how can I tell if things are going well at my new job, the competition tried to recruit me, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How can I tell if things are going well on my new job?

I’m happy to say that I landed a job recently (which I attribute in no small part reading Ask a Manager and also, the wonderful comment section). This is my first job after graduate school, and I’m working with a group of very nice people who haven’t managed anyone in a while/ever. They are so nice that I worry that they won’t tell me how I’m settling in. Any advice for signs that things are going well in the workplace?

Ask! Don’t wait to be told — because while you should be proactively told, the reality is that plenty of managers aren’t good at doing that, or they wait too long.

Sit down with your manager and say, “I’d love to talk about how you think things are going so far. Are there things you’d like me to be doing differently, or areas where you think I should especially be focusing?”

2. Should I mention to my boss that the competition tried to recruit me?

I like my job and am not searching for a new one. If I leave, I expect it would be a big move out of the industry.

I was contacted by an internal recruiter from a competitor via LinkedIn. I suppose I was connected with her from my previous job search. It’s a pretty small industry that we are in. She said they are interested in me, sent me a job description and some other information, and asked if I would be interested in an interview. They have recently acquired a lot of our employees, but I am simply not interested.

What I do is pretty specific and the fact that the competition is looking to expand their business in this direction is good information for my company to have. I don’t want my manager to think I was searching or that I am trying to play this up for a raise. I have a great relationship with him and we are open about my career plans, so he should know I am not planning on leaving any time soon. Is there a delicate way to approach it, or should I even bother?

A reasonable manager won’t think you were searching or that you’re trying to use this to get a raise if you’re straightforward about what happened and why you’re telling her: “Hey, I thought you’d be interested in this: A recruiter contacted me the other day about a job with ABC Corp and it sounds like they’re expanding into teapot design. I told her I wasn’t interested and am happy where I am, but I thought the fact that they’re moving into teapots was pretty significant and the sort of thing I should pass on to you, in case that’s useful for the company to know.”

3. How can I tell if a job applicant is detail-oriented?

How do you assess if a job applicant is detail oriented? I am moving on from my current position and interviewing potential replacements. A major part of the job is staying on top of deadlines and following highly specific instructions that change from one time to the next. How do you determine if a candidate has those skills, other than just asking them? If you ask them, any red flag to look for in their answers?

Don’t just ask them; people can come up with good answers to those sorts of questions whether or not they’re actually detail-oriented. Instead, this is something that you want to assess by actually seeing it in action. That means looking carefully at their application materials and their correspondence with you and believing what you see there (are there typos? do they follow directions? if you ask three questions in an email, do they only answer two?), but — most importantly — it also means creating exercises for them to do as they progress through the hiring process that will specifically test that skill. Ask your finalists to do a short exercise (something that will take no longer than 30-60 minutes) similar to the work they’d be doing on the job and provide them with detailed instructions; with the right exercise, you’ll be able to assess attention to detail plus judgment, how they communicate in writing, and all sorts of other skills.

You’d be surprised at how much this will differentiate some candidates from others, and you shouldn’t hire without it.

4. Can I ask my boss to shut her door when she meets with others?

My office is right across the hall from my boss. There is a lot of tension there due to many being upset with her way of managing. They are nice to her face but talk badly about her when she is not there. I am older and have learned much in my years in management, so I keep to myself most of the time. They all go out to lunch and don’t invite me because I do not get into petty talk and I am doing a good job so the boss is not on me.

Because my office is right across from my boss, when she has meetings with the other staff, I can hear what she says. My problem is that they will start whispering (as in high school) which then in turn makes me wonder what are they talking about that they don’t want me to hear. I want to tell my boss that this is uncomfortable for me and to please shut her door when she has meetings. She is a high type A so that is why there is discontent in the office; everyone is always blaming everyone for anything. How do I handle this? I want to tell her during my review how this affects me. How do I do this professionally? I thought maybe shutting my door would work but she does not like that.

I don’t think you can really ask her to stop doing this. She apparently doesn’t like closing her door, and it’s not unusual that she’d have meetings where sometimes people want to lower their voices. That’s really her prerogative.

