how do you deal with professional insults followed by with “I’m just kidding”?

A reader writes:

Fortunately this isn’t a problem I’m dealing with anymore. The offending party left my company. However, the tactic they used still bothers me, and I was wondering if you had any advice about it. The problem coworker was a manager in another department. I count my lucky stars that I didn’t report to them, as I would likely have quit.

This manager had unreasonable expectations regarding timelines and priorities. Any time they needed something from my department, it was matter-of-course that their issue should be our top priority. It often wasn’t. We were juggling tons of obligations. When unhappy with our responsiveness, they’d insult our department, or us, in a way that was really difficult to address in the moment.

For example, say I worked in accounting and they needed an invoice processed. If I’d contacted them to tell them it would be finished on X day (even though I knew they wanted it by close of business), they’d respond back with something like: “That’s okay, I don’t expect quick turnaround because you’re not a real accounting department. Haha, just kidding.” And then they’d immediately change the subject.

They’d smile and say “just kidding” in a jokey/upbeat tone, and immediately move on before the insult could sink in. I know they were doing it so they could land the insult without suffering blowback or consequences. It was obvious to anyone in earshot, but they’d breeze right past it without slowing down, and toss in some variant of “just kidding” or “you know I’m joking, you guys are great.”

As a result, you’d come off as weirdly petty or sensitive if you tried to address it. They’d already be on another topic, already “non-poligized” for their remark, and responding would get awkward too. What would you say?
• “We are a real accounting department.” (Defensive.)
• “Well, I don’t think it was funny.” (Defensive and petty?)
• “Real accounting departments have many priorities.” (Eeeh?)

The employee eventually left my company, but I’ve never thought of a good response and it’s bothered me. Is there a clever or even handed way to say “that was insulting” when the offender is trying to so deftly bypass exactly that response?

Oh, that’s so obnoxious!

Why do people do this? It’s like they know they’re being jerky but think the “I’m kidding” will somehow absolve them.

If your coworker had a genuine problem with an answer you gave, they should have explained that and had a real conversation about it — not hid behind snarky digs with “just kidding” deniability.

Sometimes the best option for responding to this sort of thing, especially when the other person is senior to you (and thus “dude, cut it out” might not be an option) is to insist on taking it seriously. For example:

You: “We won’t be able to get to this today, but I’ll have it for you by Friday.”
Coworker: “That’s okay, I don’t expect quick turnaround because you’re not a real accounting department. Haha, just kidding. Hey, look at that bird outside!”
You: “Whoa, that doesn’t sound like a joke. What do you mean by that?”
Coworker: “I’m just joking, you guys are great.”
You: “You’ve made a lot of remarks like that, so it doesn’t sound like a joke to me. Do you have a concern about how quickly we’re doing the work you send us?”
Coworker: “Haha, no, I’m just joking around.”
You: “It doesn’t seem like a joke when you say it repeatedly, so if there’s a problem, please definitely let me know.”

If you do this every time, it’ll make these encounters so tedious for your coworker that there’s a decent chance they’ll stop (or even realize how obnoxious they’re being).

But if you do this a few times and it’s still happening, then you can escalate to this:

You: “This invoice is a little trickier, so we’re going to need an extra day to process it.”
Coworker: “That’s okay. I should have known you wouldn’t know how to handle it. Just kidding! Did you see Paul’s shirt today?”
You: “You know, you keep saying things that sound like you have serious concerns about our work. Should we set up a meeting to sit down and figure out what’s going on?”
Coworker: “No, no, I’m just joking. Ha ha!”
You: “You make those jokes so often that I don’t feel comfortable ignoring them. At this point, it sounds like a real concern, not a joke.”

And then if necessary: “If they’re truly jokes, could you stop making them? It obviously raises concerns on our side, and it could cause real problems for us if someone else overheard and took it seriously.”

In other words, be incredibly un-fun about this. Have no sense of humor — not that these “jokes” are funny, obviously, but this person is counting on you to feel pressured to play along, so don’t.

