scheduling a Zoom call to reject a candidate, an insulting trophy, and more

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

1. Scheduling a Zoom call to reject a job candidate

My friend has been applying for jobs and made it to the final round for one position. She didn’t hear back from them on the timeline they had mentioned on the last interview, so she assumed they passed on her and moved on. But she got an email from them recently asking to schedule a Zoom the next day. Feels promising, right? Wrong. She hops on the Zoom and they immediately tell her, “You are great, but we went with another candidate and they accepted” to her on the video, end of meeting.

Is it appropriate to schedule a Zoom call just to reject someone? I feel like that’s really overkill and sort of the equivalent of asking someone to come into the office just to reject them in today’s world where everything is so virtual. At the most I felt like this could have been a quick phone call instead of going through the rigamarole of scheduling a Zoom, where the expectation was to be on video so they can reject you to your face. I also felt like scheduling the Zoom gave her the impression they would be making a formal offer, so it was doubly painful to get rejected in this manner because she got her hopes up.

Oh, this is awful! I’m sure they didn’t intend it to be, but this takes all the problems with phone call rejections (you get your hopes up when they call you, then have to respond graciously on the spot to what might be crushing disappointment) and adds a horrible video twist (you probably took time beforehand to ensure you looked professional, maybe put on makeup and a bra, all to get a rejection that could have been delivered over email).

When companies do this, they think they’re being courteous and respectful. “She invested the time,” the thinking goes, “and we owe her the courtesy of a real conversation.” Some candidates really do prefer rejections that way … but so many people find it upsetting that it’s really better to stick to email. You can send a very gracious, personalized email rejection. You can even add a note that you’d be happy to talk on the phone if the person would like feedback, if that’s something you’re willing to offer. But making someone get rejected face-to-face on video is not kind, no matter what the intentions.

2. Applying for full-time work when my health means I’d have to go part-time soon

My current work contract ends this year so I’m job-hunting again. I’m in a professional career with accreditation and specialized skills. My problem is that I have fibromyalgia that limits my energy and ability to work. Realistically, I can work maybe 20 hours a week, but the vast majority of available jobs want full-time workers. I could do this for a bit — the last time I tried, I made it about three months with sick days every week or two before I had to give up.

Would I be an asshole for applying to full-time jobs and hoping that when my body gives out, the job will value me enough to let me stay on, but cut my hours? I’d love to be up-front about how much I can work, but I’m really worried about not finding anything in my speciality before my money runs out, and if I work outside my speciality, I’d be taking a huge financial hit and not able to pay for rent/groceries. I’d love some advice.

This is such a hard situation, and I’m sorry you’re in it.

You wouldn’t be an asshole for doing what you propose — you’re not trying to screw anyone over, just trying to support yourself in a world that doesn’t make that easy in your situation — but it’s a risky approach that could leave you worse off.

It’s true that some jobs will be willing to let a valued worker go part-time when their health requires it, but asking for it after only a few months is a much harder sell. It generally takes a lot longer for an employer to value you in the way that makes them willing to turn a full-time role part-time; after only three months, it’s more likely that they’ll conclude it’s just not working out (especially if those three months already had a lot of days off in them). That’s not always the case, of course, and you may find an exception … but those exceptions will likely be rare. And if you then end up with a couple of jobs in a row that you had to leave after a few months, that will make it harder to find the next one.

I wish I had a different answer for you! And obviously you need to do what you need to do to get by. But this specific plan is a risky one.

3. Recruiters who want me to suggest 10+ times when I could talk

I recently got an email from a recruiter saying that she’d like to set up an interview and asking me to provide times that I would be available to speak every day for the next two weeks. In a similar vein, recruiters often ask me to provide them with 10+ times that I am available to speak or give them my full availability over a two-week period.

I’m hesitant to block so much time, especially because I’ve found that the recruiters who ask for so much time are usually slow to get back to me about scheduling.

These requests turn me off, but they’ve gotten so common that I don’t feel I can entirely avoid the companies that make them. I usually provide just a handful of times, and when the recruiter inevitably pushes back, I either add a couple of additional times or ask them to provide some times that work on their end. Would you handle it differently?

Yeah, this is a bad way to go about scheduling unless they’re going to get back to you very quickly. It’s not reasonable to expect someone to hold so many different time slots empty for very long.

I’d send back what they’re asking for but include a note saying something like, “My calendar tends to fill up quickly so I can’t promise these times will all stay open — but if you’re able to confirm a slot by today or tomorrow, that’ll ensure nothing else gets booked then.” (They still may not; that’s just how this stuff tends to go.)

Personally, I’ve always found when scheduling interviews with candidates, it seems to work better if I suggest a couple of times to them (while making it clear they should tell me if none work).

4. Is this trophy an insult?

I work in state government. About a year ago, we got a new grandboss, who promptly started a new award system to honor those who go above and beyond in their work. The monthly winner gets a traveling trophy. That’s all fine and dandy.

What rubs me the wrong way (and maybe shouldn’t) is what he calls it: the “getting shit done award” for monthly winners, and the “top of the pile” award (“remember, it’s always better to be at the top of the pile!”) for quarterly winners. And the traveling trophy? It’s a plastic miniature outhouse.

