I don’t want to pay for business travel, hiring for skills vs. attitude, and more

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

1. My employer is sticking me with part of the bill for out-of-town travel

My employer wishes me to work out of town occasionally. I have to stay in a hotel and obviously feed myself regularly. The company gives me a per diem rate of $110 to cover all my expenses. Unfortunately, this NEVER even comes close to covering my hotel costs — and I am not even being particular about a hotel. The city is Calgary, Alberta and take a peek online, there is nowhere that I can stay that will give me anything leftover for food costs.

I have explained to my employer that I am always out of pocket and I cannot afford to do this anymore. They have stated that this is all they will pay for my expenses. What are my options?

Sit down with your manager and say, “It’s costing me an average of $X of my own money each time I take a trip. I can’t continue to cover these costs, which are being incurred by our work, not me personally. I’ve looked for every place I can cut costs on these trips, but they each require around $Y, not the $X I’m allotted. Since I can’t continue to pay for them myself, what should we do?” If your company still won’t budge, then you’d be left to (a) refuse to take more trips, which may or may not jeopardize your job, (b) accept that you’re going to be paying $X in order to stay in your job, or (c) seek a new one, at a company that pays its own expenses.

2. Independent study as a way to stay current in your field

Your answer to the question in yesterday’s short answer post about taking a back-up job while continuing to seek work in your field, particularly the end where you mention being prepared “to talk about what you’ve been doing to stay current in your field,” prompted this question. What do you, as a hiring manager, think of independent study as a way to stay current in your field when your current job isn’t related to it or isn’t enough? I have been out of school for a little over a year (graduated May 2012) and while my current job looks relevant on paper, I actually don’t do much at all and don’t have any opportunities to develop skills, despite reaching out several times to my manager about this.

I am searching for a new job, but in the meantime I’ve been compensating by studying on my own time. I read books (ones I bought for classes and newer ones I’ve acquired since graduating), follow germane and reputable blogs, and learn software. Since I can’t “prove” I’ve been doing this, not with hard evidence anyway, would it be worth mentioning it in a cover letter or interview? I mean, anyone can say they’ve been keeping up on their own time, so maybe a hiring manager would either be skeptical or not care one way or the other if I bring it up. I’d really appreciate your insight.

Yes, absolutely you should mention it! If it makes sense to mention the software on your resume, you can list that there, and you can talk about the rest of it in your cover letter and interviews. Hiring managers love to see this kind of thing — it indicates a passion for your field, a desire to continue improving your skills, and self-motivation to do that stuff even when it’s not required; it’s the mark of a better-than-average employee, by far.

3. What leverage do I have in negotiating a higher salary for my promotion?

I literally fought for my promotion after being in the current role for 5+ years. Finally I made them budge by suggesting that I was going to apply for a higher position in a different department within the same company. I made up my mind to really move to that position, in case things did not go my way.

Now I am being offered a promotion with a 6% raise and was told either to accept it or stay in the current position. I was expecting at least a 10% raise and I know others in the promoted role are being paid at least 20% more than what I am making today in my current role. I want to know what leverage I have now and how to negotiate for more.

The leverage you have is your willingness to walk away from both jobs, and how much they’d care if you did. I don’t have any sense from here of how much they’d care, but you probably have at least some idea. (Be aware, though, that sometimes people overestimate that.)

You can certainly make the argument for the work and your skills being worth a higher salary, and you can back that up with market research, but they may or may not budge. If they don’t, you’ll have to decide if you’re interested in the terms being offered or whether you’d rather stay in your current job or look for one outside the company.

(Also, did you really “literally” fight for your promotion? That seems like it would be a firing offense.)

4. Is it better to hire for skills or attitude?

I am a fairly new manager, and I am in the position of having to hire new staff. One of my staff recently accepted a promotion so her position is vacant. My supervisor has told me to focus on skills when creating the job description — that it does not have to be the same exact position title or position as before. I am excited about the opportunity to shape my team, but I do have a dilemma about this. I have two junior staff on my team, and both of them have come to me about the position. One has the right can-do attitude, completes any task given to her, and she is looking to move ahead in the organization, but she lacks technical skills. The other has more technical experience, and she told me point-blank that she would be resentful if the other junior staff member got promoted because she feels that she would have to train her to be able to do the job she is promoted to. I made no promises to either of them and thanked them for expressing their views.

My question to you as I write the job description — is it better to have someone in a team lead role who has a strong work ethic and is all around positive and can learn the skills or is it better to hire someone based on skills only? What is most important — the skill set or the attitude and growth potential?

It depends on the job. There are some jobs where it might make sense to hire for attitude and teach the work itself, when it won’t require a major investment of time to do so. There are other jobs where experience and a pre-existing skill set are essential. I don’t know which you’re dealing with, but I do know that what you never want to do is hire only for skills. That’s a recipe for disaster. You might require the skills to be there, but you should always require the right attitude to be there — because that’s something that you can’t really teach, nor should you spend your time trying. So if your second staff member has a poor attitude, I’d discount her based on that alone.

That doesn’t mean that you should hire the other one though … which leads me to this: Is there a reason you’re determined to pick between these two people, rather than opening the job up and comparing these two to outside candidates? You might find a candidate who has the skills, attitude, and growth potential that you want — and you should hire the best person for the job, not confine yourself to a choice of two.

5. Should I evaluate my current job on where it might take me in 5-7 years?

I have been told a few times that if I want to be promoted, I should be evaluating my current positions on a 5-year basis — i.e., if there is no room to move up in the next 5-7 years, I should leave the company and find a new company with more growth potential. Do you think this 5-year plan is a valid theory, especially with the high unemployment rate?

I think it’s useful to think about where you want to be in 5-7 years and whether your current job is positioning you well for that — but that doesn’t mean that it has to provide you with room to move up within the company. Your current position might have no growth potential internally but might be positioning you really well to eventually move up outside your company. It’s about growth potential generally, not specific to your current organization.

