weekend free-for-all – May 18-19, 2019

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: The Mother-in-Law, by Sally Hepworth, in which the mysterious death of a family matriarch causes all sorts of relationships and secrets to unravel. This is not my usual fare, but I quite enjoyed it.

open thread – May 17-18, 2019

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. 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.

filling the time when you don’t have any work, a recruiter asked me to lie, and more

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

1. What should you do to fill the time when you don’t have any work?

A coworker and myself are arguing about this. Our boss doesn’t really care, as long as all the work gets done in the day. Here’s the hypothetical situation: you are on the clock for your nine to five job. Part of your job requires you to sit in a seat waiting for another person to finish their task so you can do yours. There is no work you can do untill your coworker has finished their task. Here’s the question: what should you do to fill the time?

Read a book, crossword puzzle, mess around on your phone (not against policy to use your phone during working hours), talk with your coworker, take a nap, maybe do a little workout routine? Other options? And most importantly, are any of these options ethically wrong?

It depends 100% on what your workplace and your manager are okay with you doing with that time. There are some workplaces where it would be fine read a book, take a nap (less of them but they exist), or do a workout routine (same), and there are some where that would be really out of sync with what’s expected there. So if this comes up more than very occasionally, the best thing to do is to talk with your boss and find out how they feel. (You say your boss doesn’t care, but for a lot of bosses that could mean playing on your phone is fine but visibly sleeping is not. It’s smart to confirm.) If your employer is fine with it, there’s no ethical issue.

That said, there are a lot of jobs where being done with all your work … doesn’t really mean there’s literally nothing work-related you could do. Often you’d still be able to do something useful, like filling out expense reports, organizing your files, reading field-relevant publications, doing some optional check-ins with clients, brainstorming ideas for next quarter’s projects, cleaning out your email, and so forth. Ethically (and reputation-wise), you’re better off doing things like that before you consider reading a book or napping. But if there’s literally nothing you could be doing that’s work-related, then we’re back to: know your office, and know your boss.

2. A recruiter asked me to lie

I’ve been out of work for a couple of years now, after a layoff that I dealt with (or failed to deal with) by plunging into a serious depression. I’m doing much better now and finally looking for work, but I’ve been living off my 401(k) for too long and the money is nearly gone. I’m a little desperate.

A recruiter called me about a contract job earlier this week that seemed like an okay fit, so I agreed to work with her. She must have messaged or called me 10 times that day, asking the same questions about my availability and experience again and again. Several times she called to ask for the number of years of experience I had in various areas listed on my resume, and then she would ask me to update my summary with that area and the number of years. I think all told I updated my resume four separate times.

The last time she called, she asked about a technology I had never used, although it’s a common, open-source platform that is not difficult to learn, and I have used other similar systems. I told her I didn’t have that specific experience, but that I would be happy to learn it. She kept pressing me for a number of years with that technology. It was so weird! I kept saying, “No, I actually don’t have experience with X, but I do know Y, and they are similar, and I’d be glad to jump online today and teach myself X really quick because it’s not difficult.” But she seemed frustrated and I got the feeling she wanted me to give her a number of years of experience with platform X! If it hadn’t been a common, fairly intuitive thing, I wouldn’t have agreed, but I said that since I had used this other platform that was similar, we could say that I had one year’s experience with X. She then said, “Do you have two years of experience with X?” It was so weird: she was asking me to lie without actually saying it. Thinking that this was a small thing to get my foot in the door, I updated my resume to list two years of experience with technology X and sent it along. Immediately afterward I went online and familiarized myself with X, which is not difficult. Seriously, if I told you what it was, you would laugh.

The whole thing has made me so uncomfortable, though. I removed the reference to X from my resume on LinkedIn the next day. (I mean, it took me 10 minutes to figure it out, but it’s not real experience that should be on my resume!) Should I withdraw my candidacy with the recruiter because of her shady actions? Should I tell her why? I’m ashamed that I went along with the lie at all. And I really am desperate for work, but she flat-out required me to lie … and about such a stupid thing! If I were to get the interview, I think I would confess that I actually know the other technology, not the one she required me to add.

Yeah, she’s really sketchy! She’s sketchy both in asking you to lie and in the way she went about it. I mean, I’d still be uncomfortable if she’d said something like, “I know you don’t have a year of experience with this but I agree with you that it’s easy to learn and this client is really rigid about seeing it on the resume, so would you be up for adding it because of that?” But at least there she’d be being open about what she was doing, versus the silly game she played with you instead. So yeah, sketchy.

i don’t think you have to withdraw your candidacy though, not unless you want to. You should of course keep an eye out for other shadiness from her and will need to assume that you can’t fully trust what she tells you, but it’s okay for you to stay in the running for this job if you’re interested in it (especially given that you really need a job right now). Just know you’ll have to verify with the company anything she tells you that’s really important to you (about the job, benefits, etc.), rather than taking her word for it.

