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. Will my sister be judged by employers for being pregnant and unmarried?

My sister is pregnant and unmarried and just starting out in her career. I’m personally okay with the unmarried thing — she has a boyfriend and will probably will get married. If they don’t, that’s also fine with her (and me!). But what do employers and coworkers think about that? She started a position at the end of last year and while our industry is pretty accepting (tattoos, piercings, casual attire), I’m nervous about her only being junior level and needing to take maternity leave in the beginning of 2014 when she will only have been on board one year and only a college grad for two years. What are the thoughts around this?

Are you in a particularly conservative part of the country where people are known for judging this kind of thing? If not, this is going to be a non-issue. (Plus, if I’m doing the math right, she’ll be having the baby when she’s about 24 — which is on the young side for having a kid, but not shockingly so by any means.)

2. Can I ask for a pro-rated bonus when I’m leaving?

I work for a small but sophisticated organization (less than 10 people, almost all attorneys). Despite our abundance of lawyers, we do not have any formal employee policies or handbooks. We are paid an annual salary that, by my managers’ own admission, is under market, but they compensate for that somewhat with a 12% annual bonus and a lot of flexibility. It is not written anywhere that you need to stay the whole year to receive the bonus, but that’s the implicit understanding. At the same time, this is very much a place where people come for a few years and then move on. It’s not a forever type of organization, and they are pretty open about that. (In fact, I know that at least one person prior to me received a pro rated share of his bonus, though he stayed until August.)

I plan on giving notice next week and would like to strike a deal in which I give a them a month transition time instead of the customary 2 weeks, and do a bang-up job ensuring the smoothest possible transition. (I am quite senior and have a wealth of knowledge; my loss will not be easy on the organization), in exchange for a prorated piece of my bonus. I was thinking of presenting it as something like: “I have an offer that I plan to accept, but they are flexible in my start date. I would like to give you another month, during which I would be happy to train my replacement and ease this transition in any way possible. In return, I would like to be paid a pro rata share of my annual bonus.” I have a list of why I think this is the fair thing for them to do — including the fact that I only took 4 weeks maternity leave a couple years ago upon finding myself due right at my organization’s busiest time. Am I approaching this in a reasonable manner? I would love your insights.

Well, first, you need to understand that bonuses are a retention strategy. They have no incentive to pay it when it’s clearly not going to help retain you. So you need to make a different argument. Offering to help with the transition during your remaining weeks isn’t a good argument, but it’s assumed that you’ll do that as part of being a responsible professional who wants a good reference; implying it’s contingent on getting a bonus would be a bad thing. Connecting it to taking a short maternity leave a few years ago isn’t a good argument either; that’s in the past, it was presumably something you chose to do, and if they were going to reward you financially for doing that, it would have already happened. If you think they’ll want you to give four weeks notice instead of two weeks — want it enough to pay extra for it — then that would be a good argument. But that’s the only one I’d use. (Although you could also offer to be available for questions for a while after you leave, to sweeten the pot, if you wanted to.)

Of course, you could also just do a straightforward appeal of “I’ve worked hard while I’m here, I’ve done an excellent job, and I hope you’ll consider paying me the pro-rated portion of the bonus I would have earned had I stayed.” Some employers will respond to that, and some won’t.

3. Preparing to leave a job to move in a few months

I’ve been planning on leaving my job for about a year, and recently my wife accepted an offer in another city. We’re planning on moving around July 20. I’m not sure how far in advance I should give notice. I don’t expect to be told to leave as soon as I give notice, but I do expect to have to train my replacement or another staff member as my immediate superior doesn’t have the technical skills to do so.

I also have two follow up questions (if that’s okay): I know that my boss has had trouble finding desirable applicants lately and I wanted to offer to assist in the search for a replacement, but I don’t know if that’s a faux-pas. Second, I don’t yet have a job in my new city, but a company that operates nationally that we are partnered with for many projects has opportunities for work there. The manager there wouldn’t hire me without my boss’s blessing, is it alright to broach the subject when I give notice?

How much notice to gives depends 100% on how your manager and your company handle long notice periods. If you’ve seen that they handle them well and don’t push people out the door sooner than they wanted to go, then tell them now. Hiring takes a while, and if they want you to train your replacement, they’ll need to start the process now. (Alternately, though, if they had a track record of pushing people out early, they would have forfeited the right to a long notice period.)

