asking about work hours before accepting a job, is long hair unprofessional, and more

It’s mini answer Monday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Can I ask an employer what their work hours are like?

Everything I’ve seen suggests that one shouldn’t ask a prospective employer what work hours are like.

I just got a job offer. Having interviewed on-site at the company, my “vibe” was that hours wouldn’t be too outrageous, but my wife really wants to know because we have two small children. I’m willing to put in pretty long hours, but she reasonably thinks that it’s important for me to know what I’m getting myself into. Is it possible to ask about hours/working conditions after an offer has been tendered, or is this still a bad idea?

You should absolutely ask! In fact, it would be a bad idea not to — because that’s how you end up a job where you’re out of sync with what’s expected of you.

I think the advice that you’re thinking of is that you don’t want to come across in the interview stage as if you’re mainly interested in a job that won’t require too much of you — and if all your questions are about benefits, hours, etc. rather than the work itself, you can risk that. But asking about hours in the context of a bunch of other questions is completely fine — and, again, necessary. And certainly once you have an offer, ask whatever questions you need to ask to feel comfortable making a decision about whether this is the right job for you or not.

2. Does long hair look unprofessional?

I have a good grasp on makeup, dress and perfume, but not on the rules of thumb for hair in the workplace, other than the obvious “look polished” rule. Is there any info about recommended hair length for upper level management positons? Does long hair send a different message than shoulder length hair?

In general, long hair (longer than mid-back) is going to look more professional worn up than worn down, but  – at least in many parts of the country — the rule that women can’t look professional with long hair after a certain age isn’t really in effect anymore. Just make sure that you style it well and don’t  leave it just hanging down your back.

3. What does this email from HR mean?

I applied online to a job 3 weeks ago, and earlier this week, I got this email response from the Director of HR: “Thank you for your interest in the position of [deleted]. We have reviewed your resume and have carefully considered your qualifications. While your background and skills are certainly impressive, we have decided the position will not be filled at this time. We will re-visit the position in the middle of August. On behalf of the company, we thank you again for your interest in [deleted] and we wish you all the best in your future endeavors.”

What should I make of this email response I got? I’m not sure how to interpret it. Will they still consider me as a candidate come August? Will they automatically contact me when they decide to revisit the position? Should I respond back to ask if I could follow up with them in August? Should I leave it alone and follow up in August? Is this a nice way of rejecting me? If they are impressed with my background, why are they wishing me the best in my future endeavors?! I’m confused!

It means nothing more than “We’re not filling the position currently but might do so in mid-August.” So yes, if you remain interested, you should check back with them in mid-August; don’t assume that they’ll reach out to you then. And you don’t need to ask now if you can do that; you can just do it when the time comes.

As for being impressed with your background, that’s form letter language that shows up in lots of mass rejection emails. And even if they truly are impressed your with qualifications, it doesn’t mean anything beyond that. I’m impressed with the qualifications of people I reject all the time — but I’m  rejecting them because someone else was better or they weren’t the right fit for what I’m hiring for, or whatever. As a rule, don’t read things into compliments in rejection letters, unless the note is truly personalized.

4. What to do for a reference when my former manager stalked me

Three years ago, I transferred internally from one position to another in the same department. During that time in the second position, my former manager used my personnel file, which he still had a copy of, to stalk me, at and away from work. I got a restraining order (that has since expired). He wasn’t fired or even demoted. He is still the manager of my former position. His only punishment was that he had to comply with restraining order, which meant he had to be relocated within the building, and he was forbidden to speak to or about me in a professional context ever again.

I deplore the way this was handled and sought a position at another company, where I work now. I’m not currently looking for a job, but if I were, how would I handle this on the application/resume/references parts? He was my supervisor, but he isn’t allowed to speak about me during a reference check. I suspect that if he were called, he would talk to the reference checker any way and “tell his side of the story,” because what abusive stalker wouldn’t like the opportunity to STILL manipulate the object of his attention years after she got away? He insisted to the police and to our company that we were having an affair and that I was the crazy one. There was zero evidence of either of his assertions. I had oodles of documentation supporting my claims, hence the court order. He was stalking me because he had a serious crush and was insulted when I left the position working under him.

Alison, this guy is kinda scary. I don’t want reference checkers calling him AT ALL. I actually regret letting my restraining order expire now that I’ve written all this out. What do I do?

How awful. The company should handle this by having someone else prepared to give you a reference and, if necessary, to explain that your previous manager stalked you and obviously shouldn’t be spoken with about your candidacy. So I’d start by contacting them and asking them to do that; if they balk at all, then you should have a lawyer contact them to negotiate this on your behalf. Frankly, you probably have a lot of leverage, given the situation, and you shouldn’t be afraid to use it to get what you need here.

5. When HR is closely aligned with the executive director

Is it legal or ethical for an HR director to be closely aligned with the executive director (even assuming second in command position), or should HR remain at arms length to insure impartiality for senior management in disputes with ED? (Our problem is that we no longer have HR to go to with unreasonable demands, expectations, or working conditions or staffing concerns, now that our only HR resource — the HR director — is so close to our manager, the ED.)

It’s certainly legal, and — while there might be a question about whether a particular configuration is good for the company or not — it’s not really an ethical issue either. HR isn’t there to function as an impartial arbiter or to represent the staff’s interests to the head of the company. HR is there to serve the organization’s interests, particularly when it comes to keeping it out of legal trouble, and it works for senior management / the company itself. It might at times advocate for employees’ interests against something the management is doing, but it would be doing that because it’s in the long-term interests of the company, not because its role is particularly to be an employee advocate.

6. Following up when a request for contacts has been ignored

I recently completed an internship and when I left, my manager suggested I contact our department director about some contacts she might have in the field I am hoping to work in. I reached out to her and she responded, saying she would think about it and get back to me. After 2 weeks, I haven’t heard anything from her. I would like to follow up because I think she probably just forgot, but I’m struggling to come up with wording that doesn’t sound too demanding. Do you have any suggestions? Is it possible that she didn’t respond because she doesn’t want to recommend me?

Sure, that’s possible. It’s also possible that it just slipped her mind, or slipped to the bottom of her priority list. It’s reasonable to follow up once (but not more than that). Say something like, “Hi Jane, I wanted to check back with you about whether there’s anyone you might connect me with for XYZ. If not, no worries, but I’m eager to move forward in this field and am hoping you might be able to advise me. Thanks!”

7. Recruiter was annoyed when I wouldn’t tell her my current salary

A recruiter called to do a phone screen before she put me into her list of recommendations to the hiring manager for consideration. She asked a few questions pertaining to my experience (which I answered clearly and politely) and then asked what my current and expected salary were. I politely replied that my expected salary is stated in my job application profile and that I wished not to answer about my current salary package at this point until the hiring manager wishes to interview me.

I think she got annoyed; she told me that from the standpoint of HR, she wouldn’t know how to put me in an interview if I didn’t answer this question, and quickly followed by saying that it was okay if I didn’t want to answer and thanks for my time. Her attitude was a total 180 change.

Does the recruiter have the right to be annoyed because I refuse to disclose my current salary package in an initial phone screen? Aren’t my expected salary and CV the most important elements to be considered when deciding if I should be interviewed?

Sure, she can be annoyed, and you can decide that you’re not interested in interviewing with a company that expects private salary information from candidates (which is a ridiculous demand, as I’ve written here before). That said, it’s entirely reasonable to expect you to talk about your salary expectations, and replying to that by saying the information is in your job application isn’t generally going to go over well. When someone asks a question, either answer it or don’t, but don’t tell them that they can find the answer in another document; that comes across as unnecessarily difficult.

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