3. I’m really easily startled

My job recently moved offices. The new workspace is more open, and I’m in a low-walled cube where before I had an office with a door. An issue that’s starting to come up is that I’m very easily startled, to the point where it’s almost impossible to approach me at my desk without me at least jumping and gasping. Since we moved, I’ve found that I can’t wear headphones or listen to anything at my desk now, because I need to be able to hear if anyone’s coming up behind me. The rare times I do listen to something, someone inevitably walks up and surprises me. The way it’s laid out, people can approach me from multiple directions, which I think adds to my jumpiness.

My reactions seem stressful for my coworkers who try to talk to me, and I don’t want to be weird or disruptive. I’m worried that one day I’m going to scream or something! I’ve conveyed to people, usually after the fact, that it’s something that happens to me periodically and that they aren’t doing anything wrong.

How should I handle this? Should I keep addressing it in the moment? Is there anything I can proactively do? I think a “please knock” sign next to my cube wall would both be ignored and be out of sync with the office as a whole (and I’m not sure knocking would help, anyway!). I feel like I’m working very hard to mitigate this and it’s getting me absolutely nowhere.

I’m assuming there’s no way to change either your desk or the way your desk is positioned? If either of those is possible, that’s your best solution. And you could frame that to your manager as, “I’m finding I’m so regularly startled by people approaching me without warning that it’s distracting me and making it hard to focus.”

But if that’s not possible, you might be able to minimize some of this with carefully placed mirrors. It’s not uncommon to use small mirrors to deal with colleagues approaching from behind, and you’d just need a few more of them than most people do  … which yes, might look a little odd (or like you adored your own image and wanted to see it from multiple angles) but might be preferable to the current situation.

Alternately, yeah, I think you’re looking at giving up headphones or just continuing to explain, “Sorry, I’m easily startled” (which is fine to keep doing, if that’s what ultimately seems easiest).

4. My boss asked me to do a task I’ve already been doing

My boss emailed me asking me to do a task, but my problem is that i already have been doing this simple task since I started working here. How can I tell him I’ve been doing this task since the beginning without coming off rude and arrogant?

Think of this as information exchange, not correction, and you’ll probably feel better about it.

Just be matter-of-fact and cheerful: “I’m on it! I’ve actually been doing it monthly” (or whatever).

5. Putting sexual identity in a design portfolio

My sibling recently graduated with from college and put together an online portfolio of their design work. I noticed in their “About Me” section they put “I am an LGBTQ+ designer” as the first sentence. My immediate reaction was to recommend that they remove that entirely from their portfolio; my thinking is that is definitely information hiring managers would not care to know about (just like they don’t want to know a person’s religion or age). I understand this is a big part of their identity but it seems like sharing in this way will only hurt their chances. What do you think?

If this were a resume, I’d agree with you. But an online bio is different. It’s not uncommon to have more personal information in those. They’re more informal and they often contain information about who the person is, beyond the strictly professional. So I think your sibling is fine! (And yes, it’s possible it could hurt their chances with LGBTQ-unfriendly employers, but I’m guessing that’s intentional.)

the stolen toilet paper, the fake committee, and other petty moments at work

Last week I asked you to share stories of petty moments at work — your own or other people’s. Here are some of the stand-outs.

1. “At one of my early jobs one of my coworkers was a, shall we say, interesting character. She was called out about something in a meeting and was fuming at the rest of us. The next morning she came in, went into the rest room (so I hear) and then went into her boss’ office to quit on the spot. She left without a word to anyone else.

Later it was discovered that she had removed every roll of toilet tissue from the rest room.”

2. “Had a client tell me to move their name down 1/32nd of inch on their biz card. I changed the name of the file to indicate it was revised, sent it back to them with a cheerful ‘here you go!’ and they replied back it was perfect!”

3. “I…once made up a non-existent ‘change management committee’ to avoid this kind of thing (endless requests for minor changes). There was a form. The form was *very* detailed.

It was at a government job, as a web developer, with a lot of middle managers. There was a lot of bueracracy in everything else, but we were friendly and would generally just change things on request, at least for internal sites. This…was a mistake, because no one else could get anything done, so they’d go on the warpath about font choices. When I started telling them there was now a change management committee for the internal site, no one questioned it, and the requests disappeared after we introduced a form (we still fixed and improved things, just stopped swapping fonts every week). We even held committee meetings, which were really a extended coffee break.”

4. “I got fired from a position, in a pretty awful way. I was mad and then spent the next few months randomly writing ‘missed connections’ ads on Craigslist, posting various manager’s office phone numbers as a call back.”

5. “Once upon a time, I worked as (what was essentially) a copy editor for a healthcare company, in an environment that I would definitely label ‘toxic.’ Most of my job consisted in making comments in PDF documents – remove this comma, we can’t legally use that word, etc., etc. and people would invariably try to avoid making any edits (even stuff that was an obvious typo or a legal liability) and complain the whole way through. Couple this with a boss who was a people-pleaser, and it was eventually decided that, even though PDF comments are already the easiest thing in the world to read, we needed to write out a separate description of every single comment whenever we submitted any edits: where the comment was in the doc, what the comment was about, and the rationale for making the comment.

