, “oh, you’ll get all that information after you start.” It went around and around until I finally said, “I need this information in order to decide whether I’m going to take the job, so I can’t wait until I start.” It was such an effort to get the information out of them. I don’t know why it was so surprising. I think these days it wouldn’t be such a shock for someone to ask for that information.

  6. Chris*

    “And many employers believe that great people tend to be snatched up quickly, so if you’re still looking, they may assume you’re not a strong candidate — especially if you’ve been unemployed for a long time. ”

    Just a question related to this point: How exactly does one become a “great” candidate in a long rut of unemployment?

    Hypothetically, let’s say there’s an opening for a “Pumpkin Catapult Designer” and, the job seeker really wanting this job, after volunteering to design and optimize pumpkin catapult launchers at several fairs, applies with the best honest cover letter and resume possible. However, unbeknownst to the job seeker, a large amount of applicants are applying to this position with 5+ years of pumpkin catapulting experience at pumpkin catapulter companies that they are currently employed at.

    Basically, how does the unemployed job seeker stand out in this midst of candidates if he doesn’t have paid working experience proving his pumpkin catapult launching skills? Or, more down to Earth, how can one find employment utilizing a certain mastered skill as the seeker competes with those with skills and paid experience?

    1. Jamie*

      One way to stand out is a great cover letter.

      Of all the resumes I’ve seen for jobs from entry level through engineering to higher middle management I can count on one hand the number that were accompanied by a good cover letter. Well written, tailored to the position, and not just reiterating what’s in the resume.

      So while people with more and current paid experience will always have a leg up with most employers you need to have something they don’t – and that’s a really good cover letter. It’s not a sure thing, but it’s a huge advantage to getting your resume noticed.

      I think it’s weird for readers of AAM to assume this is as big a deal as it is, because Alison mentions it so often that we can start to assume that everyone has a well crafted and excellent cover letter and that’s the new minimum…but I’m telling you for a fact that it’s not the case.

      Another thing I would do, in your hypothetical, is make sure I was involved in some kind of pumpkin catapulting (on my list of least favorite ways to die, btw) professional organization. Not just a member but active involvement so my unpaid work was at least on the radar of people in my field and I’d network like crazy there.

      1. Good_Intentions*

        Jamie, that’s really sound advice.

        As I have never been in a position to hire, I possess no knowledge of a typical cover letter. Your advice about making it tailored for the specific position really rang true from my own experience.

        Your second point about professional associations is something I’m doing right now. I am attending my first ever professional grant writers association meeting tomorrow. Although I have little experience, I am hoping to obtain some knowledge and expand my network by being an active member of the group.

        Again, great insights, Jamie!

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Theoretically speaking:
      – You know version x.8 of the pumpkin catapulting optimization software that the company is looking at upgrading to.
      – You can point out some new design ideas. Honestly, where my company was at 10 yrs ago compared to where the industry was not good. You might think everyone must know about the latest technology, but some companies have 20 yr designers who don’t update their knowledge.

      Also consider the competition. I used to hire pipe stress engineers, and a lot of these were contract engineers (or former contractors). They moved companies literally 1-2x per year. Some of them were brought in at a project man-hour peak only and never worked a job from start to finish. After they would leave, the person closing out the job would often find a lot of problems with their work. If you’ve designed pumpkin catapults from owner specification and followed up through the “warranty period”, even if only as a volunteer, you might have something to sell that your competition doesn’t because you’ve had to troubleshoot bad designs in the field and figure out how to get better.

      Now, if your real field isn’t design-related at all, none of this probably applies. : )

      1. AnotherAlison*

        On my second point above – pointing out new design ideas: You might assume the other job seekers have better ideas than you, but that doesn’t mean they’re putting it in their resumes & cover letters. I think you’re particularly likely to see generic “duties” type resumes in engineering & design fields. If your resume actually talks about interesting designs you’ve done, it will catch the HM’s attention.

