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. Explaining that you don't want a management job anymore
About a year ago, I was promoted to a supervisor role, which I have since realized is not a good fit for me. As a result, I'm looking to return to a senior analyst role, but I am finding a lot of resistance from prospective employers. In a recent interview for a position that was eerily similar to the position I had before becoming a supervisor, I told them I was looking to return to a role that allowed me to use my analytical skills and that I truly enjoyed that type of work more. But I could tell the hiring manager was worried I might up and leave, as there were no future opportunities in the department, and I think that is why I didn't get the job, even though HR said my references were great.
How can I make it clear in an interview that I have no management aspirations, at least not in the near future, without it sounding negative? Is there a good way to say you feel more comfortable as a worker bee rather than as a supervisor?
You have to be straightforward about your reasons, and you have to be convincing. Interviewers are conditioned to suspect that you're saying something because you need a job, so you need to be believable. So explain whatever it is that you prefer about nonmanagement roles, and be persuasive. For example: "I found that when I was managing data analysts, I didn't get to spend much time actually doing data analysis, which is my biggest strength. The whole time I was managing, I was thinking about how much I wanted to get back to an individual contributor level, which is where I'm happiest and feel I have the most to offer. I'm really excited about this job because ____, and I'd be thrilled to stay in a role like that for a long time."
2. Is it too late to negotiate salary when you've already accepted the offer?
I accepted an offer for an insurance position, and I lowballed my salary requirement in an effort not to price myself out of the position. The company of course offered me the position at my requested amount. I had a sinking feeling that I could have asked for more, but accepted the position. Now that I've been there a week, I know I deserve more! Is it too late to negotiate salary?
Yes. The time to negotiate salary was before you accepted the offer. At this point, you've already agreed to your employer's offer and are working there. Imagine, after all, if the company came back to you now and said it had decided to pay you less than you earlier agreed to--you'd be rightfully irked. Same thing here. You made an agreement, and you're expected to honor it, at least until you've been there long enough to credibly ask for a raise (which for most people is about a year). This is the problem with lowballing yourself in order "not to price yourself out of the position." You commit to taking the salary you've asked for, lowball or not.
3. Manager wants to know if you're looking for another job--and you are
The company I work for is very small. Salaries are significantly below market rate, and turnover is high. I have been in my position for almost two years. The majority of our department has left in the past six months, and another employee just recently resigned. My boss is new to the company and is surprised by constant turnover. He just pulled me aside to ask if I was looking as well. I am.
I didn't answer outright. I was honest that many people don't stick around long term because promotions here are awarded on the basis of tenure and not performance. I told him I had doubts about my ability to move up within the company.
Although he's new, I do really like him so far and don't want to mislead him. How can I handle that without putting my job in jeopardy?
Well, first, I'm a big proponent of being transparent with your manager when you're ready to move on--but only if your manager makes it clear that it's safe for you to do so. So you'll have to judge whether that's the case here, and since it sounds like he might be new enough that you don't know, it's fine to err on the side of safety rather than potentially jeopardizing your job. That doesn't mean promising him that you're absolutely not looking, but you can go with a middle-ground answer instead. For instance: "If someone came to me with an opening that gave me opportunities that I don't have here, I'd have to consider it, but I don't have any current plans to leave." And when it does come time to leave--well, things change and people do move on when the right opportunity arises.
4. You've been put on a performance plan
I recently got a bad review from my manager. He mentioned that I will be put on a performance improvement plan (PIP), and also suggested that I find another position. This comes out of the blue, and he had been acting in a regular way or even nice in the past few months.
When I talked to HR, the HR manager was reluctant to explain the policies and rules to me, and now I feel that everyone around me seems to know about it and act differently. I am actively looking for a job, but I just need some time. What is my best strategy now?
Try as hard as you can to meet the terms of the PIP (it should spell out the improvements you need to make), and if you're unclear about its terms or how this works, you can ask HR or your manager to explain it to you again, and either of them should. But, more important, be actively looking for another job--because often once you're put on a PIP, the writing is on the wall and you're likely to be let go at the end of it.
If you think that's a foregone conclusion, you could also try saying to your boss, "I think it will take me X months to find a job. Would you be willing to give me that long?" Sometimes, managers will agree to that because it's emotionally and logistically easier than firing you (and often cheaper, too, if it means the company won't be paying severance and unemployment).
5. Negotiating when a company has just been acquired
I recently interviewed for a job with a startup. I was told there would be no equity, stocks, or options as my compensation, only the basics--salary, medical, 401. I agreed. My final interview is next week.
The company got acquired yesterday. It is eager to hire me. However, as I see it, it is now part of a larger organization and my duties will increase, and my initial negotiation had been with a startup but that has changed. This situation is new to me, and I would like to know what I can negotiate to get the best package because of this changed situation. Can you please advise?
Yes, it's a different situation now. But it doesn't sound like you'd already discussed salary, only benefits, and being acquired doesn't mean that the company will necessarily be offering equity now (in fact, it might be less likely). In any case, if it makes you an offer, you can certainly ask about the changed landscape in light of the situation, and you then proceed with your negotiations accordingly. You're not locked into anything yet.
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