my manager is venting about work on Facebook, asking for outside feedback on my work, and more

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

1. My manager is venting about work and staff members on Facebook

I’ve recently been struggling with the relationship I have with my boss. She originally started out as a coworker and we had a great working relationship. She friend-requested me on Facebook and I accepted. Months later, she and another coworker were promoted, and I began to notice that they would vent about work together on Facebook. I didn’t want to un-friend her, because I felt like an awkward conversation would follow. Now, she has been promoted again and is communicating via Facebook with the other managers and team leads, making incredibly negative comments about staff members and work situations in a format that is visible to all. Several of my team mates have noticed as well and feel uncomfortable knowing that our supervisors are acting this way. Any advice as to handling that situation?

She’s an idiot, and it’s not your problem to solve. I’d block her posts so you don’t have them in your face, and wait patiently for this to blow up on her at some point.

But if you want it to stop now, and you still have a pretty good relationship with her, you could say to her, “I don’t know if you realized that Jane, Apollo, and I can see your conversations on Facebook about ___, so I wanted to alert you!” Hopefully that will make the point on its own, but if instead her response is some version of “so?” then I suppose you could say, “It feels a little awkward since you’re our manager,” but really, at that point she’s made it clear that she’s an idiot and I’m not sure there’s much point in pursuing it. (I’d also assume that if you do, you’ll be talked about on Facebook next.)

Besides, in this day and age, it shouldn’t be news to her that people can see this stuff. So I’d lean toward just blocking the posts, ignoring it as much as you can, and waiting for the inevitable crap hitting the fan for her.

2. Can I ask for outside feedback on my work?

I work at a small nonprofit where my boss is also the head of the organization. He’s been working in our field for only about 5 years. This is my first job out of grad school. In previous settings, I have received mostly positive comments on my written work. Here, I’ve been receiving a lot of feedback on my written work that basically it is extremely sub-par. He tends to send that work back to me under the assumption that I’m not trying, couching it in terms of saying “please review this again to make sure it is your best work,” without further suggestions. I will then make what edits I can find to make, and send it back. Changes that he then makes are often then done in an exasperated tone, and he often fully rewrites my work, and then sends me an email saying that he shouldn’t have to do this much editing on my work and that he “knows I’m a better writer than this.” He’s never given me feedback about a consistent mistake I’m making, and I’ve been unable to find a pattern; I’ve asked, and he simply says, “You know that could have been better written, I need you to try harder.”

I’ll admit I’m very frustrated; It feels like he’s looking for a clone who can produce something that’s exactly like what he writes and I feel like I have to read his mind.  I’m at a total loss how to produce work he’ll be happy with on the first try. My colleagues here who have reviewed my work say that “our boss is nuts, this writing is good, don’t let him get to you,” but obviously it’s not their call. But it does lead me to further distrust my manager’s negative opinion of my work.

Since I also manage my own accounts and regularly do writing that he does not review, I am concerned that if he is right, there’s a systemic problem with my writing that my manager is unwilling or unable to articulate, and that it might be hurting my clients as well as my performance. Would it be appropriate to, without my manager’s knowledge, seek an outside mentor, like a former professor, to review a couple redacted pieces of my written work and help me determine if it’s really as subpar as my manager believes and get some more constructive edits?

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with seeking outside feedback on your work. Make sure you choose the right person though — a fairly picky writer/editor. Someone who doesn’t fall in that category isn’t as likely to be able to give you useful feedback. (I actually fit that profile and would be willing to take a look myself, if you want to send some stuff over here.)

Of course, then the question is what you do from there. If you hear “yeah, there’s some stuff here to work on,” that’ll be really helpful to know. But if you hear “it looks fine to me,” then what? In that case — actually, in both cases — it would probably help to look at samples of writing that your boss does like, and really study them to try to spot the differences between what you’re doing and what he’s doing. The fact that there’s not an easy pattern to spot might be because the issues are about things like nuance and the rhythm of the words (things that are also hard for many people to give clear feedback on) … or, of course, your boss might just be ridiculous. But that’s where I’d start.

3. Asking an interviewer about a recent scandal

I applied to a job at a college in another state, and through my research found the school is on probation. Last year there was apparently a sex scandal involving high level administrators, ethics, and legal violations. The college has been given time to fix the problems and it appears they have fired most of the staff associated with the problems. Should I bring this up in my interview and ask about it? Now that I know, it feels like the elephant in the room. I should note that I’m fairly certain the job I applied to and am interviewing for is vacant because the previous person was fired as a result of this scandal. Thoughts on tactfully asking about it?

Sure, if there’s information you genuinely want to know (it sounds like you know the basics). You could say, “I’ve read a bit about the events that led to the school being put on probation with (governing body). Can you tell me anything about how that’s being handled?”

4. Bolding words in a cover letter

I know this is kind of a grey area, and really involves hiring managers’ individual preferences, but I’d love your input on this. Lately I’ve seen cover letters with skills being described in boldface within the sentence.  For example, “As a leader in a non-profit organization, I frequently work to tight deadlines and regularly reassess changing priorities, strengthening my problem-solving skills.”

What do you think? A handy way of making the important bits stand out?  Or a crutch relied on by bad writers unable to create impact with words?

Eh. I’m not going to hold it against a candidate, but I usually think that if you find yourself doing that to make your letter compelling, the problem is the content of your letter — not something that can be fixed by using boldface. If your letter is great, it doesn’t need bolding in it.

And yeah, I know the idea is that hiring managers are skimming and you want to catch their eye — but you can catch their eye with content.

5. I can’t get in touch with a past manager for a reference

I’m a recent grad, and I’m waiting to hear back from my past supervisor for a great summer job I had in 2013. It really is too early for me to say if she’s ignoring my email or not, but I am still paranoid about how well I did in that position and I was wondering what I should do if I don’t hear back from her. I sent her an email asking if it would be okay to use her. Would it be out of line for me to call her a week or so after I haven’t heard from her through email? Truthfully, all I want is a yes or a no.

Also, there are so many job openings at the organization I worked at last summer. If she ultimately doesn’t reply or says no, should I give up on that organization completely? They are such a big, big organization for the field that I am in my city that I don’t really know what I would do if I can’t apply for jobs there. Should I try to contact another employee from the branch I worked at to be a character reference? I’m being a bit paranoid about the situation, but I’d like to know what I should do if my worst fears are true.

It’s fine to call her if you haven’t heard back after a week. That said, the fact that you don’t know how well you did in the position and whether she’d give you a glowing reference is worrisome — you’d ideally know those things before offering her up as a reference. So you might also ask her if she feels like she could speak highly of your work or not, so you’re not planting land mines for yourself without realizing it.

If you can’t get in touch with her or she says no, you can try reaching out to others there who know your work (not as a character reference; as a work reference). However, be aware that many hiring managers will want to talk to the person who was actually your manager there — or will at least want to know why they shouldn’t. So you really want to get a better sense of how your performance was seen overall.

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