My colleague and I did so, with some grumbling. ‘On page two, second paragraph, there is an comma that needs to be removed. We adhere to AP style, which doesn’t use the ‘Oxford’ or ‘Serial’ comma.’ Then, our boss told us that people were complaining we weren’t ‘detailed enough’ in our descriptions.

Fine. You want to play that way? My colleague and I would turn five small comments into 500 word essays. ‘On page two of the attache brochure, inside the green box in the second paragraph, three lines down, in between the fifth and sixth word, the comma should be removed. This comma is an Oxford comma. An Oxford comma is also known as a serial comma…’ [insert explanation of what an Oxford comma is, along with examples, then conclude by stating that as we adhere to AP style, we do not use said comma. However, the AP itself has some exceptions…you get the picture]

We did this for a couple of weeks before they finally said: ‘Okay, maybe you don’t have to be *so* detailed.’”

6. “I’m a graphic designer for a company that has a lot of athlete ambassadors, and thus a lot of my coworkers fancy themselves elite athletes as well (they’re not). For a New Years post on social media, we had a ‘meet the team’ post where everyone on the team had a picture and a bio of them using their favorite athletic product we manufacture. I have one coworker that particularly thinks he’s god’s gift to the world and has a huge ego about his supposed athletic ability, and it drives me INSANE. So as the graphic designer, I built out all of the posts before posting on the brand’s social media. This coworker put one of his personal records in his bio, so I decided to take his bloated ego down a couple pegs and added a zero to the end of his record time. After it was posted, he noticed immediately and had a total temper tantrum, crying about how people are now going to think he’s super slow! It was so *chef’s kiss* satisfying.”

7. “When I worked as a cashier in Target, if a customer was especially horrible to me (seriously though why are some people so mean to cashiers) I would start to scan the items on the conveyor belt slower…and slower…..a n d s l o w e r.. .. .. . .a n d s l o w e r . . . . until I could see them seething at my incredibly frustrating pace. I would take their money and punch in the amount slowly and bag their items at the same pace too. And to make sure they knew I was being a d*ck specifically to THEM, I would then make sure they saw me scan and bag the next customer’s items very fast as they collected their bagged items. I’m lucky I never received a complaint.”

8. “I once worked a soul-crushing job in a very toxic place. The company was having some financial struggles, and they were doing a lot of hasty layoffs and trying to guilt everyone into saving as much money as possible. I finally found another job, after 8 years, and I gleefully put in my 2 weeks’ notice. The place had gotten so stingy in the past 2 years, that they completely stopped buying office supplies. A lot of people brought their own and kept them locked in their desks, but the remaining supplies were hoarded often and there was a lot of drama surrounding the sharing of these supplies. The office only had one good, heavy-duty stapler, and our office produced reams and reams of paper reports needing said stapler. It sat in a place of honor in the middle of the department, and screaming matches erupted if it was moved even an inch from its spot. Taking it back to your desk, for even a moment, was career suicide.

I staying late on my very last day in the office, and I took that stapler with me when I left for the last time. I have it at my desk at home, and I barely ever use it, but it’s my trophy of pettiness. I was underpaid by 30% there, lied to when I brought it up to management, and pressured to donate my time to the company ‘off the books’ all the time. I now have a much better job and a really great heavy-duty stapler.”

9. “A manager at our small not-for-profit would often eat in the resource library that doubled as a meeting room. Sometimes she would bring her daughter to work and the daughter would do craft projects and make a huge mess. This meant staff would be scrambling for other meeting space, but the executive director never said a word about the mess or the room being used as a daycare. The manager would often direct the receptionist (a revolving series of temps) to clean it up at the end of the day. This would include lunch containers, food spilled, and glue and glitter all over the table and require a lot of scrubbing.

Our board personnel committee used that room for a committee meeting before the regular board meeting. One night, supposedly because we were so busy doing board meeting set up in the other room, the receptionist ‘forgot’ to clean the small meeting room. The first board member who walked in said, ‘What the HELL happened in here!?!’ and the receptionist sweetly said ‘Oh, that’s X’s daughter’s playroom. Sorry, I haven’t had time to clean it up the way X likes yet. I usually bill an extra 15 minutes to do it after my regular work day.’”

10. “A coworker, Jane, was very protective of her lunch hour (and the culture of our office was you eat lunch when possible and sometimes that might be late or early to accommodate other meetings) so her attitude was out of sync with the office. We had a grand boss that liked to schedule meetings right at lunchtime, and when Jane asked for them to be moved for her lunch grand boss said just bring lunch in with you if needed.

