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. Mentioning that I’d take a more junior position

I am in an interview process. Tomorrow morning, I have a second interview for a middle management position. I do not know how things will evolve. Meanwhile, the company advertised a position that involves less responsibilities — assistant manager. If I receive a NO for the manager position or feel that things are not going in the right direction, I am tempted to mention that I would be open for the less senior position. Any idea how I should approach them on this, and still look professional?

Don’t do this in the midst of an interview for the higher level position. If you don’t get that job, at that point you can mention that you’re interested in the more junior position — but if you mention while you’re being interviewed for the more senior role, you risk making yourself look like you’re not confident in your own skills. They’re giving you a second interview — they think you’re a viable candidate for this job, and so you should too.

2. Do different companies compare notes on their candidates?

During my latest job search, I came across a situation that made me uncomfortable. I had interviews with three different companies: Company A, then B, and lastly C. Company B gave me an offer the day before my interview with Company C. Talking to HR in Company A and C afterwards, they both knew I had an offer from Company B.

I would like to look for a job in a different state and use a recruiting agency to help, but I am concerned with my current company finding out in the same way the other companies did last time. Is this kind of “comparing notes” between HRs of different companies normal?

It’s not especially common, but it can happen in particularly close-knit industries where all the players know each other. Generally, though, I’d assume it’s not happening.

3. Being paid as a contractor when I’m treated as an employee

I recently came across the following information in one of your blog posts: “Your employer can’t pay you as a contractor while treating you like an employee. If your employer controls when, where, and how you work, the government says you’re an employee—and your company needs to pay your payroll taxes and offer you the same benefits it offers to regular employees.”

Is this a federal law? Or does it vary by state? Where can I find this information outlined so I can show it to my employer? My employer takes advantage of me and my pay requirements, and although I work as an employee he gave me a 1099 for my salary this year. I think he should pay whatever I owe.

It’s a federal law, although it’s commonly broken, and you can read about it here.

For whatever it’s worth, you don’t need to wait to be issued a tax form to find out how your employer is paying you; if taxes aren’t being taken out of your checks each pay period, you’re being paid as an independent contractor (legally or illegally).

4. I’ve been promoted but don’t know what to do

I’m 23 and have been working since I left school at 16. I’ve never had a sick day off work, I’m always 30 minutes early and the last one to leave. Finally after many years of hard work, a new project has come up at work and my manager and his business manager think I’m the perfect guy to help run the show. My promotion is leading me to run a team of six people, letting agreements, and marketing. Only problem is I know little about these subjects, but they really do think I’m the perfect person for the job. This has lead me to quite a few sleepless nights! It got worse today when the business manager asked me to help her write the job descriptions for the new positions, and it seemed like she was getting annoyed that I wasn’t putting much input in. I’ve been working so hard since I left school to reach a promotion like this and it’s my ticket to a successful career. But I really don’t know what to do, and don’t want to show them my weakness.

They promoted you for a reason, and since you’ve worked with them before, they have a pretty good idea of your skills. But it’s fine to admit when you don’t know something — in fact, the most confident people are usually the ones most willing to admit that, because it doesn’t threaten them. Why not go to your manager and ask for guidance in what you can do to get up to speed? If there are specific things you’re wondering about, ask about those too. Ask for help, and ask for feedback. That’s how you’ll learn the new role — don’t feel you need to walk in already having it mastered.

5. Should I ask for a raise now that I have new responsibilities?

I’ve been at my current positon for a year and recieved the standard 3% pay increase this week. Since I’ve been at this company, I’ve taken on new responsibilities. It’s been a great learning curve and I feel that I’ve grown a lot in this role. I’m also working at stepping up my skills in areas where my manager and I mutually agree I can improve. Recently, I was asked to be the main coordinator in an area where I’ve only had a supporting role before — that is, I’m responsible for tasks that I was only assisting with before. Right now I feel a bit shaky in this area as I’m learning the ropes, but I know I’m capable of doing an excellent job once I get the hang of it. I’m writing to ask, would you advise on asking for a higher raise at this point, or do you believe I would be in a better position to do so once I’ve demonstrated more value to the company through handling my new tasks?

You just got a raise. You need to demonstrate that you can excel at your new responsibilities — and that you’ve addressed the areas where you and your manager agreed you’d improve — before you ask for another one.