I agree with you that whispering is distracting, but there are all sorts of reasons that people in meetings with your boss might lower their voices; there are often often conversations that are sensitive in some way (for instance, explaining a health issue, talking about a performance issue, giving advice on how to deal with a tricky coworker situation, talking about money — the list is actually pretty endless). I think you’re better off reminding yourself that it’s highly unlikely that these conversations are about you or anything that you need to know about — and maybe trying to find ways to drown it out on your side, such as playing music at a low volume or wearing headphones.

5. How should I include semi-work-related activities on a resume?

My question is about how I should incorporate a couple of semi-work-related activities into my resume. Last fall, the company I’m with finally reached out to Enterprise to get a vanpool program set up for those of us who still commute from when our headquarters relocated over a year go. Each vanpool needs an official coordinator and someone to be point of contact with Enterprise and essentially the leader of the group when it comes to communication with the rest of the riders. I keep track of who is riding when (and not) and send in these little monthly reports to Enterprise and generally keep things running smoothly. It’s not complicated but it’s one of those things that someone has to volunteer to do it or else it all falls apart.

My second side gig is a book club with six or seven other associates in the office that meets every six weeks. I also am the coordinator or lead of that group as well. I took over for someone who left a while ago and I update everyone with the titles/ratings/meeting reminders and kind of lead the discussions. How should I categorize this within my resume if it’s something that I should add? I don’t really have a “hobbies/volunteer” section at the moment.

The first one probably doesn’t rise to the level of significant enough to include on your resume. The exception to that might be if it demonstrates a skill that you’re trying to play up and which you don’t have much other “evidence” of on your resume — but otherwise I’d leave it off.

The second might be something you could list in a professional development section, but only if (a) you have other stuff there — don’t create that section just for this, and (b) the books your club reads are mainly for professional development. If the books are novels or just for pleasure, it probably doesn’t rise to level of worth giving resume space to. (Although it might be something that you bring up in an interview as a way to talk about what you’re like as a colleague.)

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    Quick formatting note, Alison–on #4, the first paragraph of your answer is italicized as if it were part of the question.

      1. Marquis*

        Does anyone else sometimes not read the questions and just skip to Alison’s answers?

  2. Jessa*

    I disagree a little on the door thing. I think at least telling the manager that sometimes she can be heard is important. She may be discussing confidential information and not realise that it carries as far as the OP’s desk. I wouldn’t ask her to close the door, but I might tell her “you know sometimes people can hear what you’re saying with the door open” that leaves it entirely up to her what she does about it.

    On the other hand this has been going on for awhile, one might wonder what happened to make it an issue now. If she’s a tough boss she might wonder what the OP has been hearing. I’m kind of (makes hand wag gesture like so-so) as to whether something should be said.

    Unless maybe you can do it in the moment of hearing something you know she wouldn’t want heard “Boss usually you’re very quiet with the door open but today with Sam, I could hear you.”

  3. Jennifer*

    Ugh, whispering at work drives me nuts. At least the boss is doing it in another room though, instead of literally right in front of your face, which is what goes on at my job.

    1. Anonypants*

      It drives me crazy too! I know that, realistically, it has nothing to do with me, but it always makes me at least a little nervous so see people having hush-hush conversations in the office.

    2. Robin*

      Drives me nuts too! We have a manager who will approach co-worker’s desks and proceed to hold long whispered conversations. The times I have approached one of these conversations, it’s not even work related. It’s just the sound of the whispering is so annoying— your brain always assumes it’s about you.

    3. Penny*

      Agreed. I can tune out regular, normal-volume work chatter, but as soon as someone starts whispering, my ears perk up. Whispering is a dead giveaway that you don’t want others to hear what you’re saying, which means they are MORE likely to eavesdrop.

      1. Malissa*

        Exactly! I told some coworkers once that if they want to have a private conversation they need to move it to another room. Whispering 6 feet from my desk means that I can hear everything.

      2. chewbecca*

        I sit at the front desk, and for some reason people think the hallway off our lobby is a private zone and tend to have personal conversations there either with each other or on their cell phones.

        I normally tune it out, because it’s rarely interesting, but once the whispering starts I get curious. Not to mention that the sound can get very grating.

    4. Vera*

      I’m also a proud signer of the No Whispering at Work petition. This drives me absolutely insane and I definitely qualify those who do it as immature and lacking focus on their job.

