perfunctory thank-you notes, profanity at work, and more

It’s six short answers to six short questions. Here we go…

1. Giving your interviewer a thank-you note on your way out of the interview

My question is about handing thank-you cards to people immediately after interviewing with them (literally after shaking hands before you leave the office). My husband was told this was done a few years ago where he’s currently interviewing, and they were impressed with the originality. I personally think it’s strange. Can I please have your thoughts?

Yes, it’s strange. It makes it look perfunctory and not genuine (since you were planning to do it before you came in and it had nothing to do with the content of the meeting). It also negates one of the points of a thank-you note, which isn’t really to say thanks but to follow up on the conversation and reiterate that you’re still interested.

From the interviewer’s perspective, the thank-you note doesn’t just signal manners; more importantly, it signals interest. Interviewers want to know that the job candidate went home, thought about what was talked about, digested it all, and concluded that they’re still enthusiastic about the position. That’s what getting a thank-you note conveys — as long as enough time has passed for that to be realistic.

2. Is an employer required to respond to inquiries from an employee’s creditors and collection agencies?

Is an employer legally bound to verify employment for collection agencies, an employee’s creditors, etc.? Previously when a creditor or other telephones, I would ask them to fax the request to me, inform the employee of the interest, then respond to the request. I currently have an employee who is having financial issues – one creditor is calling monthly for her employment status and another would like information in order to garnish her wages.

If they the creditor has a court order, you must comply with that. But otherwise, to the best of my knowledge, there’s no law requiring you to respond to them. You can also tell them to stop calling your workplace, and they must comply with that.

3. Offer was withdrawn and then reinstated

After applying to a job posting online and going through two rounds of interviews with both the director and VP of the department, I was made an offer, which I subsequently accepted. The entire process of applying, interviewing, and being made an offer took around seven weeks.

After formally accepting and signing the offer, I received an email from HR not long after saying the offer was withdrawn because the job was now closed due to unforeseen internal circumstances. I then contacted the hiring manager about what had happened, who told me that he didn’t have all the details at the present time as he was away from the company on business and he apologized over what had happened. He promised he would due his best to sort the issues out and also assured me that it had nothing to do with me since they wanted me for the job.

The day he returned to work, I received an email from him saying that the job was in fact reinstated and was sent a formal email from HR saying to disregard what had previously happened and the job was back on and mine. What do you make of all this? I know that things like this could happen in the workplace but should I be worried? Should I take this as a red flag?

Find out what happened first. Before you accept, call up the hiring manager and say something like, “I’m interested in moving forward with the offer, but I’m concerned about what happened earlier. Can you shed any light on why it was withdrawn previously?” Depending on his answer, you might also ask, “Is there any chance that the job might be frozen again?” But hear what he has to say before you make up your mind.

4. Contributing to a gift for a (not always thoughtful) boss

I work for a very large organization that has had so many cutbacks in the past five years. Some of these cuts include head count, benefits and the year-end holiday party and gift. The past two years, our sales team has gotten a gift for our boss, costing each of us $25. In return, we have gotten an email thank-you in late January or early February. In prior years, our boss had given us a gift in the form of alcohol (wine). There are two people on the team who do not drink, so in my opinion this is a thoughtless gift.

Just this week, one of the team members sent out an email stating she would again be collecting $25 for our boss’s year-end gift. Since we are salespeople and our efforts contribute to her income, to me it feels wrong that we are giving her a gift at the end of the year when it almost goes unnoticed. What is proper? Should employees give their employer a gift?

No. Gifts in the workplace should flow downward (your manager to you), not upward (you to your manager). And that would be the case even if your boss thanked you for the gift more quickly, or if she were more thoughtful with her own gifts to your team, or if the organization hadn’t been making cut-backs. Email your coworkers and say, “I’ve been reading that etiquette says that employees shouldn’t give gifts upward, so I suggest that we skip the collection this year and perhaps just give Jane a card.”

5. Using the F-word at work

Is using the f word sexual harassment or harassment of any kind? My son recently started a new job and another employee used the f word several times at him angerly. He said it in front of people and made my son very uncomfortable. How should my son handle this?

Did he use it at him or in front of him? If just around him but not about him, your son probably needs to let it go; people do use profanity in the workplace. But if he used it at him (like “F you” or “you’re a F’ing jerk”), then your son should tell his coworker that he doesn’t want to be sworn at. If the problem continues and your son is sufficiently bothered by it to talk to a manager, that would be his next option.

But no, the mere use of the word is not sexual harassment.

6. Answering “where do you see yourself in five years?” when I want to retire

I have an interview this week for what is hopefully the last interview I need to do in my career. I’m taking a step down career-wise and think this job will be easier to sustain and possibly enjoy for the last three years that I need to work before I retire. What do you suggest I say when they ask “where do you see yourself in five years”? Probably shouldn’t tell them “happily retired.”

You can honestly say that at this point in your career you’re not looking for additional advancement and that you’re really just looking for a position with (fill in what appeals to you about this role). They probably won’t press you and say, “but what about in five years?” but if they do, it’s fine to say, “To be honest, I don’t know. I can tell you that I’d like to stay in my next job for at least the next three years, as long as it’s a good fit.”

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