6. Can I reopen salary negotiations after starting work?

I’ve been doing some consulting work for a company a few hours a week from home. A couple months ago, they let me know about an opening for a different, but related position in their office. As we went through the hiring process there was talk about rolling my consulting duties into this new job, but nothing concrete was decided on. The new job doesn’t require an extra credential that I have, and that is reflected in the salary. I was still interested because of the potential to get full time employment and benefits with this company.

I figured that if I was offered the job, we would go over the details of how to handle my consulting work and I would negotiate a rate increase if they wanted to roll those duties into the new job. However, when I got the packet to look over, it was an acceptance packet with a start date and nothing to sign or negotiate. I missed my offer negotiation and went straight from interview to acceptance!

I started the job two weeks ago and while I haven’t been doing the duties from when I was consulting, last week my manager mentioned that I would be able to start doing those tasks again and that it’s no big deal because they could fall into “other duties as assigned.” I want to do the work that I had been doing as a consultant, but I want to be paid for that specialized skill. I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s part of “other duties” because if they had hired someone who didn’t have my background that person wouldn’t be able to do it. Do I have any leverage to say that I won’t do it until we’ve agreed on a rate for adding those duties? Please help me fix this, I’ve neglected my growth opportunities for so long and just started reading your blog and want to get my career on track!

First, you guys need to stop accepting job offers without negotiating just because the employer doesn’t proactively offer you a chance to negotiate. You can still bring up salary yourself.

However, at this point, you’ve missed your window of opportunity; you’ve already accepted the job at the rate they offered. I also wouldn’t try to ask for more now based on the fact that the new job includes your consulting work. First, they’d already mentioned previously that they might roll that into the position so they’re not springing this on you out of nowhere … and second, the fact that you could do this stuff is probably part of the reason they hired you and not someone else. You don’t really have standing to go back and negotiate now. The time to do that was when the offer was made, and you can’t do it weeks later.

7. Employer said a letter is in the mail

I had an interview for a secretary position 12 days ago. I called yesterday to see if the position had been filled and was asked if I received a letter in the mail. When I said no, the interviewer said she couldn’t tell me anything until I get the letter in the mail. I’m assuming this means I didn’t get the job, but wanted to know what your thoughts were on this. Is there any chance it could be a good thing? The position was with the State of TN Dept of Human Services office. They interviewed several people and said we would be notified when the position was filled. I assumed it would be by email because that’s my preferred method of contact.

It probably means that you didn’t get the job, but with government hiring, who knows. It’s entirely possible that they deliver job offers by putting them in bottles and throwing them into the ocean.

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK*

    #5: Is this an actual promotion/title change? If so, I think it is reasonable to ask for more than the bump you would have received by staying in the old position. They may say no, but it’s so shady when companies do this.

    I once got a 4% raise with a title change, and then no raise at raise time, because I had “just gotten one”, which was absurd, because in previous years, with no title change, I was getting 5-6% on average.

  2. Jessa*

    RE Number 3, at this point if you’ve been given a 1099, you’re being paid as a contractor, and should probably talk to a tax person, because I’ve never gotten a 1099 where they’d taken withholding out of it. Which means you’re going to owe your taxes still. Even if they should have paid you as an employee you’re going to have to get an expert to help you figure out who owes what. Because you’d still owe the employee portion of the tax due. Even if the employer would be on the hook for their part. Not being a lawyer or tax accountant (even though I once worked for a pair of them,) talk to an expert. Soon. Given that it’s April 1st. Because as a contractor you may have been obligated to file quarterly returns.

    1. Fool? Me, Once.*

      I’m not OP #3, but I’m in a similar situation. I didn’t find out until two days ago that my (now former) employer hadn’t been withholding federal tax. I was a temporary part-time employee, *not* an independent contractor. I received no benefits. Frankly, I was lucky they let me park in the lot three blocks from my office (for $25 a year–the lot across the street was $125).

      Yeah, yeah, I know; I should have noticed, but we didn’t get paper pay stubs (there was an online system that you had to log in and check, but I didn’t find out about that until just before I left). They were withholding for Social Security, etc., so my paycheck was less than my gross pay; but it was a pretty small paycheck, and it just didn’t occur to me that it should have been even smaller.