    3. Lily*

      I have been burned by hiring people with experience because jobs involving pumpkin catapulting can be very different. In job A, the pumpkins each weigh less than 1 kg and you work alone at your own pace. In job B the pumpkins weigh 10 kg and have to be catapulted every 30 seconds. In job C the pumpkins are 200 kg monsters and you have to work with a team in order to catapult them at all. In job D, 2 teams with different types of pumpkins have to share the catapult and coordinate their work. In job E, the employees have to figure out what an optimal result looks like and how to pick a pumpkin which catapults the best and catapult them efficiently. As a hiring manager, I would want to know as much as possible about the conditions surrounding the pumpkin catapulting and the individuals role because all pumpkin catapulting jobs are not created equal!

      In addition, qualities like teamwork, communication skills, follow through, dependability, and responsibility can be developed in other jobs and even at school or other organizations.

      1. Lily*

        Sorry, I went off on a tangent which was more about not taking experience at face value. I advise being willing to take on projects. A project can lead to a short contract which can lead to a longer contract … That is what I did when I switched fields.

      2. Diane*

        I love the way you’ve broken out the variety of ways one can catapult a pumpkin! This really does help illustrate that not all job titles are created equal, and nuance matters.

  7. GenericGen*

    I wish my health insurance was only 10% of my take home pay; it’s 25%. There’s at least one person I work with who declined it and kept their children on Medicaid.

  8. Jamie*

    At what point does the pay cut become so much that the job is no longer viable and unemployment benefits would be better?

    Check your state’s cap on UI benefits – because there is definitely a max to which you’d be entitled (if granted) and depending on your income that could be quite a gap even between your recently cut salary.

    Not everyone can maintain their lifestyle even with cut-backs on UI.

    And this is actually a great reason to be looking for a new job, from a prospective employers pov – because who wouldn’t be looking if they were just subject to a large paycut and uncertain about the stability of their company? Totally reasonable. And a lot of times if an employer wants to get rid of you, but wants you to quit so they don’t pay UI, they will be very accommodating to your taking time for interviews and giving you a good, current reference.

  9. Riki*

    1 – Start looking for a new job! I find it very strange that you are the only person on deck for your boss’s planned pay cut. Are you the only HCP and do you out-earn your other HCPs but a significant amount? Usually HCP pay cuts are across the board and they are an alternative to a laying people off. Often you can negotiate terms to make the pay cut easier to take, like working less hours. They are also usually not so extreme that going on unemployment is a better option! How much of a cut is being proposed here???

    The request to resign as to not affect the UI rate is also a little weird. While I can understand not wanting that rate to go up, telling you that you need to resign so her UI tax doesn’t increase sounds…foreboding. Anyway, ITA with Alison. Call your state’s DOL for more details on your state’s UI rates and qualifications.

    4 – You can ask, though I’m surprised this info wasn’t provided to you when you were hired. My company’s plan has three different levels. The default level is the most expensive one (and also provides the best coverage), and our former HR person would automatically enroll new hires onto that plan. So, it’s worth looking into.

  10. FormerManager*

    6 – I’ve hired for a company where it was easier for us to hire someone who was unemployed versus currently employed. We had a turnover issue and it was always nice when we could give someone an offer and they wanted to start within a few days. Such employers are rare but we are our there.

    1. Thomas*

      The company I work for is an outsourcer/consulting company, and when we have a project ramping up, we have been on multiple occasions brought in people (for the entry level generalist position on project teams) who were unemployed and could thus start faster. I was hired just after I graduated from college, and it was barely six business days from when I submitted my application through having the interview, being offered the position, to my start date. When we need people, we move FAST.

  11. mh_76*

    #4 – are you in a state that has a health insurance purchasing program? I don’t mean Medicaid or subsidized insurance (unless you qualify, that is) but a program that allows otherwise uninsured residents to buy insurance? In MA, there is an option that offers a bunch of different plans through big-name and less big-name companies. If so, it might be worth looking into if you can find a price & coverage combo that works for you and can opt out of your employer’s plan.My plan is eating a hole in my pocket but it’s still cheaper than if I were to be “hit by a bus” and some placement agency’s plans are more expensive (and contract jobs come to an end, which means either COBRA…pricey…or going back to the state program).

    #5 – I could understand this if you were in foodservice, retail, call-center, or front-desk and (emphasis on and) your um manager were the one who would cover your station/line until you got back (or were the one who arranged for such coverage when you had to go) but it doesn’t sound like that is your situation. What do your colleagues do/think and if they ignore her, what happens – do they get in “trouble” and, if yes, what does “trouble” entail?