  4. Chris*

    Another vote against whispering! It drives me insane, at least in public areas. If you want to talk about another employee, fine, we all do it. But go somewhere private, where you aren’t shooting up fireworks that spell out “WE’RE TALKING ABOUT SOMEONE IN THE ROOM, OR A FRIEND OF SOMEONE IN THE ROOM” in giant neon letters

    1. Liz*

      We end up whispering in our office because it’s open plan and otherwise everyone in the 3 offices around you can hear the conversation. Sometimes it really is just 2 people talking who don’t want everyone in the office to know their marital, health, parental or child problems.

    2. Clinical Social Worker*

      This is constant in my work place. Bonus points: People always seem to stop the conversation when I enter the room.

    1. Chris*

      Type A personality. It’s from a bunch of “personality type” guides that businesses freaking love, rather than seeing them as nonsensical pop-psychology. People love to compartmentalize and label themselves. Ditto for the MMPI. “Type A”s are usually described as super outgoing, sometimes self-centered

      1. Jack*

        How ridiculous. I’d hate to be pigeonholed like that. Thanks for the explanation!

      2. Sunflower*

        FWIW people often use the terms loosely as well to describe someone who is rather anxious and a perfectionist. It’s used in the workplace as a way to describe someone who is can be set in their ways and somewhat difficult to work with.

        1. TK*

          The term “Type A personality” actually originally comes from a now somewhat-discredited 1950s study about heart disease. (Wikipedia can provide more details.) But yes, it’s now used generally and informally to mean someone’s with an intense, competitive, high-achieving, hard-driving personality. I’m wondering if this term isn’t as common outside the US? It seems pretty well-known to me, and certainly so in a business setting.

          1. EB*

            This kind of thing always seemed to be akin to the idea that your blood type determined your personality.

            1. Artemesia*

              Well know. It describes actual behavior. You can describe the boss as hard driving aggressive and competitive or just call him type A — it doesn’t attribute causation as the blood type example. It is a shorthand description.

            2. Aunt Vixen*

              The heart-disease thing is a distractor here – type A personality was thought to be a contributing risk for heart disease, but it’s nothing at all to do with blood type A.

          2. Jamie*

            This is how I’ve always heard it as well. I come from a clan of type A people and not one of us could be classified as super outgoing – quite the opposite in fact.

            It’s not a real classification – just short hand for a tightly wound, highly driven, insanely competitive pain in the ass. :)

          3. Risa*

            Type A/B personalities comes from a personality experiment involving pigeons in two groups. The first group was given constant, consistent reward for behavior. The second group was given inconsistent, erratic reward for behavior (pecking a trigger). The second group (which later was described as Type A) would literally peck themselves to death trying to get the rewards. The inconsistent rewards caused them to be very competitive and hard driving because they never knew when or how much they would receive for their successful behavior. Type A/B personalities are a matter of behavior-conditioning and can actually be modified with time and attention to the behaviors.

              1. Risa*

                Now, I read that link as Type A being a risk factor for heart disease, not established by that study… My doctor explained Type A exactly as I did above. I believe the study was conducted by Skinner, but I may be mistaken.

        1. Sunflower*

          Yeah I wouldn’t say it’s a business term- Just when I’ve heard someone call a coworker type A, it usually relates to those things but the term is most definitely used generally for anyone.

  5. KayDay*

    #4 shut the door: Disagree. Just ask. Don’t make a production about it….honestly, it’s entirely possible that she just didn’t think that you could (a) hear and (b) be distracted. Be very polite about it, “Hi Sue, perhaps it would be better to shut the door when you have conversations with staff, as I can sometime hear you a little bit even when you talk low.” However, if she balks, don’t push it.

    #3 detail oriented: I think precise instructions are a good way to go in the application stage (i.e. before doing interviews). Don’t go overboard, no one likes crazy application processes, but things like “please state your availability in your coverletter” and “please send your application to Bob with ‘Junior Senior Associate President” in the subject line,” are reasonable.

    1. Mallory*

      I get up and shut my boss’ door if he’s having a loud conversation. It’s not for myself or even for his privacy, though; it’s out of respect for others whom he may be disturbing. Two other department heads and their admins share our office suite; my closing his door keeps him in their good graces. He hasn’t seemed to mind so far; I always make eye contact and give a sympathetic/apologetic little shrug, as if to say, “Sorry, but I need to do this.”

      1. Mallory*

        His problem is the opposite of whispering. He has a private office across town, and while he’s in his university department head office, he lays his cellphone down on his desk and raises his voice to a considerable volume while he has long, intense conversations with his employees at the other office about projects that the firm is working on. I can guarantee that our suitemates do not want to hear him yelling with or at his project manager.