      I found out when my CPA called while preparing my taxes and asked why my employer only withheld $11 from my paycheck for all of 2012. I called HR and they told me that they had “annualized” my pay, and since all but one paycheck was below a certain amount, they didn’t withhold anything. The person I talked to in HR seemed to think this was normal, although my CPA labeled it “screwy.” FWIW, this was a respected private university, not some brand-new business with no HR experience. I’m sure all of this had been cleared by the legal team.

      I would have had to pay the money anyway, but finding out that I have to pay it as a lump sum now was kind of a shock. I made so little money (and my spouse makes enough) that it isn’t a huge financial hit, but I bet there are others who get dinged by this bizarre policy every April and aren’t that lucky. What bothers me is that this university can do this without any warning. As a temporary part-time employee, I didn’t have an orientation (if I had, I might have known about the online pay stubs), but I’m not sure they would have told me anyway.

      I’m just relating all of this to warn others: If you’re not in a full-time permanent position (and maybe even if you are), check your pay stub regularly. And if you’re an employer who uses questionable, if legal, practices like this, you should consider whether you want to deter your temporary part-time employees from ever wanting to work for you again. I will never apply for another job at that institution, and if anybody ever asks me about working there (which people do from time to time) I’ll be sure to tell them about my experience.

      1. Fool? Me, Once.*

        (Sorry, didn’t mean to post this as a reply to Jessa, although it’s on the same topic.)

      2. Anonymous*

        I seem to recall that my university did this as well when I did work-study work. I think the idea was it was automatically not doing any of the withholding, like having the default on your w-2 set to not withhold.

      3. Julie*

        This happened to me a long time ago when I was working at a large telecommunications company through an agency. Until just this second, I assumed my employer (the agency) had made a mistake in not withholding taxes (thank goodness I started in October – otherwise, the amount I owed would have been huge). I called the IRS, and they said that I was liable for the taxes, whether my employer was supposed to withhold or not. So it could have been a mistake, or it could have been intentional. Either way, it doesn’t matter now. If the OP has an ongoing situation, though, s/he might want to get it straightened out (because it’s not just the taxes – it’s the worker’s comp insurance, unemployment insurance, etc. that are at stake).

        1. -X-*

          This stuff “happens to you” if you don’t look at your paystub from time to time. Certainly look at it early in the year or when you start a new job.

          If something seems strange or you don’t understand it, ask.

          1. Jamie*

            I like my HR – we’re friends…but I still open my direct deposit stub every single Friday when she hands it to me. It’s like a skit now:

            HR: “Same as always!”
            Me: “Just checking!”

            Trust, but verify.

            1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

              Absolutely. I run payroll for my employers, and I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when there’s an error in someone’s payroll or deductions, and I have to figure out how to fix it going back 8 months because people pay so little attention to their paystubs.

              People, please, understand the basics of how you get paid, what your tax liability looks like, and what benefits you get (and how much you pay for them). It’s not that complicated and, more importantly, it’s YOUR finances. You should understand them! I’m always willing to help, give advice, make changes, etc. But it’s simply not my job to make sure employees don’t have a tax liability at the end of the year, etc.

              1. Anonymous*

                To be honest I don’t see what’s so bad about having a tax liability. As long as you plan ahead, you avoid essentially giving the government an interest-free loan (in the form of withholdings).

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Totally agree — I want to have the use of my money and be able to earn interest on it for all those months, rather than the government having it. As long as you plan ahead, it’s in your best interest not to be owed a refund!

                2. Josh S*

                  “But I like it when the government pays me instead of me paying taxes!”

                  My first job out of college I had to talk a new hire out of claiming WAY too many withholdings on her W4. Her whole rationale was that the more withholdings you take, the more that the government pays you for working. [facepalm]

                  In retrospect, she couldn’t do basic math and was constantly overdrafting her checking account, so having the government hold a negative-interest-accruing savings account for her was probably the best investment she could have made. College educated, too. Lost all respect for that school…

                3. Min*

                  Josh, I’ve known a number of people over the years who intentionally have too much witheld so that they can get that big check every April. It makes my brain go numb.