So Jane brought in a loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly jars, and a tray of cheeses and proceeded to make everyone in the meeting a sandwich and cheese plate during the meeting. Neither she nor the grand boss blinked at this and for awhile we all had yummy veggie trays, sandwiches, and once a full salmon (like the ENTIRE grilled fish cut into servings conference table side) during lunchtime meetings. It was the craziest showdown ever- and both people were pretty miserable so it was great to watch.”

update: I’m jealous of my attractive employee and it’s impacting how I treat her

Remember the letter-writer who was jealous of her attractive employee and it was impacting how she treated her? The first update is here, second update is here, and the third update is here.) Here’s a new update.

I have been sober since March 19, 2017.

I completed my rehab programs for both my addiction issues and my eating disorder. I still visit my therapist once a week for a check-in. In the evening I still attend meetings for one of the two support groups I belong to, one for eating disorders and one for addiction. These things help me keep in check and make me feel calm and supported. I feel happier than I have ever been and therapy and support groups help.

I no longer use any kind of substance or pills and won’t take anything unless it is prescribed and I am under the supervision of the doctor. Nothing over the counter or anything along those lines. In the past year the only time I have needed to take anything was before a dental appointment under his watch. My anxiety is under control with my therapy and the coping techniques I have learned. In my case I am no longer on medication for it and I feel comfortable with this (I am not saying no one should go without it, just me). I don’t weigh myself or own a scale. I cook and have a better relationship with food.

The other four weekdays I work at the job I mentioned in my last update. On the weekend I attend church, volunteer there and spend time with my family. I work with nice people who are aware of my past issues as I have nothing to hide. I have made new friends in the support groups and at church. I addressed the situation re: my old friends in my last update and that has not changed.

I wanted to send you a note because you and your readers were so supportive. I am still sober despite a couple of bumps in the road: A criminal case from my conduct to my former employee and the reappearance of an ex-boyfriend. The court case resulted in conviction. I got a suspended sentence because I had already gone to rehab on my own and settled the lawsuit at the first chance.

Therapy has helped work out that the case was warranted, anyone who heard the facts would agree. I am okay with the outcome and have accepted responsibility. The outcomes of the lawsuit and criminal case forbid me from contacting my former employee at her request. I have had no contact since I was fired from my job. I wish her well.

My ex-boyfriend told everyone who would listen online and in person he knew I had problems and he had tried to warn me something was wrong with me and had tried to help me despite my “verbal and emotional abuse.” I admit to not being perfect in the relationship. Fortunately my family, new coworkers and fellow church members paid no attention. My old coworkers and friends surely did.

I’m thankful to my parents for taking me in and for paying for my lawyers, my rehab and the lawsuit settlement. Without them I wouldn’t have made it this far. My brother got married this year and my sister-in-law is pregnant and I will be an aunt any day now. At the end of the day I am still sober. I have my health. I have support from the people around me. The rest is just background noise.

I send wishes to you and your supportive readers for a prosperous year. I owe my new life to all of you as well. All the best. Your book was great and I give it as a gift and tell everyone I know to read it.

should I give feedback to people who haven’t asked for it during a collaborative writing project?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m not fully sure that this fits within the scope of AAM — it’s not work-related, but I feel that there is a great deal of overlap.

I am the head administrator in an online writing group, where members frequently come together to collaborate on writing stories. In some ways, despite it being a hobby that we’re all doing for fun, being an administrator is at times a lot like a job. It falls to me to enforce the rules of our community, such as keeping drama within the stories and not brewing amongst the authors, and ensuring that the stories which are written are appropriate for the fictional setting we’ve established for the group (ranging from not throwing wizards into a modern day small town, to avoiding material that might make members of the group uncomfortable). In addition, my team and I regularly come up with writing prompts and such to keep the members engaged and keep the ideas flowing.

We are a fairly small, close-knit community, but every now and then we welcome someone into the group who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with us, for a number of reasons. Perhaps they don’t spend a lot of time with the group, making it hard for us to get to know them. Usually, it’s that their writing leaves something to be desired, which can result people wanting to collaborate with them less and less over time. I don’t intend for that to come across as cruel – some people are just less experienced with writing, while others seem less inclined to put it a lot of effort.

I’ve always tried to encourage people with their writing, giving them advice on how they can improve and offering to collaborate with people who don’t easily seem to be able to find others to write with. However, creative outlets like this are subjective at best, and I recognize that what may work for me isn’t going to work for everyone. And I think it doesn’t help that I tend to have more demanding standards and take things more seriously than others in my community (and other communities like this one). When I became an administrator, this desire to help also began to feel like a duty. After all, if everyone is writing better, we all produce more interesting stories and everyone is having more fun, right?

However, criticism can be hard to accept, especially in creative pursuits like this. And I know that I can come off as harsh when I’m trying to give criticism or advice, when mostly what I’m trying to do is be direct and clear. As I’ve noted several times, both from personal experience and reading your blog, attempting to soften a message can often lead to the point getting misconstrued in a number of ways.

