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. Should you penalize candidates who apply at the last minute?
How do you feel about job applicants who wait until the very last day to apply for a position? I'm hiring and have had a posting up for just over three weeks. I've received plenty of applications, but a mountain of them came in on the very last day, and I find this happens often.
I have a hard time not regarding these applicants as procrastinators who may just as easily turn in their assignments at the very last minute. Granted, a couple might have just discovered the posting, but I somehow doubt that's the case for all of them (and sadly I won't know who's who). If I decide to interview one of these applicants (and I often do), I do work in questions in some way or another about the person's prioritizing skills. But with so many applicants who appear to be somewhat qualified (and inevitably my needing to weed people out), is it wrong to count this as a strike against someone?
Yes, it's wrong. If you give a deadline, applicants are entitled to take you at your word that that's the deadline. If you want their applications earlier, say so. After all, if you assign an employee a piece of work with a deadline of Friday, are you secretly penalizing him or her if it's not turned in by Wednesday? I hope not.
Plus, some of your best candidates are likely to be people who have a lot of other things going on in their lives (like focusing on achieving in their current jobs), and there's no reason they should drop everything to apply when your job posting tells them that they have plenty of time.
2. I know that my boss is being fired, but she doesn't know
My boss and I share similar interests and on several occasions have gone out of town to conferences to hear our favorite speaker. I have knowledge that she's about to lose her position, but I was told to keep it in confidence. When our VP breaks the news to her, I know she's going to ask me if I knew beforehand. All I can think of saying without lying is, "I didn't want to hurt your feelings."
Don't say that you didn't want to hurt her feelings, because that's not--or shouldn't be--the reason you didn't tell her. You didn't tell her because you were instructed not to, and you couldn't jeopardize your job by sharing something that you were specifically told not to share. (Also, few people in your boss's shoes would be worried about having their feelings hurt; they'd be more interested in knowing the information.)
If she has any class, she won't put you in the position of having to say that you knew ahead of time--but if she does, simply explain that you weren't permitted to share the information, and then quickly move the focus back to expressing sympathy and asking how you can help.
3. My boss told me to be more confident in my work
I've been at my post for about four months. I always receive good feedback, as I am very hard-working. The only negative feedback I've had is that I need to come across as more confident. My manager trusts in my ability, but she said I just need to be more confident with it and believe in myself. I understand this, but I don't know how to do that. If it was something more tangible, like "need to be quicker at writing up reports" or whatever, I think I would find it easier to put into practice. Can you offer any advice about this?
Think about why your manager is telling you this. What behaviors is she reacting to? Those are the ones to work on changing, and that will give you something tangible to focus on. For instance, maybe she's telling you this because you always ask her to review your work before you finalize it, or because you don't start on projects without first running down your plan of action with her, or because you don't make any decisions without getting her OK. I don't know what the specifics are that motivated her feedback, but whatever they are, that's what you want to change. And if you don't know what motivated it either, go back to her and ask her to point to specific behaviors that gave her that impression.
4. When a job ad asks for a sense of humor
I'm not looking to change jobs, but I happened to see a job ad that said "a sense of humor is critical." In this case, I was wondering if you would recommend the applicant mention his or her sense of humor in the cover letter. Personally, I would leave it out, but I would also not apply for this job in the first place. I'm curious whether you think the top candidates will try to address this in their cover letter (or résumé--e.g., member of the student improv group) and how they could do it successfully.
You don't need to feel obligated to address sense of humor in your initial application--it's more likely to be something that comes out in an interview, when the company is looking at cultural fit (although showing some personality in a cover letter is always a good thing). And almost certainly you are not being asked to have the skills of a standup comic, but rather to not take yourself too seriously, to be enjoyable to work with and not oppressively uptight.
5. Joining a spouse for an out-of-state interview
My husband has an interview in a couple of weeks in a different state. The person hiring is going to pay for the hotel, and is going to take out my husband for dinner the night before the interview. My husband wants me and our son of 11 months to go with him. My question is, should we go? I feel funny that a potential manager is paying for the hotel but unbeknown to him the family would be staying there. And I know that when my husband goes out to eat with this guy, he will tell him that we are there. I really feel that we as a family should not go, to keep things professional and not ruin the chance of my husband getting hired because of this.
I don't think there's anything wrong with going as long as it doesn't create additional expense for the employer. Lots of people bring their spouse in a situation like this, because if you're serious about possibly relocating, it makes sense for both of you to see the area. (Don't go to the dinner, obviously, unless invited.)
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to email@example.com.