To me, the way this system is set up (especially the “top of the pile” bit) implies that those of us who don’t get the award are, quite literally, shit employees, even if I know that’s not the case (I’ve never won but consistently get glowing performance reviews from my boss). What do you think?

I think the outhouse in poor taste and I wouldn’t do it (and would advise him not to if he asked me), but I doubt he intends to imply the rest of you are shit. It’s more likely the outhouse is referencing “getting shit done,” since that’s literally the name of the award that accompanies it! Tacky, yes, but not intended to be insulting.

5. Can I tell interviewers I’m leaving my job because of how my employer has handled Covid?

As I’m looking for a new job, I understand the general advice is to frame your reasons for leaving in a positive way. I’m perfectly capable of doing that, but I want to be honest about my main reason for leaving my job. I work in a field where most peers are working fully remotely even now, but my work has been in the office as soon as it was legally possible. This was okay at first, because we had alternating schedules and social distancing desks in place.

As time went on, my boss asked people to come in not on that schedule, which meant social distancing was no longer in place. He ended up testing positive and Covid spread to over half of the office. He asked us to come back in less than two weeks and, when I asked if I could work remotely for two weeks, he said he would not pay me if I didn’t come in. He dismissed our concerns about future prevention of Covid spread and said anxiety-inducing things like “everyone will get covid eventually, it’s better to get it over with” and “why are you even worried? Your parents are young.” He also doesn’t seem to trust vaccines and says Covid was made by the Democrats and China.

My mental health has been at an all-time low. I just want to be honest about why I no longer enjoy working there, but my boyfriend says one should never badmouth your boss in interviews. Surely lack of a safe environment is a valid reason I can voice? Saying only a generic reason like I want more challenging work, while true, just seems disingenuous. I’m worried about coming off as a complainer and wonder how I can phrase things in a professional way.

The rule that you shouldn’t badmouth your employer means you shouldn’t say things like your boss is toxic or a jerk. That’s considered indiscreet and because your interviewer will wonder what the other side of the story is — more here.

But it’s fine to say that you’ve been concerned by how your office has responded to the pandemic and you’re looking for a company that is operating in a safer manner. That’s perfectly understandable, just like you could also say you were looking because your company was having financial problems and you wanted something more stable. The key is to say it matter-of-factly and just in a single concise sentence like that — you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) go into all the details you have here. Your interviewer may ask about what your concerns have been (because they will rightly want to make sure you’ll be comfortable with whatever they are doing). I’d respond with something like, “Despite a lot of requests from the staff, the company wouldn’t enforce social distancing or the other public health measures the CDC recommended, and more than half our employees ended up contracting the virus” — factual, concise, and not explicitly about what a loon your boss is (although he is).

It’s actually a useful thing to explain, because it will help you screen out employers similar to your boss.

my employee is paranoid — can I help or is it not my business?

A reader writes:

I lead a small team of four: two assistants who I supervise, and one colleague at my level but who doesn’t have supervisory duties. Because we’re a small team that likes one another, our meetings usually end with personal chatter—nothing boundary-crossing, just normal friendly updates.

One assistant, Georgia, has a bit of a paranoid streak. She’s come to me with concerns that, say, a jogger she sees regularly near our building in the morning is following her, or an idea for our office to install a panic room in case of a shooter. We work in an area where muggings aren’t unheard of, so I can’t dismiss some of her concerns outright. When she hears me remind her of our security protocols and the safety measures that she can take, she’s usually satisfied. All of that is to say, it’s not really affecting her ability to do her job.

However, Covid has done a number on her. We’ve worked exclusively remotely for over a year and are just starting to come back to the office, slowly. Georgia has some family nearby, but otherwise, work is her only social outlet, so she’s been spending a lot of time alone in her apartment. Recently, as we finish meetings, she’s been telling us stories about how the FBI or ICE or “someone” is obviously in the apartment above hers, and they follow her from room to room—she can tell because she hears them banging or stepping around. She believes they have a camera in her apartment tracking her movements. She says she always sees the same cars following her while she runs errands. In short, she believes she’s being watched basically at all times.

I’ve been able to handle the workplace conversations about what we can and cannot do to keep her safe, but I’m at a loss how to handle this paranoia about her home life. It’s obviously way out of my league to diagnose this as a problem or provide mental health assistance. But I do care about my employee! Our company does have an EAP, but I’m not sure how to even have a conversation with her about this when she truly believes that these things are happening to her. (And who knows, maybe the FBI really is spying on her!)

Any scripts or advice you have about what to say to help Georgia out would be appreciated. Or is this an example of “it’s not affecting the work, so continue to be sympathetic and let it go”?

Aggh, this is tricky. You should be able to offer support and nudge Georgia toward the EAP, but you’ve also got to tread carefully as a manager.

If this were my employee, I’d go to HR for advice … so I asked the always excellent Suzanne Lucas of Evil HR Lady to weigh in. Here’s what she said:

“Mental illness at work is such a challenge because you are limited in what you can do. As for encouraging a call to the EAP, you have an advantage in that an EAP provides all kinds of help — mental health, legal, and financial. So, you can approach the EAP conversation from this angle: ‘Georgia, I’m really concerned about you. I wanted to suggest that you call our employee assistance program. They can help you figure out your rights and get you the help that you need.’