      2. A Jane*

        Agreed. I’ve had a boss get into a shouting match on the phone, and I just got up and shut the door.

  6. BritCred*

    A story of mine that you’ll find amusing regarding #2:

    I was employed via an agency on a temp contract which was always intended to go permanent.

    A few weeks after the change to Perm one of the Temp role desk members contacted me asking if I’d be interested in a role they have on their books etc. I promptly reminded them that I was employed by a client they supply between 10-30 temps to a week (manufacturing) and that whilst I appreciate their call I’m happy in the job with the client.

    The silence on the other end was just a little deafening as she realized who she just tried to poach from….

  7. Harriet*

    Re #3 – I agree with Alison about the task, but I’d suggest that the task you give takes slightly longer than the allotted time. We’ve found that giving candidates a task they may not finish lets you see more of their approach to detail, as even the most slapdash person can manage to tidy an interview task up in five spare minutes.

    1. misspiggy*

      Very true, but then it’s a good idea to schedule the interview before the task – or be clear with people that not everyone finishes and that’s fine. Candidates who care about doing a good job can be thrown so badly by a task they can’t finish that they screw up the rest of the interview, or lose interest in the job through feeling they’re being jerked around.

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          I totally agree. Otherwise this sounds like just another interviewing game to throw candidate’s off.

      1. BRR*

        I also go with tell them they won’t finish. I had a skills test that was a great example of what is required for the position. It was specifically said that I wouldn’t finish and I’m very thankful they said that because all candidates really only finish like 30% or it. There was one specific part that was important to see an example of so I was told that needed to be completed.

    2. Koko*

      A task that takes more than the 30-60 minutes Alison recommended? I wouldn’t ask job seekers to invest more than an hour on top of interviews and the rest of the application process unless this as a very senior, VP-type position. Multi-hour assignments are wasting a lot of time for people who are likely to be pursuing other opportunities.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        I believe Harriet meant assigning a 45-minute task and allotting 30 minutes, like that. Not that the allotted time should be longer than Alison suggested.

  8. Jennifer M.*

    #2 – I get cold calls (well in this day and age cold emails) all the time from competitors. I am in a relatively small niche of government contracting so there aren’t that many players. I do usually mention it to some one insofar as – hey I got an email from Company X about this role, I guess that means they are bidding on Y, as that is good market intelligence to have.

  9. Elysian*

    #4 – Does OP from #4 have her own door? Can she shut her own door? That might solve that problem. If the whispering is bothersome, shut your own door so you can concentrate. If it’s just your curiosity, you’ll have to reign that in.

    I was a little confused in this question about why the OP thought it was important that her coworkers don’t like the boss. Do the coworkers play into the open-door whispering? I feel like I’m missing something.

    1. Daisy*

      Last line of the letter: “I thought maybe shutting my door would work but she does not like that.”

      I was also confused by what was going on in this question (aside from the door). The OP thinks her coworkers don’t like her because she won’t bitch about the boss, but also thinks her boss is talking to coworkers about her? Why would she be? Seems a little bit paranoid, frankly.

      1. Elysian*

        Ahh, I read that wrong. I might still shut my door, not all the way but most of the way to muffle the noise. If the boss mentions again that she doesn’t like the OP’s door shut, OP can say “Oh I’m sorry, I just get kind of distracted when there are other meetings going on and the door is open. It helps me when its a little quieter.” If the boss just insists on keeping her door open after that and still doesn’t like the OP’s door closed, I think this might just be something ya have to deal with. Maybe put on some headphones with white noise or something.

      2. Koko*

        The OP didn’t say her coworkers don’t like her – she said she’s not part of their lunch clique, but I read that more as, “I’ve been working long enough to know not I don’t want anything to do with that,” not as, “My coworkers leave me out because I won’t join in their gossip.”

        I think she was generally trying to explain the scenario: the office is tense because most of the employees dislike the boss, and the boss has an abrasive management style. This generalized level of tension + the hushed tones and whispering just makes her feel a generalized sense of unease. It’s similar to how people can’t help but eavesdrop on one-sided phone conversations on public transit…something in our brains pays more attention when half the information is missing, it’s like a puzzle we can’t ignore even when we want to. Whispering is like that–it can attract attention and make a person feel generalized curiosity and/or unease without a specific fear or paranoia attached to that. Since she didn’t name a specific fear, I read her letter as just wanting to address a situation that is uncomfortable and distracting.

