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. How to deal with a hostile interviewer
I recently had a terrible experience with a phone interview. The interviewer began with a tone of voice that was irritated and sarcastic, which escalated over the course of 30 minutes into openly aggressive and loud, bordering on bullying and browbeating. I tried my best to keep calm and politely answer everything, but by the end, my voice was shaking (and so was I). It was shocking and extremely upsetting to endure but I was a loss as to what to do. I was afraid that if I said anything, even politely, he might use it as an excuse to blackball me from the company and possibly parts of the industry I work in. There was no one else on the line, so there would be no "proof" either way, and he's at a more influential position than me.
Is there a way to gracefully disengage from a situation like this? Or salvage it somehow? I assume that by the time it gets this bad, one or both parties have decided it's not the right fit anyway, so losing the job isn't a problem. I just don't want to be trapped being someone's verbal punching bag for as long as they see fit to keep me there. But is possibly being blackballed the price I have to pay?
Yes, it's possible that he could keep you from ever getting hired in that company. It's less likely that he'd be inclined or able to blackball you from your industry, particularly if you just politely disengaged. That means not saying, "You're being very rude, so I'm ending this call" (even though that might be entirely justified), but instead saying something like, "You know, as we're talking, I'm getting the sense that the fit here wouldn't be right. I appreciate your time, and best of luck filling the position."
Of course, if you want to, you could take it further than that. I'd probably say, "I have to be honest, your tone is really throwing me here. I don't think we'd work together well, so I don't think it makes sense to continue talking." But that's more confrontational, so if you want to minimize any risk, I'd go with the first option.
2. My old boss is trashing me to my new boss
I recently resigned from a job that I held for a few years to accept a better position at a place that is direct competition. I have been an outstanding employee, gave three weeks' notice, and was honest about the problems that drove me to search for new employment. My boss took my resignation very personally and has since then been publicly trashing my name to any co-worker who will listen at work. In addition, he called my new boss (I have not yet started the new job or filled out any employment paperwork) in order to accuse him of poaching me, then trashed my name to him as well. That phone call may have sabotaged my new employment. Was what was done to me allowed? Are there actions that I can take to defend myself?
If your boss defamed you and caused you to suffer provable damages (such as losing the new job), then yes, you should consider consulting with a lawyer. But it's more likely that your new employer thinks your boss is a whackjob, because making that call is Not Normal; it reflects far more on your boss than on you.
That said, even assuming you're suffering no actual damages (i.e., still have your new job), you could certainly consult with a lawyer about drafting a stern letter to your boss about his obligation not to defame you. But if your goal is to minimize any ramifications of this on you, before talking to a lawyer I'd see if you can smooth things over directly with your boss. You shouldn't have to--he's wildly out of line--but having genuinely harmonious relations with him will be better for you in the long run than having him say things to reference-checkers like "let me see what I'm legally allowed to say" (legal but highly damaging).
3. How long should I wait for a job offer?
I managed to land a job interview at my dream company for a position that I initially thought was a bit of a stretch for me. The interviews went really well and I was invited to participate in a "faux project" with the potential new boss to see how well we work together. The project couldn't have gone better, and the company informed me they would be extending an offer to me. They took the job posting down at this time, so it seemed like all signs were good.
That was five weeks ago! I followed up three weeks ago and was told they "still wanted to hire me" and they were "just going through formalities." I've put my job search on hold (I needed a break anyway), but not sure how much longer I can hold out.
The last email I received sounded like they would reach out to me when they had news and I needed to wait to hear from them. However, I'm antsy and want to reach out again, but I don't want to seem like I've been waiting around for them to make an offer. Do you think it's appropriate to reach out again? I just don't know when I should move on from this.
Move on now. Assume you don't have an offer (because you currently don't), and proceed the way you'd be proceeding if you knew this wasn't going to work out. This might come through or it might not, but right now it's not, and that means that you need to assume it never will.
As for reaching out, if they want to hire you, they'll contact you. If you really want to follow up again, mark your calendar to check in with them one more time in a few weeks, but put it out of your mind until then and proceed from the assumption that it's not going to come to fruition. Let it be a pleasant surprise if it does work out rather than an unpleasant surprise if/when it doesn't.
4. The noise of my office-mate's breast pump is driving me crazy
My office-mate and I are both women in our late 20s. She came back from maternity leave about three weeks ago. My workplace switched offices around about seven months ago and we chose to bunk together. She pumps breast milk at her desk, as it's apparently the most convenient place for her to do it. The pump makes a mechanical sound (like a little "hee-haw"). I am 100 percent fine with her pumping at her desk, despite the noise of the pump, in theory.
The problem is that I guess she's having supply problems, and so she ends up pumping for many hours of the day. I thought pumping was more like, twice a day, 30-45 minutes a pop or similar. This is 3-4 times a day, 60-90 minutes each. The sound is becoming seriously irritating to me (and there is no end in reasonable sight), but our office doesn't have anything alternative set up for her, and she would have to go to some trouble to do it while she's trying to get back into the swing of things (in a job that's not really conducive to being a new mom in a lot of ways--she's had some trouble already with sick days, etc.). Also, it seems that it would be very difficult for her to pump elsewhere, given that she is pumping so many hours of the day at this point.
We're a pretty informal office (see, e.g., my office-mate pumping in the same room as me), but we've had drama in recent months about people moving offices and switching office-mates, so I don't want management to think I'm being high maintenance or bitchy about the woman with a new infant. Suck it up? (So to speak.)
Yeah, I think that if you see sucking it up as an option, that's the easiest solution here. If you can't, can you try headphones or something else to minimize or block the noise? But if those aren't options and it's getting in the way of your ability to focus, then it's not unreasonable to ask if you can temporarily work in a different space.
Since you're worried about being perceived as cranky about a nursing mom, just make it clear that that's not the case, by being explicit about that--as in, "I love sharing an office with Jane and I think it's great that offices are able to accommodate nursing moms now, but I'm having trouble focusing on work because of the noise pumping makes. I didn't expect that to happen and I wish it weren't the case, but it is. Is it possible for me to move to a quieter space? I'd be glad to move back once we're out of this period or do whatever's easiest for the situation as a whole."
5. What should I ask a former co-worker who now works where I'm interviewing?
I have a former colleague who works at a company I am interviewing with on Friday. In fact, he previously held the position I am interviewing for. While I fully plan on contacting him before I accept if an offer is made, I'm wondering if there is anything I should be asking him PRIOR to the interview. I don't want to name drop, certainly not without his permission anyway, and honestly don't know if that would really even help. Is there anything I should be asking him about? I am curious about the starting pay, as it seems as if there is no negotiation from what I could gather on Glassdoor, but beyond that, I don't know how I can or if I even can use this "insider" to my advantage. Any advice?
Ask him what he wishes he'd known before accepting the job, what the most challenging pieces were, and what it took to truly be successful in the role. The first and second will give you insight into topics you might want to ask more about, and the third will help you think about what in your background you might want to emphasize in the interview (as well as whether it's the right role for you). If you move forward in the process, you'll also want to ask about company culture, manager's style, upsides and downsides, and all the other stuff you want to know when you have someone on the inside, but that can wait until you're further along.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.