6. Should I cover scars on my arms for interviews?

I graduated school back in December and have been applying to jobs ever since. More recently, I have been going on interviews that have gone quite well. I would love to get one of these jobs, but I was cutter for about ten years and as such have scars from it (a lot of scars and some that are quite noticeable). I read your post about bruises and cuts, but my question is should I keep my scars covered in interviews, and while I am at work in general?

I worry that it will cause potential or future employers to worry about my mental health, and thus whether if I would be a good fit. I tend to wear a lot of cardigans because I love them, but also don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable, but this has raised a lot of questions in the warmer months. I am hard worker and I tend to be private, and don’t want what was a past problem to be cause for concern now.

I’d cover them for interviews, mainly because you don’t want an interviewer focusing on anything about you other than how you’d do in the job. But I wouldn’t use a cardigan for that — in most industries, that’s too informal for an interview. You want a suit jacket for interviews.

Once you’re in a job, you have a lot more leeway. If you don’t feel like covering your arms, you shouldn’t have to — but if you feel private about it, there’s no reason you can’t wear cardigans (lightweight ones in the summer). If anyone asks you about it, you can simply say you get cold easily. And given the prevalence of overly air conditioned offices, you’re probably not going to be the only one in a cardigan anyway. Good luck.

7. Should I jump ship or stay where I am?

I work in an industry (media) where building my profile outside the company is really important.

I work for a smallish company that’s doing pretty well, and I recently asked for my job title to reflect the job I’m actually doing (which I started doing when the person who was doing it was fired).

The company is dragging its feet on this. I never get a “no,” I just get a “Well, there’s a lot going on right now and I’ll have to think about it.” I’ve asked three different people at various levels of the command chain about this over the past six months, and all that’s happened in the meanwhile is that my workload and responsibility — and to be fair, my level of public exposure — have increased while my pay and job title have not.

Meanwhile, there’s an opening at a competitor at the level I’m looking for that I could probably get. But it’s a back-end job that won’t see me building as much of a profile outside the company as I am now. Should I cut my losses here and jump ship? Or will moving into a back-office role not be worth the pay raise in the end?

I don’t know — which will better serve your long-term professional interests? It sounds like your current one might, but there’s not enough information here for me to know.

What I can say for sure, though, is that your choices aren’t to stay in your current job or to take a job that doesn’t sound like it would serve your professional interests as well. Your choices are to stay in your current job or conduct a search for work elsewhere — not just at this one competitor.

{ 137 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed*

    OP#1 –

    THe US government pays its employees $350 per day lodging in the summer and $257 per day in the off season for Calgary. Meals and incidentals are an additional $121 and $112, respectively.

    You might want to bring that information with you, as those per diem rates are adopted by a lot of companies as well.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      Can’t comment about North America, but Switzerland is pretty eye-watering for hotels and food, even when you aim to eat the cheaper items on menus and hoover up the buffet breakfast.

      Is it perhaps that the company doesn’t realise the higher costs outside of where you are situated? (i.e USD 110 easily covers a hotel and meals)

      1. Frances*

        That’s what I was wondering- 110 sounds specific enough that it seems like at one time it was based on an actual hotel rate.

        I live in a city with definite tourist “seasons” and when I worked in academia, our faculty would inevitably plan a conference budget during an off season and then get mad at us when we’d tell them “you’ve planned this for peak season – hotels will be twice as much.” Some people have a very hard time understanding how variable travel costs are and how high they’ve become in some places.

      2. Anonymous*

        “USD 110 easily covers a hotel and meals”

        That depends a lot on location within the US. There are plenty of cities where you’d be hard pressed to find a non-scary hotel room for less than that.

        1. Natalie*

          And in a big city, location matters more. If you’re supposed to be working in, say, downtown Chicago and the only hotel you can afford is out in the burbs, how much time are you going to spend driving or on the train when you could be working? Is the company actually “saving” anything if they force you into 4 hours of commuting a day?

      3. Anonymous*

        “i.e USD 110 easily covers a hotel and meals”

        What? That is way less than the US government rates for hotels and meals (which most businesses follow). I can’t imagine where you could get a hotel and meals for that small amount.

        Or did you mean that USD 110 easily covers those costs in Switzerland? If so, my apologies for misunderstanding.

    2. Chinook (who works in Calgary)*

      Calgary can be an expensive city if you don’t know where to look (I am going to check some possibilities when I get to a computer). But, the cheaper hotels are not near downtown and may not even be on a good transit route, so you may have to choose between location and price. You could also try a youth hostel, they are for all ages and very reasonably priced.

      That being said, what industry are you in, OP#1? I have been in many and $110/day for everything but travel is very, very stingy unless accomodations are provided in some form (I.e. They have a dorm in the area).

      1. Chinook*

        Ok, I did a quick search and the places that I thought were cheaper ended up still being to high for your budget. But, when I checked for Motels instead of Hotels, I found a few in the $80 range (not ideal but doable)

        I also checked the Hostel International location downtown and, due to the flood, it will be closed for the foreseeable future for repairs. Wicked Hostels, on the other hand have accomodations in their 4 bed dorms for $36.50/night. On the downside, they only accept out of province guests. If you go this route, bring ear plugs in case your roomates snore and a good lock to secureyour stuff during the day in the lockers. Hostels allow you to cook on the premise, so this can also bring down your daily costs.

        You could also look at bed & breakfasts. A good listing for those is at http://www.visitcalgary.com/accommodations.

        A note on the flood (a.k.a. the day the hippos almost made it into the river and the tigers got set to the local jail). It is 2 months later and 95% of the city is back to normal but you will still find a few places closed for repairs. The restaurant industry was hit hard due to closures and lack of traffic during most of the summer. As a result, there are some specials advertising “we are open” and you may find some places especially enthusiastic that you showed up (I wandered into a photo shoot for one re-opening after the restaurant had water up to its roof and spent weeks just washing dishes.).

        Lastly, contact me on LinkedIn if you want more local tips. I go by Celina Curtis in the real world.