If this doesn’t work, you can fully write them off as an asshole, but this is worth a shot first.

my employee has a bad attitude

A reader writes:

I manage an employee with an attitude problem. Kevin is a couple years out of college, and he has management ambitions. He did excellent work for several months after he was hired, and the quality of his work isn’t the issue here.

The problems started about a year ago when I promoted another team member with a little more experience and a lot more professionalism, Kate, to team lead. He was angry, and he showed it by acting like a child — pouting through meetings or derailing them with side conversations, making jokes about wasting company money, and telling us all about how drunk he’d been that weekend. He spent a team lunch staring at our intern silently because he thought it was funny (the intern was uncomfortable). He also came to me directly for permission to do something after Kate told him he couldn’t, and I assented without realizing that she had already told him no, for perfectly valid reasons.

Kate addressed these issues individually with Kevin, but there always seemed to be something else. I had a come-to-Jesus meeting with Kevin a few months ago, and we all thought he was back on track, until recently. Not long ago, our company began to require more meetings, and when a (different) team member politely complained there were too many, Kevin guffawed and yelled “BURN!” in the middle of the meeting.

Personally, I’ve had enough. I decided to manage him directly from now on. I also went to my manager (Randall) to recommend that Kevin be given some form of disciplinary action, but Randall isn’t so sure this behavior rises to the level of a corrective action. How else can I get through to Kevin and help him see that he’s got to behave more professionally if he ever wants to be a manager himself?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

our boss told us to camp in tents when we travel for business

A reader writes:

I started on staff at a small environmental/conservation nonprofit. My coworkers and I are PR, fundraising, and outreach staff. All of us are brand new due to turnover. Today we received an email from our boss that says:

“When we are traveling for work, we try, when possible, to stay at a state park — cabins in the winter, camping ‘normally’ in the summer since most cabins are booked for a week. The state agency responsible for camping fees provides us a waiver so that we stay for free. Print this waiver.”

(By camping “normally” in summer, she means outdoors in a tent. Although she has a camper and uses that herself when camping).

We are affiliated with a state environmental agency and although I can’t swear, because I haven’t looked into it, I don’t believe the governor requires state employees on travel to camp.

I know at least one of my new coworkers feels as I do — we’re not going to camp alone in a park in a tent.

I can’t believe this. Advice?!?!

P.S. Even if we book a cabin (which have limited availability), we’d have to take bedding, etc. And our boss has previously told us that many of the state cabins have bed bug problems.

What.

Noooo.

It’s absolutely not reasonable to expect people traveling for work to camp rather than having standard business lodgings.

I get that you’re an environmental group. It’s still not reasonable.

You need to show up for business meetings rested, washed, and productive — which an awful lot of people would not be after sleeping in a tent.

Even plenty of experienced campers wouldn’t want to camp the night before work meetings. And beyond that, plenty of people — including even some environmentalists — don’t like camping. Or they want to do it once a year, with friends. And alcohol.

And then there are people with medical needs that make camping impractical or impossible.

This would be bad enough if it were some once-a-year, misguided team-building event for your whole staff. But as your routine lodgings for regular business trips?! It’s wildly unreasonable and out of sync with any business norm.

If your boss enjoys doing camping on business travel herself, that’s fine. But it’s not okay for her to impose it on others.

If the organization can’t afford to pay for hotel rooms, then it can’t afford to send employees on work trips, period. Just like if it couldn’t afford the airfare or train ticket, it wouldn’t be okay to suggest you hitchhike.

Say this to your boss: “Can you clarify the travel policy? You mentioned camping, but that’s not something I’d be able to do for a business trip. My plan is to book affordable hotels instead.” If she holds firm, feel free to say, “It’s really not an option for me and I’ll need to stay in hotels. I’ll of course make sure to choose budget options.” If you want, feel free to say, “There are lots of reasons why people wouldn’t be able to camp — including health concerns that people shouldn’t have to disclose in order to get standard business accommodations.”

Even better, get a group of your coworkers to push back and say “no, this won’t work for us.” There’s power in numbers.

