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 mentor doesn't want to be a reference for me
I am planning to apply for a couple of positions and recently contacted a former supervisor to ask if I could list her as a reference. She was my direct supervisor for a year and instrumental in getting me promoted to my current position. After my promotion, she served as my mentor until her retirement several years ago. Since then, she has worked part-time in our profession and we have stayed in touch. Much to my surprise, she turned me down. She felt that she's not qualified to be a reference for me because of how long she's been retired, and thinks that I should use more current references.
The thing is, I do have more current references and plan to use them. The reason I want to include her is that she has always spoken very highly of me and is someone whose opinion I have always valued. Also, I do not want to use my current supervisor for a number of reasons and she is the only other recent supervisor I could use. Although we have not worked together for the past few years, I think she can certainly speak to my strengths and weaknesses. Besides, she has always indicated that she would be happy to help me with my future endeavors and this certainly qualifies.
I am surprisingly upset by her rejection, and have not yet responded to her message. Would I be out of line to ask her to reconsider? Or should I just thank her for her honesty and leave it at that?
It's not out of line if you make the request nicely, explain a little more of your thinking, and make it clear that you understand if she'd still prefer not to. And it's possible that she thinks she's doing you a favor by declining; she might think you'll be better served by using other, more recent references, so giving her some context might change the way she's looking at this. So, for instance, you could say something like, "I absolutely respect your decision either way, but in case your concern is simply recentness, you're actually the most recent manager I'd feel comfortable using (I don't plan to ask Jane for a reference while I'm currently working for her). Any other references I offer won't be as recent as you are--so I'd still love for you to be one if you're willing to, knowing that. But if not, that's of course fine, and I really value our relationship either way."
2. An employee keeps bugging me to interview someone unqualified
I am the first point of contact for hiring at my company, so I get a lot of employee referrals. Although I am not the final decision maker, I have a pretty good idea what the hiring manager is looking for in each position. Recently, an employee referred a friend for a sales position, but I know the hiring manager would not consider this candidate for a number of reasons. I've been doing my best to see if the candidate could fit into another position, but there doesn't seem to be a fit at this time.
The employee has asked me three times when I plan to call his referral, and I've told the employee each time that the referral is not qualified for the position and I am not planning to call, but the employee keeps insisting that I call "just to talk." I don't have time just to talk if I know I am not bringing in a candidate for an interview. Do I call just to satisfy the employee and let them know I called, we talked, and there was not a fit? Or do I need to word my rejection more clearly?
You need to be more clear. And don't call the candidate just to satisfy the employee referring her; that's a waste of your time and theirs, and it would be inconsiderate to mislead her like that. Say this to the employee who keeps pressing you: "I appreciated the referral, but Jane isn't the right match with any of our current openings. I've sent her a rejection email to let her know." And do send that rejection email, which will give all this some finality.
3. I'm doing way more work than I signed up for
I recently took on a part-time position with a nonprofit arts group. I applied for the job, which was listed as executive administrator, interviewed for that position, and got it. However, now that I am a few months into the job, the reality is that I have replaced both the outgoing executive director and her admin assistant. I am the only person on staff, other than artistic directors. As the only one in this role, it is assumed that I will do everything. I actually would be more than happy to take on the executive director role, but that is not my title and I am receiving less than half of the executive director's salary.
I am having a hard time coming up with a way to explain that the job is in reality a much bigger role than they let on. I do think this was a conscious choice on their part, as they are trying to cut costs, and I have no one to blame but myself for accepting the salary. However, I would have angled for more if I had known I would be expected to be doing the role of the executive director.
Would it be out of line to ask the board to clarify the difference in roles between the previous executive director's role and my executive administrator role? I'd like to point out to them that I have been pushed into doing the executive director role and ask for a solution to lessen my load, so that it matches up to my job description, but not anger them. The reality is I do like the job and feel it is great experience, however it is supposed to be a part-time (15-20 hour) job and is much more than that.
How about: "I know that before I came on, there was both an executive director and an admin assistant. Now that I've replaced both those roles, could we talk about what you envisioned being different with the combination of these two roles into one? Are there particular responsibilities Jane was handling that no longer need to be done, or other areas where we should be cutting back? It would be helpful for me to understand what you envision, and I want to make sure that we're constructing a role that's truly doable by one person in 15-20 hours a week."
Also, how senior is your role? If it's a senior role, the board is probably looking to you to figure out how to structure things, in which case you might come up with a proposal yourself first and then talk it over with them.
4. Did I irritate this hiring manager?
I recently went through a phone interview with a recruiter. She told me I was the No. 1 candidate, then scheduled an interview with the hiring manager. The hiring manager was giving me really good vibes and was being very nice. At the end of the interview, he told me he wanted to move forward and have a face-to-face in one week before he interviewed anyone else. Then he said that someone from his staff would contact me.
After a few days, no one had contacted me, so I contacted the hiring manager and told him that no one had contacted me. He said I should hear something this week. I replied with, "When should I expect to hear, and are we still planning to meet this week?" He said, "Maybe next week." So I said, "I am looking forward to meeting with you, and I was hoping we could do it this week." Then the manager replied, "Really--are you questioning me??" At that point, I took a step back and said, "No, I am really looking forward to the opportunity. I sincerely apologize for the misunderstanding."
I feel like I was just trying to be assertive and show interest. Are they just giving me the runaround? What do I do now?
"Are you questioning me?" is obnoxious, but his point wasn't surprising--he told you when he was able to meet, and you kind of violated interview norms when you pushed back. The employer controls the hiring timeline. You can certainly share any constraints on your side (such as having another offer), but aside from that, you're really at the mercy of the interviewer's timeline.
Hiring often takes longer than people think it will. Employers often state one timeline and end up taking three times that long, or even longer. It's frustrating, but it's the nature of how it works. It's good to show interest, but not to pressure them, which is what ended up happening here. At this point, I'd just be patient and wait for them to get back in touch with you. If you haven't heard anything in two weeks, contact the recruiter (probably not the hiring manager in this case) to ask if she has an updated timeline.
5. Should I mention I don't have kids or pets when applying for a job that requires a lot of travel?
I'm applying for a job at a large investment firm that requires a lot of travel. The job description estimates that 50-75% of the time the person in this position will be on the road visiting various branches. Is it a good idea to mention in my cover letter that I'm not married and don't have kids or pets to illustrate that I don't have responsibilities at home that would prevent me from traveling regularly? I'm sure this job will have a lot of applicants so I'm considering every angle to make myself a more attractive candidate.
No, don't mention that. Mentions of kids and marital status make too many employers uncomfortable, since they're not supposed to take it into account in the hiring process. However, you can certainly mention that you don't have any commitments that would prevent you from traveling 75 percent of the time, and that in fact you're excited about being on the road that much.
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