      3. KrisL*

        I find it hard not to feel a little paranoid when people start whispering. I can’t be the only one.

    2. LBK*

      Yeah, I agree – nothing about the coworkers hating the boss really seems relevant to the boss whispering in her office. If anything, I’d assume that if she’s whispering to other coworkers who are (by OP’s account) bad coworkers, that would mean the conversation is about that bad coworker, no? Like a performance issue they’re discussing?

      The idea that the OP would be worried the whispering is about her seems to contradict the rest of the letter. If you’re a good worker that stays out of the drama, why would you boss be talking about you to your coworkers behind your back?

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        I don’t know, I have been in a super toxic environment and sort of know where she is coming from. She’s probably combining two issues.

        I worked for the worst boss ever. Seriously. I should write a book about how bad he was. It didn’t help that his team was a walking example of the Peter Principle, and they were pretty lousy too. Combine the two and you had oil and water. I saved the wrath from both sides by doing my work, keeping quiet, and ignoring the drama. But, like the OP’s situation, it gets hard.

        However, this is what would happen. “John” would go into a meeting with bad manager. Bad manager would say, “John, you suck, I expect more, and I think you are a piece of crap” (Actual conversation!). John would then go to his coworkers and say, “I can’t believe what an a-hole the boss is!” in hushed tones. Then the boss would come out and say, “Jesus, Grumpy, I cannot get over what a piece of crap John is….” Then coworkers would come to me and say, “Can you believe that?” I’d respond that it is pretty unprofessional, but the best way to get him off your back is to keep your head down and work – complaining to me would not help one bit. Then they would start whispering, “did you hear what bad boss just said to grumpy? Jeez, what an a-hole! And she didn’t even stand up for John”…

        Like I said, two issues. First issue: I, as well as the OP, are hearing things that we should not hear, nor want to hear. Second issue: Even though the conversation is not directed towards us, the whispering pulls us into the drama. If the OP’s situation is anything like mine, she just wants to put in the time, do her job to the best of her ability, and then escape at the end of the day. She most likely doesn’t want to get sucked into anymore drama.

      2. Claire*

        I don’t know, I have the same problem with whispering…people talking in normal tones in my general vicinity, fine, whatever – as soon as anyone starts whispering my brain whips into high “I HAVE TO HEAR THIS WHAT COULD THEY BE TALKING ABOUT” gear. It’s not that I honestly suspect that they’re talking about me…but my brain says “but what if they are??” It’s just a Thing.

    3. TheSnarkyB*

      I think the OP’s point was that as her coworkers complain more and more, and she’s privy to that side, it gets increasingly awkward to hear the boss’s interactions first hand, whether bc she can hear that they’re not that bad and coworkers complain anyway (= she perceives and experiences more negativity than necessary) or bc she can hear the boss doing the very things the coworkers will complain about later and as someone who likes the boss but doesn’t want to get involved, it’s hard/annoying to hear that stuff and not want to fix it, etc.
      I can see not wanting to be in this position.
      Personally, I’d be annoyed that I was given an office and the boss doesn’t like *my* door being closed. That would run me absolutely the wrong way.

  10. John*

    #1 — if you do what AAM suggests, just the fact that you are open to feedback will set you apart.

    Managers often shy away from constructive criticism because many people don’t respond well. But as an employee you need that feedback to become the best you can be in the job. Even if you are a top performer, it’s good to find out those areas of weakness that you can improve on; just because you are excelling in a role doesn’t mean you don’t have weaknesses that could hold you back from growing your career.

    Congrats to you and good luck!

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Yeah, but I asked my boss the same thing, and he said I was doing a great job, and he didn’t know where I could improve. I know that there are areas I can improve, but I guess I’ll need to figure them out myself.

    2. Lauren*

      John – great advice when employees are open to recieving constructive criticism and when managers are open to giving it. I never realized that it takes both sides to be effective; I’m in a position now where my superviser is usually uncomfortable giving constructive criticism and my manager simply doesn’t. Asking directly hasn’t really helped; I tend to get an off topic answer. Hopefully its a no news is good news type of situation, but it gives me a lot of anxiety not being able to tell how well I am doing.

