my company merged with my spouse’s, my coworker keeps disappearing, and more

It’s seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. My company merged with my spouse’s and now I’m being pushed to leave

Recently, both the companies that my spouse and I work for merged, with his boss taking over my company. He has been hinting to my spouse that my spouse should take over my department (both of us are in the same field, but he is management level). Day by day, bit by bit, he is asking my spouse to do my work, and is trying to get me to leave.

How can I stop this nuisance? It is very irritating. And even my spouse is asking me to leave, as he said this is making him difficult to work. Prior to this merger, were both happily working at these companies and even together on some projects. This merging has affected our relationship as well.

This isn’t a nuisance that you need to stop — this is a serious problem that requires you recognizing it for what it is and taking action: You’re being pushed out, and you need to start actively looking for another job. People do lose their jobs in mergers; that’s just the unpleasant reality of it. The new owner isn’t going about this in a particularly professional way, but his intent sounds clear, and you shouldn’t ignore it.

Start a job search, and meanwhile talk to your spouse about how the two of you can manage this situation until you’re able to leave.

2. My coworker disappears for hours at a time and I get stuck picking up the work

I work in an academic support unit at a large university. One of the people I work with has always had issues with arriving late and leaving early. We’re salaried here and usually this kind of thing evens out in the wash. Also, this person is my peer so I’ve tried to keep my head down and worry about the job I’m doing. Lately though, it’s getting worse. My coworker takes two-hour lunches on an increasingly regular basis. There have been times when we haven’t seen this person for hours at a time. Again, I would normally try not to let this bother me, but it’s starting to impact me. When my coworker isn’t around, I’m being tapped to pick up the slack. I have to take on this person’s tasks and frankly I have enough work of my own.

Our mutual supervisor is not a particularly strong manager. I’m not sure if she has no idea what’s going on or if she’s reluctant to address it with my colleague. Do I ignore this? Do I take it up with the colleague? Do I bring it to the attention of the manager? If it’s one of the latter two, I’d love some suggestions about how to do it.

Alert your manager to the impact this is having on you, by saying something like, “With Jane out of the office so much lately in the middle of the day or coming in late or leaving early, I’m increasingly being asked to do things that she would normally cover if she were here. It’s impacting my ability to focus on the rest of my work. How would you like me to handle this?” That’s not a complaint; it’s a request for guidance. But it conveniently makes her aware of the issue if she wasn’t already. (And if she was already aware of it and just not handling it, it pushes her into doing something. Or at least it should.)

3. What to say when interviewers ask about a time I had a conflict with a coworker

One of the worst interview questions for me has always been when the interviewer asks me to tell them about a time I had a conflict with a coworker, and how it was resolved. This one tends to make me freeze up, to some degree, because I always feel like they’re looking for a really solid example. Part of the problem for me in answering this is that I tend to be very laid back and flexible about changes in schedules, methodology, or project requirements, as long as those things are able to be accommodated and are not an incorrect way of doing the job.

As a result, pretty much all of my “conflicts” are the kind of minor, interpersonal annoyances, the things that people get into each other about when they end up working closely and spending unusual amounts of time in each others presence during a project. The kind of things that, once you get apart and calmed down from the stress, both sides realize was silly, and toss it by the wayside. Does explaining that make an acceptable answer to that question, or do I really need to try and dredge my memory for some fleeting occurrence that would be considered more serious?

Well, if you’re been in the workforce for a while, interviewers may be skeptical that you’ve really never encountered a major significant conflict — or may wonder why you’ve never felt strongly enough to push back on something with a colleague. They’re not looking for stories of major fights and confrontations (those are generally red flags), but rather to hear about how you’ve handled it when you needed to advocate for your point of view or pushed back to get something you needed. I bet there have been times you’ve done that, and you’re overlooking them because you’re defining “conflict” as messy drama, when it really can be much more along the lines of simply advocating a particular viewpoint or making the case for something.

4. Should I mention my layoff in my cover letter?

In my cover letter, do I mention that I was laid off from my last job and why? I am not ashamed of the layoff, though I understand the closed-mindedness of some first-line folks that may see the letter/resume.

I have a newer entry in the employment section of my resume that reflects my status as a freelance consultant, as I picked up some very short term work that way, so the job I was laid off from is not at the top of the employment section anymore.

There’s no need to mention it in your cover letter — not because of any stigma, but because it’s just not something hugely relevant in a cover letter, which should instead be focused on explaining why you think you’d excel in the job. If asked in an interview why you left your last job, you can be straightforward about the fact that it was a layoff — but there’s no need to raise it proactively.

