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. My contact wants to charge me for a networking meeting
Is it normal for someone to charge a client for a networking meeting? I'm currently in the process of looking for a new job and setting up informational interviews with professionals in my area. I emailed back and forth with one woman trying to set a time to meet, but kept getting responses from her that we needed to reschedule.
As a compromise, we agreed that I should email her my questions. I sent some typical questions I would ask anyone I meet for an info interview (volunteer opportunities, organizations to recommend, other people I should connect with). In response, I received an email from her saying that once again we would have to reschedule. In addition, she stated that because of her limited time, the only way for her to fit these kind of conversations is to charge for them.
Am I overreacting in thinking she should have been more upfront about this? I understand that time and information is valuable, but this is the first time I've encountered this request in (what I thought) was a more informal setting.
No, it's not normal to charge for networking meetings! Some consultants do charge to spend some time picking their brains, but it's rare for it to be for this kind of informal networking. Plus, when that's the case, it's stated up-front; it shouldn't only come out after multiple rescheduled plans to meet.
I suspect that she doesn't actually normally charge for this, which is why she didn't mention it earlier, but she mentioned it in a moment of frustration from feeling stretched too thin. But that frustration isn't your fault; if she didn't want to meet, she should have just told you that originally, or backed out apologetically once she did realize it. Announcing at this stage that oh, by the way, she'd be charging you for a meeting you quite reasonably thought was free is ridiculous.
2. My job isn't what I was promised it would be
When I was hired for my current position, I was told my it would be mostly writing with some administrative duties. In reality, the job is minimal writing except for tasks that I've taken the initiative to come up with myself and mostly administrative...except it feels more like data entry than anything else. My boss is also a micromanager who wants extraneous information just for the sake of having it, which makes my job even more tedious.
When I was applying for jobs, I had several other offers, but took this one based on the information I was given, which was for the most part inaccurate. I've become bitter and am beginning to lose my patience, but can't quit as I have rent and other responsibilities. Is there anything I can do? I am actively looking for another job, but for the time being can I speak to my boss about the discrepancies and my unhappiness with the role?
Yes. I'd say something like this: "When I was hired for this job, we talked about it being most writing, with some admin duties. So far, the job has been about 90% admin without much writing. Can we talk about what changed, and whether there's a way to reshape my work to look more like what we initially talked about?"
As always with these sorts of conversations, you will get the best results if your tone is calm and you don't sound frustrated or angry. You want to sound concerned and in problem-solving mode, but not in complaint mode. Not that you're not entitled to be frustrated; you are. But you'll get better results this way.
3. My reference incorrectly said I'd left a job that I'm still at
I'm in the final stages of interviewing for my first professional job, and was given a job offer contingent on my references, which I provided. I know most of my references were excellent, and they all contacted me afterwards to say what they had told the hiring manager.
However, one reference, for a volunteer group that forms the bulk of my relevant experience, is a former volunteer who has since left the group because of mismanagement. I'm still a member, just locally and not involved at the state level. Apparently she thought I had left the group too and spoke accordingly, saying that the transportation costs to the state meetings were too high and there was too much of a time commitment, etc. -- nothing negative, but contradicting my statements in the interview and on my resume.
The reference check was supposed to just be a formality barring any serious issues, according to the hiring manager. I just don't know if this is a serious issue, if I should try to figure out how to correct it or not, or if I should just forget about it because it's either a dealbreaker or it's not.
I'd either (a) explain the situation to your reference and ask if she'd be willing to correct it or b) reach out to the hiring manager and correct it yourself. For the first, she could say something like, "I realized after talking to you that Jane is actually continuing to volunteer with XYZ; I didn't want to leave you with the wrong information." For the second, you could say something like, "I spoke with Amanda after she talked with you and realized that she mistakenly thought I'd left XYZ around the same time she did. I just wanted to clarify that I continue to work with them."
It's probably not a big deal, but you don't want to leave the hiring manager wondering if you weren't entirely up-front about your situation.
4. My coworker assumes I'll always give her a ride home
This may seem like a petty complaint, but it is something I end up stewing over every week. I have been at my current position for a little over three months. I was able to get my foot in the door thanks to "Amanda." I love my job and love my coworkers.
Before I started, Amanda always took the bus home, or got a ride with Suzanne. The three of us all live in the same area, fairly close to each other. Amanda and Suzanne work until 4 pm (earlier start time than me) and I am here until 5 pm. Well, for the past month and a half, Amanda now stays until 5 pm and just leaves with me. It's always assumed that I will give her a ride, since she lives so close. The thing is, I have to pick up my two children from daycare by a certain time. Giving Amanda a ride home daily erases the 5-minute window I have to stop at the store to grab milk and it can make me cut it very close for time if the weather is bad. Plus, the ride home was my one quiet time of the day, where I could crank up my music, not have to talk to anyone and could decompress. It is really starting to annoy me. Amanda has never once offered gas money or asked if I mind driving her. She lives literally 2 blocks from me, but it's really affecting my routine.
How do I deal with this? I like Amanda a lot, and I am grateful for her help getting my new job, but I don't want to feel obligated to be someone's chauffeur.
You deal with it by speaking up! It's not at all fair to Amanda to be stewing about this and not letting her know. The daycare cut-off time gives you a really easy explanation, too: "I've been cutting it too close with the daycare pick-up, so I need to stop dropping you off in the evenings." If you didn't have the easy out of daycare, you could instead attribute it to errand-running or other commitments, or even just needing to decompress before getting home to family.
5. My medical condition flared up just before an interview
I suffer from a condition known as vasovagal syndrome. It only flares up occasionally but when it does, it causes frequent blood pressure shifts and fainting spells.
I became symptomatic on my way in for an interview the other day. I was maybe 15 minutes from the interview time when it began, and felt it would seem flaky to cancel so close to the start time. Instead, when the interview began I warned them that I had a minor condition that had chosen this moment to act up and proceeded as planned. I never fainted but, with all the blood pressure changes, I'm sure I came off as a dimwit.
If this comes up again, how should I address it? Cancel the interview?
I'd say it depends on how off you think you'll be. If you think you'll be more than slightly off, I'd reschedule and explain why. (You could say something like, "I have a minor medical condition that on very rare occasions causes blood pressure shifts. It just acted up without warning, and it will interfere with our interview. I'm terribly sorry, but could we reschedule?")
It's true that postponing at the last minute isn't ideal, but you'd be offering a reasonable explanation for why you need to, and I think that's better than interviewing when you're likely to be significantly off your game. (That said it's also true that some interviews that get postponed don't always get rescheduled ... but I think people are likely to be highly motivated to reschedule for an explanation like this. But you'd want to factor that into your calculations on this.)
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