I guess what my question boils down to is this — is it unnecessary, or even rude, to offer feedback about problems I see with my members, when they haven’t asked for any such feedback? I’ve had it pointed out to me that not everyone who does this activity is looking to improve the way that I am — some just find it fun to play around with story ideas, and are content with their skill level. I’ve also been told that this isn’t a job, and I don’t really need to be taking people to task for not meeting my expectations.

As an example, I find myself frustrated with “Bob.” Often times, he doesn’t put a great deal of effort into his writing, leaving whoever he is collaborating with to craft the bulk of the plotline and move the story forward. It’s bad enough that I refuse to write with him, unless it’s something like a big project that involves the whole group. I am unsure if he knows about my dislike for him, as he is a rather quiet person who rarely asks for others to write with him, so the opportunity has never really come up for me to say, “Sorry, but I’d prefer not to work with you on this.” I’ve received similar complaints about Bob from other members, and have seen the majority of the group gradually drift away from him. It results in us writing with each other instead, leaving Bob with almost no one to partner up with.

In the past, I and others have given him rather softened feedback that he didn’t ask for, and he responds noncommittally or not at all. Simply put, we haven’t seen any changes over the course of a year that would make us want to try writing with him again. And yet, I feel bad for him that he’s so isolated now. I also think that he’s occasionally shown some real creativity in the time that he’s been with us, and maybe some direct feedback on what we feel he’s doing wrong could help encourage him to put more effort in. It could also be the blow to his ego that would make him want to leave the group altogether.

Do you think talking to him is the right idea? Or just let him continue as he is, enjoying the hobby in his own way?

Readers, what’s your advice?

coworker keeps making minor corrections to my work, using info from recruiters to negotiate salary, and more

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

1. My coworker keeps making minor corrections to my work

I am experiencing a weird feedback situation at work and don’t know how to handle it. One of my coworkers, Jane, frequently corrects me on how I’m doing my job. It will be small things, like nitpicking on how I answer the phone, and it is usually delivered in a condescending tone: “I don’t know if you know this…” or “I just want you to know we don’t do it that way around here.”

I have never received corrections on any of these things from our shared managers — quite the opposite. I have glowing reviews, am actively encouraged to move up, and have even specifically been told that I have excellent phone manner.

We have the exact same job and title. Jane has been with the company in the exact same department and office location for about 15 years. On the other hand, I have been with the company in two locations and three departments over the course of about a year and a half. Neither of us has supervisory responsibilities, and at our company, seniority doesn’t mean much unless you’re being considered for a promotion.

I’m not afraid of feedback — if any of our managers were coming to me with these concerns, I would take it seriously and adjust my behavior. But she’s not my manager, and I don’t answer to her! Am I correct in thinking that I don’t have to do what she says? Should I speak to her directly? Should I speak to our manager? I do my job extremely well and I just want the commentary to stop.

If you were absolutely sure she was wrong, I’d suggest saying something like, “Thanks, but I think my way is fine.” And then if it continued, “You’ve been giving me a lot of input on how I do my job, but I’ve talked with (manager) and she’s really happy with my work. I’d prefer you give me the same leeway she does.” You could add, “Of course, if something seems really serious to you, I’d understand you flagging that, but I’d think that would be very rare.”

But first it’s worth checking if she could be right about some of this stuff. The fact that your manager is happy with your work doesn’t preclude the possibility that she’d want you doing these small things differently if she knew about them. Or Jane could be completely off-base (and I’m inclined to think she is, just by your description). But it might be useful to talk with your manager and say something like, “Jane has been correcting me on things like X, Y, and Z. I think my way of doing those things is effective, but I wanted to check in with you to make sure there’s not something I’m missing.” Then, assuming your manager backs you up, you can use the language in my previous paragraph with confidence.

2. Employer stopped playing phone tag with my reference

I recently completed a second round interview for a job I was really excited about (according to the search committee, I was one of two finalists.) I know I probably shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up, but two days after the last full-day interview I had, one of my references told me they had gotten a voicemail from someone at the company about me. Later that day, my second reference told me they got a call as well. I was pumped.

Then a few days later, I found out I didn’t get the position. I reached out to my references to see what they thought of their calls and if there was anything they thought I could work on based on the questions they were asked. Guess what? It turns out that the reference they called first never even spoke to them! They left a voicemail like my reference said, and when my reference called back the next day he left a voicemail. His voicemail was never returned.

I don’t know what to make of this. Less than a week has gone by since my last interview. Could my reference not being available right away have cost me the job? I know it wasn’t either reference, especially if they never even spoke to the one. Why would an employee call a reference, leave a voicemail to call back, and then not even wait a day or two to call them back after one round of phone tag? I’m also incredibly embarrassed because now my references know I was being considered for a position and did not get an offer.

Part of me feels like I may have dodged a bullet, but I’m also incredibly disappointed in how things have turned out. I’m trying to figure out what lessons I can take away from this experience to make improvements for the next time.

The most likely explanation is that you were one of several finalists and in between the time they called your references and the time they would have called them back, they decided to hire one of the other people. They might have even already extended an offer to someone, but were continuing to keep the process moving with you in case that person didn’t accept. Or a really strong candidate emerged late in the process, or so forth.