5. Should you have a reason to make a lateral move?

Generally speaking, how do you feel about job changes that are basically just lateral moves? Do you think someone should have a compelling reason to do it (dislike your boss, easier commute, etc.)? Do you think a lateral move can look bad on a resume?

Obviously, I have an opportunity to make a lateral move to a different (but same field) organization. My title would be worse (from director to manager) but I’d be going from a small organization to a much larger and more prestigious one. I’ve done a ton of thinking and comparing and just want to make sure I’m not doing myself a disservice by considering what comes out to be just a lateral move. I’ve been in my current role for three years if that helps.

I wouldn’t make a bunch of lateral moves in a row, but one shouldn’t hurt you, particularly if you can explain your motivation — and moving from a small organizer to a larger and more prestigious one is a perfectly good reason. In general, I wouldn’t say that you have to have a reason — simply wanting something new after a few years is reasonable motivation — but it helps if you can put it in an overall narrative that makes sense to future interviewers.

6. Should I mention in my cover letter that I can’t make the pre-set interview date?

I am just finishing my doctorate in history and am looking for an academic position in the United Kingdom. I just saw a part-time fixed term position posted in my area of expertise, my desired city, and at my level. My dilemma is that academic posts in the U.K. (and some others) often post the planned interview day for the position. In my experience previously working in academic administration, this is often difficult to change since the interviewers might have hectic schedules and be difficult to gather in one place. This one has listed an interview date, and unfortunately it is three days into a long-planned trip abroad to see my partner’s family (as in an expensive, non-refundable trip, and so far we haven’t seen them in two years).

I realize that I might not even be offered an interview, but should I mention that I can’t make the interview date in the cover letter and suggest alternatives, such as Skype or an interview the week before? This feels presumptuous to me and I am concerned that I will come across as difficult and so will be thrown out of the pile if I do. If I don’t, I wonder if it signals that I haven’t read the ad thoroughly and don’t pay attention to detail. It seems a shame not to even throw my hat into the ring because of a scheduling problem. Is the best way to handle it, if and when they offer an interview or to mention it in the cover letter?

Don’t mention it in the cover letter — that would be giving them a reason to discard you before really reviewing your candidacy. Wait to see if they offer you an interview, and explain it then. It’s not going to look like an attention to detail problem, since they’ll have no idea when you made your reservations. Your trip could have been planned after you applied; it wouldn’t be reasonable to put all life plans on hold for an interview you haven’t even been offered yet, after all.

7. How many jobs should I include on my resume when my job history is a mishmash?

I really struggle with how many jobs to include on my resume. The problem is that for the most part I’ve done a little bit at a lot of places. Think a mishmash of part-time jobs, temporary and seasonal jobs, internships, grad school projects that had real-world deliverables, etc. I know I’d be in a much stronger position if it were otherwise, but…it is what it is.

I’ve been going with a two-page resume– I can easily get there without filler, but it’s sort of a “see what sticks” approach that covers a whole lot of bases but could also leave a hiring manager unsure what the takeaway is. Interviews have been few in coming, so I’m trying to switch approaches and scale back to a one-pager. But when I do that, it feels so sparse, even just in terms of the chronological employment gaps that result from pruning out jobs. Is it generally understood that a resume might be a “greatest hits” rather than an almanac? Is it weird to mention skills/jobs/accomplishments in my cover letter that are nowhere to be seen in my resume?

It is indeed understood that your resume might only contain particularly relevant or impressive experience and not everything you’ve ever done … but at the same time, you don’t want to have unexplained gaps of much length. You also don’t want to mention skills/jobs/accomplishments in your cover letter that aren’t on your resume, or you’ll confuse or even frustrate the person reading it (who won’t understand why that experience isn’t on your resume). A two-page resume is fine if you’re more than a few years out of school (if not, then you really just need to edit more brutally), but you could also consider tailoring each resume to the job you’re applying for — removing whatever isn’t well-matched with that particular role (again, as long as you’re not leaving major holes).

{ 87 comments… read them below }

  1. Nutella Nutterson

    Op #7, I went with a “relevant experience” section where each role was filled out with accomplishments, and a “other experience” that just had company/role/dates to answer the gaps in chronology.

  2. ProcReg

    #7. I’m in the same position!!! Here’s what I did: I consolidated my “hopping” contract work into one, two year “super contract” (consultant mm/yy- mm/yy, and then a sentence about some of the contracts). I was sick of answering stupid questions — it’s a short term project, why do you think I left?

    One person said, “Have you given any thought at all to your career?” My response was terse: “Look, after grad school, it was all that was out there.” Think for just a second, seriously.

    All you can do is provide continuity in our shoes. The problem is not with you.

    1. Ramona

      I’ve done the same thing with grouping my freelance and temp work together. Most hiring managers understood this better as me purposely taking on short-term work rather than me job-hopping.