An EAP rep has much more latitude to suggest doctors and psychologists than a manager or HR person does. She may call thinking she’ll get an attorney to help her with her spying neighbors, but hopefully, they can set her on the right path.

If her paranoia is affecting her work, then you can insist on a medical exam. The guideline from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is that when the employer ‘has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that: (1) an employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition; or (2) an employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition,’ you can require an exam.

A last resort is to contact her family. We collect emergency contact information for true emergencies and whether or not this qualifies depends on the situation. Please consult with an employment attorney before taking this route.

I will add only that if you work somewhere with HR, loop them in too. This isn’t the kind of thing you want them hearing about only after it blows up in some way. Which doesn’t mean it will blow up in some way; hopefully it won’t. But get them in the loop about what’s going on.

how can I protect my team from last-minute rushes?

A reader writes:

I’m a new manager who heads up a team of 12 employees, and I’m having an issue with the other groups that we work with.

The other groups have developed a habit of not including my team on work to be performed, then dropping it on us and demanding it be done ASAP.

I don’t mind the occasional unexpected item coming up, but I’ve found a couple of recurring themes: Either the reported deadlines are several weeks short of when our part is actually needed, or the work they need from us is known several weeks in advance but we’re not notified until the eleventh hour. Additionally, quite a bit of this work is announced informally (grabbing my employees in the hallway or calling them on their cellphones and telling them to go do things) rather than entered in the ticketing system so that it can be prioritized, scheduled, and documented for billing purposes. This has caused us to miss deadlines on important tasks because we’re scrambling to complete work that won’t be needed for a month out. The overtime to pull off some of these tasks on very short notice is killing my group’s morale, and the next-day shipping on materials is killing my group’s budget.

To get everything done correctly and on time, I need advance warning when possible, along with accurate deadlines so I can have the staffing and materials available to handle it. However, the more that I explain this, the more the other groups’ managers seem to dig in their heels and try to circumvent our proper channels.

Am I being unreasonable? And would be out of line to explain to both my employees and the other managers that my employees report to me, they are no longer to take on any new tasks without my approval, and if those requests don’t have a realistic deadline, then I can’t promise that it will be done on time because my folks are already scheduled for other jobs?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

our boss’s high salary is tanking morale

A reader writes:

This is an odd question in that I think I know what I’m going to do (dodge it and run — I am a nervous creature) but I’m wondering if that’s ethically what I should do. The scenario is this: I work on a five person team for a nonprofit. It’s the executive director and four primarily self-directed employees. One of the other four non-directors and I both took our jobs just before the pandemic at well below market rates. In my case, I’m paid about half of what I should be for my experience, the breadth of the job responsibilities, and my impact on revenues. This was fine: the shutdown was looming when I took the job. Any port in a storm, etc. Now that hiring is picking back up again, we both landed other jobs elsewhere at fair pay and as such are unfortunately both resigning one on the heels of the other.

I mentioned feeling bad about this to one of the coworkers who’s staying … which is when I found out something shocking: our ED pays himself over double the market rate for his position in our city. Everyone else on staff makes below market rate for their own roles. Plus, his salary was over a third of our entire operating budget this past year, when fundraising was impossible and we were putting important expenses on hold due to the pandemic. This is now known to everyone on staff because the other departing employee looked it up in our publicly available tax filing.

People are angry. I am too, but I’m also out the door. I know if I were staying, though, it would be impossible to deal with the rather stringent austerity measures he puts in place knowing that if he cut his salary to something approaching the norm in our city we’d all be paid more fairly and the people our nonprofit serves would benefit as well. We are a very small team with a very small budget. His salary is large enough to live well in a city at a much higher cost of living than our own.

I have two questions. First: given that the people who are staying cannot say anything without making their working lives awkward or untenable, do I have a responsibility to say something in my exit interview? My answers go to him but also to the board of directors. It feels safer to mention that I think they ought to pay more for my role in the future and leave it at that. I’d like to leave on good terms. But part of me wonders if the least I can do for the two who are staying is to let the ED know that he needs to explain himself if he wants to regain their trust.

And second: prior to learning this information, I was all set to enthusiastically try to find them a replacement for my position. I was going to first suggest strongly that they pay better, but in either case I thought it’s a good enough job with good people and I’d like to see them find a good fit. Now I feel uncomfortable enough that I’m not sure if I can recommend them as an employer. Am I overreacting? My inclination now is to help them write the job description, but not put out any feelers to my network or otherwise endorse the job.

I don’t always agree when people complain about ED pay, because even what feels “high” for a nonprofit can be very low compared to what that person would make for their skills in the private sector, and you often need to pay very competitively for talent for those roles (roles which can be immensely demanding). There’s sometimes an ethos in the nonprofit sector that people shouldn’t be working there for the money, and I don’t agree with that at all; I think everyone should be compensated fairly for their labor, including those running the organization.

But this is not that.

This is more than double the market rate for his position in your city, while everyone else makes below market. This is a third of the organization’s operating budget. During budget cuts. In an organization already struggling to pay its expenses, this is a salary “large enough to live well in a city at a much higher cost of living than our own.”

So no, I don’t think you’re overreacting to have a problem with this. Your ED is underpaying staff while overpaying himself and shortchanging the people the organization serves. That’s bad stewardship of the organization and its mission. It’s both incompetent (because he’s in charge of allocating the organization’s resources effectively) and ethically icky.

