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 boss manages her best friend

I've been working in pretty good environment for the past two and a half years. My boss is about 10 years younger than I am, married, with two teenage boys. She's risen quickly up the ranks. She's gracious, upbeat, and a hard worker. She's also generally professional, with one glaring exception. Her best buddy at the office (who also reports to her) sits across from her office, and they chat loudly every morning, share all sorts of things about their lives, and then have lunch together several times a week. 

Meanwhile, my boss hired another woman (someone she knew outside the office) and this woman started a few months ago. She is also married, with teenage kids. Just as I expected, this woman is now invited to lunch with my boss and the other woman I mentioned.

Now the two of them have access to my boss in ways that I (and my other co-workers) do not. I also see favoritism happening quite a bit already. It's demoralizing to work in this atmosphere, and I feel most days like I'm back in junior high. I don't want to join this clique, but I mightily resent it and resent the fact that they're well aware that several of us are excluded from their little lunch club. Also, they travel together for work -- or should I say, they arrange their travel so that they can go out of town together, stay in the same hotel, yada yada yada. I don't know if there's anything that I can say or do, but it makes want to leave my job.

Green responds:

Yeah, this is awful. It's one of the many reasons why managers need to have professional boundaries with people who report to them. They can be friendly, but not friends. Even if they handle all the other potential land mines perfectly (like impartially assessing the friend's work, giving critical feedback when needed, and not favoring a friend when it comes to doling out assignments or perks), there's still the issue of imbalanced access, as well as the way it makes other people feel.

Your manager is allowing her interest in being friends with these two employees to trump her ability to be an effective manager. 

Any chance you have strong enough rapport with her that you could bring this up and point out the appearance it's creating of favoritism? If you have a strong relationship, and especially since you say she's otherwise a good manager, it's possible she'll be open to hearing that. You could also mention it if your manager's manager solicits feedback on her at some point, but beyond that there aren't a lot of other options here, unfortunately. But I hope managers who think they can be friends with employees think about what you're saying here.

2. Should I let job applicants know how they're messing up?

I'm fairly young, manage a small team, and am hiring for new roles. Some of the job applications and interviews have been so painfully bad that I feel it's my duty as a fellow young person to let the applicant know. For example, one applicant was dead silent and answered only yes or no to almost every single question we asked her. When we wanted to know "What about this position made you decide to apply?" she responded, "Just everything about it." 

Another applicant came into the office and didn't say hi to anyone and treated my colleague like a secretary. But worst of all, she brought her mom in with her.

Then, today I saw a cover letter that was a fill-in-the-blanks-style thing but the guy forgot to fill in the blanks. So it goes: "Dear [name], As a hardworking and dynamic professional with extensive experience in team building, sales, and customer service, it is with great excitement that I submit my resume for consideration for [Company's] [Position] position.  ... [Company] needs a [Position] who is able to reliably perform many tasks in a fast paced environment. I have a proven history of doing just this in my previous positions."

It's just embarrassing. I'm definitely not going to hire this person, but is it wrong or unprofessional for me to reach out and tell them why? These mistakes are so egregious that I feel they deserve to be aware. What do you think?

Green responds:

It's not wrong or unprofessional, but it's also not your job. That doesn't mean that you can't do it at all -- we've all felt that impulse to help applicants who are clearly really getting it wrong, and it can be kind to do it -- but I'm getting the sense that you want to do it a lot, and that's not a great use of your time (and your company may not be on board with you offering a bunch of unsolicited feedback anyway).

The reality is that when you hire, you see a ton of awful applicant behavior. It's just part of the process. You can't correct all of it. And really, this is the process working the way it's supposed to -- you're getting information about these applicants that's letting you see they're not people you want to hire. That's a good thing for you as an employer.

But giving out occasional feedback here and there is totally fine (although make sure you're not saying anything legally problematic, such as inadvertently implying you rejected someone for illegally discriminatory reasons) ... as long as you brace yourself to have some people respond in fairly ungrateful and even hostile ways, because that is a thing that sometimes happens.

3. Employee is demanding I approve time off at an inconvenient time

I have an employee who expects that he should be granted his vacation requests regardless of the impact it has on a very small department. His first set of dates was approved. He then submitted a second set, to extend his dates, and without approval went ahead and booked his travel. He is attempting to bully his way into having the additional time off.

In fact, he is demanding his birthday off as a Friday to Monday long weekend with a degree of "entitlement." His attitude is all wrong and he seems to care less about the impact his extended absence will have on the workflow of the department during a very busy period.

How do I handle this? And do I simply deny him both set of dates including the birthday, given the impact it will have on the department, which will not be able to function efficiently without him, as it is a peak period?

Green responds:

If it's truly a particularly bad time for him to be gone and you can't reasonably make it work without him, then you explain that and say no, and make it clear that you regret that's the case. But if there's any way to make it work, I'd try to -- vacation time is part of your staff's benefits package and while it's absolutely true that there can be certain times where it's just not realistic to take time away, in general you want your default to be to try to make it work if at all possible.

Also, I'd want to know whether people are usually able to use their vacation time in chunks of at least a week at a time. If they are, and this is a rare situation, that's a point in favor of your stance. But if you never really want people to take a week off or if you only allow it during very narrow windows, that's not reasonable -- small department or not.

4. Do I need to tailor my resume to each job I apply for?

Is it critically important to tailor resumes to the job description, or is the cover letter the only document that truly gets tailored?

Green responds:

It depends. Does your resume speak directly to what the employer is looking for in terms that are as clear as possible? If so, you're fine. If not, you should tailor it so that it does. It just depends on how well your resume already matches up.

For example, if the job posting has a heavy emphasis on X, and your resume only mentions X in passing even though you have a lot of experience with X, it would make sense to better highlight X for that particular job. You probably don't need to do that for every job you apply for, but I'd be surprised if you never needed to.

A lot of people keep one long master resume, which lists everything they've accomplished everywhere they've worked (which could be pages and pages) but then edit that down into one actual resume to send (which should be 1-2 pages), pulling the bullet points from the master version that present the strongest case for the particular job they're applying for.

5. My colleague plagiarized my work

I work in communications at a large, private university. Restructuring has changed many of my job duties in recent months, but I was hired as a writer for an industry-specific magazine the school used to publish (it has since folded). It recently came to my attention that a piece I worked for months on has been published and distributed by a co-worker in the university's PR department with her byline. I am credited nowhere in the release, so I ran it through the plagiarism checker that our faculty uses. It returned 0 percent original work.

Upset that she was taking credit for my work, I went to my manager, who brushed me off. Is it worth escalating my complaint to somewhere higher, such as HR? Or is it worth reaching out to the department's faculty academic integrity officer? For students, plagiarism complaints are taking very, very seriously.

Green responds:

Why not email the bylined co-worker's boss and say something like, "I noticed that the piece I worked on for several months about X was recently published, but had Jane's byline instead of mine. I'm sure this was an oversight, but I'd like to get it corrected. Is it possible to update it to credit me as the author?"

In other words, approach it as if it is a mistake. If Jane actually presented it as her own and this is the first her boss is hearing of it, that's going to start things down the path of getting it addressed.

Keep in mind, though, that in some contexts this wouldn't be seen as a big deal, as long as your co-worker didn't actually misrepresent things and was clear with whoever published it that it wasn't her work. Unlike with students doing classwork, work that you produce for your employer belongs to them -- and they're free to modify it, reuse it, and in most cases publish it without crediting you.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

Published on: Apr 9, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.