        1. Anon1*

          Hostels should not be an acceptable accommodation option for business travel. Not private, not secure, and not really conducive to actually get 10hours of work done the next day.
          If I was in the OPs situation,I’d likely balk at going and simply show that the real costs are much higher. Unless you are commissioned, you probably can’t even deduct your travel costs (at least in Canada)

          1. Chinook*

            I agree that hostels are not meant for business purposes but, if the OP has no other alternative and doesn’t want to pay for her trip out of pocket, it is an alternative.

    3. Anonymous*

      @katie State Governments pay considerably less. I get $6 for breakfast, $12 for lunch, and $18 for dinner, regardless of location. Hotel/airfare is usually prepaid for me. Anything else, like copies, whoa I had better provide a good reason for it. Interestingly, I’m told this is a result of Fed. audits. Can you help? ;)

      1. tcookson*

        Wow . . . our state university uses the federal per diem rates for each specific location for meals and hotel. Our department head does cut the meals per diem when our faculty travel to Rome, though, because we have apartments in Rome, and he assumes that they can stock some of their meals from a grocery store vs. eating out for every meal. Not using the federal per diem seems pretty stingy, since that is a fair estimate of what it will actually cost to eat and lodge in a particular city.

        We do require our travelers to retain receipts, and they only get reimbursed for their actual expenditures, though. I know some companies that give the per diem outright and don’t expect any accounting for whether it was all used. Requiring receipts is our cost-saving measure.

  2. Chloe*

    “(Also, did you really “literally” fight for your promotion? That seems like it would be a firing offense.)”

    Thats what I thought, had images of a boxing ring and OP squaring off against management. Entertaining idea but alas, probably not literally what happened.

    1. Laura*

      Ha! This reminds me of a series of Super Bowl ads a few years ago for Career Builder. There were a few of them, all with the theme of “The Corporate Jungle.”

      All of them took place in an office set up in the middle of a jungle with the tag line, “It’s a jungle out there! ” One had people fighting for advancement in the Promotion Pit, complete with a guy wearing a 3 ring binder as a helmet. LOL!!

      The best one had a guy stop to pick up a free donut, and then a net fell from a tree and trapped him. Then someone else yelled, “Run!! They’re trying to catch people for a training class!!”

        1. Laura*

          They were hilarious. I believe there were 4 or 5 of them, but those are the 2 that stick out for me.

    2. Josh S*

      If you Google the word “literally,” ( http://lmgtfy.com/?q=literally )the definition that pops up is this:

      “Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.”(emphasis mine)

      This is sad to me. Words have meaning, but that meaning is literally fluid now.

      //I cringe writing that…

      1. TL*

        Yesterday I heard a reporter on NPR state that a tornado victim’s life was “literally turned upside down.” I thought for a second that the victim had been caught up in the tornado but no; they just meant that figuratively, her life had been turned upside down.

      2. Anonymous*

        Meh. Languages evolve. If they didn’t, we would be speakething like Chaucer or somethingeth.

        1. tcookson*

          Still, it’s pretty irritating that “literally” now literally means “figuratively”. What word can we now use when we literally mean “literally”?

      1. tcookson*

        It’s because people never learned the difference between “literally” and “figuratively” and so used them interchangeably until — presto-change– they became interchangeable. But it is still NOT okay!

    3. Jazzy Red*

      I’m glad to see there are *some* people besides me who are tired of hearing “literally” when it’s obviously not the correct word to use.

      Who can literally jump out of their skin? And live to tell about it?

      The OP probably had to use all of his powers of persuasion and be persistent to get the promotion. I hope he didn’t really beat someone up…

    4. RG*

      Haven’t you heard? Dictionaries are updating their definitions to include the definition “Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.”

      /not sarcasm

      1. Natalie*

        A lot of dictionaries are descriptive rather than prescriptive – they reflect how people use words, even if that use has been considered incorrect at one point.

      2. FiveNine*

        Yes, exactly, this has been all the rage in Facebook posts this week. After yet another friend mentioned it I checked Merriam-Webster (just in case maybe only online casual dictionaries were doing this as opposed to conventional standbys) and the second entry for literally is “in effect : virtually”

  3. Sydney*


    For a team lead role, attitude is more important than technical skills. If this person is going to lead and motivate others, she needs to have a good, positive outlook about work. As her manager, you can teach Untechnical Gogetter the tech skills rather easily, but you can’t make Resentful Tech fix her attitude (that’s something she has to do, and it’s a long and hard process).

    1. Sydney*

      P.S. That said, I do agree with Alison that you don’t necessarily have to pick one or the other. You may find the Technical Gogetter you’re really looking for in that role.

      If you do that, you can still help mentor Untechnical for future promotions and help her learn the tech skills she needs.

    2. Ed*

      I agree that in this specific scenario, attitude would trump technical skills (assuming the person clearly has the potential to learn them). Personally, I prefer to hire team leads from outside the company. An outsider doesn’t have any history with the team members so they draw their own conclusions based on your current work and personal traits, not past mistakes and/or personal issues you might have previously dealt with.

      I would be a little taken aback by one of the candidates saying they would be resentful. I think you should give the reasons you think you’re a strong candidate and leave it at that. But I never want a job for any reason other than I’m the best all-around candidate.

      1. Pat*

        “Personally, I prefer to hire team leads from outside the company. An outsider doesn’t have any history with the team members so they draw their own conclusions based on your current work and personal traits, not past mistakes and/or personal issues you might have previously dealt with.”

        This seems unfair and yet completely common. Does this leave no room for advancement for your current team members? It sounds like a great way to make high performers jump ship.

        1. EW*

          Seriously. One thing I like about my current company is that we tend to develop people from within. (We also hire from outside when needed for higher positions)


    #3 maybe you can negotiate an evaluation in 3-6 months in regards to your pay. Also consider things might be tight and the company is re evaluating what they are paying. Taking all of that into consideration I would take the job (looks good on a resume) and think about looking around if you are satisfied later.

