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 office is moving inside my boss's house
I work for a small company with two full-time employees, two part-time, and a weekly bookkeeper. My boss is wealthy, mercurial, and often out of the office or traveling. Recently, he announced that he has decided to move our office from our (already small) space into his duplex apartment, which is supposed to be quite luxurious. I am extremely wary of working out of his apartment and the lack of division this would create between personal and business space, not to mention that we are expected to work nine hours (or more) a day and are discouraged from taking more than 20 minutes outside of the office to get lunch. But he wants to save the money and it seems like his mind is already made up.
I really want to express my reservations about the move, and I'm already looking for other jobs. How do I frame my concerns so that they sound professional and not just personal--i.e., that I don't want to be in his house all day? I'm dreading this move and I feel it will make our company look less legitimate.
If you have a decent relationship with him and generally have a good rapport with him, you could say, "I've been thinking about the prospect of having our office be inside your house, and I'll be honest--I'm a little wary. How are you envisioning this working so that you're able to maintain a division between the work space and your personal space?" If you have specific concerns beyond that one, it's reasonable to bring those up too and ask what his thoughts are for how to handle them. And if your co-workers share your concerns, you might have more influence approaching him as a group and saying that you're all uneasy about the proposed new arrangement.
But ultimately, I think you're right to be looking at other jobs if this doesn't appeal to you. This is a very specific type of set-up that wouldn't be for everyone.
2. Can I use troubling info one employee gave me about another?
Can I tell an employee that I know they purposely aren't doing something that they should?
My employee has been telling a co-worker that she "hates" doing something that's one of her responsibilities and has been getting others to complete it for her. Since she hasn't directly said it to me, I wasn't sure if I could say anything to her. In addition, I don't want to betray the trust of the person who told me, because I want her to feel that she was right to tell me and should feel free telling me any other items like this that I should know.
There's no reason that you can't use information that you got from someone else--but unless you know for sure that it's correct, you should either ask about it (rather than assuming it's correct) or find ways to observe it for yourself.
But usually the best way to use information that you don't want to attribute to a particular person is to use it as "background info" to inform your thinking. In other words, now that you've been alerted to this, dig into it a bit to see what you find. If there's no easy way to observe what's happening for yourself, then try asking the employee a direct question about it. For instance: "Tell me how X is going; I know it's not your favorite thing. Have you been completing it yourself or pulling others in?" (If she says she's doing it herself and you doubt that's true, then you really need to poke around further, because lying to you about it is a much, much bigger problem.)
3. I'm not getting the training I was promised when I took this job
The description of the city job I applied for (and was hired for) stated that I must be certified in two areas within one year. These are certifications that the city pays for. However, after starting the job and having now been with them for six months, I see that not one single person in my department has been to any training nor do they possess any of the certifications (no wonder things are a mess) and it doesn't look good for the future.
One of the reasons I accepted this position was to have access to this training. I want to become further educated, and I want to have the knowledge and skills to do my job at a higher level. If I could afford to pay for the training and time off of work I would.
When I have mentioned this to my manager and director, I was told "down the road, in the future, one of these days we will get everyone certified." How do I approach this topic with my boss? I am thinking of writing a formal letter requesting training. I know this will seem like a bit of a jab to her but I am really serious.
Unless you're in a remarkably formal environment, writing a formal letter about this would be weird. Instead, just address it face-to-face: "One of things that drew me to this job was the ability to do these trainings. I'm getting the sense that it's not something that will definitely be happening in the foreseeable future. Is there any way around that? I'd really like to do these courses."
4. How can I tell if a job applicant is detail-oriented?
How do you assess if a job applicant is detail oriented? I am moving on from my current position and interviewing potential replacements. A major part of the job is staying on top of deadlines and following highly specific instructions that change from one time to the next. How do you determine if a candidate has those skills, other than just asking them? If you ask them, any red flag to look for in their answers?
Don't just ask them; people will say they're detail-oriented even if they're actually not. Instead, this is something to assess by actually seeing candidates in action. That means looking carefully at their application materials and their correspondence with you and believing what you see there (are there typos? Do they follow directions? If you ask three questions in an email, do they only answer two?). But, most importantly, it also means creating exercises for them to do as they progress through the hiring process that will specifically test that skill. Ask your finalists to do a short exercise (no longer than 30-60 minutes) similar to the work they'd be doing on the job and provide them with detailed instructions. With the right exercise, you'll be able to assess attention to detail plus judgment, how they communicate in writing, and all sorts of other skills.
You'd be surprised at how much this will differentiate some candidates from others, and you shouldn't hire without it.
5. Rejected candidate keeps contacting me
I interviewed a candidate for a position in my company. She was not qualified, and so we moved on. After the interview, she added me on LinkedIn, and I accepted (with some reservations). Now she is constantly contacting me on LinkedIn asking about positions, such as are there any jobs, how is the company doing, and résumé advice. Is it better to cut her off completely or better to say, "Don't call us, we'll you"?
The kindest option would be to politely ask her to stop. I'd say something like, "Unfortunately, I'm not able to respond to questions like these very often. Thanks for understanding, and good luck."
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