  12. Amanda*

    What’s especially sucky about the “employers thinking that long-term unemployed are not high quality candidates,” is that it often takes time to become a high-quality job seeker. Job-searching isn’t just about being awesome, it’s about presenting yourself in the most awesome way possible and the presentation skills take awhile to learn. I mean, when I started job-searching a year ago (holy crap), I was writing bland and overly lengthy cover letters (thinking that filling in the white space of a MS Word document looked impressive), relying 100% on internet job boards and 0% on networking (when networking is proven to be the far most effective technique for job-searching), listing every single job I had ever had on my resume (when you should only list the most recent/relevant), and ending my cover letters saying “I will call you to schedule an interview (I felt so awkward doing it but monster and other such sites convinced me I had to). Thank heavens I found AAM, but it was only after I had been searching for seven months.

    For the people out there who are in contract positions, like I was, I beg of you, start your job-search long before your contract is up-both in terms of building a network (super important) and actually applying for jobs. Yes, you might have to turn down some opportunities, but you will also get a lot of practice on the essential functions of a job-search so that when you are available, you will be a seasoned job-searcher, primed to get interviews (and offers!)

    1. soozun*

      thanks for this. the hunt for employment can be discouraging, especially when most of your circle is in that same hunt. i’m returning to the job market after a 10 year absence “the most recent/relevant work” for me is not paid work and i’m struggling with how to overcome this gaping hole in my resume. i am networking, but eyes glaze over when we get to paid work and volunteer work.

    2. Lulu*

      Yes, thanks for mentioning this. I was just thinking yesterday that I may be a good candidate for multiple positions but, for various reasons, “job seeker” definitely isn’t one of them! (Despite all of the excellent advice here). This is definitely dragging out my job search to a point where I fear I look unemployable, and it just makes me nuts that employers will probably assume the latter rather than allowing for the fact that there’s a reason I’m not in PR or Recruiting…

  13. LK*

    5. Manager wants to be notified whenever I use the bathroom

    That’s humiliating. Is she going to sign your bathroom pass too? Seriously though, it seems like she is trying to rectify a problem she is having with you and/or your coworker(s) instead of just being direct about her concerns. Has she told anyone else they have to ask her to use the bathroom (and what are you supposed to do if she isn’t around? hold it?)

    If it makes you feel any better, my manager has done a version of this a few times – “Sue said she called you and you didn’t answer, why weren’t you at your desk” I was in the bathroom. “Well you need to be at your desk!” Um…alrighty then.

    6. Can employers ask if you’re currently employed?

    You need re-frame your job searching attitude. Stuff like this: “So much of the job search is weighted against the applicant” isn’t doing you any favors and is most likely coming across in your cover letters/interviews. It’s still a very crappy job market out there, so I think it’s less about “employers vs. job seekers” and more about the competition you’re facing for those openings.

  14. Anonicorn*

    5 – Maybe you could add something like, “I noticed that informing you each time I need to leave my work space is taking an extra X minutes away from my work (and likely yours) each time. I think we can be more productive if we don’t have to check in with you like this.”

    And if this is a larger issue involving coverage or performance, perhaps you could suggest alternatives.

    1. Vicki*

      I wonder if the manager used to manage a Call Center or something similar. A former co-worker of mine used to work in our company “Network Operations Center” and, when he moved to our group, it took a while to break him of the habit of telling someone every time he left his desk.

  15. Brandy*

    At my previous employer our insurance premiums skyrocketed while I was there and when I left I was paying over 20% of my gross income to insurance premiums. Now that’s a chunk of change.

  16. Sydney*

    The only reason I can see needing to know when you step away from your desk is if there is a coverage issue. I had to battle with one of our employees about that because we have phones to watch. There are two people responsible for phone coverage and they need to make sure someone is always there. Your 3 minute bathroom break might mean we lose a customer if you aren’t there to answer the phone.

    In a normal office setting where this isn’t the case, that manager is most likely overreaching, especially if she micromanages on all levels. Maybe you should ask her for her reasoning and see what she says. She may have a very good reason for wanting to know why you are away from your desk and it may come to light if you ask. It also doesn’t seem from the OP that she is asking specifics on bathroom breaks…just a general where and why.