It’s reasonable for you to decide you’re not comfortable recommending the organization to potential replacements when you have serious concerns about its leadership.

As for whether you have a responsibility to say something in your exit interview … I don’t think you ever have a responsibility to raise anything in an exit interview. You’re not obligated to raise uncomfortable truths that could jeopardize things that are important to you (whether it’s relationships or future references) just to provide free consulting to an organization you’ve already decide to leave (particularly when there are other ways for them to receive feedback from staff if they really care to). I respect people who choose to provide that input anyway, but you’re never obligated to do it.

In your case, you’re motivated by wanting to help the colleagues who are staying and probably the organization itself, separate from the ED. But those colleagues are able to advocate for themselves if they want to; addressing publicly available information about the ED’s salary is not so sensitive that it can only be done by someone who is leaving.

That said, if you want to raise it, do! It’s useful for organizations to hear pushback on this kind of thing. You’d be doing a good deed by telling them how it’s landing — and there is a greater public good here because it’s a nonprofit, in a way there wouldn’t be with a private business. But it’s not on you to be the one to deliver that message or fix the situation if you’d rather just make a clean break.

coworker doesn’t pay attention in meetings, LinkedIn’s “stay-at-home-mom” job title, and more

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

1. Coworker doesn’t pay attention during meetings

A team member never pays attention during our team meetings. She sits and types on her laptop, and if the meeting is via Zoom, it is obvious that she is doing work while we are all discussing various issues. If you ask anything that concerns her, again it is obvious that she wasn’t listening and you have to ask her the question again. She is a team member, she does not report to me. My boss hasn’t directly asked her about this, but I know it bothers him and it is quite disrespectful. Other team members find it amusing that she is oblivious to the chat. Any suggestions on how to approach this?

If it just annoys you but isn’t causing real problems, let it go since as a peer you don’t really have  the standing to address it. But if it’s causing problems — and it sounds like it is if people are having to repeat their questionss — it’s reasonable to speak to your boss and say, “Could you ask Jane to tune in more during our meetings? She doesn’t notice when we ask her questions and we’re having to repeat things once we get her attention.”

If your boss is the passive type who won’t do anything, another option is to say at the start of the meeting, “Could we agree not work on other things while we meet? These go faster when everyone is paying attention and not distracted.”

2. Using LinkedIn’s “stay-at-home-mom” job title

I’m so curious for your take on the news that LinkedIn is adding “stay-at-home mom” and other caregiver titles to its site. I understand the rationale, particularly given the harsh reality of millions of women being pushed out of the workforce due to lack of childcare and school closures in the pandemic. I’ve navigated the transition from stay-at-home mom to job seeker myself (pre-pandemic), and it was awkward at times! I’m hugely in favor of any measures that help women get a foothold once they are able/ready to return to the workforce, and for lessening the stigma of caregiving employment gaps in general. But I wonder if LinkedIn’s move is actually helpful, or does it fall into the “well-meaning but misguided career advice” category?

I don’t love it. Being a stay-at-home parent doesn’t belong on your resume so I’m not sure why it should go on your LinkedIn profile, and including it can harm more than help — partly because it’s considered inappropriate to have anything related to your family on your resume and partly because it risks inviting bias (of which women face plenty already). That’s especially true if it seems like you’re equating parenting to work experience (as opposed to just explaining what you were doing during that time), and I worry about this encouraging people to present it that way.

I assume the intent is to help people explain work gaps — but (a) tons of people are going to have pandemic-related gaps and (b) gaps aren’t inherently bad. You might be asked what you were doing during that time, but that’s something you can easily explain with one sentence in your cover letter if you want to.

Your resume is for professional accomplishments and employment, and I don’t know that LinkedIn should be any different.

3. I’m on dating apps and it’s easy to find my workplace

I have a slightly unusual first name. I moved to a new city for a job and joined some dating apps to meet people. My job comes up a lot, as I am passionate about what I do, but a quick google search of my first name and profession leads to my LinkedIn page and other links that show my workplace. I work in a public-facing field and anyone can come into my work when we are open.

I was chatting with one gentleman, who found out I was uninterested and unmatched and then sent an email to my work address that night.

I am not sure how I can stay safe while working here. I don’t want to hide what I do as I am very passionate, but using an alias first name seems kind of awkward.

Yeah, don’t continue to give out both your first name and your profession if they easily lead to that kind of identifying information.

Do you need to be as specific about what you do or can you say something that’s accurate but not as specific? For example, if you do llama midwifery consulting, can you just say “consulting”?

Or can you use a variation of your first name, or a nickname? For example, if your name is Valentina, can you go by Val until you’ve met and determined you’re comfortable with the person knowing more? I know it might feel a little sketchy to introduce yourself as Val and then later be like “actually I’m Valentina, I said Val earlier because my name is super searchable and I didn’t know you yet” — but really, any man who doesn’t understand why you might take that kind of precaution is oblivious to a concerning degree about safety dynamics between the sexes.

4. Employer illegally classified me as a contractor for years — is it too late to do anything about it?

This has bothered me for years, and I’d love to hear your take on it.

