tiny answer Tuesday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s tiny answer Tuesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. When should I mention IBS to a job interviewer?

When is the best time to mention that I have a sometimes problematic health issue? For most all of my life, I have suffered from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Most of the time it has not been a major issue, but when I am under stress (like a new job) it is sometimes worse. And if it is flaring up, it is usually in the morning.

I am not a person that likes to be late anywhere or anytime, so for the most part, I have just tried to work afternoons part-time. But my husband is about to be laid off and I am looking at a new 8-5 job. I am on medication and try to manage it the best I can, but sometimes I just have “bathroom days.” If I am working a job where I am mobile, it is not so noticeable to my employer, but if I am at a reception desk, sometimes it can be a problem.

When is the best time to mention this, if at all? I have an interview on Thursday for a good full-time receptionist position with an accounting firm. The less stress the better, but worrying about this IBS causes stress in and of itself.

Wait to mention it until you have an offer, because you don’t want it to be a reason that you don’t get the offer at all. At that point, you can discuss whether they’re able to provide reasonable accommodation. But keep in mind that reasonable accommodation might not be possible with a receptionist position, where an essential duty of the job is being at the desk the vast majority of the time. If you know that you can’t reliably commit to that, it might make sense to avoid receptionist positions (just like you’d need to avoid, say, trucker positions if you couldn’t always drive reliably).

2. Is this an exception to the “don’t take a counteroffer” rule?

I know and agree with your opinion on accepting counteroffers (don’t do it), but I’m wondering if I may be headed towards a situation that may be an exception to the rule, or if I’m deluding myself.

There is an opportunity at my current employer that would be the logical next step in my career. I have told the person in charge of this hiring decision that I am very interested, and asked what I can do to position myself for a role like the one that is available. I was encouraged to apply, but told that it may be “a stretch” for me at this time. I am not unhappy at my job, and would like to have a long career here, assuming that career continues to progress.

I was recently contacted about a recruiter about a job that would be equivalent to the open position at my current company, and that I seem to be well positioned for in a number of ways. It is still very early in the exploration phase of this opportunity, but for the sake of argument, let’s say things go very well and I find myself with an offer. My instinct would be to go to the decision maker for the position at my current employer and let them know the situation — that I was approached about a job out of the blue, and that I had an offer and it represents a good move onto the next stage of my career. I would explain that, given my ambitions, I would have a hard time turning down this type of offer, but I’d prefer not to leave.

Would this be the wrong approach, given that counteroffers are rarely a good idea? And I were to receive a counteroffer in the above scenario, would it be a bad idea to take it?

Unless you’re at a very small company, this isn’t quite a counteroffer. The hiring manager you’d be approaching doesn’t have the same incentive to keep you as your current manager; in fact, your current manager would be losing you in this deal. Counteroffers are really about retaining an employee you don’t want to lose, but in this case the manager you’d be approaching wouldn’t be faced with whether to keep or lose you; she’d be faced with whether to hire you over other candidates who it sounds like she thinks are more qualified. The fact that you’ve been offered a job somewhere else isn’t likely to suddenly make her think you’re more qualified than she thought you were a few days ago (and if it does, you’d need to seriously question her judgment — which would bring you right back to it not being a good idea to take such an offer).

3. How can I convince my boss to let me work out my notice period?

I work in an HR-related role at a for-profit career college. In the past year, since my “new” president started with us, there has been a ton of turnover, both voluntary and involuntary. I’ve been heavily involved in each incident, and with the exception of one situation very early on, he has never allowed anyone to work out their notice. He indicated that we should discuss this with him if one of our employees quits, but in 99.99% of cases, he says there’s no reason to allow them to work their notice. I actually don’t disagree, since most of the staff that quits absolutely hates him, and allowing them to hang around only riles up the employees still stuck here.