      1. ProcReg

        My interviews are going much better since! It has put me in a more competitive position, losing mostly to internal candidates, which isn’t something I can control. I can perform great in the interview; it won’t matter.

  3. Amber

    #5. I’m curious, how is it a “lateral move” if its a demotion? I thought lateral move means same level, ie not moving up and not moving down.

    1. Sourire

      It sounds like a “demotion” in name only. Different companies treat titles differently. In addition, a director at a small company may manage less people and/or have less responsibility than a manager at a much larger one. As long as the responsibilities and work are pretty much in line with what OP was doing at the last job, and OP is easily able to show that, I see it as a lateral move.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit

        That’s what I was assuming. I went from a VP to a Regional Director, but I was VP at a teeny-tiny nonprofit and RD at a large, national, well-known nonprofit. This job is definitely harder!

      2. KC

        So true re: different companies/different titles. I know people fresh out of college who are “VP of X” at a startup company, but are nowhere near on-par with any “VP of X” I’ve worked with at a larger company in terms of experience or responsibilities.

    2. theguvnah

      Hi – #5 here! Sourire has it right basically. I’m a Director at a fairly small nonprofit currently, and this would be Manager level at a competing organization that is probably 4 times as large both in staff and budget. The work would be at the same level (and I would supervise the same number of staff) but the title is different because of the new org’s hierarchy.

  4. Vicki

    I’m not sure I understand the “lateral move” question. Does a “lateral move” mean not a promotion?

    I’m an Individual Contributor. Always have been. Always will be. In that sense, all of my job changes have been “lateral moves”. Except after a layoff, most of my reasons have been “differently interesting job.”

    How are you defining “lateral move”? And why would a bunch of them be bad (if mine have, indeed, been “lateral moves”.)

    1. Del

      There are a lot of levels of IC, depending on what your responsibilities are — and that’s really the best way to compare/contrast whether something is a lateral move or not, given differences between size/scope of different titles in different companies.

      As an example, with my first professional job, I started as a CSR I (entry level) and after a little while transitioned to Investigator I (also entry level). By the company’s standards, this was a lateral move, because both jobs were considered entry-level and were the lowest position on each department’s job ladder. But by my own perspective, it definitely wasn’t, because the second job involved actually handling a lot of money, working very nearly unsupervised, and a tremendous amount of decision-making that was expected to be done with minimal management guidance or input. So in terms of responsibility and maturity needed, there was a huge jump upward.

      1. tcookson

        This. I went from being a customer service rep for a small natural foods warehouse to being the assistant to a department head at a public university. Both jobs are fairly entry level, although the previous job was more entry level than my current one. This job has a lot more unsupervised responsibility and decision-making than the other one did.

        There are times, when I’ve had stretches of unmitigated irritation at work, when I’ve thought that I would like to be in some other department just to shake things up a bit (I want to stay at my university, but not necessarily in the same position forever). However, the only way that I will actually apply for another position is if it is (even just slightly) a promotion for me.

        We’ve interviewed internal candidates from other departments for lateral move jobs, and the hiring committee always wonders about them, if they’ve had more than 1 or 2 lateral moves, whether they have some sort of problem getting along with people that is causing them to department-hop.

        I think you need to be able to show that, even if a change appears to be a lateral move, that you did it because it was an improvement in some way (shorter commute, better hours, more aligned with your interests, . . . ) — something to make it look like it wasn’t a problem sticking to things or getting along with people.

    2. Jamie

      When I think of lateral moves I think of basically the same job, different company.

      I think there are a lot of good reasons to make a move that aren’t clearly “promotions” – different work, change in hours/commute, more money, different type of business for different experience.

      But if I went from mid-sized mfg company to mid-sized mfg company as their IT and my duties were pretty much the same and there was no benefit for money or commute…serial lateral moves would raise the red flag for a lot of people about why I wasn’t either moving up, or if I didn’t want to, why I didn’t stay put.

    3. SCW

      I think this always assumes you are in a career where there is a logical progression of promotions within the career track. Sometimes it is frustrating because not all jobs are like that–if you are a teacher, you could get raises, take on more responsibility, but becoming a principal is not a promotion, it is a different job. My family asks me when I’m going to be running the whole company, but that is a different job from what I’m doing. But this question does seem to assume this person is in a field where this could be held against them, so probably something with a career “track.” Not like a teacher who might move from school to school, or even to different grades within the school–all sort of lateral moves.

      1. Ruffingit

        Good point. It really depends on the profession. And in the case of teachers, administration work such as principal or superintendent or what have you typically requires whole other degrees or certifications that a teacher may not have or want to have.

