bringing a boyfriend to an interview, preventing overtime abuse, and more

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

1. Coworker keeps singing near my desk, even after I’ve asked him to stop

I have a job that I love, and coworkers that I enjoy. However, where I sit in the office is becoming problematic. My desk is located in an open office space. There are others with actual offices around me, but my coworker and I sit out in the open floor area. This is great for being accessible to others, but there is one colleague that I am constantly having problems with. I’ll call him Mark.

Mark will often come by and talk loudly to himself or sing a song or whistle. He does even if it’s clear that my coworker and I are in the midst of focusing on work and not interested in engaging. This does not seem to bother my coworker, but it is incredibly distracting for me. I’ve asked him nicely to please stop. I’ve asked him to stop in the guise of a joke. I’ve snapped at him to stop once or twice. Nothing seems to work.

Today, he came to use the printer behind my desk and proceeded to sing a song of his own creation about the printing experience. I turned around and said jokingly, “just because you’re printing something, doesn’t mean you need to sing about it,” to which he responded, “I’m just enjoying life.” When I said, “I enjoy life too, but I do it quietly,” he replied, “You mean ‘sullenly’.”

I’m at my wits end. I don’t want to nag at him to stop. I’m not even sure he notices that he does it sometimes, and he definitely doesn’t notice how his noise impacts others’ work experience. I don’t want to look like the coworker with no sense of fun or humor, or the person who is always shutting down the good time. What can I do?

You could shush him each time it happens. Or you could do what I recommend managers do when there’s a pattern of problematic behavior from an employee: talk to the person about the pattern, rather than each individual instance. For instance: “Mark, I know we’ve talked about this in the past, but I want to raise it again because we haven’t solved it yet. It is very difficult for me to focus on work when you talk, sing, or whistle in my workspace. I know you might not think about it because my desk is in an open space, but it would be like me walking into your office and standing there singing. I really need to be able to focus on work — can you humor me and try to remember to keep it down when you’re at the printer and so forth?”

Also, Mark is a bit of an ass.

2. Was this hiring manager just being nice or is his interest sincere?

I graduated from college two months ago with a degree in communication. I worked for my student newspaper, had an PR internship with the college communication department, and then worked as a writing tutor in the library, so writing and editing are my strengths. Recently, a local PR and advertising company (one that not only has a fantastic reputation but also happens to employ one of my aunts) posted a copy editor/proofreader job. Since it was the one job there I felt I was qualified for, I applied immediately and got an interview. The interview was with someone fairly high up in the company, and even though he was very courteous and I thought the interview went well, I knew a company with such a great reputation would have a thousand more qualified people knocking down its door so I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t hear anything back.

The interview was a month ago, but I just saw my aunt who works at that company yesterday at a family get-together. She said they hired someone else for the copy editor position, but she also said the executive I interviewed with came to her desk, told her how great I was to interview and how articulate I was, and then said if I wanted to do PR I was definitely someone they’d be interested in. I would love to go into PR and my aunt said I should follow up. Here’s the thing: I don’t think I’m qualified for any of the jobs that are still open. Why would he not hire me for the position I had experience in but suggest positions for which I don’t even meet the minimum requirements in the job postings? It seems like he was just being nice, but I don’t want to squander an opportunity because I made assumptions. What should I do?

It’s possible that he was just being nice, but it’s also possible that he fully meant what he said. You have nothing to lose by assuming he meant it, and plenty to lose by assuming he didn’t, so you at least be open to the possibility that he was sincere — and follow up. Send him an email telling him how much you appreciated his time last month and that while you understand the proofreader position has been filled, your goal is to work in PR and you’d be grateful for any advice he can give you. If he was just blowing smoke at your aunt, this won’t do you any harm. But if he meant it, you might get a useful response and potentially something more down the road.

3. Leaving a job without notice due to domestic violence

I recently left a job with no notice due to a domestic violence situation. It occurred over the weekend, I had no friends or family in the area to stay with, and I absolutely could not safely remain living where I was — it was safest for me to pack and return 500 miles to my hometown in a very short time frame. I don’t know how to address leaving due to a “personal emergency” and thus being unrehirable by my former company with future job applications/interviews. Help?

“I had a family emergency that required me to relocate without much notice, unfortunately — but before that, I had an excellent X years at that job, with glowing performance reviews and achievements like X and Y.”

Also, consider reaching out to your old company and seeing if you can negotiate what they’ll see in response to future reference-checkers. I’m not sure how you left it with them, but if you explain however much you’re comfortable with, you might find that they’ll be very understanding of the situation. How’s your rapport with your former manager there? Or someone in HR? I’d pick the person you’re most comfortable with — or the one who seems most level-headed — and give them either a brief rundown of the situation if you’re comfortable with that, or an apologetic explanation that you can’t share details but a family emergency or safety issue was involved.

4. Bringing my boyfriend to an interview

I have an interview at the Ministry of Social Development on the 4th of August. (I’m in New Zealand). When I got the email inviting me to attend an interview, they told me that I could bring a support person with me if I told them in advance.

I’m planning to bring my boyfriend as a support person, but I’m also a bit concerned that the interview panel might see this in a negative light. I guess it’s kind of unfair to offer the option of bringing a support person, then judge candidates negatively if they exercise this option. But I’m just not that clear about the process. I thought you would have some good insight into this.

Are you sure they mean “moral support” and not “if you have a disability and need assistance”? I would absolutely not bring your boyfriend or anyone for moral support. It’s possible that New Zealand has really different conventions that we do, but in general, bringing a boyfriend or friend or a friend to an interview — particularly if framed as being for moral support — would come across as unprofessional.

5. Preventing employees from abusing overtime

As president of a small company, how do I prevent employees from abusing overtime? Our policy is to have permission beforehand, but this is ignored. We are required to pay overtime whether approved or not.

You handle this the way you would handle any other rule you need people to follow: by having consequences when they don’t. In this case, because you have to pay them overtime or risk legal fines, it’s serious enough that it wouldn’t be crazy to make it a fireable offense  – and indeed many companies do exactly that. Warn people once, and be willing to fire them if it’s a pattern.

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