  11. Brittany*

    I also agree with other comments about #4 and the door. I can see how the headphones or a distraction would be necessary if the boss says, no I’m keeping my door open, but it definitely doesn’t seem like it would hurt to ask. I know plenty of times I think I am speaking at an appropriate level and I’m either way too loud or too soft spoken. The OP’s manager might have no idea that the conversations are carrying and might appreciate a heads up, especially if they are confidential. I would at least ask about it (Jane, I just wanted to let you know that often times when you’re having a meeting with your door open, I can hear your conversation clearly. I just wanted to let you know in case these meetings are meant to be confidential and/or private so that you have the option to close your door.”) and let it be known – then act appropriately from there.

  12. Brewster Millions*

    Op #4,

    My door is always wide open. Not because I want it to be but because we live in litigious times and I would never give anyone the opportunity to accuse me of anything inappropriate. I see different rules for men and women [please no flames] where men have been disciplined for things that are considered nothing when done by a woman, and especially when the man did not do anything at all. Over many months I have read very balanced gender commentary here at AAM, however the reality that I live is that there are different HR-type norms for each gender in the office and to proactively head-off any potential issues my door stays open all the time.

    1. MJH*

      The boss is a woman, so even taking your comment at face value [which I am loathe to do], it’s completely inapplicable to this situation.

      1. Risa*

        That’s not necessarily true that it’s not applicable here. I am a female manager who had a disgruntled employee try to accuse me of sexually harassing both male and female employees. So being a man or a woman, I could see a manager’s POV that they wouldn’t want to put themselves in a position where they could be accused of behavior behind closed doors.

        The bottom line: both men and women can have behavior that is inappropriate, or be accused of behavior that is inappropriate. It’s a balancing act between protecting themselves and keeping conversations confidential.

        1. Onymouse*

          This is why we need more glass “walls” in office spaces. They help ward off lawsuits and visually convey transparency.

          1. Cat*

            Sucks for women who are pumping though. And anyone who wants to cry unobserved in their office.

  13. Sandy*

    Ugh I have a situation somewhat similar to number four but way worse.

    My boss screams. She is frequently verbally abusive to staff in the office, and we are currently exploring the possibility of a formal harassment complaint against her.

    Her office is also right beside mine, and she steadfastly refuses to shut her door when she is screaming at someone, calling them useless, incompetent, a waste of office space, etc. it’s AWFUL.

    Not only is it awful to listen to, especially if someone is (understandably) breaking down as she does this to them, but it sets the whole office on edge since we don’t know who is going to be next.

    There are days where I just have to leave my office for 20 minutes while she does it so that I can calm down and stop grinding my teeth to dust.

    I honestly think she does it on purpose as a message to the rest of us. She’s too smart and too consistent with it for it to be a coincidence.

      1. Sandy*

        The whole situation is a giant mess, but unfortunately, we’re stuck with her until she leaves in three years. Since this is an international assignment for a major company, we sign a contract obliging us to pay back our (very high) moving costs if we terminate our international contract early.

        I live in awe of people who can just leave a crazy boss behind without owing their employers the equivalent of the equity on their house…

        1. hildi*

          In the meantime, there’s a good book called, “Working For You is Killing Me,” that talks about different toxic types of bosses and how you can cope with them. Some good stuff in there about bascially how you can reframe the situation for yourself: Detach, depersonalize, and a few other D’s I can’t think of right now :)

          1. Clinical Social Worker*

            Not the above commenter, but thank you. I think I need to read something like this.

    1. Graciosa*

      A boss who refuses to respond to reasonable requests that will make their employees more productive (back to original question #4) is a bad boss. The screamer here sounds like she is on a power trip, and believes in managing by intimidation.

      In both cases, there are other places to work where the grass truly is greener because the boss isn’t busy spreading poison. Look for one of them and get out.

    2. Jean*

      Here’s an idea learned from preschool professionals: The next time the volume goes up the person being screamed at can say, quietly, “Please stop shouting at me. I’m not shouting at you.” Then walk away with a promise to resume the conversation when it can be conducted without bellows or belittling.

      + 1,000 to Graciosa’s suggestion to look for another job. Maybe it will be a higher salary which–combined with your improved quality of life–will accommodate the mandatory reimbursement for moving costs. (Could you take out a loan or max out a credit card to at least buy time to repay the balance on a reasonable schedule? I’m assuming that your employer wants to be repaid all at once if you terminate early.)