Right out of college, I got a job writing/editing for some niche publications under the umbrella of the main newspaper in my state, along with 10-15 other people. We worked as independent contractors for about two years, then we all became full employees for a few months, and then we were all laid off when the economy tanked. Thanks to your blog, I now know that I was illegally classified as an independent contractor (had set hours, an office to go to, using the company’s equipment, etc). This classification cost me a fortune in quarterly taxes, plus I was granted less money when I filed for unemployment after I was laid off.

I’d love to report the company to the IRS/Department of Labor for misclassifying its employees, but this was back in 2008-2010 so I suspect too much time has passed. I’m not looking for restitution or anything like that; I guess I’m just annoyed that they were doing something so blatantly illegal and I worry that they’re still continuing this practice. Did I miss the boat on reporting them?

Unfortunately, yes. You have to file the claim within two years of the violation (or three years in the case of an employer’s willful violation). Your state law might have different deadlines so you could check that, but it probably won’t go back that far.

5. Hiring when we’re open to full-time or part-time

What is the best way to keep our options open for offering a job? I’m at a small nonprofit. We expect to have a full-time position available this summer. The position may be hard to fill because it requires several different skill sets. We might be looking for a unicorn. I would like to post the job (with salary range!) but encourage part-time applicants to apply as well in case we decide to fill the position with a combination of 2-3 part timers. What do you think of this approach?’

You can do that! I’d lay it out very transparently in the ad — “While our preference would be to fill this role with one full-timer, we’re also open to hiring several part-timers to each cover a piece of this work. If you don’t have every skill listed but would be open to part-time work, please apply and note that in your cover letter.”

weekend open thread – April 17-18, 2021

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: Good Company, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. The discovery of a wedding ring that was long believed lost reveals secrets that unsettle a marriage and a friendship.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news, with more accounts of success even in this weird time.

1. I’ve been a faithful reader of every post on Ask a Manager since 2017, and I also worked my way through most of the archives. Lately, however, I found myself sometimes having to skip the Friday good news posts. It was just a little too much, being in a position that was making me miserable and wondering why all these people could make it work while I couldn’t seem to. At my worst, I could always find a reason those letter writers were in a place to succeed that I would never find myself in. In case there are any other readers in that position, I wanted to share my story.

In 2019, I was pretty happy, but open to better opportunities. I had a full-time position at a small business that had some amazing perks but, despite being a nationally-recognized subject matter expert, after nearly a decode I had only recently started earning $15 an hour. (This sort of pay scale is standard in the industry.) There were also many of the issues you’ve often talked about accompanying small businesses that led to frustration (at best). I also had a successful freelance career and part-time job in another industry, but there is no such thing as a full-time job in my freelance role, and freelancing enough to earn a living would mean much more travel than I’m willing to do.

By April 2020, I was miserable. On top of the obvious worldwide conditions, while I had kept my full-time position, the role I was in had all but disappeared. I went from unique and largely fulfilling work to a generalized role as a cog in a profit-optimizing machine. On top of that, my freelance industry has been one of the hardest hit overall. After a few months of struggling to keep my head above water, I realized I had to find some energy to improve my situation with a job search.

I took your advice to tailor both my resume and cover letter to the organization and role, so due to my level of burnout, I knew I couldn’t complete a large amount of quality applications. I decided to focus only on jobs in organizations for which I could get excited about working and for which I thought my experience was a genuinely strong pitch. It massively narrowed my field, but any other approach seemed overwhelming and likely to leave me ultimately dissatisfied, so I decided to give it a try.

One of my first applications was to an organization that I’ve long been a fan of. I was called in for an interview and felt so good about my prospects. Despite trying to take your advice about putting the job out of my head and moving on as if I hadn’t gotten it, I got optimistic. The next week, the CEO called to tell me how much they enjoyed meeting me, but that there were a couple people with more experience who they were going to continue with in the hiring process instead. (He also specifically mentioned how much he appreciated my thank-you note, which was 100% thanks to your advice.) When I got off that call, I broke down crying. That interview represented my greatest hope for moving on, and I honestly thought at the moment that phone call ended that I had unknowingly sealed my professional fate years ago, and now I was trapped. There would always be someone better than me.

Well, remember that part-time job I briefly mentioned? It was pretty eradicated by COVID too. However, I’ve always loved working for them. They value employees in ways that matter. One week to the day after getting that rejection call, I had an email announcing a position they were recruiting for internally that it looked like I was qualified for and would enjoy. That was a Tuesday. On Wednesday I wrote up my application and sent it in. On Thursday I had a phone screen. On Friday I video interviewed. On Monday they offered me the job. On Tuesday I received the formal benefits package, and on Wednesday I negotiated (for the first time in my life!) for a salary increase and accepted the offer.

After a notice period that reminded me of every reason I was leaving my old job (seriously so many letters’ worth of material in those two weeks alone), I started my new job last week. I’ve gone from internal and external pressure to work overtime hours and not slack for a second to no time clock and a bunch of updates from coworkers who are setting time off to pick up kids from school every day or watch the inauguration. At my old job, working from home meant doing so on your own resources. Now I’m working on a work-issued laptop and have been told any use of my own phone is strictly optional. And I’m making over 30% more in this position with “room to grow.” Every day I’m noticing differences that might look small, but make me practically giddy.

