mini answer Monday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

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

1. Where can I eat lunch other than at my desk?

I work in a very small and friendly company, and at lunch time most of us tend to eat at our desk, though we also take the time to go meet friends, go to the gym, shopping, etc. and generally get out of the office. I like to bring my own food with me, as it is cheaper and healthier, but I’m sick of sitting at my desk all the time. I would like to get out of the office and sit somewhere else to eat my home-packed food. Over the summer, I will go and sit outside, but in the winter weather I have no where to go unless I buy food at a sit-in cafe, which I can’t afford to do. Are there places that will let you take your own food? Like public indoor spaces, coffee shops or similar? We don’t have a lunch room or anything like that, just a small kitchen. Have you or anyone else found a good indoor alternative for desk eating?

Places that sell food — like coffee shops — generally won’t let you bring your own food in. Your best bet would be some kind of indoor public space (like a mall or something similar), but lots of offices aren’t located anywhere like that. If yours isn’t, you might be stuck with your desk.

2. Is this director earning too much?

I recently joined the board of a countywide nonprofit that relies on donations from the community for all of its funding. The director is a hardworking, knowledgeable, fiscally responsible woman whom I respect as a person and like as a friend. However, I recently learned her salary, which comes out to about 10 percent of the organization’s total money raised and is $30,000 more than the median income in the county.

Should I be concerned that her salary is too high? I don’t want to make waves if I’m out of line, but I haven’t been able to shake the bad feeling I’ve had in the pit of my stomach since that meeting. She’s always talking about how money is tight. But coming from the perspective of making $10,000 less than the county’s median income while working a 50-60 hour a week salaried job at a for-profit company, I guess I have a hard time buying that.

Well, someone responsible for running an organization should be making more than the average income — because the average person doesn’t have a job with that level of responsibility, and it makes sense that people who do are compensated more than people don’t.  (And the median income in the United States is $41,560. $30,000 more than that is $71,560 — not an especially high salary for the head of an organization, and one that would be considered low in many contexts, even nonprofits.)

Now, there are certainly tiny nonprofits that pay significantly below market rate because that’s all they can afford. But there are plenty of nonprofits that believe in competitive salaries because that’s usually how you attract talent — and having a great performer in a top job is the difference between accomplishing a lot and accomplishing very little. (Frankly, you might be underpaying, not over-paying.) But I’d look at what the director is achieving — what level is she performing at? Is she setting ambitious goals and achieving them? Is she bringing value to the organization that’s equivalent or more than the salary you’re paying her? If so, be glad that you have an effective director at a fairly low salary. If she’s not, then you need to address that as a performance issue. But the salary doesn’t sound like a problem here. You need to pay competitive salaries in order to attract fantastic people.

3. Is my husband’s employer setting traps to catch him job-hunting?

My husband is a very impulsive person — even at work. Things are not going well for him in his office right now (bad colleagues and politics by supervisors are making him more and more frustrated, and he has lost his temper at work a few times) and we both feel that he needs to look for a new job. Since his office is a small one, he is afraid that his company may get to know that he is looking for another job and may fire him immediately. So he is looking out for jobs through contacts. He is constantly scared that his current employer may ruin the future job prospects for him. Can this happen? Can a company influence another company to hire a person or not?

I keep telling my husband that this is not possible, but he is so low in confidence right now, and doesn’t believe anything. He is suspicious about every opportunity that comes his way, and keeps suspecting that the interview calls could be a trap set up by his current employer. But the interviews are coming from genuine companies; I googled these companies and they do exist. Maybe it is a small world and his current employer may know about these firms, but in what ways will it affect my husband?

It’s certainly possible that if your husband applies for a job with someone who knows his current manager, that person may give his boss a heads-up. But it’s very unlikely — most people doing hiring understand that they need to handle applications with discretion, and it would be pretty rare for someone to call up his boss and say, “Hey, Bob Smith is looking to leave.” Not impossible, but rare.

Your husband can minimize even the small chance of this happening by including a note in his cover letter requesting that his application be treated confidentially.

As for the possibility of traps being set up by his current employer, that’s so unlikely that’s it’s not even worth him worrying about, unless he’s working for North Korea or something like that.