        1. Therapist

          This also applies to people in the therapy profession. I have a specific counseling license. As I’ve been job hunting, people have said to me “Why don’t you apply to be a counselor at a high school or something?” Because school counseling is an entirely different licensure and requires entirely different courses that I have not taken, plus entirely different practicums that I would have to complete.

          It’s just a helpful thing for people to realize that being in one field doesn’t mean you qualify for every job under that field title. There are different requirements for different things and it’s not easy to fulfill those requirements. In order to become a school counselor for example, I’d have to return for another year of graduate school and take an entirely different exam to qualify for the license.

          1. Gilbey

            Yes SCW, I agree. I work in a company where there are few if at all promotional opportunities. When people leave they have left for the same basic jobs. Just better pay, benefits and overall culture. There is no where to go upwards.

            In a call center for example there are fewer jobs of higher level going up. 20 crs, maybe 2 leads, one supervisor and then a manager. Where do the 10 of the 20 csr’s go if they want to do more, other than what they do now? There are just fewer opportunities for jobs as you go higher.

            I worked for one company that would not let you go lateral, only up, BUT… there was no real track to go and no mentoring to help you get somewhere else. Another words, you are staying where you are staying until we decide otherwise.

            As a matter a fact I have worked at few companies that have a real track to follow to get promoted. Once you are doing the job you are doing there is little room for other stuff to learn and do. A little variance here and there and maybe you can change jobs ( go from filling orders to entering them or shipping them ) but overall I have seen few people able to ” climb ” their way higher.

  5. EngineerGirl

    I did a bunch of lateral moves early in my career to build experience. Now days they have employee rotation programs but not then. It was looked down upon that I would do 2 years in software test, 2 in simulator development, 2 in embedded development and 2 in analysis. Others worked a steady upward progression in a single skill set. At this point they have higher titles but I have greater breadth. This has allowed management to stick me in any (and many) jobs. I have a reputation for seeing the deep issues and I believe it was because I have deep understanding of the disciplines.

    So it paid off for me by being more employable because of a broader skill set. In the end I think it is a matter of goals. Do you want to go into management or do you want to be a technical expert?

    1. KC

      You’re the kind of engineer my company LOVES to hire. If you’re in the Greater Boston area, we’re hiring… :)

      1. Lora

        Do you need ChemEs? I did a similar thing for biotech, which fortunately has some interdisciplinary process development type roles that can use all that. And I’m looking.

    2. tcookson

      Engineering is one of those careers with an expectation of a very traditional, steady, ladder-like progression from one level to the next. You did better for yourself by not following the traditional progression, but it’s hard for some people to shake that expectation, even if you can show that you’re better for it.

      1. Lora

        +100 Internets.

        I’ve had people look down on me for not having memorized the entire McMaster-Carr catalog, but knowing exactly how tight our control tolerances for mass transfer had to be based on the reaction kinetics of the process was…I dunno, worthless nonsense or something?

        1. Julie

          This reminds me of certification exams where you’re tested on things that – in real life – you just look up in a chart/book/catalog/web site. They don’t need to be memorized.

          1. Ruffingit

            Yeah, the bar exam is like that. As soon as you’re practicing law, you look up things every single day. But in order to be eligible to practice law, you have to pass the bar exam without looking up anything at all. Not sure where I stand on that, just that it was always funny to me as an attorney that we had to memorize what felt like the world’s supply of legal knowledge for an exam that would allow us to practice as lawyers who are then allowed to look everything up. :)

        2. Anonymous

          Just out of curiosity, would that be Robert Charles McMaster? Totally weird, but he’s the father of one of my favorite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold, and she cites him as the inspiration for one of her earliest novels, which is about an engineer.

  6. Jo

    Can I just offer some sympathy to OP1! Not with the advice given, but just the situation. If you were happy and fulfilled in your current role and now have to leave it in this way (which would not be legal in the UK I believe!) then you’re probably going to feel pretty hacked off for a while. It may well be hard not to feel angry or resentful towards your husband too. It may be a good idea to have a bit of couples counselling if that does turn out to be the case.

    1. LisaLyn

      I’m adding my voice to the sympathy. That really sucks. Alison is right that unfortunately, it’s happening and needs to be dealt with by moving on, but I am so sorry that happened.

    2. AP (OP)

      I agree that it’s a totally sucky position to be in, but how would it not be legal? If two companies merge, and you now have two experienced Teapot Accountants, and one is a higher level than the other, you do most likely need to let one go (hopefully in a better manner than the OP’s manager is using, though).

      1. LadyTL

        I would think because they aren’t choosing to actually lay them off. They are instead making a difficult work environment in the hope that they will quit. It hints that they are doing this over unemployment issues rather then just being upfront about the needs of the company. There could also be contract issues they are trying to get out of in regards to laying someone off. Either way though, this company is acting pretty bad by trying to get the OP to quit when what they should have done is just let them go.

