praying in interviews, retaliation for asking for a raise, and more

It’s mini answer Monday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Praying at interviews … and a law firm with a resident chaplain

I walked into an interview for a paralegal position at a law firm, and on the receptionist’s desk was the Ten Commandments. No big deal, right? I thought maybe the receptionist put it there for herself. But then a man comes out and introduces himself as the law firm’s chaplain and proceeds to ask myself and the other two paralegals if we would like to be lead in prayer. The other two ladies chime in with a zealous “YES!” and we proceed to pray about having a successful day. At this point, I’m freaking out. Now I have nothing against religion — I believe it’s a lot like sexual orientation. It’s a personal decision and I would never dream of questioning anyone on their chosen religious beliefs or sexual preferences. But I do believe NEITHER belong in the workplace. So after I met the chaplain, I seriously considered walking out and just stating that this job isn’t the right fit for me. But pretty quickly, the woman interviewing me called me back. She proceeded to lead my interview with another prayer, and then the attorney came in halfway through the interview to listen in. He also asks if we’ve prayed. At this point, I was trying to make the process as short as possible because there is no way I would be comfortable in that working environment. The interview also ended with a prayer. It should be noted that in their job advertisement they did not mention that they were a faith-based law firm and they did not advertise a starting salary range, but their offered salary at the interview was insultingly low and not negotiable.

What happened here? What’s the appropriate response? Isn’t this borderline illegal? And am I wrong in thinking that even if I was very religious, 3 prayers within one hour would severely affect my work performance and turn potential clients off? If they call me back for a second interview, should I find a way to politely tell them why I would decline?

This is so bizarre that I questioned whether it was real, but the letter came from someone who I’ve corresponded with in the past, so …

Yes, this is crazy town. It’s certaintly their prerogative if they want to run their business that way (and they might be small enough that they’re not covered by federal laws against religious discrimination), but not to state it up front in the ad so candidates can self-select out and to act like of course you’d be comfortable with this without even asking is pure insanity. And rude, frankly.

Personally, I would have left after the chaplain attempted to lead me in prayer. If they call you back, you can certainly say that you appreciate their interest but they seem to have a culture that mixes religion with work and it’s not for you.

2. How can I stay motivated at my boring retail job?

Currently, I am a college student, scheduled to graduate in six months. I have my hands full between school, a part-time (unpaid) internship, and my part- time retail job. My internship and school are going very well. What I am struggling with is my part-time retail job. I have worked there for nearly seven years, and I make barely above minimum wage. I am very burned out from being there for so long, partially because I have never managed to move up from a sales associate position to assistant manager — those opportunities rarely come around and are usually offered to people with more open availability — but also, the repetitiveness of the it all, and the low wages. The work isn’t challenging or rewarding, and I am doing the exact same tasks every day. I no longer have the motivation to keep myself busy during my entire shift, as my managers would like me to do. They have told me my failure to keep myself constantly busy at work is a problem. I feel badly about this. I am rather unhappy there, but I would still like to be able to make this last until I graduate and get a higher- paying job. I feel as though getting a different part-time job would be more stressful than anything, as I require a certain amount of flexibility with my hours that my current job offers. Also, I do not know if that would cause an odd gap in my work history on a resume.

I really want to find new ways to keep myself energized and motivated at work so I can become a better worker and less miserable at work. Any advice you can give me would be appreciated.

The best reason I can give you to continue to do a good job at work is integrity. You are being paid to do a job. You’re accepting money for that job. As long as you continue to accept your employer’s money, you owe it to them (and to yourself, because again, integrity) to do the job the way they’re asking you to do it. Do you want to be the type of person who slacks off (and who potentially becomes known for slacking off), or do you want to be someone who’s awesome at what she does, even when it’s not especially exciting?

Plus, a job that you’ve been at seven years should be a great reference for you. Future prospective managers are going to be interested to talk with the employer who worked with you for so long. It would be a shame to squander a good reference just because the work is repetitive — and given your managers’ talk with you, it sounds like that’s already happening and you need to correct it while you still have a window to.

3. Is there a target on my back because I asked for a raise?

I have been at my current job for 15 months and have recently asked for a raise. I backed up my request with a list for the new products I designed for the company (that have sold) and during my lunch/review the boss and manager gave me only 4′s and 5′s on a 1-5 scale (5=best).

