here’s an example of an excellent cover letter

I often get asked for examples of good cover letters, and a reader recently sent me a good one that I want to share.

I’m always telling people “don’t just use your cover letter to summarize your resume — add something new.” This is a really nice example of how you can talk about your work but in a more conversational way that fleshes out what you’re all about professionally.

The caveats I’ve learned to give when sharing these:

  • The writer has allowed me to share this here as a favor to me and to readers. Please remember she’s a real person when you’re commenting.
  • This writer’s voice is her voice. It will not be your voice, and that’s part of the point.
  • There is no single cover letter in the world that all hiring managers will love or that would be the right fit for every employer and every industry. But I receive letters every week from people telling me that moving in this sort of direction worked for them.
  • Do not steal this letter or even parts of it. It works because it’s so customized to the writer. It’s intended for inspiration only — to show what the advice here can look like in practice. Stealing it will doom you to terrible job search luck.

Here’s what this person’s original note to me said:

My company announced that my division was going to be sold about three weeks before we all started working remotely. I’d been tossing around the idea of looking for a new job, but once unemployment rates started skyrocketing I didn’t think it was a good time, especially since we were all guaranteed jobs after the sale. I had to redo my resume anyway for the transition, so I used your advice to rework it slightly since I hadn’t touched it in years.

Well, every time I got super stressed about the work transition, I dealt with it by reading other people’s tales of woe on your site, and by spending some time on job search activities. I only applied to three jobs (in different industries from the one I was in, but good, stretch matches for my skill set).  I used your cover letter advice to write a slightly better cover letter for each job, and I thought I really knocked it out of the park with the last one.  Apparently I did, because I got a call very quickly for an interview, and after using all of your interviewing (and negotiating) advice, I accepted a great offer that’s the perfect next career step.   I’m a month in now and even with the weirdness of starting a new job fully remote, it’s been great.  Your continued good news stories gave me the confidence to keep looking and to stretch to something completely new.

And here’s the letter, with identifying details replaced.

•   •   •   •   •

Dear Hiring Manager,

I am excited to apply for your posted Data Analyst position. While my recent experience is in a different heavily regulated industry, my background includes extensive data analysis and reporting to all levels of management, as well as a variety of internal and external stakeholders. I love to dive in and really understand not just the data – but the story that the data tells and how it fits into the broader picture.

One of my favorite elements of my previous jobs has been pulling together just the right data elements to create a snapshot that’s easy for the intended audience to understand. I’ve developed everything from high level monthly dashboards of department performance to an in-depth look at a particular focus area. While many times data and reporting needs are clear, I have also met with stakeholders to help define the process and clarify the data needed to answer the questions that will support goal achievement.

I also love the opportunity to flex my analytic muscles and create the opportunity to play “what if?” with the data. In my current role, that manifests as development of a $35M/year budget for a three year plan for stewpot production activities. I review previous expenditures and contract details to build a flexible model that ties spending (and stewpot production) to various levels of forecasted performance. As planned activities are rolled out, I track performance and dig into variances – not just the “what,” but also the “why”.

In my previous role, I dug deep into a health plan’s claims data set to look for patterns of claim activity for targeted provider and facility audits. To facilitate that review, I worked closely with the clinical external audit staff to discuss what they were seeing in the field, and eventually became a certified professional coder.

While the current pandemic has required many difficult adjustments, it has also dramatically accelerated changes to how healthcare operates. Data needs to drive these changes to connect them to current business models. This will require new data, and changes to how existing data is thought about and used. I’m excited to be a part of that.

I look forward to speaking with you to learn more about your organization, and the career opportunities it offers me, as well as how my skills can help Stewpot Enterprises succeed. Thank you for your consideration.

Thank you,
(name, contact info)

banning political talk at work isn’t the answer … but read the room

Every election year, my mail at Ask a Manager fills up with letters from people who are fed up with political talk at work. Often it’s not even about agreeing or disagreeing—people just want a space where they can focus on work without having to hearing political rants, even when they’re on the same side of the aisle as the ranter.

I’ve long given the same advice on the topic: People should avoid discussing politics at work, period. But if you’re going to do it, watch carefully for cues that your coworkers aren’t interested and be willing to move on. Don’t assume the person you’re talking with shares your beliefs. Be aware that something that seems theoretical to you might have real-life ramifications for them. And realize that people at work are a captive audience, and they may worry about sharing what they truly think because they need to preserve good professional relationships, especially if there’s a power dynamic in play.