So it’s not about your references not answering the phone immediately on the first call, but just about someone else ultimately being their pick. That’s nothing to be embarrassed over — it’s just a normal part of how hiring sometimes goes.

3. Can I use info from recruiters when negotiating salary?

I am preparing for an annual review next month and am looking for some advice about negotiating salary. I’ve been at my job about three years. I’ve performed well, been promoted once, and am generally fairly happy. However, during my last review, I did a lot of research via Glassdoor and other salary estimation sites to help guide what my specific role and title should be in my market. I suspected I was underpaid and those tools confirmed as much.

However, when I broached the subject following my promotion, I was told that those sites are unreliable and that my title doesn’t necessarily mean the same level of responsibility as it might at other area firms. That seemed fairly reasonable to me at the time, but since my title change, I’ve been approached by quite a few recruiters via LinkedIn, offering me those same jobs with salary ranges that affirm or exceed what I had asked for.

I haven’t accepted any of those jobs (they either weren’t a fit or I just didn’t feel ready to make a move). So, is it possible to relay this information during my next review and let them know that I have real evidence I’m being underpaid?

Ugh, it’s frustratingly true that those salary sites can be really off, but it’s also possible that your employer was BS’ing you when they said that, or that they’re just unaware of what the market rate really is. And your experience with recruiters lends more credence to those possibilities.

You could indeed raise this again, saying something like, “I know when we talked about this last, you weren’t sure the salary research I’d done truly reflected the market for my role and title. I’ve since been approached by multiple recruiters offering me similar jobs in the range of $X-$Y, which I take as really solid information about the market. I’m happy in my role and don’t want to leave, but I also want to make sure that I’m being paid in line with the market, so I’m asking you to consider bumping me to $__.”

Be prepared for them to ask questions about that — they might want to know that the roles you were approached about really are comparable to the work you’re doing now, and if they’re thinking about this rigorously, they’re going to realize that being recruited for a role isn’t the same thing as being hired, and the very reasons those jobs pay more might be the reasons you wouldn’t want them, etc. But if you’re confident that the data provides sound comparisons, this is reasonable to raise.

4. Recruiter sent me a long text about believing in myself after I withdrew

I recently interviewed for a position involving working closely with kids, and after gaining further information about the position, I decided that I would not continue applying. The company itself seemed great, but it was just the position itself that wasn’t working with what I needed. I got this text afterwards, and I’m not sure what to make of it:

“When a recruiter tells you off record that she’s willing to help you with your application because she believes you are a good fit for the team, it may not be the best time to not believe in yourself. There are no perfect candidates. Everyone has something that they could contribute, and I believed you could connect with the introverted kids more. Now, if you truly would like to withdraw from being considered as a mentor, I understand- but you lose nothing by applying. Don’t deprive yourself out of opportunities. Fake it until you make it. While I appreciate your candor, I am sad to hear and am hoping for your reconsideration, especially since I cannot guarantee any results, the director of the program gets the final say. Let me know.”

I appreciate the intent, but I’ve never seen something like this before. What are your thoughts on this?

It sounds like the recruiter assumed you were withdrawing because you didn’t think you were a strong enough candidate. Assuming you didn’t say anything that could be interpreted that way, it’s an odd assumption — and a little condescending. You could reply with something like, “I appreciate your encouragement, but I decided to withdraw because I’m looking for a role that’s more ____. I wish you all the best in filling the job.”

5. Hiring manager didn’t respond to my thank-you note — should I call her?

So I had an amazing interview last Wednesday. She said she was impressed with my questions, and I showed how excited I was to have the opportunity to grow on her team. She said she had a few more people to interview but I would hear back by the end of next week. Fast forward to the next week. I sent her a thank-you email on Monday and hadn’t gotten a response, so I called on Wednesday to confirm I had the email address correct. I was transferred to her office after I asked if she was available, and I was sent to voicemail. I am trying to figure out if I should call her again today, Thursday, or just wait for her to respond. Is she avoiding my calls because they decided to go a different way?

Do NOT call her again.

Most hiring managers don’t respond to thank-you emails, and you shouldn’t be concerned that you didn’t receive a response. It’s similar to gift etiquette, where if someone sends you a thank-you note for your gift, you’re not expected to then send them a thank-you for their thank-you because otherwise it would become an endless cycle of thanking. So it’s normal that she didn’t respond, and it will come across very strangely to call to check up on that — and multiple calls would come across as really aggressive and pushy.

If you hadn’t called, I would say that if you haven’t heard from her by a week after she said she’d be in contact, it would be fine to check in once by email (not phone!) about whether she has an updated timeline for when she expects to make a decision. But because you’ve already called once, I’d give it longer — maybe an additional week. (Really, though, if she wants to hire you, she’s not going to forget to do it, so the best thing to do for now is to assume that you didn’t get the job, put it out of your mind, move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if she does get in touch.)

my interviewer was drinking a beer while sitting in a beanbag chair

A reader writes:

I have been on the job hunt for a while and have had numerous phone/in-person interviews for administrative assistant positions. I seem to struggle a little bit with my general overall presence during an interview (which has gotten better thanks to your tips!) but I am still having a hard time gauging how I should behave in an interview.