      4. Chriama*

        I’m a university work study student right now and I’m in the same situation (albeit in Canada, so I know it’s not a direct comparison). The thing is, when you make below a certain amount of money a year, you can ask to not have taxes withheld from your paycheque. This amount depends on all income (from all employment), and might have been further complicated by the fact that you are married. As a single student with no dependants, I get deductions for pension and I think EI but not income tax. What I’m saying is that if the payroll for your position is processed by the same department that handles a lot of student positions, it’s possible that they defaulted to the standard for most people in that group without realizing that your circumstances were different.
        Also, I don’t think employee orientation ever covers taxes. It may cover salary and benefit plans, but not explicitly address payroll taxes.
        Anyway, this seems more like an unfortunate coincidence than deliberate “screwiness” on the part of your employer and I’d be inclined ti cut them a little slack.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          There’s also the issue that when you’re filling out the W-4, many people just do the worksheet at the top, put that number in the bottom, and call it good. And for many people, that is good. But for cases like “Fool? Me, Once” where they make very little money and are married, it’s totally possible that the results of that worksheet (entering 1 for yourself, 1 for your spouse, and possibly other exemptions), combined with this “annualization” thing, would easily result in no taxes taken out.

          I would definitely recommend finding out for sure, before disparaging an employer all over the place for merely following the directions you gave them! The W-4 is a sheet of instructions for your employer, and not understanding it is definitely financially dangerous.

          1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            Oops, I see that Fool did comment below that they withheld at the single rate, but still. If you find taxes are not being withheld because you make too little, feel free to add some money to the “Additional amount withheld” line on the W-4. I always keep mine high so I get massive refunds. :D

      5. E*

        I’m in a somewhat similar situation as well. I was hired as a temp/part time worker for a company through a temp agency (although I’m actually working 40hrs a week, just no benefits). Just this Monday I am told that they are removing all the temps from the agency and making us independent contractors, so I was given a W-9 form to fill out. Based on other comments here I guess I should be glad that they at least told me what was happening, but I wish I had been given the opportunity to ask some questions about what exactly this will mean for my paycheck (I work at a remote location and was informed of the change by my boss, who learned about it at a big meeting at he main location last week).

        On the other hand, I’ve got a few applications out that I feel hopeful about…maybe I won’t be here long anyway!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You can still ask your questions — you don’t need them to give you a specific opening. Call or email your boss or whoever deals with this and ask.

      6. Payroll Lady*

        Fool? Actually this is the correct way to calculate and the way it is explained in publication 15 (wage withholding guide). You take an employee’s gross X # of pays per year, deduct personal exemption amount and allowances based on your w-4, calculate the tax and then divide the tax by # of pays for amont to be deducted that pay.

        Unfortunately, HR does not always know how to explain it correctly, and believe it or not, I have dealt with tax accounts and CPA’s that do not understand the why calculations are done that way.

        If you have a low paying job, it is wise to file your W-4 as Single (or Married withholding at a higher Single rate in your case) and zero allowances to have the maximum possible taken and even then, depending on the amount of earnings, you still may not have taxes deducted.

        1. Fool? Me, Once.*

          I did file married-single rate. I just didn’t make much money. :-) Seriously, WalMart workers are protesting for a higher salary than what I was making in a higher-ed IT department.

          I think my biggest mistakes were not checking my pay stub (or finding out why I wasn’t getting one) and just not asking enough questions. It seemed odd that I didn’t go to an orientation, but honestly, I disliked the job so much that I didn’t want to spend any more time on campus than I had to. By the time I remembered that I hadn’t had an orientation I was already planning my escape. :-)

      7. E*

        I got completely dinged by this as a part-time employee. I was a part time employee and I was making minimum wage for a small company and their policy was that people in this position submitted invoices listing how many hours they had worked and the pay that equaled and got checks as contractors. I am in MA and I think this was to get around having to offer healthcare but I am still angry about it. I got a big shock at tax season and I did not have a lot of money at the time (this was while I was job searching for a real out of college job).

  3. Lillie Lane*

    #7: This happened to me a number of years ago with a state government job. They sent the “Dear John” letters via snail mail (actually I suspect it was via Pony Express and the horse died, or bottle in the ocean as Alison suggested) because I never got it. I called the main guy on the selection committee because they had told me to call if I didn’t hear anything, and he sounded confused and embarrassed that I didn’t get the rejection letter.

    Losing that job was definitely a blessing in disguise, though. I never would have met my husband if I had gone down that path.