But at Slate today, I wrote about why that advice has felt harder to give this year, and why it might not be workable at all. You can read it here.

my new team is taunting me because I have a nut allergy

A reader writes:

I have a nut allergy and carry an epipen. It’s never been an issue in the 12 years I’ve worked for my company.

I have recently been promoted to a new department. As usual, I explained to the manager I have a nut allergy but it doesn’t effect anything (i.e., it’s not an airborne allergy), first aiders are aware (and always available), and my epipen is located in my drawer if needed. I said I was only letting him know as sometimes I don’t join in team buffets/bake-offs and don’t want to appear rude.

The manager sent out an email to the entire department banning nuts of any kind in the office because (my full name) is allergic. I was mortified and hastily explained there was no need for that and it’s not that kind of allergy — I’m only ill if I eat them, not if other people do. The manager refused to withdraw or clarify the email and declared the whole department is now nut-free.

When I asked why, he said it’s company policy that if anyone has an allergy, the allergen is banned from the department and he can’t change it. I explained that in 12 years this has never been the case. I asked him to withdraw the email and explained again the reasons it was not necessary. He refused, saying his decision was final and it will not be changed — he’s “not getting sued for something like this” — and literally walked away from his desk.

Since his email went out, there have been a lot of snide comments like “ooh, I would love a peanut butter sandwich but thanks to you-know-who I can’t” … “All these people with made-up allergies looking for attention” … and “Here comes the fun police” when I walk past.

It’s been a month and it’s escalating. Every day this week, I’ve came in to mini Snickers bars lined up along my keyboard. Everyone denies responsibility. I’ve tried to just laugh it off, but it’s starting to really affect me.

The change of department is a promotion and I was so excited to learn and develop new skills, but I want nothing more than to go slinking back to my old position where the staff were lovely. I’m worried if I do ask to transfer back to my original department and pay grade, I will be passed over for future promotions for being flaky and unreliable. Is it even possible to apply for a demotion? What can I do?

What on earth.

There are so many problems here that I don’t even know where to begin. Everyone in this situation except you is a ridiculous ass.

Your coworkers are jerks. Lining up Snickers bars on your desk? This is the action of second graders who don’t yet understand that you don’t taunt people or endanger their welfare (!) because they have a medical condition that stands in the way of you eating a peanut butter sandwich. (Actually, that’s insulting to second graders, most of whom do understand that.) Are these adults with fully-formed brains? Their behavior is breathtaking in its immaturity and general nastiness.

And your manager … dear lord. It’s one thing if he simply misunderstood the company policy — that happens — but he’s being a jerk about it.

Is he aware of the harassment you’re experiencing from the rest of the team? If he is and he’s not acting swiftly to stop it, then he’s not only a jerk but he’s doing the exact thing he claimed he wanted to avoid: putting the company at risk of getting sued.

That’s because it’s illegal under federal law for an employer to allow an employee to be harassed over a disability or the perception of a disability. Legally, your manager can’t stand by while people taunt you or otherwise create a hostile work environment over your nut allergy.

At this point, I wouldn’t try to deal with your manager about this at all. Instead, it’s squarely in HR territory — both his misinterpretation of the policy and the harassment you’re experiencing. Talk to HR and explain what’s been happening. Tell them you’re experiencing harassment that you believe is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act and that you’re asking for their help in putting a stop to it. Make sure you mention both the snarky comments and the candy bars so they know the full extent of the problem.

Tell them, too, that you’re concerned you might experience retaliation from your boss and your coworkers once it gets out that you talked to HR, and ask for their help in ensuring that doesn’t happen. (Retaliation for reporting harassment is also illegal, so your company HR department has a strong interest in preventing it — but it can help to specifically call it out as something you want their assistance with.)

But even if HR handles this beautifully, even if your boss issues a mea culpa and a correction, even if your coworkers are shamed into acting like normal human beings … you’re still stuck working with awful people who have been terrible to you.

You can point that out to HR too and ask for their help in figuring out how to make this right. It’s understandable that you might not want to work in this department anymore! But it’s also not right that you should have to take a demotion to get away from them. Talk to HR about that explicitly and ask what your options are. Are there other teams where you could keep your current pay grade and still have the professional opportunites this promotion was supposed to provide? If not, you may have to decide if you’d rather stay where you are or go back to the old role — but as a general rule, your company’s solution shouldn’t end with you getting a pay cut or worse assignments. So that needs to be part of this conversation as well — and maybe with a lawyer too if HR doesn’t handle this with appropriate swiftness.

I am making things with yarn and loving it

And now a word from a sponsor…

A few months ago, I took up crocheting – and I love it.