Tents! It’s ridiculous.

my boss jokes about my work “suitors,” my coworkers barged into my house when I wasn’t there, and more

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

1. My boss jokes about me having work “suitors”

I work in a clubhouse for a community with a high volume of lonely old people. I have always been a conversationalist, and I don’t mind lending an ear when people want to talk, since it’s part of my job. I have a handful of people who I really click with, who I talk to for about an hour whenever they come in. We talk about things like music, fine foods, history, and their youth. It’s incredibly nice and I love that I get to do this professionally.

My boss jokes constantly about my “boyfriends.” It never really bothered me, and I chuckled along, but now when she introduces me to other employees or volunteers, she always brings it up and makes it sound inappropriate.

Many of the people in my “fan club,” as it’s affectionately called by my boss, are older men who are retired and usually single. I have a couple older women as well who I chat with. I don’t wear anything revealing at work and our conversations never go anywhere innappropriate. I never see them outside of work and they have never done anything out of line in any way.

My boss knows my SO, and tells them about how I’m cheating with my “boyfriends.” They laugh it off because I’ve explained and talked about them before, but it still seems odd. I felt weirdly guilty when she was telling a new person at work about my many “suitors.”

I work in hospitality, so I’m always charming, attentive, and polite. I’ve had residents make sexual comments about my figure in the past, and I quickly told them that that is not appropriate and told my boss immediately. She said that I did the right thing by telling them that it was not correct. I feel like I’m getting mixed messages. I don’t know how to address this with my boss without making things awkward with her.

The next time she does it when it’s just the two of you, say this: “Jane, can I ask you not to joke about me having ‘boyfriends’ or ’suitors’ here? I know you’re kidding, but it makes me uncomfortable.”

If she’s a good person, she’ll hear this and stop. But if she continues, it’s okay to be firmer about it: “I was really serious when I asked you not to do that. It feels really uncomfortable to be talked about that way.” You could add, “You were so supportive in the past when I had harassment issues, and so I know you will be sensitive about this now that you realize how much it bothers me.” (Often framing things that way will make people want to live up to what you tell them you “know” about them.)

I hear you on not wanting to make things awkward with your boss (even though she is the one making things awkward!)  but you should be able to say this and then briskly return to whatever else you talk about. With awkwardness around this kind of thing, most people, even managers, will take their cues from you and if you demonstrate that you’ve moved on, chances are high she will too.

And for what it’s worth, in addition to this being unwelcome on your side, I’ve never understood why this sort of comment isn’t also seen as diminishing to the older people it references, since the subtext seems to be that age desexualizes people and it feels like a weird patronizing head pat in their direction.

2. My coworker showed up at my house when I wasn’t there and served my housemates bad food

I’ve been working for my company for two years, alongside my coworker “Laurie.” Laurie’s a bit of an odd bird, but we’ll save the encyclopedia of her antics for another day. When I first started, I was broke and didn’t have a car, so Laurie gained my trust and friendship by sharing some of her lunch and driving me home every day until I was back on my feet. Fast forward to about a month ago, and I’m now working in a different department but we still talk.

I went out of town for my birthday, and as I’m eating brunch with my friends, I received a text from my roommates. Laurie is at my apartment, unannounced, feeding my roommates Chinese food that she was “trying to hide from her husband” (it gave my roommates food poisoning) and leaving out gifts for me that were toxic to my cats. She never contacted me saying she was going to do this, and according to my roommates she just invited herself in, which they were very uncomfortable with. I’m mortified. I never invite people over to my place without making sure it’s okay with my housemates first, and the fact she thought her actions were okay in any way has me questioning my friendship with her. I’ve known for a while that she thinks that we’re closer friends than I’m comfortable with, but this crossed a major line. Is this something I can bring up to my boss? And how do I go about it?

Nope, but it’s something you can bring up to Laurie. If you raised it with your boss, her first question would be whether you’d addressed it with Laurie directly — and it would look odd (and frankly bad) if it turned out you were complaining to her without first attempting to resolve it directly.

Talk to Laurie! Tell her you’re a stickler for making plans in advance and not having guests drop by uninvited and ask that she not do that again. There’s also advice here about creating more social distance with a coworker. (But keep in mind that it’s not unreasonable that Laurie considers you a friend, after sharing her food with you and driving you home every day! Barging into your house without permission and when you weren’t there is decidedly strange and something you can set clear boundaries around, but her overall belief that you’re friends doesn’t sound unfounded.)