  5. Jessa*

    Unless the skills are job vital (IE medical ones or something you cannot just teach on the job because you have to have a certification or a licence in them,) you can teach skills, or send someone out on a course. You often cannot teach the soft skills. But I agree with Alison, are you sure you have to take one of those two people. If the one person needs more training that’s an issue. The second person I’d not want simply because of the attitude.

    1. jesicka309*

      The other issue is that if you promote the gogetter employee over the technical one (who already sounds bitter) you could be setting the gogetter up to fail. If they’re going to be managing the technical employee, yet require training from the technical employee, it’s going to set up an awkward power imbalance between them.
      Gogetter may never find their managing feet, and technical (as they’ev said) will feel resentful that they missed out to a less experienced employee. But then, gogetter may become deincentivised if they’re truly a superstar (I busted my butt to be the best, and I have nothing to show for it? Is sitting here doing bare minimum for x years more important?)

      I’d try and hire outside if you could, and find other ways to motivate your junior employees. (Caveat: if getting this promotion is the ONLY track they can follow at your org, you may end up losing both, as no one wants to work at a place where there’s no way off the bottom rung)

    2. TychaBrahe*

      Not everyone can learn technical skills, and some can learn them but will never be proficient at them.

      1. LisaLyn*

        This is so true. I actually work for a pretty good boss right now, but he’s clueless about most of our technical responsibilities. He tries. He really does. But his lack of understanding does cause issues, most notably that he can sometimes be “played” by people making silly claims about why they failed to finish a project and things like that.

        So, yes soft skills can’t be taught, but sometimes, the technical skills can’t be adequately taught, either. At least not in a reasonable time frame.

    3. Mike C.*

      I disagree a bit with the idea that soft skills cannot be taught. A good mentor goes a long way towards this.

      1. tcookson*

        I agree that a good mentor can help an employee develop the soft skills. I’ve seen a couple of cases in which employees were mostly a good fit but were little slow to pick up on some of the unspoken rules of the organization. They were helped by having a mentor with the acuity to make the unspoken rules more explicit to them.

  6. Anonymous*

    Unless it required a specific set of skills, like robot surgeon, I vote for attitude. Motivated people are learning sponges and can learn new concepts and processes easily.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Keep in mind though that many jobs really do require specific skills and experience that shouldn’t be learned on the job. That’s increasingly common the more senior you go, but there are plenty of junior jobs where it’s the case too.

      1. Anonymous*

        Don’t most jobs require a set of skills? All I can think of that do not are entry level jobs, and even there we would be looking for someone with relevant training so that we could promote them.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes — it’s really just a small subset of jobs, mainly entry-level, where you can hire for attitude and train for skills. In most jobs, you need to hire for both.

    2. Anon*

      I have to admit I fall more in the technical side of this equation which makes me biased… but I’ve met several super motivated, gogetter, nice people… who were dumb as dirt. I hate to say it but sometimes motivation doesn’t make up for an inability to learn skills. As an exaggerated sample, If I saw someone with 10x the skill miss out on a promotion because they wern’t as “nice” as the one promoted, it would make me cringe.

      I think the key here is someone with a good attitude who is not only willing to learn but ABLE to learn… and this is a bit challenging to screen for.

      Alison what are some questions or tests an interviewer might use to screen for the ability to learn?

      1. Jen in RO*

        Yep, I think this is key: the team lead should not necessarily be someone who has the knowledge *now*, but that someone should be able to *learn*. Like Anon, I’ve met a couple of people who were promoted before they had the technical skills required – but they never managed to get those skills, so they can’t do their jobs properly.

        1. Rum Diary*

          Definitely, and another thing to consider is how easy it may be to aquire the technical skills to an acceptable level. Depending on the skill, it well be possible to do by putting them on training course/s. At the same time, if you’re expecting Wakeen to spend a couple of days on a course and go from being able to turn on a PC to coding fluently in HTML5 (an extreme example, I know), you’re going to have problems.

          In my own team, we once hired a woman without the skills because they thought she had a likeable personality. It didn’t work out, as while Jane was a lovely woman, she simply wasn’t able to pick up the technical skills. She had no previous background in it, and so found it a struggle from the very start. It was like someone awful at math trying to study for advanced calculus. In addition, it was noticed that she was learning slower than she should be. We all had to spend a fair amount of time spoon-feeding her. She ended up leaving through her own choice.

      2. Anonymous*

        I just interviewed for a position where they asked, “What have you done in the past when you have needed new skills?” Or something similar to that. It’s a technical position in my current workplace so I used an example of learning a new software and how to do metadata work when I had not done it previously. I thought it was a good questions and assessed whether I had taken initiative in the past when I needed new skills.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You can definitely ask a bunch of “tell me about a time when…” questions around this — tell me about a time when you had to learn something quickly, etc. But I’d also look to track record on this one — what evidence can you see of it in their history?

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Well, I suppose if you really can’t decide on the best candidate, fisticuffs is one option.

        1. Anonicorn*

          #2 – You say you don’t do much at your current position, but maybe you could ask for more opportunities to build your skills and use the ones you’re learning independently.

          It took me [more time than I care to admit] to realize I could and should ask for work to do if I didn’t have enough.

    1. LPBB*

      So I just want to point out that this usage of literally has been around for a long long time. Specifically since 1796. The OED, generally recognized the authority on the English language, listed this usage in 1903.

      Frances Brooke, destroyer of English (not literally)

      Admittedly, Language Log is a hive of descriptivists rather than prescriptivists, but if you search for the recency effect on their blog, you’ll find that a lot of current pet peeves about the English language have a surprisingly long pedigree.

  7. Kristi*

    #2, What about online seminars/webcasts as a means of keeping current? Attending a conference/workshop would be ideal (especially as a networking opportunity) but financially speaking that’s just not possible right now.

    1. Frances*

      But that’s the base rate. With taxes and fees you could easily get an extra 30 dollars added on (depending on the tax levels in Calgary) – and 110 is supposed to cover meal costs as well.