Since being denied a raise for the usual reasons of corporate poverty, I am afraid now I have a target on my back. Had I even got a measly 1%, the issue would have gone away. Not to get paranoid, but I am afraid the boss may be thinking that because I didn’t get the raise, I will be disappointed and look for a new job. So now he will have to replace me before he thinks I would leave.

I do enjoy my job and I do not want to leave. I just want to earn what I am worth for my skills (I only asked for $50/week more). Do you think I have reason to worry about this?

Well, a raise request always has a subtext of “or I may leave and find it elsewhere” attached. So yes, it’s probably crossed your boss’s mind that you might be thinking about that. But replacing you based on nothing more than that is very, very unlikely.

4. Is there a protocol for interviewers?

I was wondering if there was an established protocol for conducting interviews. I am currently looking for a job in my field (finance / investment management). So far, I have had a number of interviews — phone, in person, with a recruiter/headhunter — with various organizations. My idea (and may be I am being naïve) of a well-conducted interview includes sitting down with an interviewer who then explains the position I am interviewing for, then we talk about my experience, and so on. Whereas I have come to know well what to expect and what is important in interviews with recruiters, I am very often quite baffled by the order of questions in all other kinds of interviews. Specifically, last week in a phone screen with an HR rep of a very small company, the third question was regarding my salary expectations. Another HR phone screen from another company – and this question was asked at the beginning of the conversation as well. I also just received an email from an HR rep of another (large and very respected) company and she is asking me the same question. I haven’t even talked to this person or anybody else in the company. Is this the reality job seekers should expect in this market or are these red flags?

I have also noticed that interviewers don’t want to take the time to talk about the position but rather start by asking questions right away. Very often I have to steer them towards telling me what the job is all about as the conversation goes on. Is this a good practice on behalf of interviewers?

There’s no universal rule for what interviewers should ask first and in what order. But interviewers often don’t start by talking about the position because they assume you know the basics from the job posting and that the details will come out through conversation as the interview progresses.

And in phone screens, it’s very common to ask some quick deal-breakers right up front; they have a zillion candidates to talk to, and they don’t want to waste time talking about the position if you don’t meet some basic criteria, one of which is often whether you’re in the same salary range that they are.

5. Required to work a full extra day

Can an employer require an exempt salaried professional employee to start working an additional full day (Saturday) on top of their regular ~40 hour M-F work week with no additional compensation?

Yes. You can, of course, try to negotiate a raise or other compensation, or a more flexible schedule. If they won’t budge, then you need to decide if you want the job under these new terms.

6. I’m overhearing talk of layoffs — can I use this as leverage?

I sit next to 2 change managers who are talking about massive layoffs. 25 waves, 100 per wave, to give you an idea of the scale. I’ve been overhearing these conversations for several months now. Recently, I’ve heard my group mentioned as part of the upcoming layoffs. It’s affecting my day to day, just having to listen them talk about my livelihood so nonchalantly.

Do I have any rights in terms of reporting to HR or negotiating a higher severance for having had to hear this? The layoffs are originating from the HR department, so I’m not even sure if it’s worth reporting. I don’t typically use HR as a resource, but I’d love to hear what you think.

Do you have any rights to special treatment because you’ve overheard layoffs being discussed? No. In fact, some might say that you’ve already received the special treatment — the luxury of getting to know ahead of time that you might lose your job and a heads-up that you should be job searching. But as far as reporting it as some sort of wrongdoing or asking for additional severance because of it? No.

7. Why would an employer cancel an interview — after I’d already arrived?

I was recently asked to interview for a position with an organization. The HR department gave me a list of available time slots for the HR manager and the manager of the department where I would be working. I selected a suitable time for both of us, and went to the interview. When I got there, I immediately had my interview with HR and was told that the department manager had set aside an hour to talk to me. After I finished my HR interview, I was told to wait in the reception area and that the department manager would come to get me. 15 minutes later, the HR manager said that they couldn’t find the department manager and that they would go look for her. After another 15 minutes, the HR manager came back to tell me that the department manager was in a meeting and that they would be in touch to reschedule. I was shocked. What are possible reasons that a manager would have another meeting during a mutually agreed upon time and then cancel it after I arrived? Will they even call me back to reschedule?

Reasons: Rudeness and disorganization. But primarily rudeness — since while disorganization may have led her to schedule another meeting for the same time, it was rudeness that led her not to immediately leave it and come meet with you once someone told her you were waiting.

I have no idea whether they’ll call you back to reschedule, but if you have enough other options in your job search, I’d strongly encourage you to turn down a rescheduled interview. You don’t want to work for this person.

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