should I give my colleague feedback on her employee, written reference questionnaires, and more

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

1. Should I give my colleague feedback on her employee’s manner?

My role is quite specialized, and my education and work experience make me uniquely qualified within our organization for the work that I do. We are a very egalitarian organization, and I do my best to make myself available for special requests from anyone. Last week, I received a request from a coworker to join her and her subordinate on a conference call to address questions the subordinate has about a new system that we’ve put in place. The coworker’s subordinate is a bright young woman who’s one year out of college; by all accounts, she’s doing a great job, and her curiosity does her credit. Her boss – my colleague – helpfully forwarded a list of questions that they would like me to address, some of which are rather presumptuous demands for justifications about the new system that’s been implemented (e.g. if there are cheaper and/or “better” alternatives, when neither the young woman nor her boss make purchasing or financial decisions for our organization – this is just to satisfy their curiosity).

I want both the coworker and her employee to continue to feel comfortable reaching out to ask questions, but in this case I feel that my coworker should have vetted the questions before forwarding them to me and given her employee guidance about what questions are appropriate (and/or how to couch them). My plan is to address their questions during the call, and then follow up later with my colleague. I don’t feel it’s my place to instruct my colleague’s employee about what is and is not appropriate. Do you think I should take this up with my colleague, or should I let it pass without feedback, and hope that the young woman in question doesn’t go on to rub someone else the wrong way?

I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it unless it starts to become a pattern. That said, there’s nothing wrong with saying something on the call like, “I wasn’t sure about the context for some of Jane’s questions, like the ones about costs of alternatives. Can you tell me more about why you’re exploring that, so I can make sure I’m giving you the most helpful information?” And then, if it does turn out it’s just curiosity, you could certainly point out that balancing the pros and cons of different systems is a more complicated process than you could do justice to in your current conversation (and perhaps also that your X Department did carefully vet that question and considered factors like __ and __, not just cost, before this system was decided on). That said, it’s hard to do this without coming across as defensive or overly turf-protective, and in general you want to err on the side of being more open, not less open.

But ultimately I’d leave the larger issue — the “stop being presumptuous or you will annoy people” issue — to her manager, until/unless you start seeing multiple recurrences.

2. Being asked to fill out a reference questionnaire instead of giving a reference over the phone

An intern who worked for us last year recently asked me to be a reference for her. She just did okay at our company….I think that ultimately the internship wasn’t a good fit for her, but since she had some good skills and qualities and I could see her doing well somewhere else, I agreed to be a reference for her.

She recently interviewed at a company that she really wants to get into, and I think she would do well in the position. Her potential future supervisor sent me an email asking me to fill out a reference questionnaire. I’ve never had to do this before and was expecting to have a phone call. This might not bother me this much usually, but I just got back from my industry’s biggest trade show of the year and will be buried for the next two weeks, and then will be out of town again after that. I’d like to ask to do a phone call instead, especially as some of the questions I think would be better handled over the phone (like the ones about would you hire the candidate again; do you think I should hire the candidate, etc). I don’t want to hurt her chances of getting hired, though. Is this a normal hiring practice?

It’s not uncommon, but you’re right that it often takes up references’ time unnecessarily and puts them in an awkward position when they don’t want certain feedback in writing. Moreover, it’s a huge missed opportunity for the employer doing the reference-checking, because you get a ton of information from people’s tone over the phone — how enthusiastic they are, where they hesitate, etc.

You can certainly reply that you’d prefer to talk over the phone, but you do run the risk of harming her chances if they won’t entertain that option, unfortunately. You could minimize that chance, though, if you framed it as something like, “I’m excited to be a reference for Jane, but my workload right now means that a phone call will be much easier for me. If you call me at ___, I’d be glad to tell you about Jane’s strengths.” That way, you’re still saying something positive even if they don’t ultimately call you. (Note: If this intern actually did great work for you, I’d push you to just fill out the questionnaire — both because I believe that doing that kind of thing is part of the deal when someone gives you great work, and there would be fewer issues around not wanting to put sensitive feedback in writing.)

3. My coworker is pushing me to be friends with her friend, and I’m not interested

I’m the sort of person who likes to keep my work life and my personal life separate, for various reasons. However, someone I work with who is sort of in a position above me (I work as the front desk receptionist for a small medical practice and they are one of the practitioners, so not directly above) today met their friend for lunch. After lunch, they both came in and the practitioner introduced us, saying that they were really excited for us to meet and was confident we would be good friends.

The practitioner then proceeded to exchange our numbers for us (giving their friend mine and vice versa) without really asking permission. The practitioner’s friend grew up in the town I just recently moved to and I think this is why they are trying to force this friendship on us – they think I need friends in the area. However, I am not comfortable with this association. The friend is considerably older than me, and due to their association with my coworker I wouldn’t feel I could truly relax in any situation. How should I navigate this? I will ultimately want to turn down this friend’s offers to hang out. Is there a tactful way to do so?

For now, I think you can do nothing; the friend may not even reach out to you (and may be similarly rolling her eyes about your coworker’s match-making). But if she does contact you, you can always plead scheduling issues — as in, “It was great to meet you. My schedule is really busy these days so it’s hard for me to get together, but it’s great to know about another person from FormerCity in the area!”

4. Interacting with a company on social media when you’re applying for a job with them

I have been interviewing with a company for over five months now and I have still not received a firm “yes” or “no” from the hiring manager. The time that the interview process has taken doesn’t shock me because the company is not necessarily hiring for the position that they’re looking at me for. The problem I am asking about is social media etiquette between myself and this company.

I am an avid social media user and so is the company and my interviewers. I am consistently getting followed by members of the company on various social media channels and I haven’t met a majority of these people during the interview process. Do you have any idea what this might mean? How much should I interact on social media with the folks who are looking to hire me? (I’m currently employed elsewhere.)

I wouldn’t read much into them following you, and I don’t think you need to interact with them on social media at all. If there’s a natural opening to do so and you want to, then sure — but I wouldn’t go looking for opportunities to do that as a particular strategy.

5. Listing amounts of time at each job on your resume

Someone recommended including timetables in parenthesis for each job on my resume like LinkedIn does, to help hiring folks quickly see how long you’ve been at each job. For example:

Chief of Staff
December 2013 to Present (7 months)

Communications Director
January 2012 to December 2013 (2 years)

Good or bad idea?

Nothing wrong with doing that, but it’s not really necessary — employers are used to quickly making those calculations themselves on the 99% of resumes that don’t do this — and it will clutter your resume a little. I wouldn’t do it on mine or recommend a friend do it, but if you’re dying to do it, it’s not like you’re going to get rejected for it.

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