The first week or two were frustrating. I was teaching myself from YouTube videos, which I suspect is harder than having someone teach you in person, and I announced multiple times that I was finished trying, giving it up, not going back to it … and then for some reason I would always pick it back up and keep trying. I’m so glad I did, because now that I’ve figured it out, I love it.

So far I’ve crocheted scarves for everyone in my family and am in danger of offering to make them for strangers. I’ve made a dishcloth, three blankets, and have just begun a fourth. I cannot adequately explain how much joy I’m getting from doing it. (Apparently research shows it’s good for you when your brain and your hands are working on something together. It’s also hugely stressful-relieving, and as someone who mainly produces words, it’s so satisfying to produce a tangible thing.)

blanket

I made this blanket!

All this brings me to the Loopy Ewe, which is an incredible yarn shop run by a long-time Ask a Manager reader!

Sheri Berger started The Loopy Ewe in the corner of her basement in 2006. She and her daughter had taken up knitting, made about 40 scarves, finally realized they had enough scarves (I can relate to this), and transitioned to socks. But they were finding that the yarn shops around them only had a handful of sock yarn options, and they wanted more. So the Loopy Ewe was born.

The business took off and a year later they moved into a brick and mortar store. They’ve now got a 7,000 square foot shop in Fort Collins, CO that also sells yarns online. They carry yarns from large companies all the way down to indie dyers (dyeing small scale and running their businesses from home). They have gorgeous yarn that comes from all over the world. I’m particularly eyeing this yarn for a hat.

They have absurdly fast shipping (typically within 24 hours, which I haven’t found anywhere else that’s not Amazon) and great customer service, and they run programs throughout the year to encourage knitters and crocheters to learn new skills.

If you’re already a knitter or crocheter, or if you’ve thought of taking it up, check out the Loopy Ewe for beautiful yarns!

In fact, the Loopy Ewe is offering Ask a Manager readers a set of three free knitting patterns with purchase (for a scarf, a cowl, and socks — great for holiday gift knitting!). To get the free patterns: After you check out, you’ll get a page with a link to leave an order note. Click on that link, let them know you came from Ask A Manager, and they’ll email you the three-pattern set. Check them out today!

Loopy Ewe website
Instagram
Twitter
Facebook and their Loopy Ewe Knitting Circle
Ravelry
YouTubeDisclosure: This post is sponsored by the Loopy Ewe. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

why are people so relaxed about lateness, should managing be this much work, and more

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

1. Am I old-fashioned about lateness?

I feel it is non-negotiable that — except for cases of emergency, sick kids, traffic jams — employees should be at work on time the vast majority of days. This means getting to work about 10 minutes early in time to hang up a coat, use the bathroom, etc., and be at one’s desk/station when the hour begins. I feel like most employees and many managers do not so much care about this or, if they do, they don’t say anything to late employees. I have worked with colleagues who regularly show up 10-20 minutes late and no one seems to care. I’m not talking about flex-time jobs. Are my standards old-fashioned?

Not just old-fashioned, but genuinely out-of-date!

In lots of jobs, it just doesn’t matter if you’re at your desk at 9:00 or 9:10 because it has zero impact on the results you get. There are other jobs where it does matter — for example, if you cover the phones and you’re not there at the start of business hours so someone else has to answer them for you — but increasingly jobs that can move away from that (which, again, isn’t all of them) are doing so.

The only relevant question is: Does it affect the person’s work results or someone else’s work? If yes, then you address the specific impact it’s having. But if the answer is no, then you’re adhering to an outdated idea of what excellent work should look like. And hassling someone who’s performing well over 10 minutes — or god forbid, for using the bathroom or chatting with a colleague before they sit down — is a good way for managers to demonstrate that they don’t value the right things and send them in search of a manager who does.

2. Should managing an entry-level staffer be this much work?

I work for a consulting firm that deals with a flurry of client demands and ever changing deadlines. I’ve needed extra support for a while, and we recently hired someone to support my portfolio. I was thrilled to get this person on board but here’s the issue — this staff member is entry level. They had strong references and great internship experience but I really underestimated how much time I would need to spend managing this person’s work. I figured we’d spend a lot of time on training but they’ve been working for me for months now, and I end up having to redo their work all the time. The one time I tried to take a step back from the heavy editing, my client called me to complain about the quality of work. Somehow, since we’ve hired this person, I’m now working longer hours than ever and frequently spend my evenings redoing their work and then the next mornings trying to explain my edits, and then my evenings reviewing their latest versions and finalizing it for the client. In between all of this, I’m still trying to stay on top of my own tasks.

