my new job was delayed 2 days before my start date, when a beloved manager leaves, and more

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

1. My new job was delayed two days before my start date — and I was scolded when I asked about it

I recently just went through a lengthy interview process consisting of 6 interviews over a period of over a month with a nonprofit for a program that consists of almost a dozen grant positions. We all got the acceptance email over a week ago, did our paperwork including a background check, and were supposed to start Monday.

On the Saturday before we were supposed to start, we got emails saying the state has not authorized the funding yet. We were offered no new start date. I sent a polite but assertive email asking if the funding was secure and how long the delay could be. I also asked about the written offers, which she had said specifically in an email were supposed to go out after our background checks and references cleared.

She then replied in an email which had a huge tonal shift in the second half, saying I was “less than professional” and “unnecessarily forceful.” I actually met another member in the program saying she had a similar experience whenever she asked questions about the interview process. I should also note the positions are at different sites, and in the reply she also sent the email to my would-be supervisor who had no prior involvement in the conversation.

At this point she wants to know if want to still participate in the program, which I do. But I am just not sure how to respond and was I wrong for asking questions? I understand its not her fault, but she has to understand I was starting a job Monday and now I am not.

Without seeing the email you sent, I can’t say whether it was “unnecessarily forceful,” but anyone in her shoes should understand that people are going to be stressed out and concerned upon hearing two days before they were supposed to start a new job that it’s now on hold. Expressing concern and asking for more information is an appropriate response to that — in fact, NOT doing those things would be odd. Since another person got the same reaction from her, my money is on your email being perfectly appropriate and your hiring contact being the one with the problem.

As for what to do now, I’d politely explain to her that you’re obviously very concerned since you had thought the start date was certain and had planned accordingly (and if you resigned another job to take this one, mention that), and try to get any information you can about what’s going on. If you’re not able to get answers that make you comfortable, I’d continue to job search in case this doesn’t ultimately come through.

2. How should I treat a conversation with a manager about a potential new role?

A couple of weeks ago, a manager from a different department asked if I was interested in having a conversation about a role that’s open on his team. I’m very interested and responded with enthusiasm. We’re talking later this week.

I’m not sure how I should approach and prepare for this conversation. I genuinely am not sure whether it’s an interview, a casual conversation to share information about the role as a precursor to a standard application process, or a near-final job offer… which leaves me confused about what my next steps are. What do you think?

Ask him! I’d say something like, “Should I prepare for this like an interview or consider it more of a preliminary conversation?” But if you’re not comfortable doing that for any reason, then I’d still prepare for it like you would an interview so that you’re covered in case it turns out to be (and it’s hard to go wrong with being really prepared, regardless) but follow his lead on where he takes the conversation.

3. Dealing with the departure of a beloved manager

I don’t have a specific question per se, but I’m looking for general advice, words of wisdom, and/or consolation regarding the recent departure of a beloved manager. This manager hired me to my current role (an entry-level role at a consulting firm) almost exactly a year ago – he actually reached out to me himself through Linkedin (we had a connection in common) and met me for coffee to discuss what we both do before referring me into the hiring process. We worked fairly closely together across the past year and he made a great effort to develop me and give me opportunities to grow in my position while providing me helpful feedback when appropriate.

This manager just left the firm in early February and I have to say, I’m whatever the professional equivalent of heartbroken is. He was a great mentor to me and I learned so much working with him. We’ve been in touch since – he’s demonstrated an interest in staying in touch with me and has been very conversant via email so far. I am not interested in leaving my firm or trying to follow him to his new employer (which is in a different city). I guess I am just looking for some advice on how to “rebound” from this situation, or tales of similar experiences that can make me feel less disappointed about losing this great mentor in my workplace, and help me turn it into a positive thing.

Well, people like this are going to come and go throughout your career, and all you can really do is to take advantage of their immediate presence while you have it, let them know how much you appreciate them (don’t skip this step!) and make a real effort to stay in touch when they move on.

Keep in mind that he’s leaving you with a barometer for what great management looks like — which can be hugely important when you’re trying to assess others or find a model for your own management practices later on. Plus, since he was fantastic, you presumably learned a lot from him — and now’s your chance to apply it on your own, which is the ultimate test of whether his lessons will stick or not.

4. How do I know if I’m exempt or non-exempt?

I am employed as a manager in a small company. I am salary but have no way on knowing if I am exempt or nonexempt. There is no policy manual (!) And no notation on my pay stub. Short of asking the boss, how can I determine the answer? And, is it a law that we have a policy manual?

Nope, no law requires a policy manual.

Whether you’re exempt or non-exempt isn’t up to your employer; it’s determined by the government, based on the type of work you do. You can read more here:

You’ll know whether your employer is treating you as exempt or not by whether you get paid overtime when you work more than 40 hours in a week. If you do — and/or if your pay is docked when you work fewer hours — you’re being treated as non-exempt.

Of course, plenty of employers mis-categorize people, whether intentionally, or through ignorance of law, or because they just got it wrong .. so it’s worth looking at the law yourself and making sure it’s being done correctly in your workplace.

5. What kind of contact should I have with my references and when?

I’m in high school. I am very new to applying to jobs, and your blog has made the process seem less frightening. I am a bit confused about references. I recently applied for a summer job, and when I applied I asked three people to be my references. I’m happy to say that I have gotten a request for an interview. Should I let my references know? Do I need to give them a copy of my resume? The three of them know me well; one is my piano teacher, one is my boss, and the other is a volunteer coordinator. But they don’t know me out of these capacities. Would it be a good idea to let them know about the job description?

Also, if I apply for another job and use them for references do I have to ask them again if I could use them as a reference?

Usually the best thing to do is to let your references know once you’re at a stage of the process where they’re likely to be contacted (usually toward the end). However, with summer jobs, they’re often checking references after a single interview, so I think it would be fine to let them know now — or, alternately, right after the interview if the interview goes well. (Or, if it was very recent that you asked them for permission initially, you may not even need the second notification, since it’ll still be reasonably in the front of their minds. The same goes for asking them a second time if you apply for another job — as long as the initial request was within the last couple of months, you should be fine.)

You don’t need to give them a copy of your resume, since reference-checkers will want to ask them about their own work with you and their knowledge of you; they’re not going to get into other work you’ve done for other people.

Letting them know the job description is sort of a bonus but not necessary, especially for summer jobs. (That can be more useful later on, when you’re applying for higher level jobs, which have more nuanced demands.) Good luck!

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