my boss loaned me money and now insists I repay it all immediately, union membership on a resume, and more

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

1. I don’t want my boss to hire another person to do the same work as me

I am a PhD who works in an analytical role that requires a lot of special training and expertise. I’ve been at my current job for 1.5 years, and my boss seems really happy with me. She often jokes with others about how she wants to “clone” me, and I keep getting more and more projects thrown my way.

The problem is that I’m now having trouble keeping up with the amount of work. My boss is now pushing her boss to approve funding to hire another person like me. It almost seems like she thinks that if one of me is great, then two of me will be even better. The problem is that I’m at a point in my career (7 years in) where I’d really like to start moving up into a higher role than just an analyst. I’m concerned that if she hires another person like me, at my same level, we’re going to be competing against each other. I’ve been in this position in my previous job, and things got awkward fast. It was a major reason why I wanted to leave my previous role – I was hoping to find more opportunities for greater responsibility elsewhere. I thought that working hard would be the right way to move up, but instead it seems to be keeping me stuck.

Do you think I should talk to my boss and tell her my concerns? I don’t want to come across as selfish and self-serving, but it is affecting my level of motivation.

Well, you can’t really say “don’t hire an additional person” if there’s work that she needs an additional person to do. But you could certainly tell her that you’re interested in advancing, and ask whether there’s a way to structure the second position to be junior to yours, freeing you up to focus on the higher level work of the two roles. (That only works if the work can be divided that way, of course. If it can’t, then it might make more sense to just talk to her about what your career path there could look like in general.) But if you’re great at what you do (and it sounds like she thinks you are, if she wants to clone you), you shouldn’t let yourself feel threatened by the prospect of an additional person on your team.

2. My boss loaned me money and now insists I repay it all immediately

While I was still working for my boss, he loaned me half the cost of a car — a car that I needed to be more efficient at my traveling sales job. I didn’t want to get into a loan, but he assured me that there was no time frame for repayment and that he wasn’t concerned about the amount, as he is very wealthy and the loan is for a small amount. However, he loaned the money directly to me, personal loan, that was unfortunately a verbal contract only. The car is entirely in my name including title, registration, insurance, and even the emissions testing. In terms of repayment of that loan, the agreement was that I was going to take money from my paychecks and repay him as we went along.

Long story short, the job didn’t work out for me financially and I couldn’t support myself with what I was making in commission sales. I did everything I could to keep paying him and worked for him running the office, and making payments, while I tried to get another job. Then I got an offer of an unpaid 3-month internship that would lead into a paid job in my career path. We agreed that I would do the internship and then resume payments after the 3 months.

At the end of the third month of the internship, that’s when things got crazy. Now, my boss wants me to repay the loan in full, or give him the car back. One or the other. He wants to hold onto the car until I repay him in full. We never had a final pay-by date agreed upon, so can he just set a date and make me adhere to that? Also, he took my last paycheck and put it toward my loan principle. I’ve been reading and I don’t think he can take a personal loan payment out of my work paycheck. Now, he is telling me he is suing me and that his lawyer says it is an open and shut case. I’m a little nervous because I don’t know the law very well, but I comforted that he doesn’t really have that much against me. What should I do!?! Does he have a case against me?

I don’t know if he has a case because I’m not a lawyer  and the situation is really outside the realm of the usual types of law we talk about here (i.e., workplace law) But no, he shouldn’t be able to take your last paycheck and apply it to a personal situation without your permission — that’s a clear violation of labor law. And I wouldn’t trust anyone who tells you that the legal case they have against you is “open and shut” when they have a vested interest in you believing that; it’s in his best interests to have you believe that, and it’s in your best interest to talk to a lawyer of your own (and to contact your state labor department about that final paycheck).

Lessons for everyone else: Don’t take loans from managers (or coworkers, for that matter). And put any loan agreement with anyone in writing, including repayment terms.

3. When an interviewer opens the conversation by asking for questions

I recently had a job interview that felt slightly awkward from the first moment– I panicked for half a second when the person who greeted me had no idea who I was or what I was there for, so I was already a little off balance when the interviewer and I sat down to talk…and then her first question was, “So, do you have any questions for me?” I was taken by surprise, and scrambled for something to say. I wanted to hear more about the position, because I didn’t want to base everything I said on my own interpretation of the job posting and possibly seem like I didn’t even know what job I was interviewing for, but I didn’t want to actually ask, in case it seemed like I didn’t even know what job I was interviewing for, so my answer to that question was pretty well bungled and things didn’t improve from there. (We moved on to, “What do you know about our organization?” which looked like an easy one because I knew exactly what they do, but unfortunately for me it was followed by, “It sounds like you know what chocolate teapots are– do you have experience with them or did you just get that off our website?” I know there’s a good, friendly, enthusiastic, non-stupid way to explain that you know what they are because you have a double master’s degree in teapots and chocolate, which is why you are interested in working for a chocolate teapot organization, and also you read their website last night, but I didn’t think of it in time, alas, and although I wouldn’t call the interview a total disaster by any means, it didn’t get a whole lot better).

Anyway, my questions are these: Is it just my lack of interview experience (I’ve had somewhere between 10 and 20 interviews, which doesn’t seem like a lot to me…) or is it uncommon to begin by asking if the interviewee has any questions? And if I’m likely to encounter this scenario again, what sorts of things would be reasonable to ask an interviewer before they’ve asked or told you anything? Can you open straight up with, “What makes an excellent teapot steward?”…?

It’s not uncommon for an interviewer to open that way. But it does feel a little odd to jump into all of the questions that you might have planned out when you figured you’d be asked for questions at the end of the conversation, not the beginning. Some good questions when this happens are ones that ask about the role itself, so things like: “I’d love to hear you talk about the things that are most important in the role” … “What are the most key things for this person to accomplish this year?” … “What are the biggest challenges you expect the person in this role to face?” and so forth.

4. How should I explain that I was out of work for a year because of cancer?

I’m about to start interviewing for an executive sales manager position and had to stop working at my previous employer due to a unique form of cancer. Due to chemo, radiation and then ultimately a major operation to remove the cancerous tumor, I was out of work for approximately a full year. I’m on the road to recovery and it’s time to get back into the rat race so I can pay off my medical bills..

I know the question will arise during the interview, “Why have you been unemployed for the last year?” My question to you is should I be honest and explain that I was fighting cancer for the last year? I don’t want the future company to worry about my health and when someone mentions cancer, it may be looked down upon for a potential employee.

The other issue is that when you google my name and city that I live in, my name comes up in a lot of articles due to the work and help that I gave to the American Cancer Society. I raised a lot of awareness and money for ACS and should be looked at a positive, but I also don’t want to lie in my interview especially if they did research on my previous accomplishments.

For any health situation, including this one, all you have to say is, “I was dealing with a health issue that has since been resolved.” That’s it! They shouldn’t ask for details (because that would put them on very shaky ground legally), and the “since been resolved” part of that sentence says “it’s in the past and I’m ready to return to work.” No need to go into any details beyond that. Good luck!

5. Should I put union membership on my resume?

I am a graduate student in the social sciences searching for a job after my degree is complete. I am a union member, but I am not sure whether to include this information on my resume or CV. Do you have any recommendations?

I don’t see how it helps you, it has a small chance of hurting you with some employers, and it has nothing to do with your ability to excel in a job — so no, I wouldn’t include it.

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