my coworkers keep badmouthing my boss to me, is it okay to just order coffee at a lunch interview, and more

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

1. Is it okay to just order coffee at a lunch interview?

So at a certain stage of your interview for a job, you are being asked to meet the interviewer for lunch at a certain place. You meet, the interviewer orders lunch, and you order just a coffee. Is this ok (or should you be ordering lunch)? Is it ok to offer to pay for coffee/lunch at the end?

You should order lunch too. The interviewer is extending you hospitality by inviting you to a lunch meeting, and ordering just coffee is socially a little tone-deaf. It’s assumed that the interviewer will pay; she’s hosting the meeting, and it’s a business expense for her.

2. How can I stop coworkers from badmouthing my boss to me?

I have been hired at local university and have found myself in an unpleasant situation. I am a secretary for one of the department heads. A woman in my building (not in my department, but she supplies a service to us) trashes my department head. She wants to talk about her and have me go along. I have been there only a month. The first week I was there, I had four people come to me and trash her and tell me these horrible stories. I have not been the receiptant or witnessed anything that they are referring to. I have found that one behavior they talked about was something the prior secretary had offered to do and then the department head took advantage and was inconsiderate. I am getting the impression that some things were asked by the department head, she agreed, and then resented agreeing to it and felt stuck. She agreed, suffered some sour grapes, and complained to everyone vs. standing up for herself and confronting the issue. I am of the view that you stand your ground when asked to do unreasonable things past your job description; just be polite about it.

I have started telling people that I like my department head and I get strange looks. But this person wants to come into my office and trash my supervisor and I am terrified that my boss will hear her running her mouth. I get rid of her as soon as possible. Please give me a quick statement that I can parrot back that can end this. I want to keep a good relationship with the woman but am at a loss. I want the freedom to make my own opinion without so much input from others.

“I’ve enjoyed working for Jane so far.”

If that doesn’t work, then move to: “I’d rather not discuss her like this. Thank you.”

3. New manager is constantly texting and emailing during meetings

Within management of the medium-sized company where I work, we have a new manager in her very early 30s. During meetings (intimate meetings of 4 to 5 people) when others are speaking, the new manager will pick up her mobile phone and start checking email, texts, etc. Please note that we are not in the medical field where she could be responding to a heart attack or the birth of a baby–there’s no emergency. When I have broached the subject and shared my disapproval of this practice with others on the management team who are higher in the organizational structure, I’ve been told that her actions are related to her age and “that’s how they are.” I think at any age it’s rude, counter-productive and no different than simply talking over someone and starting a separate conversation during a meeting. Is my attitude outdated? I’m not that much older than the new manager and I’m great with technology–just not at the expense of the objective of the meeting or the respect of the time of others. What’s your opinion?

Yes, it’s rude — although it’s also the culture in some offices, so it’s possible that she’s coming from somewhere where this was well within cultural norms. Someone who’s peer level with her or above her would ideally say something about it — either in the moment (where “Oh, do you need to step outside to deal with a message?” can be pretty effective) or as feedback outside of it (“I’ve noticed you’re often on your phone during meetings — we generally try not to do that here unless it’s an emergency” — although that’s something that ideally would be delivered by her manager).

The excuse that “that’s just how people in their 30s are” is ridiculous; that is not just how people in their 30s are. Plenty of people under 40 don’t do this, and plenty are able to pick up on cultural norms. But ultimately, if people with authority over her don’t care, that’s their call.

4. How many in-person interviews should an employer do for one job?

I recently went through an interview process for several different jobs. I received two offers and accepted the position that was clearly a better fit. My question has to do with the job I didn’t accept.

My interviewer (who is a professor) was very clear about her process. She had phone interviews with several candidates and the top two were flown out for a site visit and interview. I was her second choice candidate, and when the first choice candidate declined, I was offered the position. Since I also declined, the professor has no one for the position and has to start over. She also now has a time issue and needs a candidate who can start ASAP. Someday I hope to be in her shoes and this makes me wonder… how many candidates do I do site interviews with? She probably had to pay $1000+ for my travel expenses — this can really add up as you start to add additional candidates. What is your experience with this?

How many candidates you interview in-person depends on the position, but for a typical position I’d say you should aim to do 3-5 in-person interviews. For roles that are more senior or otherwise harder to fill, that number will probably go up.

However, when it’s a role where you’re paying to fly candidates in from out-of-town, it’s not crazy to decide just to fly in your top two finalists — but I’d meanwhile hold off on rejecting anyone else who might be competitive, in case those two don’t work out. Then you’d still be able to go back to them if you need to. And given the travel expense, you’d want to do as much probing as you can ahead of time about what your finalists are looking for in an offer — i.e., talk about salary and other potential deal-breakers ahead of time, so that you’re setting yourself and them up for a successful offer as much as possible.

5. I was asked to turn over my phone before taking a post-interview skills test

Can you tell me if it’s legal for a company that interviewed me to ask for my mobile phone without prior warning? They had just put me in a room alone to do a 45-minute skills test and asked me to leave my phone outside the room. Fair enough they didn’t want me googling answers, but they didn’t tell me in the paperwork beforehand that they’d want the phone. I was then left to calculate percentages on things on a budget too without being given a calculator, so I spent 25 minutes on one question using long multiplication and division, which I hadn’t used for 20 years! None of this seemed quite right!

Yes, that’s perfectly legal. If they want to test your ability to do math without a calculator, it’s not crazy that they don’t want you to have your phone with you.

Whether wanting you to be able to do math without a calculator is a reasonable thing would depend on the nature of the job — but either way, it’s not illegal for them to request that you not take your phone into the testing room.

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