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 round-up of answers to five questions from readers.
1. How to reject an internal candidate
I was just promoted at work, into a position that comes with an assistant. The hiring process for the assistant was already underway. I really like one of the candidates and I was ready to hire her. But at the last minute, the person who is temporarily in the assistant role applied. I like her, too, and she has done a good job. But she is out-competed by the other candidate, who has better technical skills and seems more adept with software. The other candidate is also much more personable and it is a job that involves a great deal of interaction with people; the internal candidate seems brusque until you get to know her. My preferred candidate also has relevant work experience that is not required, but is an asset to the job...we provide services to a particular group of people, and she was previously in that group, so she has a very good idea of how to deliver those services in the best way. She also generally seems more enthusiastic.
I hate that one of my first acts as a new manager is to turn down someone I work with, and the guilt is increased because I myself was promoted from within. But I think it is the right thing to do. Any points on turning down internal candidates for those of us with little experience?
Do it in person, not over email, since she's an internal candidate, and just be straightforward. Tell her that she's done a good job, but ultimately another candidate has experience that's a stronger fit for the position. Tell her that you'd be glad to give her more feedback if she wants it. If she does want more, tell her what her strengths are but also nicely let her know what would make her a stronger candidate in the future. In this case, it sounds like it could be helpful to let her know that one thing that made the other candidate stand out, on top of her experience, was her enthusiasm and friendliness, which are important for the role, and that showing more of that side is something that could help her in the future.
2. Are my job prospects hurt by only having one direct report?
I've been head of my department for several years. Unfortunately, due to the economy / belief system that me and one other guy can get most of our work done, our department size has not improved. I don't mean to brag, but my resume is an impressive read. I've had the opportunity to work and improve several institutions.
In the last few interviews I've had, everything went perfectly--right up until they asked me about how many direct reports I have. I only have the one person who directly reports to me. Granted, I hire several part-time contractors throughout the year, but only one full-time. As soon as I mention this, there is a noticeable turn in the conversation. Do you have any recommendations for handling this?
Do you have any other management experience besides your current job? It's true that when hiring for management positions, employers often want people with more experience than managing just one direct report, because managing one person is very different from managing a team. Plus, managing lots of people exposes you to many more types of management challenges, which is key because management expertise is so often about having learned through experience.
It's also true that lots of employers read "department of two" as not especially senior level. So it might be that you're applying for jobs that aren't exactly in line with your background, and that there will need to be a step in between what you're doing now and where you're trying to go.
3. Should I tell employers I'm moving to be with my boyfriend?
My boyfriend and I have decided to move in together, so I'm relocating about 70 miles to his city because he has the better job (mine is a post-grad internship with no opportunity to advance). When interviewers ask "What brings you to the area?" should I tell them the real reason? While I'm more than happy to move, I'm concerned that my reasons for moving might come across as flighty, naive, or unprofessional. I've considered saying "to be closer to family," which is true in a sense, but I don't want to answer any follow-up questions about neighborhoods, schools, etc. What should I do?
I'd say that you're moving to be closer to your family, which is true, if you consider your boyfriend your family (which you should if you're going to make this move). Interviewers are unlikely to ask tons of follow-up questions, because they want to steer clear of asking about areas they have no business asking about (like kids, marital status, etc.).
4. How to tell an employee she can't have certain shifts off
I run a small business and currently have an employee who decided she wanted to pick up two extra shifts every other weekend per month. The other day she came to me and told me that she wants to continue to work for me, but she also has accepted another job and it is requiring her to work the two shifts she had picked up for me. I cannot accommodate her wish, as we have a very small staff and there is no one else to cover the shifts. I am thinking of telling her that working for us needs to be her main priority and that she has to decide what she wants to do, but if she choose to not work the extra shifts she currently has, then I will have to terminate her and give all her hours to a new employee. I don't think I will be able to find a new employee who only wants to work two shifts in a month. How do I convey this message to her without sounding too harsh?
Just be straightforward. You can be nice while still asserting what you need. I'd say something like this: "Unfortunately, I need you to work the hours that we agreed to, because now that we've arranged it, I don't have anyone else who can cover those shifts. I realize you've taken a second job, but I really need someone in your role who will make this work their first priority because as a small business, we just don't have a lot of flexibility on shifts. I'll understand if you decide that this isn't the right fit for your needs right now, although I hope that won't be the case." Then let her decide if she wants to stay on those terms or not, and be kind about whichever choice she makes.
5. Combatting reference fatigue
In the midst of what feels like the eternal job search, I have been asked for my references at a number of interviews. I understand that's standard procedure; however, the problem I have is when my references are called and I'm still not offered the position. I wish employers could see it from our perspective. Not only is it embarrassing and humiliating, it puts a strain on my professional relationship with my references. I don't want them to feel like answering my reference calls is a part-time job. Perhaps you could provide some insight on ways to combat this.
Well, here's the thing: Checking references isn't just a perfunctory step that you do before offering someone a job (or at least it shouldn't be). It's often part of the decision process itself. For instance, if I have two or three great candidates who I'm trying to decide among, calling their references might be part of what helps me make that decision ... because references aren't just a pass/fail kind of thing, but rather something that provides more insight about your strengths and weaknesses, how you work best, what kind of management you do best with, and so forth. It's part of further fleshing out who you are professionally. I think you might be thinking of it as more pass/fail, figuring that you fall in the "pass" category, and then wondering why they're bothering if they're not going to hire you.
So you do have to assume that there will probably be times when your references are contacted but it doesn't result in a job offer. That said, if you have the sense that employers are contacting references before you're a top finalist for the job, it's reasonable to ask them to wait until you are. You can say something like, "Out of respect for my references' time, I prefer they not be contacted before we're close to the offer stage."
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