  17. Lily*

    #3 The context is different here, but I would like to mention that I wouldn’t want to hear “I have had maybe only two typos in my life” as a hiring manager. I would start to speculate about which of the following could be true for him to believe that he doesn’t make mistakes. And maybe I am over-generalizing, but I would assume that the attitude towards typos = attitude towards mistakes during an interview or while reviewing an application. By the way, I don’t think the OP would be prone to the first two but I would wonder about the rest.

    Does he not notice his own mistakes?
    Will he admit mistakes if they are pointed out or argue or blame someone else?
    How much can he produce while making sure there are no mistakes?
    How much overtime does he need to ensure there are no mistakes?
    Can he meet deadlines while ensuring there are no mistakes?

  18. Vicki*

    > 1. Boss wants me to take a pay cut

    You’re probably better off to take the pay cut while you search for another job. Unemployment tends to provide about 10% of what you were getting while employed (averaged over the previous several months).

  19. Chaucer*

    #5. That’s annoying. If she really wants to know, er, why you’re going to the bathroom, you can be very, very descriptive if you like:

    “Jane, I must be excused to the restroom. Please note that yesterday was Taco Tuesday and this will be my first time going since then. Also, if you would like, I have the number of a really good plumber who you may need to contact shortly.”

  20. cncx*

    #7 I would be really careful. I had a recruiter who I loved and who I thought was really invested in giving me the right position at the right fit, and it turns out she pushed hard for a job for me that had been sitting in her portfolio for a year, with a nightmare manager, three people fired before me, none of this stuff came up with her and none of it in the interview process. Like an idiot I took the job, got fired for the first time in my life in the middle of week 5, and found out that this woman had placed several people before me and after me for this position and of course no one stuck because the place was crazy town. Then she had the gall to act surprised when she found out I got fired when it was all no big deal for her because she kept the money if i lasted a month.
    What I am trying to say is that recruiters are usually naturally people persons who build rapports easily but they don’t always work for us, they work for the placement fees, so don’t feel guilty for looking out for yourself.

  21. Laura L*

    Really quick response to #1: You might have better luck actually going to your local unemployment office to get benefit information. I was on unemployment in 08-09 and I don’t think I ever got through by phone.

  22. B*

    I had a boss who did this. She would inform me every single time she went and wanted me to acknowledge it as well. At the end I almost said to her “wow you were in there awhile guess lunch didn’t agree with you”. Absolute ridiculousness! And yes, upper mgmt let her get away with putting me not acknowledging this on my performance review. Someone should have rated her “performance”

  23. TL*

    Thanks to OP #4 for asking that question! I’ve been wondering about the same thing. (No job offer yet, but I want to be prepared when I do get one.)

    Along those lines: AAM, would you consider doing a post on “Things to Ask About/Clarify Before Accepting a Job Offer”? Something geared towards entry-level employees who are looking at their first “real” professional jobs, who might be confused (like the OP and myself) as to what is and isn’t appropriate to ask before being hired. When you’re coming out of retail or similar jobs where offer letters and benefits are unheard of, it can be more than a little confusing!

      1. TL*

        Thank you! :) That link is helpful, too.

        I know that a lot of my own (current) uncertainties revolve around benefits: asking about healthcare costs (not long ago, I wouldn’t even have known enough to use the “premium cost” wording), how the vacation/PTO time breaks down (I remember being surprised some years back, when I looked at a benefits poster at an office where I interviewed, and learned that holidays when the office was closed were taken out of the already minimal vacation time; I guess I thought they were separate), stuff like that. Or environment – like, is it okay to ask to see the space where you’d be working, if they haven’t give you a brief tour?

        And really, I’d probably have even more questions if I hadn’t come across your blog a while back. It’s been incredibly helpful for me in job hunting, and I thank you for doing it!

  24. vee*

    Here is my thing on typos: I hate them but I accept them. They happen every single day in prestigious newspapers and rinky dink blogs. When I had a column in a newspaper sometimes that copy editor would change the spelling of a technical word or jargon and then I’d catch hell for it.

    My master’s thesis was reviewed by half a dozen people a hundred times and there is a typo on page 2.

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