You can absolutely offer to help search for a replacement; there’s nothing inappropriate about that offer. And you can also tell your manager that you’re interested in approaching the company they work with that has offices in your new city. When you’re leaving because you’re moving, this stuff isn’t generally taken personally the way if sometimes would be if you were staying in your same location.

4. Should I be concerned that my job is going to go away?

I work in membership for a large-ish trade association. Much of this job involves working with our organization’s AMS (association management system) to update records, enter new applications for membership and renewals, payment information, etc. Our organization’s operation is somewhat behind the times as far as associations go, but we’re about to change AMS vendors and work with a more lightweight system that has more potential for integration with our other services and more ease of use.

Here is my dilemma: my department is comprised of four people with mainly the same duties (one of us is our department coordinator and has more reporting and administrative responsibility). We are moving to the new AMS in August, and as we learn more about it I am finding that many of the tasks that we are responsible for are going to be automated, with plans to automate more of them in the future.

Should I be concerned, when it seems like a very large percentage of my job is soon going to become irrelevant? I’m having trouble seeing how they can necessitate a department of four people when many of our tasks are going to be going away. Management is pretty sure that our jobs are safe, but I am not sure how much faith I should put into them. Do you have any ideas?

Ask what the plans are for your department’s work distribution once the bulk of its tasks are automated. Do they sound like they have a concrete plan? Or do they sound vague? If they sound vague, that’s a danger sign — they either haven’t thought it through yet (and thus their assurances about keeping you all on are meaningless) or they’re not sharing information with you for a reason. And keep in mind that it’s very, very common for employers not to tell people they’re being laid off until they actually are — which doesn’t mean that’s happening here, but it’s something you want to be aware of.

Regardless, start searching. You don’t have to take an offer if you get one, but job searches take a long time, and by starting now, you’ll be ahead of the game if it turns out in the fall that you need to be.

5. What’s the best way to approach a mentor?

I have some questions about how to approach a mentor I’ve been matched to through my company’s career development program. I went to them because I know the type of work I’d like to go into, but not what actual positions and education that translates to. They connected me to a Very, Very Important Person at my company, who agreed to meet with me to chat about it.

I see people on AAM both frustrated with mentees asking too much and asking too little. Do you have any advice for striking the right balance of engagement vs asking for too much? I feel my questions are inherently a little broad and maybe even difficult, but the counselor said she thought this was the best person to ask. I’m intimidated and nervous of making a bad impression.

Start off by saying, “I’m worried my questions might be too broad to answer easily, so please tell me if that’s the case.” This is usually the best strategy when you have a worry like this — just put it on the table, so the person knows you’ve recognized it as a concern, and then you’ll look considerate and thoughtful if turns out to actually be one. (And even if it doesn’t.)

But questions about figuring out what type of specific positions and education match up with the type of work you’d like to do are precisely the sort of thing that mentors in your field can usually answer.

6. How to handle a contact who hasn’t gotten back to me

I’ve been unemployed for the past several months, and over lunch with an old supervisor, found a position I was interested in at a place this person use to work. He gave me a hiring manager’s name and told me to call and ask about the position. However, this person isn’t necessarily the hiring manager for this particular position. Anyway, the problem is that every time I call, I either get an automated message, or I am told she is out of the office and will get back to me. It’s been four days and I haven’t heard back. The position has been opened for a while, and I would still like to apply. Do I just address the cover letter as Dear Hiring Managers, or do I keep trying to reach this person?

On a sidenote, I was able to find this particular hiring manager on LinkedIn, so I’m trying to decide if it would be appropriate to go ahead and send in a cover letter and resume, and then try to connect with this particular hiring manager over LinkedIn?

Go ahead and apply and address it to “dear hiring manager” if you’re not sure of the name. You can continue trying to reach the contact you have, but give it a week before you try again. And if you don’t get a response to that, then give up. You’ll have reached out and expressed interest, and at that point it’s in her court, and it’ll be annoying if you keep trying.

As for connecting over LinkedIn, you can certainly try. I’m not a big fan of strangers connecting over LinkedIn because they want a job, but some people are fine with it, and it won’t hurt either way.

7. Mentioning a certification that I don’t yet have

I am currently working on a certification that is extremely relevant in my industry — most job postings have it as a preferred qualification (if not mandatory, in some cases). I am registered for all three exams and will be certified by November of 2013 (contingent on my passing the exams, but I don’t think that will be an issue).

Can I put that I am actively pursuing the certification on my resume, expected November 2013? Or would you recommend that I leave it off until I have passed all three exams?

Yes, put it on, with the date that it’s expected.

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