    2. Chinook*

      When you did your search, were you on a PC or and Apple? Was OP #1? Research has shown that those who search for hotel prices on a Mac get higher prices than those searching on a PC (I don’t remember the study but it stuck out in my mind). I saw the same thing when I was overseas and I read price lists (stated in local currency) in English and Japanese – the Japanese prices were always higher. Sometimes prices are skewed to who is reading them.

      I did the same google search and the cheapest motel I found was for $85. I wonder if the price went up because a few of us were searching at the same time?

      1. Lynne in AB*

        There are some articles about Orbitz sorting search results differently, with pricier options showing up higher in the list for Mac users. It’s just the default sort order that’s affected, not the prices themselves, so if you sort by price, it shouldn’t matter what platform you’re using.

  8. lozzlekin*

    #6 – exactly what Alison said. Suit jackets or similar are your friend for interviews, once you’re in a job do whatever suits you and/or the job best. Personally I wear a jacket for external meetings and a lot of dresses/cardigans with elbow length sleeves as it’s what I’m comfortable with and because, frankly, I’ve worked hard for anything visible to be old scars and I’m not all that bothered what people think about them. If anyone asks I’ll be honest but I know that doesn’t suit everyone.

    Well done and good luck!

  9. AdAgencyChick*

    OP #1, are you the only employee who has to go to Calgary? If not, how are your coworkers managing? If they can manage to stay within the budget, you can take tips from them on where to stay and how to eat cheaply; if they too are having trouble, maybe you can band together and present your supervisor with the typical costs for food and lodging and show how $110 just isn’t going to cut it.

    Even if you are regularly able to find lodging for $75/night, as another poster showed, I bet that price is before hotel taxes, and that leaves very little to cover 3 meals a day — I don’t blame you for being annoyed. In your shoes, if my manager really wouldn’t budge I’d be job hunting for sure.

    1. Chinook*

      From the experience of one who has travelled on no budget, you can live on Tim Horton’s (which has healthy food) and Subway and spend $20/day on food. If you can, though, it is cheaper to go to a grocery store and make sandwiches and eat breakfast in the hotel room (unless they include breakfast in the price, at which point you bring your purse or have have pockets to put in the extra fruit and muffins).

        1. Chinook*

          Chili, soup and sandwiches that are all more or less healthy and come in realistic serving sizes. Like anything, you want to pick the leaner options but, when compared to a diet for burgers and fries, it is no where near as greasy and can be stomached for days on end. Plus, if you choose a meal combo, you get a donut for dessert!

          1. Felicia*

            I love the soups at Tim’s! And I’m eagerly anticipating tomorrow’s Tim’s related question:) My best friend used to work there.

      1. Navan*

        I agree- it’s totally possible to live off Tim’s for a few days. And I have stayed in Best Westerns and Motel8s in Calgary for about 100$. But I would still go back to my boss and ask for more- cause this is business travel- you shouldn’t have to hole up in a Motel8. I live in Edmonton and whenever I have to go down to Calgary for work my not-for-profit pays for me to stay at a Sheraton at least. 110$ a day is really little. Especially when exchange rates and fees are taken into account.

        1. AP*

          Agreed- traveling for work is a hardship in the first place, since the hours are often unusual or longer, you have to deal with childcare and pet care, you don’t get to see your loved ones, etc. Expecting you to live off Tim’s and grocery sandwiches to fit your per diem, or to pay out of pocket, seems unnecessary and like they’re asking you to do work that they aren’t willing to pay for.

  10. MK*

    #3- Regarding the use of “literally,” Slate’s Lexicon Valley produced a podcast on grammar pet peeves; including people’s tendency to use “literally” to really mean “figuratively.” The podcast in general is great if you are interested in linguistics and there are episodes on various topics such as women’s use of vocal fry and English swear words. You can listen here: http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/lexicon_valley/2013/08/lexicon_valley_with_john_mcwhorter_on_why_prescriptivism_lives_in_all_of.html

    1. ALG*

      My favorite podcast! I’m still working through old ones but I can’t wait to listen to this one!

  11. Jamie*

    Whichever way you go with the technical vs go getter thing the one thing I’d address with your technical junior employee is that they shouldn’t be issuing you mild ultmatums about how their own attitude will suffer if you do something they don’t like.

    Unless you asked them how they’d feel if or promoted their coworker over them and they were just answering you (not a good idea but explains why they told you that.)

  12. Mel*

    Hi, I am OP#4 about skill sets or attitudes for a team lead position. Thanks for all of your good feedback. I neglected to add that the organization really likes to promote from within whenever possible so that is what really has me thinking about the two employees on my team specifically. You are all correct – it may go to someone internally or it may not depending on what we end up with in the job description. Ideally, I’d like a person with the right attitude and the “chops, ” of course. Also, the field is web so it’s not a medical field or anything like that. It’s more like being able to work with HTML and javascript, and understanding how things work on the web as a web professional instead of someone who dabbles in it and can use a WYSIWG editor .

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not just medical stuff where you need someone with preexisting skills — it’s all kinds of fields. You want to hire the best person possible to do the work, and I’d say in web stuff, you really do want someone coming in already knowing what they’re doing.

      1. EA*

        True enough, but a web designer rarely (never?) has to deal with life or death situations, and an extra 5 minutes to look up the correct HTML usage, most likely, will not cause their customer to die. An ER surgeon, on the other hand, well, for them, those 5 minutes could literally (note: correct usage :)) be the difference between life and death for their patient (aka: the customer).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Of course, you can’t compare the two fields like that. But my point is that you still can need someone to come in with existing skills in many/most web jobs. A lot of what they need to know isn’t something you can look up in 5 minutes.

    2. Anonicorn*

      Echoing Alision, technical skills for web-related positions do seem pretty important for a team lead. I could be off base, but you could probably find several external candidates with those skills and the right attitude.

      And I think training is appropriate when the candidate doesn’t have the exact skill in, for example, Dreamweaver but does have skills in comparable freeware and could easily transition.

