Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. What to say when people ask why an employee was fired
I just fired someone. It was necessary, and I've got no regrets. But while this person was terrible in many ways, they did have a great relationship with some staff members they worked with. And those staff are asking us (no doubt influenced by personal contact from the fired employee) why we did it so "suddenly" (it wasn't sudden), and how we could deprive them of someone so wonderful. Of course, our official stance is to say, "this is an HR matter."
But wow, does that response not fly and people are pushing to know more. When, if ever, is it acceptable to give more information internally?
I'd say this: "I don't want to get into the details of Jane's situation--just like I wouldn't share confidential information about your employment with others here--but I can tell you that when someone is let go, it's never sudden or a surprise. It comes after multiple conversations with the person about what the issues are and chances to show improvement, even though people outside those conversations won't always know that."
In other words, appeal to their respect for the person's privacy but explain how you handle firings in general, so that they hear that firings don't happen out of the blue. It sounds like the people approaching you are assuming that since they don't know about any performance conversations, there weren't any. Ideally, this will a) prompt them to realize that "I didn't know about this" doesn't mean "it wasn't happening," and b) convey that you don't make arbitrary or sudden personnel decisions.
Of course, saying this credibly means that you also need to have established yourself as a fair and reasonable person, which hopefully you have done. Assuming so, this messaging will work with other reasonable people.
2. Sweat stains and business clothing
I sweat a lot. Like, medicated antiperspirant, soaking wet in winter kind of a lot. The only way I've found to avoid this is by wearing sleeveless shirts year-round, with maybe a wrap or a scarf. But I'm getting ready to job search, and all the interview clothing I've seen would be stinky and ruined before I managed to get to the location. What would be worse, showing up with massive wet patches, or showing a bit of pit and shoulder?
How about a combination--wear a sleeveless shirt on your way to the interview and put on a blazer once you get there? There are lots of professional-looking shells or sleeveless blouses that will work well for an interview if they're under a suit jacket.
Also! This might be a good time to break out dress shields (which are little pads that go in the armpits of your clothes to protect them from sweat stains). Dark clothing will also be your friend.
3. Resigning employee wants to buy a plane ticket from us
We have an employee who put his notice in. He has a non-refundable plane ticket for a conference in September. We are in agreement as a company that it is our cost that we must eat. However, this employee asked if he can pay for cost of the ticket transfer to another date. Is this something we can do? I believe he doesn't want to pay for the ticket itself, just the cost of the transfer. Can we make him pay both if he wants to transfer it?
You can handle this however you want; it's up to you! It would be nice of you to let him have the ticket for just the cost of the transfer fee, since it's of no use to your company and you can't get a refund for it. However, it wouldn't be unreasonable to say he'd need to pay for the ticket itself, since otherwise you're potentially setting up a precedent that could end up with someone booking expensive work travel knowing that they'll be resigning before it rolls around and they'll be able to use the ticket personally if they just pay the change fee.
He's likely to be annoyed if you say no--after all, the money has been spent at this point and nothing can change that--but you can point out that you'd need to do this for everyone in a similar situation, and that's too fraught with problems.
4. Telling a job applicant that I don't want a LinkedIn résumé
I was recruiting for an upcoming role, and one of the people who emailed to me wrote, "My résumé can be found here" and included the URL for his LinkedIn account.
That's great for reading, but I like to print people's résumés out and keep them in a folder to flip through later; I just find that my brain works better with that format. Printing out the LinkedIn résumé is going to result in an awkward-to-file, awkward-to-compare document. How rude is it to ask for him to send me a Word or PDF document?
Not rude at all. I sometimes have applicants do this or send a link to a Google Doc, and I just write back, "Thanks so much for your interest. Can you please submit your résumé as a Word or PDF document so we can get it in our system?"
I don't know why people think this is a good idea to do. There are so many reasons for people not to submit stuff this way--the ones you described, plus that fact that it's hard/impossible to get linked stuff into an electronic applicant tracking system, plus the fact that the linked material could change in some way in the future and you wouldn't know it (and it could be after you've sent it to a colleague to review, for example).
5. Giving a reference for someone who won't talk to me
I work for a law enforcement agency and am used to giving personal references for friends, who like having me listed due to my position in a place of authority. Yesterday, I received a voicemail from a company looking for a reference for a friend who I haven't spoken to in a year. Last time we spoke, she had been committed to involuntary mental health care due to substance abuse and a suicide attempt. I was not alone in attempting to rally her from this both then and before her breakdown, trying to convince her to cut back on drinking. Unfortunately, after the incident, she froze all of her friends out of her life. She stopped responding to texts and phone calls, and the only way I knew she was still alive was because mutual friends informed me she was still showing up for work. Beyond that, it's been radio silence.
After I received the call, I did some checking up with our mutual friends and, according to them, she's still drinking heavily and has lost her home due to most of her money going to liquor and beer. I've been told that she was still a good worker, right up until the end when her old company eliminated her entire department, although there was a time when she underwent "career correction" due to bringing her alcoholism to work.
I would like to relay to the person who called me that she's at heart a good person and still said to be a good worker. On the other hand, it feels dishonest to not include the issues she's had, particularly as a personal reference. I tried getting in contact with her in the hopes of discussing it with her directly, but she continues to ignore my calls and texts. What should I say to the company who is looking for a reference?
This is tricky because you don't want to mess up what might be part of an attempt to pull her life back together, but you also can't give an honest personal reference that doesn't include some of this--not the mental health struggles, but certainly the heavy drinking (particularly when you know the alcoholism affected her work in the past). Plus, she's put you in a really unfair position by listing you as a reference while simultaneously refusing to talk to you! It might be different if she did talk to you, because then she might be able to show that things have changed enough that you could feel comfortable giving her a reference without caveating it--but while she's freezing you out, she's making that impossible.
But that doesn't mean you owe the reference-checker an accounting of all this. Instead, I'd just say this: "I'm sorry but I don't think I can be a reference because I haven't been in touch with her for so long." If they pressure you to answer questions anyway, you can hold firm and say, "I have lots of good will toward her, but we've been out of touch for so long that I'm not comfortable being a reference. Thanks for understanding."
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.