Is this normal for managing entry level staff? If so, how can I manage my expectations? I’m just so stressed and overwhelmed that I wish I had never asked for additional staff.

No, it’s not normal. Managing entry-level staff is a significant time commitment; they’ll need training, supervision, feedback, and regular check-ins. But if the person was hired to give you extra support, then after an intensive initial period, it should produce a net time savings for you. Otherwise, there’s not much point to doing it.

It could be that the person just isn’t the right match for the work you need done (maybe hiring someone inexperienced wasn’t the way to go, or maybe this particular person just wasn’t the right one), or it could be that they need more/different training than what they’ve had, or maybe you’re giving them higher-level work than is suited for the role and you need to re-envision what they can help you with. If you have a decent manager, ideally she’d be helping you figure out what’s going on and where to go from here — but the outcome shouldn’t be that your support person means you’re doing more work than ever.

3. Disclosing dyslexia at a new job

I’m dyslexic. Early in my career it caused me a huge amount of stress — people were constantly getting upset and lecturing me about typos (stuff that spellcheck can’t capture, think “form/from”) that I literally couldn’t see. I never mentioned my dyslexia and it took a lot to overcome the perception that I was sloppy. Despite that, I advanced in my career and it became less of an issue because of my seniority. But it wasn’t until my current position that, for a combination of reasons (my boss, a copy editing team, etc.) it stopped feeling like something was handing over my head. I also, a couple years ago, started mentioning to people on my team that I was dyslexic and that has made it even easier to deal with.

Now I am contemplating a new, even more senior role with a new organization and I’m finding myself very nervous about it becoming an issue again. I don’t feel like “are you going to think less of me if there are typos in some of my emails?” is a question I can ask in an interview process. But is there anything I can say or do when I start to get ahead of this? I’m hesitant to mention I’m dyslexia to people who don’t know me well, because people tend to associate it with not being smart.

I think you can be very matter-of-fact about this once you start a new job! For example: “I’m dyslexic, which means I often can’t spot typos in my work. In the past I’ve handled that by having anything I write that’s important or for an outside audience be proofread. What’s the best way to go about that here?” And: “That also means you may see typos from me in informal, internal emails. I want you to know up-front it’s not lack of care.”

Most places will be happy to accommodate you on this — especially in the more senior roles you’re in now. A lot of senior people rely on others to proofread or edit their communications (because their skills are often in other areas); that’s not unusual at all. Your accomplishments in getting you to this senior role will speak a lot louder than the dyslexia will.

4. When to tell my office I won’t be returning when they reopen

I have been at my current job for a decade. Under normal circumstances it’s a job that would require my physical presence at my workplace at least 75% of the time, but with the pandemic and people not congregating in spaces, the nature of my job has changed and it’s all remote.

I’m currently working from a different city that is not within regular commuting distance of my job (which my office knows; I’ve been staying with family for child care assistance and extra space). My partner and I have recently decided that we will move here permanently. We’re currently in the process of buying a house and putting down roots here. At the moment that doesn’t interfere with my day to day work, but when my workplace eventually reopens I will inevitably have to resign.

At what point should I let my job know my plans? Do I wait until they start requiring people be in the office (that’s a moving target and could be January or it could be June)? Once we move into our new home (which may become evident on video calls)? I’m inclined towards something sooner but then am not sure how to word it. While I’m excited at the prospect of a new job after 10 years, I’m also not eager to job hunt in a new city during a pandemic and would like to stay on as long as it’s reasonable for my position.

The concern with raising it now is that if they know you’ll be resigning once they reopen, you risk being pushed out earlier than you want to leave, especially if they need to make cuts at some point. And they’ll need to hire your replacement, which might not be on the timeline you’d prefer. Given that, I’d be very cautious about announcing anything that makes it clear you won’t be continuing in your job once they reopen.

And really, it’s okay to keep this to yourself for now — just like you wouldn’t need to announce that you were planning resign in six months for grad school, or wouldn’t need to announce you were job searching and planning to leave as soon as you found something better. You’re entitled to wait until there’s a reopening date that looks real and give them notice at that point (and it won’t need to be “we moved permanently three months ago”; it can just be “we’ve decided to stay here”).

But I also understand wanting to be transparent. If they treat people well and you have no reason to worry they’d push you out earlier than you’d want to leave, that’s something of a counter-weight to the above … but I’d argue that at this particular moment in time, it’s extra important to be cautious when something could affect your income. Ultimately, though, you have to decide how concerned you are about that risk.