        1. The IT Manager

          IMO because of the relationships it’s much messier than you describe here. Even if the boss doesn’t give a damn about the wife, he obviously thinks the husband is a good employee and doesn’t want to lose him by upsetting the wife so much that the husband quits too.

          1. H. Vane

            Could be worse. I hear of one couple where the wife’s company bought the husband’s company, and she ended up his boss. She had to fire him not long after the acquisition. Wouldn’t that be awkward?

            #1, your position still sucks and I’m sorry. I hope you find something good soon.

            1. Chinook

              Wife – “I have some good news. You know how you always wanted more time to go fishing and how you don’t like the new direction this place is going since my company took over…”

            2. ThatGirl

              That just makes a really strong argument to never go into the same field as your spouse/SO.

              1. Cat

                Except a lot of people meet their spouses either in grad/professional school where they’re training for the same career or after they’re both established in a field.

        2. Therapist

          Yes, in America we would call this constructive firing or constructive dismissal. In very simplified terms, they are making the work environment so difficult that the employee has no choice but to quit. The employee has, in reality, been fired, but not directly.

          Companies do this sometimes because they don’t want to pay unemployment when they lay someone off. People have successfully sued over constructive dismissals.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Just to clarify for anyone misinterpreting that, you can’t sue just because of a constructive dismissal (unless what they were doing to you involved illegal discrimination, harassment, etc.). You can, however, often get unemployment if you can show that it was constructive dismissal.

            1. Therapist

              Yes, sorry about not being more clear there! And in any case, as we’ve all learned from this blog, suing for anything in the employment world depends on a number of factors that may/may not be fair. If you truly feel something is worth a fight, always best to check with an employment lawyer to assess the situation. You may or may not have a case.

            2. Jessa

              And if you think this is happening to you, document if you can. It’s easier to get unemployment if you have records, but you can still do it.

      2. The IT Manager

        Arrggg! My previous attempt to respond was lost in the interwebs somewhere. Yes, AP makes a great point. Actually I think the relationship between the two “Teapot Accountants” is skweing the situation quite possibly for everyone. A merger happened. OP is more junior, a non-manager, and does not have a history of working for the new boss. The other person, her husband, does. Makes sense that the husband stays and the wife goes.

        OP, you are being replaced. I wonder if the fact that you are married to your husband is the only reason that you aren’t already laid off. The boss doesn’t want to lay off his good employee’s wife and generate ill-will.

        Through no fault of your own, this situation sucks for you. Meaning you and your husband didn’t “ask for it” by chossing to work for the same company. You and your husband will need to talk and work at your relationship because you’re in the bad position of being encouraged to leave and instead of being able to vent to your husband he’s the one doing the asking. He might feel caught in the middle too because do you really think he wants to be the cause of you losing your job? Perhaps he knows what’s best for the company is not best for your or him.

        This is not a relationship column, but you two need to talk and share your feeling and concerns.

        1. Elizabeth West

          I agree, and I was thinking, although I don’t know if this is feasible, if perhaps the OP could talk to someone about a voluntary layoff? That way, she could at least get unemployment. It’s totally asinine to push people out the way the new boss is doing it, and her husband probably doesn’t like it either, but what can he do?

      3. Jo

        Just to add a reply to the “why not legal” questions -with the usual caveat of I’m not a lawyer :) Laws in the UK are completely different and very employee centric. If you want to make someone redundant in a merger then that’s doable, but the role itself needs to be eliminated – you couldn’t go out and hire another person straight in or that would constitute unfair dismissal. Letting any employee go over here is a much more involved process.
        To me it sounds as though OP is being ousted purely because of her relationship status. Sadly completely legal in the US by the sounds of it, and highly sucky.

        1. Elle

          Actually, it doesn’t really sound like that at all. It sounds like her job is now redundant because of the merger. Her boss wants one person (the senior person) to do his and her job. This would be perfectly legal in the UK.

  7. Brightwanderer

    I’m not quite sure I agree on no. 6, just because I have several years of experience working for and applying to that exact environment in the UK. It’s not uncommon for those preset interview dates to be completely inflexible (at least at lower levels). If you can’t make the date they may just discard you even at the point where they’ve selected you for interview, only then they will also feel resentful that you ‘wasted their time’ when you were never going to get to the interview. On the other hand, with advance warning, either you get discarded straight off without ill will, or they might be more able to find a solution.

