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. My coworker won't stop asking me for help
I currently work with a coworker who is the same grade as me. I like my job and have been only in this department for 6 months. She has been doing this same position for at least 18 months. I am still trying to learn the work, as there is a lot to know. However, my coworker is continually asking me questions about how to do things. It has gotten to the point where she is actually interfering with my learning.
I realize we need to work in a team environment, but she leaves all the hard tasks to me. I have been coping with my own self esteem problems and her constant insecurities and self esteem problems are bringing me down. Can you offer any advice?
Be direct: "Jane, you've got a lot questions and I'm still learning myself. Can you check with (your manager) for help with this instead?"
And when she leaves all the hard tasks to you, speak up: "How about you take A and B? I'm going to do C and D, and they'll be time-consuming."
If that doesn't work, ask your manager for advice about getting the work split up more equitably. (Asking for advice is a good way to bring a problem to your manager's attention without actually complaining.)
2. How to ask about a candidate's job-hopping
This week, I'll be conducting interviews for the first time ever. The candidates are being pre-screened by another person in my office, and so far she has forwarded me a few resumes of those she has passed on to the next round of interviews. One of the candidates' resumes has a string of short-term jobs, most only a couple of months and the longest only 7 months, with long periods of unemployment in between. The candidate was not in school at this time, she did not have contract jobs, and I can see no other explanations for the gaps.
I have serious concerns about this person's work history, specifically regarding how long they might stick around, but they may have good reasons for the gaps, so I want to stay open-minded. I know I need to ask about this, but I'm not sure how to approach it without coming across as rude or having already drawn a conclusion. I can ask, "Why are you leaving your previous position?", "Where do you see yourself in a year/2 years/5 years?", etc., but is there a more direct way I can address my concerns without seeming confrontational?
It's not rude to ask about this; it's normal! If you worry about this kind of thing being rude, you risk not being as rigorous of an interviewer as you need to be, so I'd focus on really getting comfortable with the fact that your role is to probe and probe and probe some more, to make sure you hire the right person.
For this particular question, say it directly: "You've had a lot of short-term jobs and a lot of time off in between. What was going on there?" And if you get a vague answer that doesn't leave you feeling like you know enough, follow up with another question about it -- "why did you leave job X?" "why did you leave job Y?" etc. This is very, very normal.
3. New job isn't giving me any training
I'm a new employee for a huge corporation that has recently gobbled up a couple of other rather large corporations. I was hired two months ago as an analyst. It is very specialized work and involves a "large learning curve," as I have been told. Since there, I have received very little to no training, and have been given random assignments to work on. When I invariably "mess up," I get angry responses from other workers at the company who don't seem to understand that a) I am new and b) I have had completely inadequate training.
I've been told that this is how you learn the system -- "through trial and error," but this is not how I learn. I would like more training and more supervision. I've told my boss this, but she just said don't worry, that it takes a long time to learn the system and to not take things personally. Since then, I've gotten only basic assignments, no new training, and have not been assigned anything challenging. I'm thinking about looking for another job. Is this the right time or should I stick it out?
Talk to your boss again. Say that you'd like to be making faster progress, and ask her how long she normally expects it to take for someone to learn their system, and how she thinks you're doing overall. You can also ask if there are any training resources you could use or even if you could be paired with a more experienced employee for some help. And you should also try talking to your coworkers and ask for their advice about how they learned when they were new to the job. Even if none of that works, it's going to give you clearer thinking on whether or not you're a good fit for this particular set-up.
4. Employer rejected me, then mentioned a more junior position
I am trying to find a position in another state to follow my husband who moved there for a job. I scored a phone interview with a company for a position that aligned well with the skills sets/responsibilities of my current role. Long story short, I never got past the phone interview and a few weeks later I got this email:
"I am writing to notify you that we have filled the position and will be adding a junior administrative position, but you appear to be overqualified for that role. I will keep your resume on file and reach out to you if our needs change and a more suitable position becomes available--unless you would be interested in the opportunity attached. Until then, I wish you all the best in your career."
This junior position is something that would have been a good fit about 5-6 years ago and nothing I would truly be interested in. In fact I would most likely grow bored and leave eventually. I don't know whether I should be flattered that they want me to be on their team or insulted that they didn't want me enough for a position that I wasn't "overqualified" for. It kind of feels like a "sloppy seconds" offer, for lack of a better term. What is your opinion on this scenario?
It's not an insult to not be offered a job. Great candidates get rejected all the time, simply because there are more great candidates than there are open spots. I wouldn't be insulted by the mention of the junior position either. People complain all the time that no one will consider them for positions they're overqualified for, and that employers decide for them that they wouldn't be interested, when in fact they might be. (And this is often especially true when someone is trying to move out-of-state and is more flexible on what they're willing to do.) I'd consider it a courtesy, not an insult, that they mentioned it to you. (Plus, from their wording, they seem to be assuming you wouldn't be interested in it anyway, no?)
5. Recommending someone who you've never worked with
I just received an email from an acquaintance asking to be recommended to a position at my previous workplace. I know the person asking to be recommended through another friend, and although I have not worked professionally with him, I would be happy to facilitate an introduction, since I do personally think highly of him from our interactions. What should I say when I write the email to my former colleagues?
Just be clear about how well you do (or don't) know him and then explain why you think highly of him. For instance, you might say something like, "I'd love to recommend you take a look at Jim Smith. Although I've never worked with Jim, I know him socially and he's smart, really passionate about his work, and easy to get along with." Or whatever is that makes you think highly of him. If you want to, you can even include things that are unrelated to work but still pleasant traits in a colleague -- like that he's funny or has an uncanny knack for winning trivia contests or whatever. It's nice to flesh someone out so they go from being a stranger on paper to seeming a bit more like a real person.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.