    3. Sydney*

      Speaking as a web designer, basic HTML and Javascript can be learned pretty quickly by someone who is a fast learner. Send Gogetter to some classes or have her take some free ones online. If she’s capable of learning these skills, she’ll pick them up quickly with her motivated attitude.

  13. Sidra*

    I have to disagree with you on your statement about cardigans, at least with regards to the Western USA. Things are all-around much more casual here than the East Coast, and wearing a suit might make an interviewee look culture-deaf/overdressed. I’ve worked in three different industries (nonprofit, engineering, and publishing) and I would have looked silly in a suit. Dress pants or a nice skirt, and a blouse with or without a cardigan is much more appropriate here.

    1. RG*

      Even during an interview? Even if the dress code for the business isn’t business formal, I think you’d still want to default to a suit unless you had very explicit instructions to contrary. Interviews = suits for professional jobs.

      1. Windchime*

        I’m on the west coast (Seattle), and our team recently interviewed two candidates for a professional role (QA Team Lead). We are a BI team. One candidate was super sharp looking: He wore a suit, he looked good and he smelled good. The other guy came in nice slacks and a button-down, no tie or jacket. And he’s the one we hired, because he had skills and knowledge. Mr. Suit was supremely unqualified.

        So no, suits don’t really impress here in the PNW. Maybe if we were interviewing for a CIO position, but for anything else, not so much.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s a case of knowing your industry, in your particular geographic area. If you’re in doubt, you wear a suit because that’s going to be the right choice the majority of times; it should be the default. If you know that your industry in your area is an exception, then you proceed accordingly. But a suit really is the right choice for most fields, despite the exceptions.

        2. in blue jeans today*

          But in your case, the guy in the suit was less qualified. If two candidates were equally qualified, some employers would favor a candidate who dressed more sharply for the interview.

          I’m in a very laid-back west coast city, working in a definitely non-suit type of place (a school), and was recently on a committee to hire a new administrator. We got feedback from the whole faculty about each candidate, and some people felt negatively about one otherwise-excellent candidate because they felt she dressed too casually for an interview. “She looks like she’s coming for a regular day of work,” a teacher told me.

          We did wind up hiring her, but I still feel that it’s better to lean a little too formal than to look too informal.

          1. Sidra*

            I agree that a little too dressed up is better than too casual, but it isn’t hard to figure out regional and workplace cultures with a little research. Someone applying in my city (Salt Lake City) would be able to quickly figure out that suits are not necessary just by looking around and talking to locals. I assume a large coastal city would be more formal.

            1. Cathy*

              No, business dress in the large coastal city of San Diego is definitely not formal. I’ve joked in the past that “shirts and shoes required” is the typical dress code here and sometimes I even lose on the shoes.

              Wearing a suit to an interview at a tech company will hurt your chances of getting the job as it makes you look so clueless about the culture that it raises fears you won’t fit in with the team. For my current director level job, I interviewed in black pants with a short sleeved cashmere sweater. Today I’m wearing cotton pants, a polo shirt, and my Think! shoes, and I’m more formally dressed than just about everyone else I’ve interacted with today. Guys are mostly wearing cargo shorts or jeans, T-shirts and flip flops, and women are mostly in cotton skirts or jeans, short sleeved tops and sandals.

              The only person I know who regularly wears a suit to work is my financial advisor/stock broker. Even my neighbor who is a lawyer doesn’t wear a suit unless he’s going to court.

            2. AnonyHR*

              Really? I’m in SLC also, and I see the complete opposite when it comes to interviews. Suits all the way. Normal work dress, you’re totally right though.

      2. Sidra*

        In Salt Lake City in the fields I’ve worked in, yes, even in interviews (again, assuming you are not applying for an upper management position). Men will stick out far less in a suit, but it is much MUCH more common to wear nice slacks, dress shirt, and a tie sans jacket. Women almost never wear suits here unless they are executive level.

        The reality is that in an interview, if you show up in a suit when everybody working there is wearing khakis or jeans with polos/dress shirts and no tie (men) or khakis/skirt/dress and blouse/cardigan (women) you end up looking silly and puffed up. It’s just more casual here so wearing slacks/nice skirt instead of khakis and a dress shirt/blouse instead is definitely “dressed up for an interview”… more than that and you will just look very much out of place and your boss will think you totally don’t get the culture.

        I will add the caveat that ALL this goes out the window for law and finance, both of which are still very formal here.

        1. Tony in HR*

          That’s funny you say this, because I’m in SLC too.

          For professional jobs, I’ve never seen anyone in anything less than a suit. It’s what got me wearing one (because my college career centers said no). As I’ve been an interviewer, I usually see suits or very nice business formal.

          I definitely think it’s your field(s), not the local culture, which AAM does reference.

      3. Jen in RO*

        I’m in the software industry (not in the US, though), and while someone wouldn’t get *rejected* for wearing a suit, it would definitely be a bit weird. People come to interviews in jeans and t-shirts and they get hired. This seems to be the norm in all software companies around here.

        1. Y*

          I’m in the software industry in Germany and have always worn suits for interviews. And my interviewers have also usually been wearing suits.

      4. NBB*

        Amazon.com specifically tells candidates that “suits won’t impress anyone here,” and to dress comfortably for their interview. Microsoft is the same.

    2. Anon in Wisconsin*

      I wore an orange skirt, a white t-shirt, and a black jacket to an interview at the Harley-Davidson headquarters. I was the only – the ONLY – person I saw who was not in jeans and tennies. T

      I guess I should have known! Maybe I should have worn black leather pants and gotten some tats.

  14. MP*

    OP #2 — I want to respond to your second-to-last sentence.

    The “evidence” of the independent study you’ve been doing should be the fact that you ACTUALLY KNOW THINGS. It might not be provable in the sense of a certificate or degree, but it’s certainly worth mentioning in your cover letter because if/when you get an interview, the work that you’ve done will be evident in your level of knowledge/expertise.