    Caveat: my particular institution is ridiculously tied down by a static recruitment process. In this system it would be sadly normal for HR to tell the hiring manager before they even saw CVs “the interview date will be date, you will have six slots for candidates at these times, here are the questions you should ask, and here is the metric you will grade each candidate on after the interviews”. Within that framework there’s no room for any flexibility and my experience has been that they react poorly to being asked for it. Of course I have no idea if the institution you are applying to is as silly about these things, but the mention of preset interview dates was a red flag for me.

    1. Rebecca

      Within such a rigid interview framework, would there be an option to have a Skype or phone interview with a serious candidate that had valid logistical issues?

    2. Ramona

      I agree. I’m in the US, but I suspect that the job market in the UK is just as tight for PhDs in history. Not to mention that taking vacations in academia is not seen as a valid reason not to make it to an interview.

    3. Ruffingit

      I also have some reservations about the advice to #6 particularly the vacation scheduling. I don’t think it would help the OP to say that she scheduled the vacation AFTER submitting the job app simply because she knew when the interview date would be for this job. While I wouldn’t expect people to put their lives on hold for interviews that may not materialize, as in I wouldn’t expect that they would stop applying for jobs for example in hopes of getting an interview, I would look strangely on someone who applied for a job with a known interview date and then scheduled a vacation during that same period.

      Were I in the employer’s shoes, I would look at this as “You were aware of the interview date and you scheduled a vacation during that time. Why would you apply for a job if you know you cannot meet one of the requirements, which in this case is a solid interview date?”

      Maybe it’s just me, but I can see others looking at it that way too.

  8. Jean

    In question #4, the italicization ends in the middle of the second paragraph instead of at the end.

  9. Del

    #5 – it also depends a lot on what you consider a lateral move. I have made technically lateral moves (in terms of hierarchical positioning) that actually opened up enormous scope for me, gave me higher responsibilities, and contributed enormously to my professional development.

    If you’re concerned about how it would look on paper, think about the story you want to tell of your career. If you can show that the series of lateral moves contributed to your development or welfare as an employee as opposed to an inability to focus or determine what worked for you, you should be fine.

  10. Wilton Businessman

    1. They gave you a hint. Take it.
    2. Not your problem to solve. Your managers know (or should know) what’s going on and they tolerate it.
    3. Conflict does not mean switchblades and whips at the next break. they are trying to see how you deal with other people and if you’re confrontational or not.
    4. No, no, no. No.
    5. No, you don’t need a reason to make a lateral move. It helps, but it’s not necessary.
    6. Horse then cart.
    7. If you give me a two page resume with less than 8 years experience, I’m throwing it out. Actually, I might pin it on the “Are you kidding me?” wall.

    1. LeeD

      For #2, if it was simply a disappearing coworker, I’d agree that it’s not the OP’s problem. But this, “I get stuck picking up the work,” is absolutely the OP’s problem. It’s hard to excel at your own job if you’re being asked to do somebody else’s job at the same time.

    2. Jamie

      Conflict does not mean switchblades and whips

      Talk about a break I’d be skipping. And the one with the whip would win because the switchblade needs to be closer to inflict damage.

      Unless the switchblade person had a friend with gloves to grab the whip in its upswing and thus throwing the whipper off balance so he could get in and do his switchblade thing.

      And I’ve officially spent too much time contemplating the various scenarios of this colorful analogy.

      1. JW

        I read this blog for 2 reasons:
        1. Alison’s astute, incredibly helpful advice
        2. Jamie’s comments

      2. Escritora

        Switchblade Sisters (70’s girl gang movie) proves that the whip wins over the switchblade. Weapons that have a long reach generally win over short-reach weapons anyway.

        In agreement that your comments [and Alison’s advice] are big draws.

      3. Omne

        I’d take the knife. If you protect your eyes the whip isn’t really incapacitating, especially if they’re trying to hit a moving target. Once you get in close, a matter of seconds, the whip is completely useless unless you try and hit them over the head with the handle.

          1. Omne

            Best scene in the movie. I seem to remember that the scene was kind of ad-libbed and not the original idea.

      4. Wilton Businessman

        Depends. A switchblade can be deployed quickly whereas a whip takes time to get momentum. Once the knifer gets in close, the whip is useless…

  11. nyxalinth

    #3 doesn’t come up a lot in call centers. We’re on the phones all the time! I did have a situation where me and a co-worker both wanted the same day off, for reasons we had that were valid to us. My supervisor could only let one of us have it. I told him I’d put mine in first, but he wasn’t having that. We had to sort it ourselves.

    So we did. I’d wanted the day off as a mental health day, and he wanted it for running errands, both things equally important to us. In the end, I said, “Go ahead and take the day off, but I want to have a shift swap on X day, because that will give me my day off sooner. I really need the break.” He agreed to that, and the supervisor was satisfied.