(If it were possible for you to continue remotely when they reopen, this would be a completely different answer but it sounds like that’s not the case.)

5. Keeping in touch with a coworker who got laid off when I didn’t

A small group of us in my department were told we were being downsized. I’d been at the company over five years but was not very close with anyone on the team except for one person, “Zoya,” who’s been there as long as I’ve been alive. She and I worked together on a number of projects and I even gave her training on a couple occasions. She was such a ray of sunshine in the office, always happy and enthusiastic, and before our individual meetings with HR, I sent her an email telling her I’d miss her and asking for a personal email address so we could keep in touch.

Now the awkward part. When I went into my meeting about the layoffs, HR told me I could choose a transfer and a promotion to another department, due to a frankly miraculous serendipity that had someone retire out of this other department just as our department was being downsized. I had the option to accept severance, but in addition to the stability of guaranteed employment, the new job actually fits my degree and qualifications 100%.

I’d like to contact Zoya, and certainly don’t want her thinking I only asked for her email as a pure formality, and I had also suggested she find me on Facebook. Trouble is, of course, if she does, she’ll see that I got to keep my job while she didn’t. And if I just email her, it seems like it has to come up as I update her on what’s going on with me. As I mentioned, she’s been at the company my whole life, and most of the team knew I was fresh out of grad school when I started and was technically overqualified. I don’t think she would be shocked, least of all hurt, by this turn of events, but I’m very socially awkward and just keep coming up blank on how to initiate contact with her in a way that won’t be somehow hurtful. She was near tears at the announcement that we were all being let go, and especially with the uncertain times we’re in, I almost feel guilty over my good fortune. Yet I really don’t want to ghost on her, either.

All you can do is be straightforward! For example: “I wanted to check in and see how you’re doing. (More here — about how you’re doing, updates on things you’ve shared, or so forth.) I also wanted to let you know that I ended up staying on at (company). At the last minute, they ended up moving me into the X role in the Y department, so I’m still here. It’s obviously a relief, but I miss our old team. I’d love to stay in touch; you were always one of my favorite people to work with.”

You don’t need to dance around the news or feel guilty about it; it’s okay to just come out and say it.Even if she has a moment of “why not me?” she’s likely to be glad for you. (And if she’s not, you still don’t need to feel guilty; you didn’t lay her off, and no one would expect you to turn down the job out of solidarity.)

weekend open thread – October 24-25, 2020

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: The Expectations, by Alexander Tilney. A teenager and his roommate each struggle in different ways to navigate an exclusive prep school. There’s lots in here about class and privilege, and how weird adolescence is. In many ways, this is the cousin of Prep, which I recommended a few weeks ago.

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

it’s your Friday good news

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

1. I’m pleased to be able to finally share some good news. I’ve had a really tough time during lockdown, struggling to concentrate and feeling like I’m only just keeping my head above water with home working. It was made even worse by so many people around me talking about how great they’re finding being at home, away from the distractions of the office, no commute, etc. All I wanted was to be back in the office with my routine, working with my team.

It got to a point where I was having panic attacks and taking weeks of sick leave from work. But during the whole time I was reading Ask A Manager religiously, including the comments section. I started to notice people talking about ADHD and I recognised my own struggles in what people were describing. Long story short, I was diagnosed with ADHD last month.

It feels like things have finally started to make sense, and even though I am still at home for the foreseeable future, at least I have a better understanding of myself and I’m learning to let go of the shame associated with having been unable to cope with “normal” things for most of my life. I also have access to many resources and support groups that are helping me get by.

But there’s more good news! During my research I learned that ADHD is highly genetic, and I told my sister. She has struggled to hold down jobs even though she is incredibly clever, and just before lockdown she quit another job because she just couldn’t cope. She has just been diagnosed with severe inattentive ADHD. She is over the moon that there is an explanation for her struggles, too. Plus, she has just received an offer for an incredible job, with more responsibility and more pay than she has had in the past, including managing a team for the first time. Now she is in a much better position to succeed. And of course I sent her to this site!

2. Big fan of your blog, and your enthusiasm about cover letters is contagious. Previously, I’d always gotten jobs through networking — in large part because I was terrified of cover letters. It seems so easy to let a typo slip by given the archaic formatting, or come off as a try-hard with too many buzzwords or not enough industry terms, etc. Every time I would start to write one, I’d imagine a pile of perfectly-crafted, inspired, yet professional and buttoned-up cover letters, and get intimidated.