3. I feel overdressed in a casual office

I work in advertising, and I have for over five years. I joined a new small firm six months ago. Now that the winter is here and the polo shirts are put away, my button-downs are making me feel overdressed. I’ve never felt this way in my other agencies.

A typical outfit for me is plaid/checkered button-down shirts tucked into dark wash jeans with either brown leather sneakers or boots. (I’m a man.) My coworkers are a t-shirt and hoodie crowd. How can I dress more casually while still looking presentable and put together?

Are you comfortable leaving the button-downs untucked? If you find some that are the right length for that, that’s one way to do it. Alternately, there are shirts that are partway between button-downs and t-shirts — for example, this or this — which could be easy ways to casual things up. (Henleys, in particular, might be what you want.)

4. Participating in my husband’s company’s March Madness pool

My husband owns a small company, less than 15 people. It’s a very casual (but generally genuinely professional) atmosphere. Initially he hired only folks from his previous jobs in the same industry. Until last year, he’d known everyone who works for him for at least a decade. I am also friendly with most of them and have hung out many times over beers or lunches and have done a tiny bit of work here and there over the years (very tiny). Last year, he hired five new people. I have never met any of them.

Every year they do a March Madness Pool. Everyone contributes to the pot, winner takes all. I’ve always joined in and didn’t think twice about it. Until last year. For a couple of weeks it looked like I might take the prize, which would have meant me, the owner’s wife, taking money not from my husband’s pals who I’d hung out with at bars, but from employees that I’d never even met.

I felt super uncomfortable with this scenario, but my husband thought I was crazy. Luckily, I didn’t win. But it’s going to come up again this year. I really love March Madness and my own office doesn’t allow a pool. But I just can’t be in his office pool. Right?

I don’t think it’s absolutely unacceptable for you to participate it, but I’d advise against it. In a lot of companies (maybe this one, maybe not), the boss’s wife winning the pool just wouldn’t look great. Why risk the resentment?

And as your husband’s company grows, it’s a good idea for you to have clearer boundaries with it and his employees anyway. The bigger it gets, the more potential there is for weirdness about your presence (which you might never know about, but can still exist).

5. Job application asks for salary history despite state ban

I am currently applying to a job which asks applicants to submit past three years salary history to the chair of the search committee. I live in Connecticut which banned employers and potential employers from asking for salary histories in 2019. Do I ignore it or address it?

Ignoring the question altogether is an option, although that carries the risk that they’ll reject you over it. (If you’re a stellar candidate they probably won’t, but otherwise some employers would.) Another option is to say something like, “I wanted to bring to your attention that the request for salary history probably wasn’t still supposed to be in your application instructions, since Connecticut prohibited those inquiries as of last year.” Framing it as “whoops, someone might have forgotten to take this out” rather than “you are breaking the law” can be a less adversarial way of making the point. (There’s nothing wrong with “you are breaking the law” — because they are — but usually when you’re applying for a job it’s better not to put people on the defensive if there are other ways to achieve the goal you want.)

my new coworker seems to be asking us if he should cheat on his wife

A reader writes:

We recently hired a new person, Tulio, to join my team. Our structure is such that there are two groups to our team, group A (which I am in) and group B (which he was hired into). We both report to Wanda, who is remote and currently finishing up medical leave (we have an interim boss who we are transitioning out of reporting to). Tulio’s role has been hard to fill (there are about four of them covering different geographical territories). Since I started a bit over three years ago, we’ve had four new people in these roles, only one of whom has been good at it, and two have been let go. This particular role that Tulio is filling has had four people in it in six years.

Tulio started at the beginning of this week with a long career in our type of work. As a get-to-know-you thing, we took him for lunch yesterday. In the course of this lunch, my coworkers Charlotte and Bethany mentioned they were both divorced.

This seemed to open the floodgates for Tulio because he then spent the rest of lunch talking about how he and his wife have lost the love in their marriage and how he’s trying to rekindle it, but she refuses to do anything to help. They’ve been together at least 30 years. He told us in detail about how she even went so far as to invite her father to temporarily live with them to “avoid the issue.” (I used quotes because I’m not so sure if that’s the case, or the father was in poor health; he seems to think it was an avoidance strategy.)