I couldn’t have done this without you. I followed your advice from applying, to interviewing, to thank you notes (seriously, everyone mentioned how great those were), to negotiating the offer, to giving my notice. I was able to clarify my thinking and focus my efforts in a field I’ve never been comfortable navigating before. I can safely say that none of it would have looked the same if left to my own devices, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. Thank you.

2. I’ve been job-searching since I was furloughed in March last year. I was very fortunate that most of this furlough was on full pay and I survived a round of lay-offs at the end of it. Despite this, I was unsatisfied with my prospects for advancement and was feeling less and less enthusiastic about eventually moving back to the extremely high cost-of-living city I worked in (I have been living with family in a much cheaper part of the country since furlough started). Add in that when I was working again, I got moved from a lovely, warm, supportive team to a comparatively cold and hands-off, non-communicative one, and… well, things felt grim.

I worked with a great recruiter and did not struggle to get interviews but kept just missing out. I was going for a role that would be a promotion and was up against people who already had solid experience in that role. Feedback from the companies I interviewed with was very positive, so it was very… close but no cigar, basically.

Then in December I was contacted by an internal recruiter for a fantastic company in a part of the country I’ve wanted to live in for a while, for a job that is the next step up in my career and which I’ve been chasing for months. I gave the best interview of my life so far – thank you so much for your interview tips! – and got an offer this week. I’ve signed my contract, given notice at Old Job, and am counting the days until I move on.

I’ve frequently felt like I was never going to progress in my career and imposter syndrome has been kicking my backside for the past nine months or so. I can hardly believe I’m starting a new chapter of my life, but I’m so excited to do so!

3. In late 2019, I was fired from my job (just shy of three years when some of the benefits improved and vesting in the company 401k was about to kick in). I’m still not exactly sure why I was fired. I wrote the policy they accused me of violating in the official paperwork (which they clearly never read) and having spent the previous six months reviewing the department policies I can say with a great degree of confidence that the policy they say I violated was never in writing or told to me as a policy, and they definity didn’t have any record saying I was trained on this non-existent policy. As best I can tell, I was fired for asking for my salary to be raised to in-line with market rates for the new certification they required me to get and expressing my concern with the desired qualifications for the new director we were looking to hire for my department (which included an unnecessary certification and no managerial experience for a department of 20).

So I headed home and began sending out resumes. I started by contacting two former bosses who had since started their own companies. One had two open positions he was hiring for and the other wasn’t hiring but had a client who was. I had two phone interviews within 24 hours. Then another former coworker contacted me about a site that was looking. So within 48 hours, I had three places wanting to interview me.

I was able to be completely honest with my old boss and his business partner about why I was looking and they both had a WTF reaction to the story. They made an offer that was a 25% raise from the place that fired me (in line with market), had way better benefits, and at the location near my husband’s aging parents (who are increasingly taking up our caregiver energy) so I accepted.

Last week I celebrated my one-year anniversary here and I couldn’t be happier. My previous employer has not weathered COVID well and I would have likely been laid off last spring if I had still been there. I heard that they cut all wages by 30% without cutting hours and are now hounding staff about productivity. My new employer has really handled COVID well. Thanks for all your excellent advice that had me ready to shine when this opportunity presented itself.

4. After a promised promotion that didn’t come through for over a year and a half, I went on an active job hunt. The job I eventually signed with actually recruited me – and wanted me on the team so badly that they increased their budget for the position by $10,000! It’s a step up and I will be in a manager role for the first time. I promise I’ll take all your first-time manager advice to heart as I move into the next stage of my career.

5. Long-time reader here, writing in for the first time ever to share some unbelievably good news and to thank you and your readers/commenters personally. After I graduated college, I promptly moved to a completely different part of the country where I had no prior connections — and (unsurprisingly, in hindsight) struggled to find full-time work for roughly two years, begrudgingly freelancing and working part-time jobs that had nothing to do with my degree in the meantime. In an admittedly spiteful effort to prove that even if I put my all into searching for jobs, I would come up empty-handed, I applied on a whim to a very appealing remote full-time position… well, now I start next week. My starting salary alone is 30~35% more than my (heavily researched!) expectation, and the benefits have even my friends who work in much more lucrative fields than mine flabbergasted. I’m still in shock.

I wouldn’t have been able to undergo the multi-step interview process without the guidance that this blog so graciously provided me: both in preparing my resume and cover letter, and in writing questions for interviews that could both help me get a read on the culture of this particular company and signal to those interviewing me that I had researched the company beforehand. While I ended up not having to negotiate my salary, being prepared to do so gave me peace of mind throughout what was frankly a stressful and unfamiliar process. Checking this blog once every few days for the past couple of years has bestowed unto me lots of insight — and, on occasion, lots of laughter and bewilderment — that I have no doubt will continue to benefit and guide me as I head into my first full-time job EVER!!! Thank you.

open thread – April 16-17, 2021

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about (that includes school). If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

lunch meetings when I can’t eat, I’ve fired my new employee before, and more

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

1. Lunch meetings when I can’t eat

I’m about to enter an industry that encourages people to communicate with each other, especially through the grand event of “let’s have lunch.” My biggest secret is that I have a rare lifelong eating disorder that makes it very hard to eat with people. When I usually have lunch with people, I’d rather sip on some coffee and still be engaged in the conversation. Knowing that buying someone lunch is a way to show kindness, especially between professionals, I am not ready for this. The worst case scenario is for the other party to think they are doing a very kind service of ordering something for me. Insisting that I eat when I am not in the right space can be insanely triggering and can lead to me having an emotional breakdown. These “rules” do have exceptions, however. For example, I am more likely able to eat breakfast than lunch and dinner.