But then I saw a job that would be a great fit where I don’t have any connection to the company, and I said, what the hell, I can do this! Your assurance in the blog that most cover letters are bad was actually really reassuring. I adopted a tone of “explaining to a skeptical sibling why this job is a great fit for my career,” and gave myself a midnight deadline.

I’m headed to a first-round phone screen next week, which isn’t much, but I feel like I’ve opened the door to a whole new world. Thanks as always for your blog!

3. I’m so excited to be able to contribute to the Friday good news! At the beginning of the lockdown I started a new job, as in I went into the office two days before moving permanently to work from home. I really loved the job and the team I left, but the new job, was the type of opportunity I was headhunted for and I thought I couldn’t pass up.

I had worked at a previous iteration of this company going in so I thought that I at least had those relationships going for me. Unfortunately, I came to be working under a person I didn’t expect, while never really getting a manager or knowing what my job is. I became afraid to ask anyone questions as I only received negative and aggressive responses. I also attempted to push back on some things I found racist and weird comments about bodies and was met with literal silence.

I had reached out to my manager at my previous role for advice since I viewed her as a mentor and had been in contact with her since I left. Two weeks ago she and the recruiter at that company reached out to me with an opening for my previous role and I jumped at the chance! In a week I’ll be (virtually) heading back there!

Giving my notice over a week ago really showed me I made the right choice. I’ve only been met with negativity and unprofessionalism. Meanwhile I’ve gotten texts from people at the old/new place who can’t wait to see me!

4. I lost my job in September 2019. It was a rough situation, with a toxic boss and she literally went down a list with HR trying to find a way to fire me. While job hunting, I returned to waiting tables so I could still make some money and have benefits. It was just temporary, or so I told myself. I applied for so many jobs. Made it to so many final interviews where they went with the other candidate because of one little thing or another

Then Covid hit, which made job hunting even harder. As a server, I actually made it through Covid pretty well. I was one of a handful at my location to not be furloughed, and to work curbside during restrictions. The company took pretty good care of everyone. But I still was looking. I expanded my parameters, was more willing to look at lower salary ranges or farther commutes. I wasn’t picky. I could compromise. Well-meaning friends and acquaintances would assure me my turn will come. But job hunting is not a board game. No one looks at my application and says, “Well, she has been unemployed long enough, it’s her turn to get an offer.” Every single job you are starting from scratch.

I had my one-year anniversary at my waiting tables job last week. But yesterday, after 5 rounds of interviews, I accepted an offer from a great company that has recently opened a site in my town. The company impressed me from the start, even being upfront about salary in the initial email. The salary was comfortably in my range, but when they offered me the job, it was at $3000 higher.

I ended up not having to compromise, It’s a good company, my salary is spot on, I have a minimal commute and my interactions with everyone so far have been fantastic. Plus the job itself is pretty much everything I would want in a job and draws on many of my previous experiences.

I had a hell of a year, and I am not just talking about Covid. I am a single parent (with one teenager still with me) and waitressing did not come close to my previous salary. We were evicted and even now are still in temporary housing. There were days I honestly didn’t think I could handle another rejection. I joked that I only needed to make it till my son turned 18 then I could give up. But I wasn’t really joking. I was living on rock bottom.

But I kept plugging. And the feedback when I was offered the position was they loved my energy and my positive attitude.

Thank you and all your readers for continuing to educate and share information to help all of us be in our own best job.

open thread – October 23-24, 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 (that includes school). If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

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

my coworker slept with my boyfriend, feedback for an excellent employee, and more

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

1. My coworker had an affair with my boyfriend

I became very close friends with a coworker. We work extremely closely, every single day, and that moved into a friendship outside of work too. In the spring, I found out that she had been seeing my long-term boyfriend behind my back (and the back of her fiance). Needless to say, working with her has been difficult, but I’ve done my best to remain professional and be as nice as possible, despite how hard it’s been. However, now my coworker’s work ethic is declining. Most people don’t know the full story and just think she’s going through a hard time because her wedding got called off. But now I’m picking up the slack and I’m not sure how to bring this up to our boss without it sounding like a personal vendetta.

The lowest-key option is just to set boundaries on picking up her slack in the same way you would do without the personal history if you didn’t have room to take on her work. But if you can’t feasibly do that — because your manager knows you have time to help, or because she’ll tell you to reprioritize to make room for it, or so forth — then it might indeed make sense to have a discreet conversation with your boss about the situation. It’s not about having a personal vendetta; it’s about giving her context so she understands a highly relevant dynamic on her team right now.