      Also +1,000 to Elizabeth West’s hope to get her dealt with.
      (Comic relief: Imagine her wound up and aimed at the dictator, tyrant, or other domestic or international horror show of your choice.)

      1. Sandy*

        45000 USD is more than my salary can accommodate at one time, but don’t think I haven’t considered it.

        In the meantime, if Alison ever decides to write an article on things to consider when accepting an international transfer/assignment, I would be the first to contribute!

    3. Kate*

      To be honest, she does not seem very smart to me. This is definitely NOT the smart way to manage! Gosh!

    4. Not So NewReader*

      One thought that kind of helped me a little, was that a boss who lets go like this has something very major going on. We could speculate from now until Thursday about what that could be. The main idea that I keep is in order to do that- scream/berate people all the time- a person has to let go of a part of themselves. It could be their mind, their heart, their ethics but they have to let go of something in order to behave that way on a regular basis.

      Recently, I had a boss who just never made sense with anything. The simplest things would be so complex. When I wasn’t busy protecting myself from the verbal bullets and verbal mortar shells, I could see that I was heading toward better days at some point in the future. But with all her anger and all her confusion, I can’t be sure that she was heading toward better days. Ever.

  14. GrumpyBoss*

    #4: I once worked in an office where there was no heat return in my office, so if I closed the door in winter, it turned into a meat locker. A couple of years of that really built the habit of coming in and putting a door stop under the door so it stays open. Also, I have a loud voice that carries, so sometimes others hear my meetings/phone calls. I don’t realize it is happening until someone says something after the fact. What has worked best when people want me to close the door is while I’m in a meeting, they’ll come and say something like, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but do you mind if I close your door?” Save the editorializing of why you don’t want to hear, that it’s too loud, etc. Just a simple request that any rational person would honor.

    If you try something like that with no success, invest in a comfy pair of headphones as others have suggested :)

  15. Interviewer*

    #2 – if you think there’s a chance your boss could hold a grudge against you for talking to a recruiter, even if you told that recruiter you weren’t interested (because I think many of us could share horror stories about this), you could frame Alison’s answer as, “Hey, I heard from one of my colleagues that ABC Corp is looking to build a teapot design team. Interesting, right?” Personally, I think that’s need-to-know info for your boss, especially if they’re known to poach employees from your company. Maybe he can read between the lines and take steps to lock down talent before ABC gets much further on their recruiting efforts. Good luck.

  16. Ruffingit*

    #4 – I had a boss that did this. Our offices were incredibly close and she refused to let us close our doors. She would not close her door either. So much fun to hear her reprimanding employees and to hear the whispering too. I finally started putting on headphones, though this was a hit or miss thing because people would call or come in the room and say something to me and since my back was to the door, that could be a bit of a problem. Boss wouldn’t allow my desk to face the door either. So glad I don’t work in that job anymore.

    1. Chriama*

      Not allowing you to close the door OR to turn your desk so you’re facing the door is super weird. That would make me uncomfortable. Psychologically speaking, isn’t it a security/survival instinct to be oriented towards the door so you can react to possible danger? (actually, I think I heard that on Big Bang Theory so don’t quote me). What was her reasoning for that?

      1. Jamie*

        If that’s not a thing it should be – I startle facing doors, I can’t imagine the bundle of nerves I would be if I had my back to it.

        But it does just make sense – logically it’s easier to look up and see people than have to completely turn around. And, you know, to be ever vigilant in case of marauders.

        The absolutely kibosh on door closing is so odd to me. We have an unwritten open door policy in that we’re expected to keep our doors open most of the time – apparently approachability is a good thing to some people – but we can certainly shut them if we need to – calls, meetings, specific work. So we can, but it’s noticed and if there are closed doors sometimes people get squirrley. The only time people are interested in what I do is when I do it with my door closed.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        I’ve worked lots of places where they want your back to the door (or cube entrance). Because then your monitor is visible to people walking by, and they can quickly tell if you’re goofing off. We’re kids, not professionals, you know.

        1. Ruffingit*

          I think this was her reasoning as she had a ton of other rules that acted to treat employees as children.