  12. Jen

    For #3, I usually discuss when there are differences in priorities. An example I used for a while was when I did PR at a health non-profit. We had a committee of healthcare professionals to serve as our experts and they would give tips on what sorts of things we should promote. As health professionals they usually had a different set of priorities than PR professionals. For example, with a group of dermatologists, they might want us to focus on promoting the signs of keratosis pilaris because it’s so common. But as PR professionals we knew that no one in the media would cover that and it wasn’t “catchy” enough so we’d try to get them to adopt something more “interesting” like skin cancer as the big issue to promote.

    I’m sure if you asked the people on the committee if this was a conflict they’d have said “No” because no one got angry or yelled. However, they had a priority and I had a priority and we had to meet somewhere in the middle. So I use this example because I talked about how I was able to pull up data to show which issue would affect more people and get more coverage in the media but also I incorporated some social media and blogging outreach on their concern so that both sides were happy.

    1. annie

      I think this is really good advice and is similar to what I have done with this question. It’s a challenge because our company is very consensus based so we don’t often have dramatic debates or conflicts over ideas, we really just talk out all sides and make our plan from there and 90% of the people are usually happy with it. I dramatize the discussions a bit for the purposes of the example when I interview.

    2. SCW

      That is a good example! I love this question or something like it because sometimes it can reveal a lot about how people function in a team in a way that people don’t reveal in other questions. A fair number of people will answer that they don’t like conflict so they let everything pass, or that they are easy going and never have had a conflict. Both answers I like, but just because I don’t want an employee that just lets everything pass and doesn’t speak up ever.

      Though in my latest interviews I asked about when people had an idea that wasn’t well received by the team, how did they handle it. I had less stories of petty fights, and more about handling conflicts of priorities.

  13. Lily in NYC

    #1 -This sucks but I think the only thing you can do right now is to try to finagle a buyout or really generous severance package. They might be willing to give you more than usual if you agree to go without a fight.

    #2 – I’ve been there and struggled with how to handle it because I believed the advice that you can never complain about a coworker being late because you are the one that ends up looking bad. But I got fed up and started documenting my late coworker’s arrival times. And I stopped covering for her. Her boss came over all flustered one morning because he needed help and for once I didn’t jump up and take over in her absence. I made myself scarce that morning. And then I saw my chance – I went to my boss and said that I’ve noticed things have been falling through the cracks because of her continuing lateness and handed over the document I had with her arrival times (three weeks worth).

    Once it was in front of my non-confrontational boss’ face she could no longer ignore it and I took a risk and made it clear that I wasn’t happy working with this woman and that I’d probably start looking if things didn’t change. I knew my boss loved me and didn’t want to lose me because of this crappy coworker that no one liked. Late Coworker got a harsh speaking-to and she pouted for two days and then resigned. Victory! I was very calm through this process and never got personal – I think that helped. Random: she threw a stapler at another coworker on her last day. Good riddance!

      1. Lily in NYC

        No! She got away with murder her entire time with us. I think my boss knew something I didn’t (I think coworker was mentally ill – I have so many crazy stories about her).

    1. Elizabeth West

      Holy crap! 0_0

      I would be careful about the documenting–it might be good for some bosses to see it, but with others, it might piss them off–“What are you doing keeping track of this?” But you would know how your boss is about such things. In this case, it was helpful in getting a wishy-washy boss off the fence.

      1. Judy

        If I were to do that, I’d document it in a more sneaky way. Document the times people asked me to do the other person’s job.

        *Monday 9:20am, Wakeen asked me to pull the handle quality report because Jane wasn’t in at 9:20.
        *Thursday 1:15pm, Shuvon asked me to enter her weekly quality data because Jane was not at her desk.

      2. Lily in NYC

        Good point – I knew it would be ok with that boss but I wouldn’t do it with my current boss – it would backfire for sure.

  14. Annie O'Nymous

    Man, #2 sounds like my predecessor. My coworkers have told me he was a complete screw-up…yet they tolerated him in the job for 5 years (till he finally quit). I asked, “Why didn’t they fire him if he was so awful?” I mean, he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do the simplest tasks he was assigned.
    The response was that management supposedly has to have documented bad reviews of an employee. They can’t just fire them. Which I find ridiculous since I live in at at-will employment state. I think my supervisor just didn’t want to confront her OR give her a negative review.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.

      It’s astounding to me how much the “you have to document bad behavior and attempts to correct it” requirements some workplaces have (and all probably should have) end up translating to never firing anyone.

      It’s not that hard! And it’s a manager’s job! You have a conversation, you send an email followup, you put that in the file. You give a “your job is in jeopardy” warning, you put it in the file. Then, like magic, you can fire someone after giving them opportunity to improve.