Then he told us about a widow friend who he spends a lot of time with and that he has feelings for her he’s never had before, and that maybe this is what true love is. At the very least, he is emotionally cheating on his wife. He then asked Charlotte and Bethany about the divorce process and mused about whether he should leave his wife for this woman. I believe he was asking for our permission? It was very unexpected and every attempt to steer the conversation away seemed to fall on deaf ears. We were very uncomfortable.

Is there any reason to tell my boss, Wanda, about this once she is back full-time in a month? I have scripts for avoiding it in the future from you (it was just all very sudden and unexpected, so I didn’t use them). It’s more that he is in a client-facing role (traveling to sites and closing deals) and is remote from us in another state. If he got this comfortable from being with us for an hour for lunch (after maybe a cumulative hour together the days before), is there any reason he wouldn’t do the same with a customer? I’m hesitant because maybe he’s just like this with coworkers? It makes me question his boundaries and whether he can separate his work life from his personal life. But maybe I’m overreacting?

You’re not overreacting. It’s extremely weird.

I don’t think it’s “call Wanda at home on her leave and sound all possible alarms” weird, but it’s weird.

Telling your brand new coworkers about your marital troubles and the emotional affair you’re having with a friend and asking about whether to leave your marriage is … very bad judgment, at a minimum.

And frankly, sometimes people have terrible judgment in their personal lives but do perfectly well in their jobs. But this is his professional judgment that was on display. His professional judgment told him this was an appropriate topic for conversation with coworkers he just met, and his professional judgment told him no one was uncomfortable or weirded out by it.

So yeah, I’d be worried about what his professional judgment is going to tell him about clients.

If I were your boss, I’d want you to mention this within my first few days back from leave. Frame it as, “My interactions with Tulio have been pretty strange, and I wanted to mention what happened to you in case it’s something you think could come up in his client work.”

my employees keep going over my head

A reader writes:

I supervise a small group of people, and was told recently that they don’t like me giving reminders or asking for updates (or, possibly, they don’t like how I do that). This isn’t the first mention of it, but apparently what I’ve tried to do differently hasn’t helped. My problem is, no one from the group directly mentions it to me; all of the feedback is from my manager. I don’t know if she directly asks them about problems or if they just start talking about it, but it seems to come up frequently. I think it’s more of my manager providing an audience, so the complaints continue. I’m thinking what I’ve tried in the past hasn’t worked because the issues are misconstrued by going through my manager first or part of it gets left out in the retelling.

I’d like to ask my manager to support me more, ask if they’ve talked to me first, and then if they haven’t, tell them to talk to me first before they come to her. This way I get to hear exactly what’s bothering them and determine what solution would work.

Is this reasonable to request? It seems like some of the group like to complain, so is it reasonable to ask for the complaining to be shut down unless they directly address it with me first? Does the answer change if my manager is directly asking them for feedback on me? How do I bring this up in either scenario?

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.

I wasn’t the first choice for my job, I took a counteroffer but now want to quit, and more

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

1. I wasn’t the first choice for my job, and I think it shows

I’ve started a new position that is a really great opportunity for my career. However, I wasn’t the first choice candidate (their first hire didn’t show up) and it’s starting to show. This is giving me an incredible amount of anxiety and I’m not sure how to proceed working here. I feel less enthusiastic about my work.

Most of my colleagues have been quite nice; my grandboss has been lovely. My supervisor has been welcoming and has put a lot of effort into training me. One of my new colleagues (who I’ll work closest with) has been chilly towards me, which is probably explained by the fact that I wasn’t their first choice.