    Good hiring managers aren’t looking to just check off a box that says “experience: proven” and move on; the proof of that experience comes from the way the candidate is able to talk about the work and what they’ve learned.

    1. OP 2*

      Thanks, MP. That’s what I meant by not being able to prove it with “hard evidence” ie a certificate or degree like you mentioned.

  15. BeenThere*

    #4 I was the one with the good attitude when I was assigned team lead over a new project. Eventually, they brought in one who was more technical to help the project and he thought my technical skills were not sufficient for a lead. He badgered his way through and one day, publically shamed me in front of my direct reports (he wasn’t one of my direct reports) and then walked out for the day because “I wasn’t the boss of him.” After a couple of these outbursts, I sat him down with my manager and had a conversation. I was looking for a message from my boss that said, “Resentful, this team lead is the person we’ve chosen, either follow him or we’ll find somewhere else for you which might not be here at all.” That didn’t happen. Resentful steamrolled the conversation and my boss plainly caved, giving him all authority over the team. Within a year, he was fired. I’m still dealing with a lot of the fallout from that career-wise.

    I think it might be a Millenial thing, but I’m finding today’s leaders and followers need to understand granted vs inherent leadership. At least from what I’ve seen, followers need to be shown who the leadership is granted to. In just a recent case, I had to talk with a member of my team (who had come from a different department) and directly state that I was the team lead because neither his nor my manager informed him of that fact. He was fine with it once I told him – while he saw many inherent leadership abilities in me, he needed the fact that it was granted to completely confirm the leadership role.

    If you go with attitude instead of skills, make sure you have some tough conversations with Resentful Skills and set clear expectations. If he/she causes problems, that reflects upon your leadership as well. The person with the good attitude might try to accommodate the too much of the advice/direction from Resentful Skills. This just creates the illusion of reigning in Resentful Skills as their view is that they will do everything they can to sabotage/usurp this decision that wronged them. Either yoke them together (with expectation that the leadership role is not negotiable) or separate them by putting one on a different project. If you keep them together, continue to guide Resentful Skills in to seeing the leadership in Good Attitude. Sometimes good leadership means submitting and even supporting bad leadership for a time (as long as there’s nothing illegal or morally wrong going on).

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      And I’ve seen the opposite side of this as well, when the Skills folks end up doing the lion’s share of the actual work and grow resentful.

      I agree with Alison; the best course may be to look at outside candidates.

  16. Chinook*

    While I have been giving OP#1 options from a local POV for doing Clagary on $110/day, I must say that that is a stupid policy. The Treasury Board rates for Canada allot $117/day for meals, incidentals and private, non-commerical accomodations (i.e. staying with friends and family). They don’t list per diems for hotel rates because they expect you to find whatever is reasonable for the area for a single room (which varies by date and location). Every place I go to insists on a hotel receipt and covers that but uses per diems to cover everything else.

    Also, is your employer paying for your mileage? If you are going by air, is the taxi/bus included in the per diem? If you are driving, they should be paying for more than gas receipts but at the government mileage rate. Depending on your country of origin, find out what the government travel rates are and see if showing that to your boss will help your arguement. These rates are not created just for tax purposes but are what is used by civil servants when they travel (which means they are a direct cost to the government). If the taxpayers can afford to pay it, why can’t your boss? Is it an industry standard that is holding him back?

    1. tcookson*

      Here’s what the US federal rate is for Calgary:

      CANADA Calgary 05/01 to 09/30
      Lodging: 350
      Meals/Incidental: 121

      CANADA Calgary 10/01 to 04/30
      Lodging: 257
      Meals/Incidental: 112

      I agree that it is stupid for OP #1’s company not to cover her travel expenses (and they are short by a long-shot!) . . . but IF she’s going to keep traveling under these circumstances, she’s going to need all the advice Chinook has kindly provided!

  17. HAnon*

    #2 — I’m doing the same thing! I started taking a free class recently to stay current and build on an aspect of my current skill set. I mention it in my cover letter as “I’ve been taking a class on X & Y and anticipate completing my certification at the end of August 2013” & and also put it on my resume under software and skills. I’ve found that potential employers always ask me about this point and love hearing about it! In my particular industry (creative/design) it makes me an even more attractive candidate and I’d bet that I’ve gotten bumped higher up the list because I’m demonstrating a desire to hone my skills and stay competitive in a very overcrowded field.

  18. BCW*

    #4 It really depends to me. I have had jobs where I got a new supervisor (I didn’t want the job anyway, so I wasn’t resentful), but I had to essentially train them to be my boss. I can say from experience, it doesn’t go over too well when someone is trying to critique your work when they don’t even really know the job you are doing, or even their own job fully. Do you think the skills person really couldn’t be a good team lead? Or are you just basing it on the fact that she said she would be resentful if the less skilled employee got it? A great “go getter” attitude is nice and all, but when it comes down to it, you can’t attitude results, you need to be able to produce. I like to equate things to sports, you want someone with a good attitude to be the team leader, but if they suck at their position, its really hard for others to get behind them to follow.

  19. Ivy*

    In my company we almost always hire for attitude (interview observations) + “problem solving” skills (specifically tested during the interviews) + ability to learn (as demonstrated by educational and professional background in the resume). Frankly technical skills don’t come into it with very few exceptions, as pretty much all we do is coachable. (hint – we are not into the medical or engineering business :-)

    OP#4, you mentioned that the go-getter has can-do attitude, completes tasks well and shows initiative. Have you observed whether she also has team leadership capabilities (presence and inherent authority, good communication and comfortable with resolving conflicts, ability to relate to other people, etc). Because if not, you may be setting her up for quite a challenge.