Having a lunch meeting is inevitable. How can I still participate in lunch conversations without having to eat nor explain my condition?

If these meals are with groups, this will be easier to navigate; people won’t be as focused on what you’re eating or not eating and you can likely get away with just coffee and something small that you push around on the plate (if you’re comfortable with that). But in a one-on-one meeting, it can feel pretty awkward to be the only person eating and it’s more likely to become A Thing. So for any meetings that will just be you and one other person, suggest breakfast or coffee. People are often glad for the opportunity to change things up (and both of those can be shorter than lunch, which people often appreciate). But if someone is really pushing lunch, try saying, “I’ve got some food restrictions that make it hard to order off most menus, but I’m happy to just have coffee if you want to do lunch.” (Then it’s up to them if they want to be the sole eater.)

It’s unlikely that someone will order something for you (that’s not something people normally do in business situations, especially if you’ve already said you have food restrictions) but if someone does, jump in with, “Thanks for offering but I hate to waste food, so I’ll stick with coffee.” Typically when someone pushes food in a context like this, they’re worried about you not having what you need or that you’re unhappy/being deprived, so the more you can be breezy and cheerful about it, the better: “Oh, I’m used to it, I don’t mind at all!” — “Any time I have coffee is a win for me!” — “Nah, I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me at all. So tell me about Work Topic X!”

2. I’ve fired my new employee before

I recently took a job in my same industry and city. In my new role, I’ll have a team of eight reporting to me in various capacities and functions. During the interview process, I got a brief read-out of the team and a high level talent assessment. Nothing stood out as an issue. On my first day, I met the team reporting to me. One of the people on the team is someone that worked for me before and who I terminated for cause due to performance at my previous job.

What do I communicate to my new manager and/or HR about this situation? It feels weird to say nothing because ultimately, this could be a management issue — I’m sure this employee doesn’t feel great about the situation. On the other hand, I don’t want to risk harming this person’s reputation at this company if they are doing a good job so far. This person is pretty new here, too, and my impression is they are either doing a better job in this role or management has not yet identified an issue with their performance.

Have you talked to the employee yet? That’s important because they are undoubtedly really uncomfortable, if not outright panicking. Ideally you’d tell them that you’re happy to be working with them again, you’ve heard good things about the work they’ve been doing (if that’s true), and while you know your last time working together didn’t go the way either of you wanted, this is a different situation and, as far you’re concerned, both of you are starting fresh.

I do think you’re right that you need to mention it to your own manager or HR. It sucks because this person is entitled to a fresh start without the firing following them to a different job, but I’d be pretty concerned if I found out someone I managed didn’t share something so potentially relevant with me. It’s relevant not as a predictor of the person’s work now but because it could affect the dynamic between the two of you, and either of you could struggle not to interpret things through that old lens. I’d keep it very brief — “I managed Jane at an old job and unfortunately the fit wasn’t right and we ended up parting ways. I’m very willing to start fresh with her and I’m hopeful the role she’s in could be a great a match, but I figured you’d want to be aware of the prior work relationship.” Also, if it’s been a while since you worked together, stress that too.

3. Visible nipple piercings at work

I work in healthcare, and one of our front desk staff has nipple piercings that are easily visible through her shirt (to the degree that it is obvious what type of jewelry she is wearing).

Although I am generally firmly in the camp of “your underwear (/piercings) are your own business,” is it appropriate to ask her to conceal her piercings more effectively? If so, how does one have that conversation?

Maybe it’s because my brain is completely burned out after Wednesday’s speed round (in which I answered 76 QUESTIONS IN TWO HOURS and may never recover) but I’m honestly not sure where I stand on this. I can come up with a bunch of justifications for saying you can’t have distracting piercings at work (no matter where they are) and I can come up with a bunch of reasons why you should leave it alone. In general, my bias is to err on the side of giving people maximum freedom unless you have a good reason not to, but that doesn’t always work when you’re dealing with front desk staff who are the face of your business. If you had a “no visible non-ear piercings” policy, that would cover this — but I don’t want you to implement that policy just to deal with this since it would ban other piercings that you might otherwise have been fine with.

Ultimately, I think the right answer is that you can/should address it, but I can’t seem to get myself all the way there … and I’m sure it’s because I’m so tired of people having opinions about how women’s breasts show up at work … even though I know this is different from those situations. Thoughts from others?

(It’s also an interesting thought exercise to think about how you’d handle this if it were a highly visible Prince Albert piercing on a man.) (Do not google that at work.)

4. Can I use a second job offer to get more money after I’ve already accepted a different offer?

Last year, I (unsuccessfully) attempted to negotiate my existing contract with my employer of five years as it was no longer working for me and my family. My boss listened to my concerns, but I was told that our industry was hurting from COVID and the changes I was seeking were not possible then. A week later, I was furloughed for several months. At the end of my furlough, my employer let me know my job was still available to me, but my contract would remain unchanged. I had a job offer in a new role in the same industry, which I accepted, and told my employer I would not be coming back. We parted on good terms.