I’d say it this way: “I feel incredibly awkward sharing this with you and it’s not something I’d normally bring up, but asking me to help Jane with her work is putting me in an uncomfortable spot. I learned earlier this year that she was having an affair with my partner behind my back. I’ve made a point of staying professional at work, but I’d strongly prefer not to be asked to help with her projects if we can avoid that.”

2. Is it a problem to provide only positive feedback to my employee?

I’m new to managing and have a non-problem problem. I have a truly excellent employee on my team, “Dave.” He is bright, diligent, always volunteers for extra tasks and responsibility, and his work product is very high quality. I’m going to need to provide an annual review of Dave soon and I feel like I owe him more than “you’re doing everything perfectly, keep up the good work.”

I worry that 1) endless praise may seem disingenuous, 2) it might appear to Dave that I‘m not invested in coming up with ways to meaningfully coach him/help him improve, and 3) it could come off to my bosses that, as a new manager, I am naive about Dave’s abilities and am not evaluating critically enough. I’ll add that Dave and I were also coworkers/casual friends before I got promoted (though I think we’ve very successfully navigated into a manger/employee relationship and I don’t think this is coloring my view of his objectively excellent work). Dave really is an exceptional team member; am I overthinking? Is it ever a bad thing to only provide positive feedback?

Well, you want your feedback to accurately reflect Dave’s work, which sounds excellent. You can certainly bounce this off your boss and ask if jibes with her assessment as well (if she knows his work well enough to comment), but some people are just excellent at what they do! It’s not going to seem disingenuous as long as you’re nuanced and specific about why his work is so good.

However, feedback shouldn’t just be positive or negative; it should also be developmental, meaning feedback on how the person can go from good to even better. If Dave asked you for something he could work on to do an even better job in his role, what would you say? That’s worth reflecting on. Because you’re new to managing him, you might not have that perspective on his work yet, and that’s okay — but try to develop it as time goes on. Also, ask Dave where he wants to develop! What are his professional goals and how can you help him meet them?

You should also think about where you want to see Dave take the areas he’s responsible for in the future. Don’t just raise the bar for him because he’s so good, while not raising expectations for others doing similar work; you shouldn’t reward good work with a bigger pile of work. But in a lot of jobs, work goals always evolve year to year, and if this is one of those roles there are probably some really substantive conversations to have with him around what goals for his work should look like next year.

3. Family member died right before I started a new job

I just started a new job this week, after being unemployed since quarantine started. It’s a work from home position that pays very well, and I love the work. The only issue is that my grandmother died the day before I started. I’ve been trying to just act like nothing is happening, but it’s truly weighing on me. I’m not focused and am often having to turn off my microphone due to emotional moments. I feel like I should say something to my management team. I also don’t want to seem like I’m trying to cause problems or get sympathy when I’ve just barely started, and I don’t want pity from my coworkers either. I’m unsure how to proceed, or if I should say anything at all.

Let your boss know what’s going on! It’s not about asking for pity, just about providing helpful context. I’d want to know if my brand new employee was dealing with that on top of starting a new job! And if they do notice you seeming off in some way, it’s going to help for them to understand what might be happening.

It doesn’t have to be a big conversation, just something like, “I want to mention that I had a death in my family the day before I started, and I feel like I’m not as on my game as I ideally would be at a new job. I’m trying not to let it affect my focus, but I wanted to mention it just in case you noticed anything.”

(A good manager will likely ask if you need some time off, so think about whether you’d want that.)

I’m sorry about your grandma!

4. Should my resume include a part-time job outside my field?

My husband and I moved abroad from the states for his teaching career and plan to be here for a couple of years. I am looking forward to travel, so I am considering a part-time position vs a full-time position.

If I work part-time here, would I need to put that position on my resume once I go back stateside in a few years? I have a background in corporate banking and am not sure how a part-time position (entry level, non-industry related) would look to a potential future employer as the first thing on my resume. Do you advise leaving off part-time work?

You never need to put any particular position on your resume. You can leave things off if they don’t strengthen your candidacy overall.

But in general there’s no reason to exclude a job just because it was part-time. Part-time jobs warrant resume space just as much as full-time jobs! In this case, though, you might decide it doesn’t make sense to include it because it’s entry level (which I’m assuming you aren’t) and outside of your field. Or you might decide to briefly mention it so it’s clear what you’ve been doing during that time. Resume gaps aren’t the avoid-at-all-costs calamity that people sometimes worry they will be, but there can be value in showing you’ve stayed in the workforce. it’s really up to you though, and it depends on the specific factors you’re weighing with your specific resume.