To make matters worse, I accidentally came across the supervisor’s notes about me. The manager has a folder about me and asked me to go into this folder to find a training document. I know I shouldn’t have looked at her notes about me, but I couldn’t resist. After finding this document, I truly felt deflated. I thought I had written a really kick-ass cover letter, and so did everyone else I know who I had read it, but they didn’t think much of it. There was a paragraph full of criticisms about the resume that didn’t (and still don’t) make any sense to me and they misconstrued a lot of what I meant! They criticized the length of my resume (which is 1-1/2 pages). Even though I was eventually interviewed and chosen for this position, I feel like their criticism of my resume was too harsh. I feel so bad about myself now. Is that really what they think of me? It seems like not much is expected of me and I’m not sure how to make the best out of this situation for my time here as the job is temporary for one year, but now I know they sure as hell probably aren’t going to keep me around any longer than they have to. This job is a HUGE step up for me (job title, description, salary, etc), but maybe I made a mistake to accept it?

What, no! People hire their second choice all the time. Third choice, even. And are thrilled with them. I’ve hired lots of people who weren’t my first choice and still turned out to be great. When you have one slot to fill and multiple good candidates, someone good will always come in second. That doesn’t make them a bad choice or a disappointing consolation prize.

That chilly coworker is almost certainly just a chilly person, not freezing you out because you weren’t the first choice! It would be incredibly odd if she were hung up on that. (But if that is why she’s being chilly, she’s a huge jerk.)

As for their notes about you — people are critical when they’re hiring. They need to be. They’re poking holes and probing for weak spots, because everyone has them and when you’re hiring you’ve got to figure out if a person’s weaknesses are prohibitive for the role or not. But since they interviewed you, their thoughts on your resume and cover letter clearly weren’t prohibitive — and few people ever remember someone’s resume and cover letter after they’re hired.

So they’re a stickler for one-page resumes! Some people are. Who cares? It’s never going to be relevant in your interactions with them again.

The majority of your coworkers have been quite nice. Your grandboss has been lovely. Your manager is welcoming and attentive. You have one colleague who might be kind of a jerk, as many people do. This sounds pretty good, overall. Don’t let your brain talk you out of what seems like a fine situation.

Also, if you haven’t yet talked with your manager about how things are going overall, do. It’s likely that’ll give you some peace of mind.

2. I accepted a counteroffer four months ago but now want to quit

I’m hoping you can help me figure out what to say to my boss when I resign from my job soon. I’ve received an offer for an amazing opportunity in a completely different industry in which I’ve always dreamed of working (similar to fashion, or entertainment). My current job is great too, albeit in a tediously boring industry which I have no personal interest in.

About four months ago, I was heavily recruited by another company and when I went to resign, my current boss couldn’t bear to lose me and came back with an incredible counteroffer which I could not turn down. Ultimately I turned the other company’s offer down and stayed at my current job, but with more salary, bonuses, PTO, flexibility, and remote work options.

Now that this other opportunity in the industry I’m truly passionate about has come my way, I feel terrible about resigning again so soon after my current company pulled out all the stops to keep me (and gave me an annual raise on top of it all at raise time, despite their policy of not giving multiple raises in a 12-month period).

How can I frame this for my boss that I truly appreciate everything she did to keep me and the capital she spent on my behalf, but I just can’t pass up this other opportunity and I’m leaving for real this time? I’m having an anxiety attack just visualizing this conversation!

Well, you might burn the bridge. Maybe not, but it’s possible. Some managers would be deeply disappointed but understand, and others would Not Be Pleased. You’ve got to brace yourself for either outcome; that’s just part of the risk when you accept a counter-offer, and definitely when you decide to leave soon afterwards anyway.

The best thing you can do is to tell her you know the timing is terrible, you realize how much she went to bat to keep you a few months ago, and you had no intention of leaving after that, but an opportunity fell in your lap that you can’t pass up in a field you’ve always wanted to work in. Emphasize how grateful you are that she pulled out all the stops to keep you; the less she feels like you’re glossing over that, the better.

This is, of course, one of the reasons why counteroffers are so risky, for both sides.

3. Verb tenses on resumes

I’m updating my my resume as I begin a new job search, and I was wondering about verb tenses. I know that when listing your current job, to use the present tense when describing the job, like this:

Administrative Assistant at Llamas International
• Maintain international client communication list.
• Process requests for llama shampoo specialists.
• Etc.

However, I’ve learned through your column that I should be including achievements on my resume as well. For past jobs, that’s no problem. But when it’s an achievement in my current job, it looks like:
• Develop new system to track deadlines and payments more efficiently.