After six months at my new job, I realized this new role was not for me. After a chance encounter with my former employer’s biggest competitor, I was offered my old role at this new company, with all the terms I was previously seeking. I accepted the position and have a start date in the coming weeks.

My industry is small, and this morning my former manager reached out to me saying that he heard I’m going to this new company and was upset I didn’t reach out to him about moving back into my old role. He mentioned that they are expanding their workforce, and asked if I would be open to talking about changes that have been implemented there and what it would take to have me return! I accepted the meeting but have no intention of returning there regardless of how good the offer is. My intention was to see what they offer and then go to my new job, tell them my old employer made an unsolicited offer, and see if they can offer me a signing bonus. In my industry, signing bonuses are very common. I was not offered one with my initial offer, but I know they have offered them in the past to try and entice people to join their company.

Is this acceptable practice, or does this have the potential of blowing up in my face? I’ve never been in this position before, and I figure it doesn’t hurt to ask, right?

No, it could hurt to ask. You’ve accepted their offer, and you’d basically be going back to them and saying, “I might not take this job after all, unless we can renegotiate compensation” — which will make it look like you haven’t been operating in good faith. (What if they came back to you after you’d accepted the job and wanted to pay you less?) You can walk away from the new job if you want (it will likely burn the bridge, but you can do it if you want to take the old job), but you can’t say, “Wait, I changed my mind and now I want more.”

Frankly, I wouldn’t take that meeting with your old boss at all if you’re positive you have no intention of returning. That would be operating in bad faith with both employers and it’s not a good way to navigate your career. (There’s usually no harm in hearing people out, but in this case you’d be wasting their time solely in the hopes of using it to get more money from someone else, and you risk that someone else telling you that you should go ahead and take the other offer, which you don’t even want.)

5. My colleague keeps canceling on me, and it’s jeopardizing a deadline

I am supposed to be trained on a particular platform for evaluating students. The person responsible for this training has said they would meet with me on three different occasions, but they have never shown up; always something came up. I have done what I can in the system by reaching out to fellow colleagues, but the next steps must involve the training person. If the data is not submitted by end of April there will be tough consequences, district and state-wide. How do I approach them with a firm understanding that we must meet? Do I go to my supervisor? Help!

Do two things: let the person know that you absolutely must have the data submitted by the end of the month, which means you need the training no later than X (to give you time to actually do the work after you’re trained), and ask how to nail down a time that they can absolutely commit to. Then give your boss a heads-up about what’s going on and how you’re handling it, so that she’s aware of the situation and so she can intervene if she wants to.

have I destroyed boundaries with my team during Covid?

A reader writes:

I’ve been a manager for four years, all at the same location and mostly with the same reports (three people). I’m a pretty private person and didn’t love a previous job that tried to force out-of-work friendships on staff. As a manager I’ve always been a friendly-but-not-friends type, they’re lovely people and I have a general idea of what’s going on with my reports from chat on breaks/check-in during supervision; I’ve never socialized with them except for out of office team-building on company time and shared meals during conference travel.

And then COVID. We are all pretty conscientious people in a state full of anti-maskers and never went remote so have been working in the office this whole time. None of us are really seeing anyone outside of close family and each other. I feel like I’ve increasingly drifted in the friends-with-reports direction during this time with one person in particular, and somewhat with another. The third is super reserved and isn’t really friendly with anyone. By that, I mean 10-15 minute check-in chats daily, occasional half-hour office hangouts during downtimes, sharing family photos and videos, recipe and cocktail recommendations, etc. We are all similar age and single. It’s honestly helped keep me sane, and during our annual reviews last week they each mentioned something about their good work environment and relationships helping them get through COVID.

But … we are all currently or soon to be vaccinated, so I’m beginning to think about what to do after/if things do go back to normal. I don’t want them to think I don’t like them anymore if I cut down the personal conversations, but I also don’t want to have inappropriate personal relationships or make any new staff who come on board feel excluded. Any thoughts?

Having 15-minute chats, occasionally socializing for half an hour during downtime, and sharing photos, recipes, and cocktail recommendations — that doesn’t seem like a crossing of boundaries to me! Those are all things managers with appropriate boundaries can do with their teams. You’re being warm and friendly and developing deeper connections with the people you work with. That’s fine!

Inappropriate would be things like wanting your employees to listen to or help you solve serious non-work problems in your life, having weepy conversations about your family or love life, badmouthing your own boss, or expecting them to prioritize chatting with you over their own work or outside interests (or them expecting any of this from you). It would also be things like getting drunk together or hanging out regularly outside of work. But trading recipes and photos — totally normal and not a sign of problematically relaxed boundaries!

So I don’t know that you need to worry particularly. A warm, friendly environment isn’t inherently problematic. You do need to be careful that the third person doesn’t feel excluded; you should always attempt to include her even if you know she’ll likely decline, and make sure the others don’t have special access to you that she doesn’t have. You should also make a point of watching how often you initiate these conversations versus how often the others do; the power dynamics mean they may feel obligated to engage with you on demand, so you’d want to watch out for that.

But a team that gets along well and enjoys talking to each other isn’t the same as a team that’s obliterated professional boundaries. (If I am misunderstanding and there’s more to it than the specifics you named in your letter, please write back so I can course-correct!)