    Here is a story from my second job, 15 years ago. It was a technical job in a bank setting. Among the people interviewing for the manager position (a new department) it came down to me and another person. She has pretty much exactly the skill set required, but was a rather by-the-book, by-the-job-description, seniority-matters type of person. I has some of the skills, having done a similar job in another bank, but not as much as her, and a couple of years less experience. However, I do have a can-do attitude and probably judging from my subsequent career go-getter is the right word for me. I don’t now how we were perceived during the interview, but the interviewing VP took the strange decision to hire both of us at the same level for 6 months, to set up the department, with the clear expectation that after that one of us would be promoted to manager, the other to deputy and at that point we’ll hire more staff. The 6 months went not that bad, only because both of us thought she would be the one promoted for seniority and technical skills. Well, I got the manager position to my complete surprise. The next 2 years (until she decided to leave) were very hard for me, as she was extremely negative, doing her job grudgingly and trying to undermine me in front of the new employees. I was on the brink of leaving a few times, and even went as far as creating a new service line for the department with the hope that it can be spun off as another department in effect creating another managerial position (I was young and a bit naive). The VP (correctly) refused to intervene in our department dynamics, and my team leading skills, though not bad per se, were not up to the challenge of dealing with so disgruntled colleague.
    I find myself in the position of that VP occasionally and I am very careful not to set up anybody this way, taking care either to set expectations from the beginning, or if one person needs to be promoted over another, to create some growth opportunities for the other one as well (assuming there are no performance issues).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      People keep citing medicine and engineering as the fields where you’d want to hire for skills. I want to point out that it’s FAR broader than that. For instance, I wouldn’t hire, say, a communications director without having the skills, no matter how great the attitude. That’s a job where you need skills that are based on years of practice (fantastic judgment, for one thing). You can’t just put someone in that job, coach them, and get the same results as you would with an experienced, skilled candidate. And there are tons of other non-techy jobs that are the same way.

      1. dejavu2*

        This is driving me nuts, too. Skills are, like, real in every industry. For example, back when I worked in fundraising, my organization underwent a major re-staffing so that I went from the least experienced person in my department to the *only* person in the entire organization with formal development training and professional experience. This occurred because no one on high seemed to feel that fundraising requires any skills, when in fact it does. I tried desperately to keep it all afloat, but everyone thought I was simply stifling innovation. Sigh. The group, in a matter of months, from one of the best funded orgs in our niche to borrowing to make payroll. Now the org doesn’t even exist any more. This is obviously a worst case scenario, but it definitely drove home the importance of hard skills even in unlikely industries.

    2. Jessa*

      If your team leading skills were not up to task your VP as your manager DID have a duty to help you get them to that point. Standing back and watching you flail is poor management on their part. Seriously.

  20. plain jane*

    #2 – if some of it is reading current books & blogs, see if you can tie those into some of your interview answers. E.g. “That’s a really good question. I saw bloggerX recently mention that that is a common issue throughout the industry. My approach to dealing with this situation would be y.” Just reading blogs & books isn’t something I would put into a cover letter, but conferences or training I would – especially if the company you’re applying to spoke at the conference.

    1. OP 2*

      Oh, thanks for the tip about tying in my readings with my answers. I’ll definitely try that where appropriate.

      1. Emma*

        You might also consider posting links on your Linkedin profile to relevant blog posts and articles you have found interesting during your independent study. If a potential employer googles you, there will be evidence that you have spent your free time engaging in issues relevant to your field.

  21. Anonymous*

    #2 Yes, definitely! In IT, it is pretty much expected that you will spend a good chunk of personal time on developing your skills. I try to read a book a month — sometimes it’s pretty tangential, but it’s something. I also try to do a Lynda.com course every week. And, last, I develop websites for charities (helps me study advance WordPress programming).

    When hiring, I look for someone who studies and/or develops apps or websites on the side.

  22. Becca*

    #7 – As Alison mentioned, cover during interviews to reduce distraction. If a suit jacket is too formal, try a nice long sleeved blouse or dress. Many of these are light enough to not seem out of place in warmer weather. You can absolutely wear cardigans in the office – I do, and I live in the desert. No one bats an eye.

    Be aware that once hired, the scars will attract unwanted attention. However, you can choose how to handle it and how open you want to be about it. If I were working with you, I’ll be honest that I would be concerned, but would likely balance the age of the scars with your current performance to determine if your mental health is something I should worry about. If you were meeting and exceeding expectations, then I would have no worries.

    I suffer from anxiety and OCD. It affected my work. I’m on meds now and in balance and the difference is tangible. I’ve had people ask if something was wrong or what changed. I decide how open I want to be depending on the situation. I don’t envy you – it can be difficult to navigate and I wish you luck.

    1. Jamie*

      To second what Becca said – I wear cardigans all year long (wearing one now) because I’m always cold and no one has ever cared.

      The way some offices do their heating/AC a lot of us are in and out of sweaters all year long regardless of what it’s like outside.

      1. tcookson*

        Yep . . . just about all of us in my office keep a cardigan on hand year-round, because the air conditioning is always overly cold. There are also some jackets that are a little more formal than a knit cardigan, but not so formal as a suit-jacket. They come in less-tailored fits, less-formal fabrics, and in a wider variety of colors than traditional suit jackets, and you can mix-and-match them year-round with different slacks and skirts.

  23. Susan*

    AAM – I think there’s a word missing from the second sentence of your response to #4. “There are some jobs where it might {make} sense to hire for attitude and teach the work itself…”

  24. Tony in HR*

    #1- How about suggesting a budget for the trip? Say “Based on my research, the hotel is going to cost me up to $100, breakfast $10, lunch $15, and dinner up to $20? Can we set that as a maximum threashold for my expenses?”

    #4- Definitely sounds like your situation might be best served with going with an outside hire, but it also depends on how solid Gogetter is when it comes to her existing skills and her ability to learn if that’s the route you want to go.

  25. Op#3*

    Thanks a lot for the suggestions. I have decided to take up the promotion offer for now and wait few more months for the regular yearly raise as well.

    No, by literally, I only meant figuratively :) . Being the only bread winner for my family, I can’t afford to fight “truly literally” to get promoted.

  26. OP#6*

    Thank you for the input. It is something that I have been worrying about and your comments have given me better insight. I really appreciate you all taking the time to respond.

Comments are closed.