contacting people who had my job before me, am I overqualified, under-qualified, or just right, and more

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

1. My controlling coworker wants us to have weekly update meetings, and I don’t want to

I have a colleague who does basically the same work that I do – we’re in the same unit, have essentially the same job functions, the same bosses, and we share an assistant. More importantly, we’re in the same pay grade. I have been in this job longer, but she is older and therefore has more work experience in general.

We have several progress meetings with our various bosses, but she wants us (the two of us and our assistant) to meet once a week to give each other status updates. She generally likes to be the one in charge, and I cannot shake the feeling that this is another attempt by her to exert control and set herself up to be in a position of “authority” over me. These meetings may very well be useful, but I don’t want to be a part of them. Am I being paranoid?

I don’t know if you’re being paranoid, but why not just be straightforward with her and say that you’re not sure the weekly meetings are necessary and ask what problem she’s trying to solve with them? If she can make a reasonable case that the meetings will be useful, then you really should go ahead and try having them. But you can preempt any attempts by her to use them to exert control over you by exerting some control from the outset yourself — for instance, send around an agenda beforehand, start off by leading the discussion, and/or take the lead on wrapping up. In other words, act aggressively like an equal, not someone she can push around.

Alternately, if the meetings really won’t have value, it’s fine to just say something like, “I think everything is going smoothly, so rather than adding in another weekly meeting, let’s just plan to talk ad hoc when we need to.” But don’t resist them just on principle, or you risk appearing obstructionist or unhelpful.

2. Should I contact people who had my job before me to find out what happened to them?

I work in facilities. Most people have worked here for a very long time – some up to more than 40 years, mostly men. The women are vicious. I am the third admin for the landscaping group in so many years. I support a supervisor who is classical textbook passive-aggressive. My boss is a nice guy but is afraid of her. This supervisor hates me. My boss’s admin is a bully. She used to like me but now doesn’t because of the passive aggressive. My boss has been out of the office on and off for the past 5 months; his wife had cancer and died. While he was out, passive-aggressive made a power grab, collaborated with the bully, and together put me on a PIP, which my boss didn’t sign but is going along with.

The reason I am writing is that the admin before me and another admin got fired. They seem to have gotten another job at the college in another department, which they call the land of misfit admins. This department takes admins fired from facilties because, from what I hear, they know there are problems here. I want to contact the ex-admins secretly. I want to find out what happened, but most of all I want to get the hell out of here and I want to reach out to them for help. What do you think I should do? Do I contact them? If so, what should I say?

Noooo. Don’t do that. That’s inviting and creating drama. If you’re not happy there, and it sounds like you’re not, start looking for another job. But secret contacts with people who got fired before you is drama town, and it sounds like your situation needs less drama, not more.

3. How can I keep quick informational staff meetings from turning into debates?

I work as a manager in a retail environment. Each day, we have small group meetings to share information, whether it be new processes, upcoming events, expectations, or new products with the crew. The meetings are led by a supervisor or manager. I lead about 9 of these a week (for various shifts). I do a great job for the most part, but the problem I run into is that the crew loves to get on their soapbox and share their side of the story when I am introducing a new system or expectation. I want to be perceived as a good listener so I let them say their piece, but I feel like it puts me on the spot in front of everyone who is looking to hear my response. Honestly, sometimes I just don’t have a response to what they are saying. I’d like some tips on how to respond when this happens.

Also, these meetings are only about 5-10 minutes long because of the fast-paced environment of the store, so when someone does get on their soapbox it takes up valuable time that I could be sharing other information. Again, it is an expectation from my boss that my people see me as a great listener so I need a way to quiet them down when I have other issues I need to get the crew up to speed on.

Well, keep in mind that you don’t just want people to see you as a good listener; you want to actually be a good listener, because that’s part of managing — as well as retaining good employees. Plus, you’ll make better decisions when you truly hear people’s input (which means not just tolerating their input, but actively seeking it), and your staff will be more likely to support those decisions when they feel their input has been heard and genuinely considered (even if the ultimate decision goes a different way).

All that said, it’s reasonable that sometimes you just need to relay information quickly. So I’d say something like, “If you have thoughts about this policy or a suggestion for improving it, please talk to me separately so that we can stay on track here and finish quickly.” But then you really need to hear people out when they come to you outside of these meetings and not make it impossible for them to talk with you.

4. Am I overqualified, under-qualified, or just right?

I’m a recent college grad who is having an extremely hard time finding a job and I was wondering if it might have something to do with my qualifications or lack thereof. I received my BS with a double major, then did a year with AmeriCorps in my field of study, and then got my MPA from Columbia University, graduating May 2013. I’m only 24. All told, I have about 2-1/2 years of combined experience (the 1 year of AmeriCorps, a 5-month client project for a non-profit which was part of my graduation requirement, a 6-month internship at the UN, and another 5-month internship at a nonprofit).

I still feel like an entry level candidate, so I’ve been applying to entry level jobs–some that ask for the masters, most that just ask for a bachelor’s degree–and I don’t know if I’m under/overqualified. On the one had, I don’t have years of salaried, full-time job experience so I don’t feel qualified to apply for a position asking for 3-5 years experience. On the other hand, I have a masters degree and I worry employers won’t hire me for something entry level based on that. Would you say that I’m over/under/just-right qualified for entry level nonprofit jobs that want 0-2 years experience? Any advice on how to downplay (or play up) the MPA? I feel like it’s more of a hindrance than a help.

On a related note, I’m applying to secretarial and clerical work (office receptionist, bank teller, etc.) because I desperately need a job, and again, I’m worried that even with a functional resume, I won’t be hired because I either don’t have enough experience in those fields or I have too much education. What would be your take on that?

Applying for jobs that ask for 0-2 years experience sounds about right, but it’s going to depend on the job. If it’s a receptionist job, I’d leave your masters off, since it’s going to hurt you more than help with those jobs. There’s no requirement that you list every qualification that you have, and listing a masters when applying to receptionist jobs is like announcing “This job isn’t what I want to do and I’ll be waiting for something better to come along” (whether or not that’s true).

When you leave it on (and actually the rest of the time too), make sure you’re explaining in your cover letter why you’re applying for the job you’re applying for — what excites you about it and why you’d be great at it. Otherwise, if the job doesn’t match up with your background, employers will assume you’re not be thoughtful and are just resume-bombing, and that’ll get you quickly discarded. Thoughtful, truly customized cover letters are going to be your friend here.

(And don’t use a functional resume at all; those are annoying and red-flaggy to employers.)

5. My manager makes me pick up my paycheck from her house

Is it appropriate to have to pick up my paycheck from my manager’s house? She lives in a sketchy part of town with her boyfriend that is really out of the way for me to have to drive to, and sometimes it’s her BOYFRIEND–who I don’t even know and is not connected with the company in any way–who gives the check to me instead of her. She is the CEO of her own branch of a company that sells Direct TV. She also has an office in town that she could use instead of her house, but chooses not to.

I’m the new guy and am afraid to say any thing, but I really am uncomfortable going to her house to pick up the check, and even more uncomfortable with her boyfriend giving it to me sometimes.

No, it’s not appropriate. But there’s no federal law governing precisely how your paychecks are distributed to you, and I don’t know of any state with a law addressing that either. However, why not ask her to either provide direct deposit or to hold your check at work for you? You don’t need to explain that it’s because of her sketchy location or her sketchy boyfriend; you can simply point out that it’s more convenient. (If it’s because she’s cutting the checks from home on her day off or something, then you could tell her you don’t mind waiting a few days until you’re both in the same location.)

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