4. Should I tell my father of my resignation before I tell my boss?

I work at a small distribution company comprised of about 50 employees. I have been with the company for 6 years and am responsible for operation of the computers systems, hardware and phone systems. I feel my position is critical to the company as I am the only person in the IT Department. My father is president of the company, but I do not report directly to him. I report to the Director of Administration, who reports to the president. I have been interviewing for a job at another company, which is not a competitor. If I am provided a job opportunity to work for this company, I will most likely accept the position, which will enhance my career experience and salary.

If I do, do I speak with my father the night before I meet with my manager to give him a heads-up of my intentions, or should I just speak with my manager first and then she will inform my father? Outside of the office, I have a good relationship with my father and we are very good about keeping personal and business matters separate when we are in and outside of the office. I am sure he would want the best for me and my family, as I do not have many options for career advancement in my current position. What would be the most appropriate way to submit my resignation?

Either way is fine. You can give your dad a heads-up first if you want, and ask that he keep it to himself until you’ve had a chance to tell your manager, or you can go to your manager first. I’d base your decision on what you know of your father — if he’s likely to be surprised if you don’t tell him first, then do.

5. How can I explain to prospective employers why I’m leaving my job?

I work for a small healthcare company that for 5 years I have loved. I truly believed at one time that I was going to walk out the door in 20-25 years, when the doctor retired. We have talked about that many times and we have formed a very close personal relationship, as well as a working relationship. But the past year, she has become more and more unhappy with her career choices and this has lead to nothing but bad moods at the office. Because I am the manager, I often hear from other employees about how bad the day was because she was in a bad mood. Even rare days that she is in a good mood, it is nothing to set her off into a bad mood and take it out on everyone. I have lived with this for a year, because I truly enjoy the type of work I do. I have talked to her about it and it hasn’t changed. I can no longer take the negativity day end and day out. It is wearing on me and my personal life. I want to look for another job, but not quite sure what to tell the potential employer why I am leaving.

You’ve been there five years, so people aren’t going to question it if you say that you’ve mastered the challenges of your current position and are eager to take on something new. Most hiring managers understand that the real answer may be “I’m sick of my negative boss,” but this is a more appropriate response — and again, since you’ve been there five years, no one is going to question it. If you were leaving after one year, you’d be in a tougher spot. Like this next letter-writer:

6. How can I explain to prospective employers why I’m leaving after only a year?

I accepted a new job in the spring of 2012, and while I like the actual work, I feel it’s time for me to find something else. The department atmosphere is not happy, the managers suck, transfers within the company have been severely restricted, and after getting in and doing the job I realize I’m underpaid. Not just for the tasks of this specific job, but also because I’m a high performer who does more than others who have been in the job for years. My raise for 2013 was less than half a percentage point, and my company does not do merit raises so asking for more money based on performance is not an option. And even if it was and I did get a good merit raise, the lack of promotion opportunities and department dysfunction outweighs any possible benefit of getting paid more.

All these issues have been factors in six coworkers leaving since I’ve started, and I feel like I need to do the same. My question is how to address such a short time at my current job when applying for other positions? I feel it must be addressed in some way but am at a loss on how to specifically do that and still be respectful of my current company while not appearing flaky. Do potential employers think that leaving a job before you’ve been there a year means you don’t know what you want or didn’t do proper diligence to make sure you and the job and/or company were a good fit before accepting the job?

Yep, they generally wonder what’s up. That doesn’t mean you can’t pull it off though — you just need to be prepared for questions about why you’re leaving so soon. I wouldn’t say that you’re leaving because there’s no opportunity for advancement, because people will wonder why you’re so antsy for that after only a year. And I wouldn’t blame it being underpaid, because they’ll wonder why you accepted the job at that salary if that’s the case (which is a legitimate question). It’s ideal if you can blame it on the working not turning out to be what you thought it would be, or the company undergoing changes that will affect your job, or something along those lines.

7. What does this mean?

I’m confused. I applied for a job and didn’t hear anything for about two weeks, so I sent a follow-up email. The executive director emailed me back and asked me to resend my resume, which I did. Then I was contacted about relocating. When I informed them that I was moving in a week, they told me to contact them as soon as I made it to town. What does all of this mean? I’m a recent grad, so I don’t want to think I have a job and I don’t but I’m not sure where I’m at with this company.

It means that they’d rather talk to you once you’re local, because dealing with out-of-town candidates can be a hassle, and it’s a hassle that employers especially don’t want to deal with for entry-level positions. And yes, definitely don’t assume that you have a job or even an interview. Just contact them when you’ve relocated and tell them that you’d love to talk if they think you’d be a good fit for the job.

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