I worry that in that case, the present tense makes it look like an ongoing, expected part of the job, and not something that I went above my regular duties to create. (And that my boss was very excited to implement!) Achievements are a little harder to quantify in an assistant role like mine, so I want to make sure to include the ones I have. Do I use the past tense when mentioning achievements, even though the rest would be in present tense, or should I keep it all present tense? Or should I be doing something else entirely?

When something was in the past and isn’t ongoing, it’s fine to use past tense for it. So you’d have a mix:

• Maintain international client communication list.
• Process requests for llama shampoo specialists.
• Developed new system to track deadlines and payments more efficiently.

And yay for you for transitioning to accomplishments on your resume! (You can strengthen it even further if you can get more specific about the outcome of that new system. If you can’t, it’s still good — but it would be great to say something like “cut late payments by 20%” or “cleared significant backlog.”)

4. I was about to schedule an in-person interview, then got an email saying the job was filled

I recently applied for a position at another company. I was contacted by their recruiter and had a brief phone interview with her, after which she put me through to the next phase, a phone interview with the hiring manager. That interview went well and I was sent an online test to determine if I would be a good fit. I was contacted Monday by their recruiter to tell me that everything looked great and they want to schedule an in-person interview so she wanted to get my availability for the rest of the week. She said she would coordinate with all the parties involved and email me the interview information. Two days later, I received a canned email from the company saying the position had been filled and there’s been no additional communication.

Should I contact them again? If so, what do I say? Is it normal to fill a position while working to schedule an interview? I’m confused since all previous communication was very encouraging and the process seemed to be moving quickly.

It’s pretty common to interview people on a rolling basis and/or keep considering new applicants until the position has been filled, meaning that you can be in the middle of their process when they hire someone and close the search. That sounds like what happened here — they had a candidate who was further along in the process than you were and ended up being strong enough to hire, so now they’re letting everyone else know the position is no longer open.

(It’s also possible the email was sent in error, but if that’s the case you’ll presumably hear back from the recruiter once she’s ready to schedule — although if you really want to, you can check with her about the message you received.)

weekend free-for-all – January 18-19, 2020

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 View From Penthouse B, by Elinor Lipman. Two sisters, one recently widowed and one recently bankrupted by Bernie Madoff, move in together and try to figure out what’s next … as complications arise in the form of a young boarder and a paroled ex.  I keep seeing Elinor Lipman called a modern Jane Austen, and I don’t think that’s far off; she writes wonderful comedies of manners. This one is warm and cozy and funny.

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

open thread – January 17-18, 2020

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.

how to set up a meeting to ask for a raise, my boss doesn’t trust us to work from home, and more

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

1. How to set up a meeting to ask for a raise

I am gearing up to ask for a raise next week. I feel confident about my case, and confident about the numbers that I’m asking for. I have poured through your raise guide and it has been so helpful for me as I prepare. There is one part that I am nervous about, and haven’t quite figured out. How do I get on my boss’ calendar to begin with?

Some friends have advised me to schedule a week out and let him know that I will want to discuss my compensation. Others have suggested surprising him the morning of, and not revealing what I want to talk about. I asked a friend who is a manager, and he recommended I give a week’s notice and say I want to talk about “the status of my employment” — they say this will make the boss nervous I might quit and he’ll be more ready to give me a raise.

Do not ask to talk about “the status of my employment” a week in advance! That sounds like you’re quitting, he’s very likely to ask you what’s up on the spot rather than waiting for the meeting, and when he finds out it’s about a raise it’s going to look really weird that you worded it that way.

If you have regular one-on-one’s, you’d do it there, but I’m guessing you don’t. If you have a pretty informal relationship and talk often, you can say toward the end of one of those meetings, “I’m hoping you might have a few more minutes for something that’s on my mind” and do it on the spot if he says yes. But if that doesn’t feel right, then say, “I’m hoping to get a short meeting on your calendar to talk about how my work is going.” Or, if you prefer, be more explicit and say, “I’d like to set up a short meeting to talk about my performance and my compensation. Would Tuesday at 3 pm work for you?” (Some people would tell you to only do the latter so he isn’t blindsided, but it really depends on your sense of your boss.)

