addressing people by their first names, getting your job choice right the first time, and more

It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…

1. As a job searching new grad, should I address people by their first names or Mr./Ms.?

I’m an undergraduate student, and I’m curious when it’s appropriate to call managers by their first names via email, etc. Campus recruiters typically use their first names when introducing themselves in person, but for a person I’ve never met, should I do Mr. Smith during my initial contact? Or address it as Dear Bob Smith? What is a good cue to start using first names, and does this rule hold true when I’m more of a professional and looking for another job further into my career?

You’re not going to offend anyone by calling them Mr. or Ms. ___, but most people these days are comfortable with job applicants addressing them by their first names. However, there are a handful of more formal fields where that’s not the case, and a handful of more formal people scattered throughout all fields who want to hear Mr./Ms. on your first contact … so there’s no harm in playing it safe if you’re not sure who you’re dealing with, particularly when you’re just starting out. (And I can’t explain why there’s an age component to this, but there is. I don’t think I’ll ever address a job-related communication to “Mr./Ms.” again, but I feel like you — as a recent grad — are safer doing it.) That said, do pay attention to how other people refer to themselves. If someone introduces themselves using their first name or if they sign an email to you with their first name, that’s a sign you should use their first name too.

Oh, and don’t do “dear Bob Smith” — that’s weirdly impersonal. Go with “Bob” or “Mr. Smith” but not the full name.

Once you’re actually working with someone and they’re your manager or coworker, use first names unless you’re in the rare organization where that’s not done.

2. Should you try to get the right job the first time or experiment as much as you can?

Thanks to your blog, I’m about to wrap up a my grueling 3-month job search. My choice is down to 2 different roles: an exciting one I have no experience in (but I love the industry), or the next logical step for my resume (more responsibilities, bigger budget, yay!).

As a fresh graduate myself, I was wondering what you would advise for first jobs: get it right the first time, or experiment as much as you can, while you can? I get mixed reviews from older friends who’ve been working for a few years now. Some say to try the unknown and jump ship as soon as you know it’s not right for you, while others say to take my time and when I find “the one,” I’ll know. But those who did find “the one” say they wish they experimented more before “settling down.”

Are they giving me dating advice or career advice? Which path would you recommend for someone at this point in their life?

Of the two, I recommend … neither. It’s great if you can get it right with the first job; that’s ideal. But it often doesn’t happen — and if it doesn’t, it’s not a disaster; there’s time to correct your course. But I wouldn’t recommend jumping all around just for the hell of it either, because there can be costs that come with that (in salary; in how close you are at, say, 30 to where you’d like to be at 30; in future employers’ perceptions of you; etc.). I’d say to try to get yourself on a path that you’re happy with as quickly as you can without putting undue stress on yourself, and don’t freak out if you turn out to be one of the many people who needs to course-correct a time or two.

(Also, a good time to do a lot of experimenting is in college, through internships and summer jobs. I highly recommending experiencing a bunch of different options then.)

3. I’m distracted by my coworker’s music

I have been at my job for a month and a half. My coworker plays music at her desk, and I find it to be very annoying. She plays it at a low level, but it still distracts me. I really wish she’d use headphones, or better yet, turn off the music, but I’m not sure how to ask her to do so. A few weeks ago I told her that her music made me want to dance (I know, I know… passive aggressive) and she immediately turned it down (not off) because she said it meant that it was too loud. Unfortunately, even with it turned down, it was still a distraction. She also said that people had complained about her noise level (including music?) in the past, and that I should let her know if it ever bothers me.

She’s popular within our team, so I’d hate to get on her bad side. I’m starting to think I will have to suck it up and live with this since I hate confrontation.

Aggghhhh!  No!

Even though you think she is the one causing the problem here, it’s actually you! She has turned down her music  in the past when she thought it might be bothering you, and she has explicitly told you that you should let her know if it bothers you. So why, why, why aren’t you just telling her, as she has asked you to do?

It really doesn’t have to be a big deal: “Hey Jane, you mentioned I should let you know if your music is ever bothering me. It actually is distracting me a bit, so I wonder if you could try using headphones when you’re listening to it.” If you want to soften it, you could say, “I actually love your music, but it makes it hard for me to concentrate.”

But seriously, invitations to speak up don’t get any clearer than this one. Speak up, and stop stewing over this.

4. Is it too early to ask for feedback on my new job?

I have been contracting and temping for almost a year, as I’ve been conducting a job search for the right job (vs. the first job that would take me–your advice has given me a lot of courage to pursue that!). I recently landed a three-month temp administrative job in a growing division in my dream company. I absolutely love this division, my boss, my coworkers, and the work we do!

When they interviewed me, they said that they were looking to “get to know” someone who they would hopefully hire on full-time afterward. They acknowledged that my experience was far advanced for the admin work I’d be doing, but if the budgets went well (this month), there would be a position when my three months ended. I am, for the first time in a very long time, excited to go to work every day, and think that this would be the coveted “right job for me in my career right now.”

I’m a month into my contract now. Because the time is so short, I would like to ask my boss and the colleague who has been training me for some feedback on what I could be doing better and what they’d like to see me do more of–especially if they are considering keeping me on. When is the best time to do that? Now, at a month? Wait two more weeks? Do I ask by email or in person? (I feel like email would give them some time to give me a thoughtful answer, but in person would be more professional).

Ask now! If there are things you could be doing better, it’s better to hear that now — so you can put the feedback to use — then to wait. And a month is a reasonable time to ask for feedback on how things are going.

Do you have a regular check-in with your manager? If so, bring it up there (no foreshadowing by email needed). If not, ask her (in person when you next see her or in email; either is fine) if you can sit down with her for 15 minutes and talk about how things are going.

But this shouldn’t be a “so are you going to hire me?” conversation yet (unless your manager brings it up herself). Just focus on asking for feedback about how you’re doing and what you could be doing better/differently.

5. Is it reasonable to have to work on Thanksgiving, and without holiday pay?

I just started working for a company whose parent company is Canadian. I don’t know if this has anything to do with it, but they just announced that there will be no holiday pay for working on Thanksgiving…and oh, by the way, if you don’t volunteer to work, you will be volunteered. Is the lack of holiday pay legal for U.S. Holidays? Is it reasonable to ask people to do customer service and tech support on a holiday and be happy about it, when they were coerced into working it in the first place? Believe me, after being unemployed for nearly a year, I’m grateful for the job, so I’m not sure how to react!

They have to pay you your regular pay for working that day, but there’s no requirement in the U.S. for any type of special holiday pay over and above what you’d normally receive.

As for whether it’s reasonable to require you to work on Thanksgiving, it depends on what type of customer service and tech work you do. There are some jobs in those fields where it’s pretty normal to need to be staffed on Thanksgiving, and if they don’t get enough volunteers, that means they’ll need to assign people to the shift.

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