5. Can I ask for detailed benefit info if I get a job offer?

I’m in final round interviews for a new job. I’m currently employed, but excited about the prospect of this new opportunity. However, I have really great benefits now (health insurance, 401k). If I’m offered the position, can I ask to see their benefit package in detail? Basically I want to compare it to what I have now, line by line. If I’m offered the job and choose not to accept because of the benefits or salary, is it appropriate to tell them that?

Absolutely, on both counts. It’s very normal to ask for details of the benefits package if an employer doesn’t offer it up on their own (although they often will). In fact, I’d recommend always asking to see it once you get an offer so you don’t have any unpleasant surprises once you start. And it’s perfectly fine to explain that you’re declining the job because of the salary or benefits, if that becomes the case. (It’s also genuinely useful feedback for them to hear — and can sometimes result in them sweetening the offer — so don’t be at all hesitant to say it.)

I won money on a game show, and my coworkers resent that I wasn’t laid off

A reader writes:

Pre-pandemic, I was on a game show. The game show itself isn’t well known, but I did win a small but not life-changing sum (think like three months salary after taxes). My coworkers knew I had been on this show, but per the contract I signed, I wasn’t allowed to reveal the results until the episode aired. I ended up using the entire sum to pay down my student loans, which — not being able to see the future — seemed smarter at the time than putting it in my savings. (I do have some savings, but not enough for this economy.)

The episode has aired within the past few weeks and a few of my coworkers have watched it. The issue is that we just went through a pretty large round of layoffs, and I overheard two of my coworkers, Willow and Xander, gossiping about how unfair it is that Buffy was laid off but I wasn’t. I work as a part of a (formerly) two-person team, and am now doing Buffy’s former duties as well as my own. Willow said that because I have all that game show money and Buffy doesn’t, it’s unfair that she’s now jobless. Xander expressed concern over Buffy’s kid and pointed out that I don’t have any kids, and so it wouldn’t be as expensive for me.

I really liked Buffy, and she and I were hired at the exact same time. I have no idea why she was laid off and I wasn’t, it’s just one of those things.

(My coworkers know how much I won before taxes, because they make a big deal of it in the show. It’s four months salary before taxes. But it’s not like “I can live on this for a whole year” money.)

I’m worried that my coworkers’ gossip may spread and make me a target in the next round of layoffs. I also don’t like the fact that they seem to prefer Buffy over me. I fully acknowledge that I may be reading too much into this, and that ultimately layoffs are out of my control. Is this worth bringing up with Willow and Xander? Should I just dismiss this as gossip, and pretend I never heard anything? Should I reveal that I already spent the money? Any advice would be much appreciated!

Your coworkers are really wrong here.

If they thought about it, they’d realize that they probably don’t want layoffs to be done on the basis of who most needs the work. Should we lay off people without kids first? Or maybe married people first, since they have a spouse to help support them? What about Jeff, who has those expensive student loan payments? Or Jane, who got that inheritance from her grandmother in the spring? And doesn’t Cecil live rent-free in his parents’ garage?

That’s not how it works, and that’s not how anyone should want it to work. When employers get into the business of judging employees’ personal financial situations (or more accurately, what they think they know about employees’ personal financial situations, which might not even be correct), bad things happen. You make layoff decisions based on business needs: what functions and roles you can realistically cut, sometimes factoring in performance, tenure, etc.

That said, their friend just lost her job, and they might be worried about their own jobs too. When people are emotional, they sometimes say things that don’t hold up to logical scrutiny … and sometimes they say things they won’t really think a few weeks later.

It’s pretty unlikely that their comments will put a target on you if there’s another round of cuts. Managers involved in layoff decisions are unlikely to be influenced by this kind of griping. Even if it did give them pause, they’re highly likely to realize the absurdity of thinking that a few months salary significantly changes your financial situation to the extent that it should enter their thinking.

As for whether to say something to Willow and Xander … if you just overheard this the one time, I’d let it go. It could be the kind of remark that was more blowing off steam than anything else. But if you start hearing it repeatedly or they’re saying it to others, then sure, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, I keep hearing you saying this, and I want to let you know that especially after taxes, the money from the show wasn’t the sort of significant bump you’re thinking. I spent it on bills. I need my job as much as anyone does.” Of course, you don’t have to explain that to them, and they’re in no way entitled to your financial details. But it sounds like you’d get some peace of mind from setting the record straight. I’d just resist that impulse unless you see evidence that this was more than a one-time conversation.