By that I mean — today, at the small indie gaming company I interviewed with, the interviewer cracked open a beer and hung out on a bean bag chair during the entire interview. None of that is an issue for me, but it threw me through a loop because it made me feel like I had to be a bro gamer whose only goal in life was to play video games for a living and not a professional looking for a well-paying, high-responsibility job. I have noticed this is actually fairly common with modern young companies I’ve interviewed with that have a lax atmosphere, and it really makes me wonder if I’m to “uptight” for these companies or if I am just being paranoid.

Should I maintain the upmost professionalism during an interview, that I’ve been taught to have my entire life, even it makes me look like a stiff or should I conform to these lax office atmospheres and be “chill” during the interview? I want to show them I care about the job I’m applying for and that I am qualified professional, but I don’t want to look like a boring person that can’t have fun.

It depends on what you mean by the “utmost professionalism.”

Some job candidates interpret “professionalism” as meaning “I must be very formal and not show warmth or personality.”

That’s not professional; that’s just stiff.

It’s good to show warmth and (some) personality in an interview, and you’ll actually interview better if you do, because good interviewers want to get a sense of what you’re like to work with day-to-day. They don’t care that much what your interview persona is; they care about who’s going to be showing up once they hire you. And on your end, you should care about making sure this is a workplace where the person you’ll show up as will be comfortable. So if you’re naturally bubbly and they’re very buttoned-up and sedate, that might not be a super comfortable fit for you — and it’s better to find that out now. Similarly, if your natural personal is very stiff, don’t try to fake gregariousness for the interview — because you’re unlikely to be able to fake that every day once you’re hired, and you want to find out now if who you are, or at least who you’re willing to be at work, won’t work for this job. (More on this here.)

So, bringing it back to your beer-drinking, beanbag-lounging interviewer: How to respond to that depends on what kind of culture you’re looking for and who you are. Would you be happy in a company where people interview candidates in beanbag chairs while drinking beer? Some people would love that! Other people wouldn’t. If you know that’s not for you, that’s fine, and you don’t need to mirror his informality just because he’s the interviewer. But if you’re open to it, or not sure and want more info/time to consider, you want to adapt accordingly. That doesn’t mean that you should pop a beer yourself or go sledding down the hallway or whatever, but it does mean it’s okay to be a bit less formal than you would if he were sitting across from you at a conference room table in a suit. (Of course, you want to pay attention to all the cues — someone could still do a rigorous, thorough interview from a beanbag, so make sure you’re not extrapolating too much much from chairs and beverages. Informal manner doesn’t necessarily mean less rigor or lower standards … just different standards. And other times it does mean lower standards! The point is just to watch for more data and not assume.)

The reality though is that “if your interviewer is informal, be a bit less formal yourself” can tough to calibrate. Your interviewer was deviating from a normal interview framework in a way that makes it harder for candidates to know what to do. Is he looking for someone comfortable enough to pop open a beer along with him? (Which might lead us to: Are you looking for a boss who would be looking for that?) Or what if you let down your guard, figure you can speak more freely than you normally might in an interview, and then get rejected for something you say because of that? There’s no way to know. It puts candidates in a tough position because you don’t know what the rules are.

Your interviewer might say that’s fine with him, because it helps him screen for people who are “the right fit.” But in this context, that typically means “people who are like me” … which is of course how these companies often end up with awfully homogenous staffs.

So if I were advising him, I’d say to reconsider how he interviews. But my advice on your side of things is: Know what you want in a workplace culture, know who you’ll show up as once you’re hired, and show that in every interview. Give yourself a little room to adjust your level of formality based on the cues you’re getting, but generally stay in the basic range you’d be happy to stay in once you’re working there (or maybe half a notch up from that as a nod to the inherent formality of interviewing).

my boss won’t let me use any of my vacation time

A reader writes:

While my job lets me accrue paid time off for vacation, I seem to be in a position where any time I request time off I am denied by my manager. On the other hand, my manager takes vacation time off all the time. Am I missing something here? I have a family who I would love to take vacation time with, but I am cut off any time I try. At the same time, my days off have accumulated to almost one month and I am just at a loss of how someone in good conscience would not even consider allowing me. How do I approach this situation?

I answer this question — and four others — 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.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Our new hire is plotting a coup on her second day
  • Hiring a coworker to babysit
  • I think my former coworker is trying to poach me
  • Mentioning marriage and kids on a resume

our traditionally male company has an annual golf trip — but our new female employees don’t play

A reader writes:

Our smallish family-owned business has been taking our sales team on a long weekend golf trip on and off for many years/decades. It is intended to be a reward/retreat type trip, and little if any business is discussed when we are there. Mostly beer drinking, side betting golf, in a beach town with multiple golf courses and a long weekend. Many of our team have young children and the weekend getaway is well received and appreciated, and talked about throughout the year. The sales team of 10-15 people in two branches are the only ones eligible for the trip because they are paid via commission, and therefore do not receive bonuses under our pay structure.

