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. When you don't click with an interviewer
I've been on interviews where after interviewing with one person, another one comes right after and continues the process. I realize that this is to see that I can "fit in," but how do I deal with the one interviewer with whom I'm not going to click? I can feel when I'm not making a good impression on someone, or (worse) the person behaves like I'm keeping him or her from something more important or really is a poor interviewer and wants to finish up this task and be done with me.
I realize I'm not going to gel with everyone in the workplace, like I'm not going to connect with everyone I meet in my life. My concern is that after the interview is over, and the interviewers compare notes, that the input that I didn't connect with someone is going to sway the others that I'm not a good fit.
Can we get rid of this idea that interviews are primarily about how you'll "fit in"? While fit is part of it, that's really not an interview's primary purpose, at least not at good organizations. Good interviews are about probing more deeply into things beyond what's on your resume and finding out what you've really achieved, how you operate, how smart you are, how you communicate, etc. Fit is part of it, but far from the whole.
Back to your question. Focus on showing how you'd approach the job and why you'd be good at it, and point to examples from your past that back you up. That's stuff you can control--whether you click is not.
2. How to tell an employee that his outside work can't interfere with his primary job
One of my employees called me yesterday and asked if he could leave work to go on a rescue call (he's on the local fire department rescue team). I told him he could, but it really threw a monkey wrench into our scheduled work for the day. Because he left work early, the owner had to leave the office and go to the job site to finish the job in order to fulfill our company obligation to the customer. How can I delicately let my employee know that, although we support his decision to be on the rescue team, the company can't afford this type of disruption during the work day?
Just be straightforward and say it like you said it here: "We really support your rescue work, but at the same time, it's hard for us to accommodate unplanned absences during the work day."
Then tell him what that means--"I want to make sure you know in advance that we're going to have to say no more than we can say yes to the type of thing the other day," or "we can't typically approve you leaving on short notice for rescue calls, as important as that work is," or whatever. If he pushes back, it's fine to simply say, "I completely understand and admire your commitment to the rescue work you do. Unfortunately, for this role, we really do need you to be here all day, unless we've made other arrangements in advance. If you decide this isn't for you because of it, I'll understand your decision. Do you want to take some time to think about it?" This is just about both of you dealing with the reality of his competing commitments; you've just got to tackle it head-on.
3. Boss's girlfriend is doing my work
I work at a medium-sized law firm and I am a legal secretary to two attorneys. I have been there for about five months. One of my supervisors is dating his old legal secretary, who left to became an attorney (not the person I replaced, but the person before). I notice from time to time that on weekends, my boss' girlfriend is coming in with him and doing some of my work. All of the attorneys work at least part of one day out of the weekend.
I am somewhat bothered about the girlfriend doing my work, and it makes me feel as though I am inadequate in some way. I confronted him about there being a problem with my work, and he explained there is not. I am not sure if there is much more I can do, but ultimately I would like her to not do any of my work. She is an attorney anyway and I am sure she has bigger fish to fry.
You need to be straightforward here: "Bob, I've noticed Jane has been doing some of my work when she's here over the weekend. I'd prefer she not do that, because it can lead to me duplicating what she's already done or me being out of the loop on things I need to be in the loop on. Would you please ask her not to do tasks that have been assigned to me? Thank you." Alternately, if you see the girlfriend yourself, you can say it to her directly.
4. Appropriate gifts for a fantastic recruiter
I have been interviewing with a very large, global company. I had a phone screen with a junior recruiter from the company, then an interview with a senior recruiter who spoke with me in-depth and has since referred me to several hiring teams in the company, has answered numerous questions, set up amazingly well-coordinated interviews, done a lot of legwork and is just a very cool person all-around. Regardless of how this works out, I want to get her a gift. What would be appropriate?
Don't give a gift. A gift in this context is inappropriate and will come across as if you're sucking up or offering a quid pro quo (even though you're just genuinely trying to give thanks). A much better response would be to write her a note and tell her how much her help has meant to you, and specifically what you appreciate about what she's done. This is the type of thing that has way more meaning for people than a fruit basket or bottle of wine anyway.
5. Closing the office early when employees have different start and end times
Is there a general rule employers follow when they close the office early but employees have different start and end times? For example, prior to the last holiday, the office closed at 3 PM. I work 7 AM to 4 PM, but a few people work 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. So I ended up working 7 hours but other staff worked 5-1/2 hours. That doesn't seem fair, and it adds up throughout the year.
There's no harm in asking whether on days when the office will close early, you can come in at 8:30 like the others so that your workday is the same length. But if they don't know in advance when they're going to close early and thus you can't plan for it, then you just need to live with this. This kind of thing isn't always perfectly fair.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.