    1. Chasity*

      Thanks for your reply! I’m trying to keep in mind that when you don’t get something you want it means there is better out there for me. :)

      1. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise*


        A while back, I applied for a job that I “thought” I wanted really bad. I was so bumbed when I didn’t get it (found out later that the posting had been canceled). I am SO happy I didn’t get the job b/c the one I wound up accepting is much more of a good fit, growth opportunities are unlimited, management are great and it sets me up for so many other opportunities (b/c of the exposure this position has) at my company. So yes, stay positive and know that every closed door means that you will be available to open another door. Best of wishes to you.

      2. dangitmegan*

        Yes! Last summer I was in a forever long interview process for a teaching job at a college that I thought I wanted SOOO bad (really I had just been out of work for so long I wanted any job and put all my eggs in to that basket.) I didn’t end up getting it and was really bummed out about it and hating myself for screwing it up. But then the next week I got called in for an interview with my current job. I got passed up for a boring job teaching something I don’t even really like to do and got an amazing job where I get to work in the arts and travel all over the world. I was really depressed about the first job but if I had gotten it I wouldn’t be leaving for Italy tomorrow!

    1. Zahra*

      Well, it reminds me the trouble Microsoft, Apple and a few others had a few years ago for having a “non-compete for employees” agreement. The idea was that it prevented employees from getting a fair, market appropriate job offer in terms of salary and benefits. It would bug me to hell and back to learn that it happened in my industry as well.

    2. #2op*

      Petrochemical engineering, not small at all. Though this area sees fluctuating workers between companies semi-often.

  4. fposte*

    #4: first, read the AAM post on impostor syndrome: https://www.askamanager.org/2012/08/impostor-syndrome.html

    You sound like you have really high expectations of yourself–which can be a double-edged sword. I worry with people like that that you think anything other than perfection and roaring success is total failure. Promotions can be especially tough because it feels like moving from being able to excel in a position without breaking a sweat to raw newbiehood.

    But that’s the process, and learning curves and rookie errors are part of it. I suspect that your managers have more reasonable expectations for you than you do, and that your real challenge is overcoming your fear of “showing your weakness.” They didn’t promote you because they think you have no weakness–they promoted you because they knew you had weaknesses and inexperience and thought that they wouldn’t keep you from doing a good job. Don’t make the mistake of prioritizing disguising of normal flaws over doing the job.

  5. Elizabeth West*

    #4–don’t worry about it; it’s a brand new job to you. Of course you’re not going to know everything. Talk to your manager. Ask if you can have a meeting or two to go over procedures, expectations, etc. My boss has been pretty thorough and I’m glad because I had NO IDEA how to do half of what I do on my new job. But I told her where I was feeling shaky, and we went over it in a WebEx, and now I’m feeling much better about it. I actually know what to do now!

    #7–Alison, LOL!

  6. Anonymous*

    On #3, there are jobs that fall outside of AAM’s advice. Graduate school employment is a big one. It is often structured completely like an exempt salary job but legally considered a “fellowship.” Then the university doesn’t pay lots of taxes, doesn’t pay you unemployment if you are fired or laid off, and you get close to zero legal job protections. You wouldn’t get a 1099 for those, though.

  7. Jenny*

    #6: I have a question about this: “First, you guys need to stop accepting job offers without negotiating just because the employer doesn’t proactively offer you a chance to negotiate. You can still bring up salary yourself.”

    When is the right time to ask, if a potential employer doesn’t bring it up? And how do your phrase it, without seeming money hungry? I know this is one of your gripes with the hiring process in general, but things being as they are, it seems pretty important to get the tone right.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      When they offer you the job. For instance, this OP said, “When I got the packet to look over, it was an acceptance packet with a start date and nothing to sign or negotiate. I missed my offer negotiation and went straight from interview to acceptance!”

      When she received the packet, she should have called them up and negotiated the salary. She felt like she didn’t have the chance because they didn’t start that conversation — but she could have started it.

  8. EM*

    When I was offered my current job, my boss mentioned a number, and I said, “actually, I was hoping for $H”

    It was very natural and not awkward at all. She countered with a number, which is what I was really wanting (I used the classic bargaining technique of asking for slightly more). It was normal and I don’t think my boss felt negatively about it at all.

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