Sunday night question queue

It’s the Sunday night question queue — seven short answers to seven short questions. Today, you’re don’t want to work under a new boss, your coworker won’t stop sneezing, you’ve been told you have a loud personality, and more. Here we go…

1. Talking about ideal work environment in an interview

I had an interview yesterday for a marketing position. I met with the hiring manager and then the communications director for the program. Both asked a variation on the question “what is your work style and/or ideal work environment?” which is a question I wasn’t at all prepared for or sure how to answer. Obviously there is no “right” answer, but could you provide some insight into what interviewers are looking for with this type of question?

They’re really looking for the truth. Maybe you like working in relative solitude, or prefer a lot of interaction with colleagues. Maybe you once worked in a very structured, hierarchical workplace and know that you want to avoid that in the future. Maybe you’d go crazy in a formal culture, or with an overly hands-off boss, or in a large company where it’s harder to have input. There are all kinds of possibilities — but the idea is to talk about what would and wouldn’t be a fit for you, so that you don’t end up somewhere that makes you miserable.

2. Explaining relationship-related moves

In June 2011, I left a great job (my first professional job after college) to move to another town with my boyfriend and continue our long-term serious relationship. At the time, it seemed like a great decision, of course! Hindsight is 20/20. Even though the economy in our new town was really tough, I found another job several months later (lower level position, same industry) Almost exactly a year after we moved, we broke up. Because of the fact that my current company was in the red and possibly going under by the end of the year, and that the economy in this town was terrible, I decided to move again and am now in a different larger city close to family.

I want to stay in my current city and my next job (if it’s a good fit) for the long term future, which I feel is a great selling point in an interview, but am worried that my past mistakes will have the interviewers thinking I am immature or flighty. Or just like changing jobs every year. Which I don’t. Since the reason I left my first job had nothing to do with my position or the company, does it sound better to say the truth (I left to continue a relationship which now no longer exists)? I’m not sure what the best way to frame my response is that doesn’t get too personal, doesn’t ramble, and leaves me with room to add that I am ready to focus on my career. If I just say I left for personal reasons, what do I say if they press me for more explanation?

I’d stick with saying that you moved for personal reasons but returned to be closer to your family, and that you plan to stay here long-term. No reasonable interviewer will push you to explain what those personal reasons were, but if someone does, it’s fine to either say “My boyfriend and I moved there together” (no need to update them on the status of the relationship, which is irrelevant) or “It was family-related” (if you consider your significant other family, which many people do).

3. Facilitator said I have a loud personality

I had 2 days in an internship bootcamp. The facilitator commented on me as a loud personality. What does that mean? Is it harmful or good?

It usually means that you’re loud, very outgoing, and/or talk a lot. Most people don’t consider it a compliment, but it depends on the context.

By the way, when someone says something like this and you’re not sure how to take it, it’s totally legitimate to ask, “What do you mean by that?”

4. Sneezing coworker

There is an employee (same pay grade and responsibility) who sits across from me and who has an extremely loud, piercing, and frequent sneeze. I know I’m not the only one who thinks it’s disrupting; my other coworkers exchange glances every time he sneezes. Is there a delicate way to encourage him to address his allergies (he admits as such) without embarrassing any of the parties? I’d be willing to give him MY OTC medication, except I don’t think that’s appropriate in the workplace. I know it’s a minor issue, but it’s the small things that can be annoying.

Well, since he’s mentioned having allergies, you could certainly offer him some of your medication if you wanted to (nothing inherently inappropriate about that, no more than offering an Advil to a coworker with a headache), or tell him that you’ve found it effective. But beyond that, there aren’t really many options … although I agree that random loud, piercing sneezes would be distracting.

5. My questions in a phone interview sucked

I just semi-bombed a phone interview and I’m wondering if I can salvage it. I had applied for an administrative role at a company that I would really love to work for. The recruiter called and she wanted to see if I was a fit for a much higher level position. Being that my background is straight-up administrative, this threw me for a loop and a half. Basically, none of the questions I had prepared applied to this other role and I had to break out some really generic ones. I think I did a decent job of conveying that I’m really interested in the role, but other than that…I sucked. At the end of he call, she mentioned she was doing a number of other calls and she set me up with a tentative interview time. Can I fix this or should I just hope they decide to interview me in person and that’s my do-over?

I’m always surprised when people have trouble coming up with questions to ask about a job, and I think it’s because they often think that their questions are primarily supposed to impress the interviewer. But to the contrary, you should ask questions because you presumably have questions that you’d like answered … and those are ones to ask. In this case, the fact that you were taken off guard by the position could have led to even more questions than usual, since you hadn’t had a chance to learn much about the position yet and presumably had plenty that you’d like to know about it.

I wouldn’t worry about trying to “fix” it now (and I wouldn’t assume there’s even anything that needs fixing), but if you do talk again, just ask about what you’re sincerely wondering about when you imagine doing the job.

6. Wary about reporting to new boss

I’ve had a very successful 16-year career at my company and been steadily promoted through the ranks over the years, and am now a department director. Over the last couple of years, we’ve had some management changes at the top level (unrelated to me) and, as a result, I ended up reporting directly to the CEO for two years. I loved it and he was wonderful. But he retired, and we got a new CEO. We get along fine, but now he has decided to bring back the long-vacant VP position over me and two other departments. The person has been hired and starts next week.

I like the person who was chosen, but I’m struggling with my emotions now — I feel that I won’t be promoted to VP now, at least for years; I’m going to lose the autonomy I have worked so hard for over the years; and am probably going to be moving from a nice window office to a small, interior space to be nearer to new boss. I know that last one sounds trivial, but it’s a physical symbol of being, in effect, demoted. I feel a bit humiliated. How can I deal with my new boss fairly and be a good employee to him in this environment? Do you think I should just find another job and leave?

Go into it with an open mind and see how it goes. Whether or not it’s humiliating is really up to you and the attitude you decide to have about it. If you decide it’s insulting and humiliating, it will be, and your work and your relationship with your new boss will probably suffer. If you decide that it’s not humiliating and that while you enjoyed temporarily reporting the CEO, things change and you’re someone who can roll with that, then you’ll probably be fine. I’d aim for the latter and give it some time before you think about leaving.

7. Telling an employer you’re willing to negotiate salary

I had a second interview for a position I really want yesterday. I had done my research on salary and came up with what I felt was a reasonable range. When the interviewer asked me about salary, I mentioned the range but now I’m afraid I may have asked for too high. In my thank you letter, should I mention that I am willing to negotiate on salary or no?

No. You’ll undercut yourself for any future negotiations and also make yourself look less confident in your worth than you looked yesterday. Besides, they assume that you’re probably willing to negotiate on salary, unless you’re in wildly different ballparks (in which case saying you’re willing to negotiate won’t solve that anyway).

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