      What is, or should be, the basic formula of managing people has become a bureaucratic hassle that people find so burdensome that they will endure a horrible employee until retirement to avoid it. And this scenario, at least based on the comments in this blog, happens all. the. time. Ugh!

  15. Danielle

    #3
    I think it depends on your field. I’ve worked in libraries for the past 12 years (9 as support staff, 3 as a librarian), and my work is fairly autonomous.

    As support staff, there was work to be done and you just did it. There was really no room for conflict (regarding the work). And as far as interpersonal conflicts go, I am very much a go-with-the-flow type of person. People have a hard time believing this. Now that I’m a librarian, I’m the only person in my area (teen services). I have total control over what I plan and how I execute things, so I honestly don’t have any stories of conflict.

    1. Danielle

      When I said “People have a hard time believing this”, what I mean is that people have a hard time believing that you can go through life without getting in arguments with friends/family/strangers all the time.

      1. fposte

        Though what I’d use as examples of “conflict” aren’t arguments–there are times when there initially wasn’t money budgeted that I wanted, or times when a plan was going to be executed in a way that I thought would be bad for my unit.

        1. T (not longer in Construction)

          Another could be a time you wanted to take your project in a certain direction because of X, but your supervisor shut you down for reasons Y and requested you do Z. Even though that’s not what you wanted, you had to figure out how to achieve Z without X.

    2. Cassie

      My work doesn’t overlap much with my coworkers and I try to just go-with-the-flow. So I don’t have good examples of conflicts and resolutions. I mean, there was one time when a coworker was mad at me for filling up the copy machine with paper because it was her job and she yelled at me for stepping on her toes. Although it did make me more aware of not trying to be too helpful lest it encroach on someone else’s job duties.

      It’s not like I can say “well, the bully at work used to tell people ‘Cassie’s weird and plain and quiet’ but I just kept my head down and plugged away at my work and now she picks on someone else. Guess I was too boring of a target for her”.

  16. Elizabeth West

    Re #3–I’m curious as to how would you frame it when you actually DID have conflict?

    For #2–I know someone in another forum who has nearly this EXACT problem. VintageLydia, you know whom of I speak!

    1. VintageLydia

      For a minute I thought he was the OP! Unfortunately, I don’t think Alison’s advice would work for him.

  17. MR

    For #1, I think it is good to remember that when your company is bought out, it’s good for everyone at every level to start looking for a new job. It doesn’t mean everyone will lose their job (because some people will be retained). It’s just that when there are duplication of tasks, those being brought in are likely to be the ones let go because the people with the company doing the buying out are a known quantity. It’s always easier to move on with what you know versus what you don’t know.

    In addition, it may also take some time for staffing levels to be figured out. So if there is a wave of layoffs early on, don’t think you are safe. Depending on the company/industry, it could take a couple of years for things to shake out.

  18. Not So NewReader

    OP 1. Wow. Just wow. Alison is right, this is not going to go away. I think the thing that grabs me here is that the two of you as a couple seems to be trumped by your jobs. I am not sure how I would react to my husband pushing me out the door of my workplace. I hope I would be professional- but am guessing I would fall short. Definitely make plans to start your next job. And probably look around for a neutral third party to discuss the impact on your marriage. I would have hoped that your husband would have had a candid conversation with you long before now.

    OP3. Yeah, I have had a stumbling block myself with the word “conflict”. I think that it is fine to say that you have never had a major conflict with a coworker/boss. Then launch into an explanation “I usually ask questions so I fully understand what is needed.” OR “”My coworkers tell me I am good at explaining things. So instead of arguing over a point they ask me to explain why I think the way I do.” (I have had people tell me that they feel like I am actually listening to what they are saying and it makes a difference in how they approach me. They know they do not have to gear up for a battle.)
    You can also tell a story such as “One time, X machine broke and it caused major problems with work flow. Everyone was feeling tense. I pitched in by doing A, B and C. This freed other people up to handle other aspects of the problem. The tension reduced within a few hours even though it took several days to fix the machine.”

    Or substitute angry customer, power outage, sudden tragedy- any scenario that involves tension/stress. How did you help to defuse the tension or contribute to a solution?
    Part of the problem in framing an answer can be that you take for granted the ways you solve problems and the ways you handle upset. Maybe you have a coworker-in the present or in the past that can help you with this question with specific examples.

  19. totochi

    #1 Does the new company have a policy of spouses/relatives and organization structure? Most companies won’t allow such relationship in direct report situations. If your husband is taking over managing the merged department, you probably can’t stay and work for him.

  20. OP #2

    Thanks for the advice! I have an appointment scheduled with my manager to go over some other stuff and I intend to discuss this with her then.

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