Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. Do dogs belong in job interviews?
I work for a company that allows pets to be brought to work. In fact, we have a "Dog of the Day" program and a coordinator. Did I mention the pooches get their own company name/ID badges too? But I digress.
Recently, I was part of a panel made up of a VP, two sales managers, a customer service manager, and myself (also a customer service manager) to interview a candidate for a position in our newly formed sales organization. My cohort in customer service brought her dog into the interview. I was appalled by this, as I perceive it to be completely unprofessional and disruptive, as the dog, a larger German Shepherd mix, was constantly moving around under the table and doing what dogs do throughout the interview.
What's your take on pets in interviews?
In general, I'd say that pets don't belong in interviews, for the same reasons that kids don't belong in interviews: They're a distraction, and they make some people nervous.
Of course, in your company, you could argue that your co-worker simply gave the job candidate a direct look at company culture. And seeing the culture firsthand helps candidates figure out if they want to work there.
However, I'm going to argue it still wasn't a great idea...because not everyone is comfortable around dogs (some people are even afraid of them), and it's not fair to impose a dog on a job candidate in a situation where the power dynamics mean that she might not feel comfortable saying anything. It would certainly be a cue to such a candidate that she probably doesn't want to accept the job, but it's still not particularly considerate to put her in a room with an animal she might be afraid of--or allergic to--in a situation where she might feel uncomfortable speaking up.
Plus, even without that problem, you're still left with the distraction issue.
That said, I think this is one of those items where your company simply needs to come to a shared understanding about where it is and isn't OK to bring the dogs. And if job interviews end up on the "OK" list, then someone needs to let candidates know ahead of time, in case they have allergies or otherwise want to decline the interview.
2. How honest should I be with new hires about a blow-up before their time?
One of the teams I supervise consists of two people. The two recent incumbents had a personality conflict that totally blew up and resulted in both of them leaving. The positions will be refilled soon. As these two new people start, I'm concerned that they'll hear mutterings from other staff about the previous situation and immediately become concerned that they've stepped into a bad situation--that the job is structured as a no-win situation or that the boss is a monster. I don't think those things are true: The positions really are just open because of a personality conflict between two particular people who aren't around anymore. Should I address this head-on? Only if the new people ask? I know that I will have confidence in the interpersonal and job skills of the new hires, so I don't want them to feel threatened or worried by rumors, but I'm also concerned that if I bring it up myself, it will inadvertently come off as threatening and backfire.
When in doubt, err on the side of transparency. Be straightforward with your new hires--let them know the background and how it might affect them (for instance, that it means that both spots on that team are vacant at once, so you'll be doing more of the training yourself, rather than relying on another team member to help them, and so forth). You can even tell them that you've taken a look at some of the questions the situation raised for you (for instance, whether it was just a personality conflict or whether the way the job was structured played any role in it and what you've concluded), which will a) answer some questions that they might not feel comfortable asking you, and b) signal that you're thoughtful and not oblivious.
Ideally, you would have done this at the finalist stage before hiring anyone, because you want anyone who's going to be uncomfortable with this to self-select out before they take the job, not after they've started, and you don't want anyone feeling like you weren't up-front with them. Plus, when people are walking into a situation with a sticky history, they usually feel better if they knew about it before accepting the job. If they find out afterwards, they're more likely to feel blindsided and a little freaked out. ("There was a scandal here! No one told me about it! Have I walked into a hornet's nest?") But it's not too late to do it now; just be sure to do it in a calm way, because people will take their cues from you--so be matter-of-fact and direct; don't whisper it in a scandalized tone.
3. My interview was canceled 10 minutes before it was supposed to start
Is it a bad sign if my interview was canceled 10 minutes before the appointment? I was just ready to get out of my car to walk into the building when I got the call. The interviewer asked, "Are you already there?" I said yes. He said, "I'm sorry to do this, but I am at another location today. Can you reschedule for another day?"
Maybe, but it's not conclusive. It absolutely could indicate disorganization or inconsideration, but it could also be a one-time fluke. I'd take it as a heads-up that there might be issues with this employer (or this manager) and make it your job to confirm or refute that during the rest of the process.
And if he seems mortified and goes out of his way to reschedule at a time that's convenient for you, those are points in his favor. If he seems cavalier and not especially concerned about inconveniencing you, those are strikes against him.
4. What to do with company swag when you're leaving your job
Over the course of my time at my current job, I have received several clothing items on which our company's logo is prominently embroidered. My last day is quickly approaching and I am left wondering what to do with all of the clothes they have given me. The person in charge of ordering company apparel has no taste, so most of the clothes still have tags or have only been worn once. Should I take them in on my last day and leave them in my desk? Offer them to co-workers? Is it a bad idea to donate to charity since all of the items have our logo?
I wouldn't just leave them in your desk--that sort of sends the message "Now that I'm leaving this place, I want no memories of my time here--these mementos repulse me."
As for offering them to co-workers...is it likely they'd want them? I mean, sure, if they're highly sought-after, go ahead and see if anyone wants them. But if they're typical company shirts, totes, etc., I'd toss them or donate them to charity if you don't want them anymore.
5. How to connect a friend with a business contact who's hiring
One of my friends recently graduated from college, and she's applying for a few jobs within an adjacent industry. I have contacts through my work with an organization she's applying at and I offered to introduce her by email to that contact. However, I just realized I'm not sure how to really approach this person or what to say--we only worked together on the one project, and although we're cordial, it's a strictly business sort of contact. The other person I want her to connect with is a former co-worker who moved into her industry and used to work for that organization, so that'll be a lot easier; it's just the first person that I'm unsure about.
How do I go about approaching the first contact without looking unprofessional or making it sound like "Hey, you should give my friend a job"? Is it OK if I email them through my work email or should it be my personal one?
Well, you're not saying "give my friend a job." You're saying, "I know of someone who might be a great fit for the job you're hiring for." In fact, you're doing your business contact a favor (because hiring the right person is hard, and getting referrals from a trusted source can be hugely helpful), not asking her to do your friend a favor. I'd just say something like, "I'd like to introduce you to my friend Lucinda Snodsgrass, who's applying for your ___ job. She's smart and has an encyclopedic knowledge of teapot design, and she might be a great fit for you." (If that last sentence isn't true, leave it off, since your reputation is at risk here too.)
And it's fine to use your work email for this; it's business networking, and you're not job-searching for yourself.
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