Historically, all or very nearly all of our sales team have been male, and golfers. The managers are all golfers and our company is based in a town where golf is a big deal (major tournament held here every year, we sponsor many charity golf tournaments, customers and vendors regularly take our sales members golfing). This year, we have three female employees eligible for the trip who do not play golf. In the past if we had a male sales rep who did not play golf, he might come on the trip and ride in a cart, and just drink beer or observe, or might elect to not attend at all. We play a “best ball” style game where you really do not have to play well at all to participate.

So we are currently trying to decide how to handle this year’s trip, without ostracizing anyone and also without taking away a much appreciated day off and benefit. I am relatively new, but the rest of the managers have been here for decades. We usually take a Friday off and return on Sunday. Their proposed options include:

– Providing a separate cabin for the women, and offering them money (equivalent to the golf package spent on the men) to take a day trip and eat/shop/day trip in a nearby major destination city while the men are golfing.

– Providing them the separate cabin, but no other plan options (basically ride along on the course, and not miss the fellowship aspect of the trip). One of the women already proposed being a “cart girl” passing out beers, but I don’t think the other women would appreciate such a plan.

– Offering a cash benefit, based on the value of the trip, and the day off, as an alternative to attending. The proposal was based on the assumption that some or all of them may not want to attend, but those that did want to could. But here is the catch — this would not be offered to the men. It has always been jokingly referred to as a mandatory trip, but it seems every year one or two people cannot attend. They are not expected to work that day but have never been given additional benefits.

Any thoughts on this? I feel like offering all three would cover our bases, but it doesn’t address the fact that if you are not actively playing golf in this tournament style weekend, you will be missing time with managers and owners of the company. In the past none of these options were offered to men who did not play golf. I am a little nervous any time gender issues come up at work and feel like this situation is ripe to strike out with at least one of our female employees.

I think your golf trip is going to have to change. Maybe not this year, but for future years.

Here’s the thing: You cannot, as a business, host trips that men attend and women don’t. That’s true even if the women are invited but choose not to go. If you find that you’re sponsoring something that women generally don’t want to participate in while the men do, you need another plan.

The push-back to that is, of course, “But other people like it! Why should they have to lose a trip that they look forward to and which historically has been a fun thing we’ve rallied around?”

And the answer to that is: Because you’re a workplace and you need to ensure that the activities you sponsor aren’t segregated by gender, even if it happens voluntarily. As an employer, there are priorities above “let people have fun,” like ensuring that women aren’t alienated and that they have equal access to networking opportunites and to your leadership. And “let people have fun” is also trumped by your organization’s obligation to follow the law — because this kind of thing has led to sex discrimination lawsuits. In fact, there’s a long, well established history of women being excluded professionally through socializing of exactly this kind of thing (golf is probably the most common example that comes up, in fact). At a minimum your company is going to appear remarkably oblivious to that deeply entrenched history — but it also risks actual legal problems sprouting from it.

And yes, the push-back to that is, “Well, the women could participate if they wanted to! They’re choosing not to.”

The answer to that is: Yes. They’re choosing not to. So it’s on your company to see that and change its practices accordingly, so that it’s not organizing networking opportunites that only men are responding to. The intent isn’t what matters here — the actual outcome is.

To respond to the specifics in your letter: Your instincts are right that under no circumstances should anyone suggest the women be “cart girls.”

You also shouldn’t offer to send women shopping while the men golf. That’s playing right into sexist stereotypes. You can’t do that.

And you can’t offer the women cash and a day off while not offering that to men because it’s illegal to pass out perks based on sex.

Nor should you be hosting a trip where the men golf and network while they women get a cabin but miss out on the rest (again, even if it’s their choice).

So, what do you do? Honestly, I think you’ll need to phase out the trip and instead find things that both men and women are up for participating in. That’s your responsibility as a business. And yes, you’re going to get some complaints, but complaints are not a reason not to do the correct thing. You can frame it as, “As our staff has grown, we’re hearing that there are other things people would enjoy doing.” (In fact, it might be worth surveying your staff about what activities they’d enjoy, or whether they want off-hours activities at at all. And who knows, you might find out that this trip isn’t the first choice for all of the men either.)

Assuming it’s too late to do that for this year, though, you should make the trip voluntary for everyone, not just the women, and give everyone the choice of the trip or the time off. And you should consider planning something else for this year that will have broader appeal (ideally scheduled during work hours so people don’t have to give up their weekends to attend).

Does it suck for people who liked and looked forward to this trip each year? Yes! It does. And it’s still what you need to do if you want to be a workplace that’s inclusive (and legally sound).