2. My boss wants detailed reports of everything we do when we work from home

I work in a hospital setting and my boss is very old school. She is just getting open to the idea of working from home. She is aware that the neighboring companies around us have great benefits and allow working from home all the time or most days, but she seems to think that working from home is just “checking emails.” But after three years of us pushing for this, she has finally opened up to the idea and has let us do this one time per pay period. In our line of work, we do not need to be in the office. Some days, my coworkers and I don’t even see each other or anyone else. But she likes our butts in seats where she can monitor what time we come in and out.

She has now sent us an email requesting that we send her a detailed update of what we did on our work-from-home days. Is this crazy? Can I push back on this or will I dig myself into a hole?

Send her the updates. She clearly doesn’t trust that people really work on those days, so it’s to your advantage to demonstrate what you’re doing. Having a detailed account of what you got done from home will make it harder for her to argue that you’re just “checking emails.”

Is it annoying? Yes. Does it indicate she’s unclear on how to manage effectively? Yes. But it’s still in your best interest to send those reports to illustrate that her beliefs about remote work are wrong. (Plus, pushing back will probably confirm her worst fears — she’ll think you don’t want to be accountable on those days.)

If she’s still asking for those reports months down the road, you can push back then. But right now this is still an experiment that she’s unsure about.

3. What should I do before starting a new job?

Thanks in large part to your excellent resume, cover letter, and interview advice, I’ve received an offer for my dream job from an amazing company. My start date is in a few weeks. Until then, I have intermittent contracting work as well as travel and oral surgery :( planned, but I’m wondering if there’s any job preparing stuff I should be doing.

Yesterday I went Official Job Clothes Shopping and otherwise spruced up my closet. For now though, what can I do to make sure that I can hit the ground running on my first day?

My partner is urging me to start getting into a routine so that it’s not like toxic shock when I have to start going into the office every day. But there’s also the school of thought (mine. I guess) that my life is going to become way more hectic and busy when the job starts so I should enjoy these more relaxed days while they last.

I’m more of your school of thought than your partner’s.

I mean, know thyself and if you have a lot of trouble changing routines, then sure, start easing yourself into the new schedule now. But if that’s never been a particular issue for you, I don’t think you need to give up sleep and relaxation now just to put yourself in that mode early.

Beyond that, there’s not much you need to do! If you really want to be prepared, look through the company’s website, skim their annual report if one’s available, and check out the LinkedIn profiles of the people you’ll be working with. Check Google Maps a few mornings during what will be your commute time to see how long the commute will be at that hour on an average day. But honestly, all of that is more than most people do. You could skip all that, just get good sleep the night before, and you should be fine.

4. Employer sent me a survey asking what I thought of my interview

Last Wednesday, I was contacted about an interview over Skype the next day. The interview went pretty well and at the end I was given a skills test to complete with a 24-hour deadline. Due to a migraine, I did the test the next morning, and I judged the test to be perhaps too simple. And then I sat back to wait.

I have yet to hear back about either an official rejection or offer, but did get a puzzling email. On Monday, I was sent a post-interview survey that included questions like how I thought the interview went, what I thought of my interviewer, and what I thought of the survey.

I dislike being asked these questions without being officially told the results of my interview process. Am I overreacting here? I tried not to answer too harshly if at all on the survey. Am I right in thinking, however, that this is their way of rejecting me? Or is this normal and I am reading too much into this?

No, this is weird. This isn’t a rejection, though, unless it’s one being sent in deep code, which isn’t how rejections are usually done. That doesn’t mean you haven’t been removed from the running — employers don’t always bother to tell you when that’s the case — but the survey doesn’t signal that.

That said, this kind of survey shouldn’t be sent out while you’re still waiting to hear, since few candidates are going to give honest critiques while they’re still in the running out of fear of it impacting their chances. Frankly, it would have been fine to ignore it and not respond at all, or to wait to respond until you were done with their process.

(Also, what you thought of your interviewer and what you thought of the survey? Someone there sounds needy.)