  17. Brett*

    #4 I don’t think it is that much of an issue that the boss keeps her door open. I think the bigger issue is that the boss will not allow the OP to close her door. If the OP cannot close her door while a distracting meeting is going on, I suspect headphones and other methods are going to meet resistance too. It may be the boss just does not trust OP to continue working, but I suspect more it is the symbolism of the closed door that is the issue. If the symbolism is the issue, headphones will carry the same symbolism.

    So maybe the better question is, how does the OP get permission to close her door when a meeting like that is going on across the hall?

    1. SallyForth*

      I am a big fan of headphones. I listen to the Coffitivity page. It has low level murmurs of coffee shop conversation that do a great job of blurring other conversations. I usually put the headphones on in late afternoon when I find I can’t block out other conversations.

      In my previous job a manager with a loud voice (not my manager) said the headphones looked antisocial. I agree with that, but sometimes when you have thin walls and voices that carry, it’s the best solution.

  18. arkangel*

    Re #4 I would concentrate on drowning out the conversation instead of getting the boss to close the door. Our manager and director frequently converse in there. Neither of them have an “indoor voice”, so closing the door makes no difference whatsoever.

    1. SherryD*

      I agree. If it seems like it’ll be a short conversation, go get a coffee, go to the bathroom, make a phone call, or see if there’s something to do in another part of the office. If it’s a longer conversation, turn on the radio, and find a task that’s going take a lot of your focus.

  19. Kate*

    I am surprised so many people have issues with their managers!

    To me as a manager, it was one of very first lessons I learned – whenever you need to tell something unpleasant to your employee, always do it tet-a-tet (Not whispering! Use a meeting room!). Whenever you need to praise someone, do it out loud.

    Also, you never say anything generic such as “your work is unsatisfactory”. You should be specific and give examples. This is the way employee can actually improve.

    Well, this depence on the goal of course. If you want your employees to leave soon and hate you for the rest of their lives, you can go “you’re a crap”.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Some people don’t want to be managers and resent it so they take it out on employees. Some people just get promoted into the position and have no idea how to do the job. I wish I could say that I’ve had more good managers than bad, but I can’t. I think good management is an art and there are very few Picassos out there.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I worked one place where if you did not take a promotion (say you did not want to work in that department) then you fell off the radar for any promotions. Employees felt that they had to take the job even if they knew for a fact that is was just not their cuppa tea.

        Another place I worked people felt they had to take the promotion even though it worked into only a few dollars more per week. Yeah, these people were resentful. The story was take the promotion or out the door you go. This one got interesting because people were put in to jobs that they had absolutely NO clue what to do or what was expected. So, of course, their subordinates did not make out much better, either.

        I have been trying to figure out if I have had more good managers than bad. The bad ones really do stand out in my memory. I think that there was probably a middle group of so-so managers that I just discount.

  20. HR “Gumption”*

    #3- We have a 20-30 minute test we give to our admin/accounting applicants that is a huge indicator of basic skill set and attention to detail. They are not surprised by this, we let them know ahead of time and there are no “trick” questions.

    Basically we set up a laptop with a spreadsheet and instruction/answer sheet. The answer sheet asks for name, date, and start stop time, this is commonly missed. Also, the instructions ask for the completed form to be saved with a specific file name and printed at a specific printer, sometimes missed as well. It’s well worth the time to set up and test for.

  21. Elsajeni*

    #5 — Would it work to include a catch-all line about… hmm, “coordinating informal groups” or something like that, and then describe the tasks in more detail in interviews? The two activities do seem to go together — organizational tasks that the office could survive without, but that make everything run more smoothly and happily when they do get done — and I can definitely see the value of presenting yourself as the person who will step up and take care of that sort of thing.

  22. Greg*

    No. 3: In order to test if someone’s detail oriented, why not steal a page from Van Halen? (I originally intended to post this as a joke, but the more I think about it, it actually isn’t such a bad idea. Give them an assignment, and bury something semi-random near the end to test if they’ve read it all the way through.)

  23. Cassie*

    #4 – Sometimes my boss will have meetings or telephone calls that tend to get a bit on the confidential side so I will get up and close the door from the outside. If you can’t close the door (e.g. closed doors are banned), can you at least close the door partially so it’s just slightly ajar?

  24. mess*

    I’m hiring a coordinator and I’ve had two cover letters that state the applicant is detail oriented, but they’ve had typos or even the wrong company name in the letter. Oops!

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