I’ve been with the company for over six years, which is longer than all but two other employees. There are many functions I take care of on a daily basis that no one else knows how to do. We do have a corporate office that could swoop in to train a replacement, but I know it will be a huge burden on my employees if I were to disappear. I am expecting a job offer soon, and I’m wondering if you have any advice about how I can convince him I belong in the 0.01% of people who should be allowed to work their notice. It’s important to me to train those who will be left with my work. I have been tying up loose ends as much as possible over the weeks I’ve been interviewing, and I’ve prepared as many instruction manuals as possible, but if I actually start training people on some of my functions before I leave, my boss will catch wind and fire me. I’ve had an overall wonderful experience at this company, and I want it to end gracefully, not with a disappearing act.

You can’t control whether he lets you work out your notice period or not, and since it sounds like he’s highly likely not to let you, I would start working from the assumption that he won’t. When you resign, you can certainly tell him that you’ve put together a transition plan for training people in your functions before you leave, but it’s up to him whether or not he accepts that offer. And if he doesn’t, that’s really not your responsibility to handle — yes, it will be a burden on your coworkers, but that’s not your fault and there’s nothing you can do about it. Your coworkers will survive, just as others have.

That said, if he doesn’t let you work out your notice period, that doesn’t mean you have to end your work there with a disappearing act. There’s no reason you can’t say goodbye to people you’ve worked with and let them know where you’re going next, even if you have to do that from home after you’re gone.

4. Should I mention tuition benefits in my cover letter?

I am applying for a position at a university, and am doing so for three reasons — first, I love the school and the environment; second, the job sounds like a great fit and I am excited about the position; and third, I am applying to one of their advanced degree programs. One of the perks of working at a university is that you get tuition remission, so I could essentially get paid to earn a degree. Given that fact, I’ve been debating whether or not to mention in my cover letter that I plan to pursue a degree at the institution. On the one hand, I think it shows that I have an interest in staying for a while and am committed to the field (the degree and position are related), but on the other I worry that they might think that I am only applying for the benefit. I am completely qualified for the position, but I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot. I also worry about not mentioning it, and then having trouble getting the okay to take classes down the road. What do you suggest?

I think it’s fine to mention it in passing, but I wouldn’t mention it as one of your reasons for being interested in the job, as they want to hire people who are enthusiastic about the work for its own sake, not because of a tuition benefit.

5. Does it reflect badly on me that I’ve had five managers in the same job?

I have been at my present job for five and half years. This was my first full-time job after I graduated from college, and there have been more downs than up since I have been here, but I have still stuck around. Recently, my supervisor quit after being in the position for five months. So now I am about to be on my fifth immediate supervisor. When I am applying for other positions, does this reflect badly on me as an employee?

It’s very unlikely that prospective employers will know how many managers you’ve had in this position. It’s pretty rare for an interviewer to even think to ask that, so it wouldn’t come up unless you mention it yourself.

6. Interviewing for a job where there’s been a harassment claim

I recently interviewed for a job assisting a department head at an Ivy League school. I have not met the person I would be assisting yet, but did talk to the person who would be my direct manager, who seemed very nice and down to earth. The interview seemed to go extremely well. If I get a second interview, it will be with the department head.

I googled the department head after my interview and noticed that he had a sexual harassment claim against him a few years ago that was settled out of court. It was a very high profile and sensational case. What he was accused of was really disgusting, and allegedly went on for years.

Obviously, this is a really big concern for me in considering this position (I am female, and the person who claimed harassment is also female). I did ask the manager in my follow-up email what it was like to work for the department head, and whether there were any challenges involved. I actually just forgot to ask this in the interview and hadn’t looked into his past yet. I am hoping that he will address the sexual harassment issue if he replies, but I don’t know that he will.

I’m sort of stumped about what to do, and whether it’s appropriate to just ask the department head and/or the manager about it in the interview, or after I’ve received an offer. I don’t even know what to ask though! It is possible that the claim was false but there’s no way to know since it didn’t go to court. I would very much like to work for this university and I could always transfer if working for this guy is intolerable, but I would not like to work in the kind of environment that the claim describes even for a short time.

Well, first, asking about it in an email isn’t likely to get you useful information. People don’t generally talk about this sort of thing in writing; this is something you want to ask about face to face if you want an honest answer.

By the way, it’s worth considering that someone who has been through a high-profile legal battle might be highly unlikely to behave inappropriately again, since it’s extremely unlikely that they’d keep their job after a second credible allegation. (That’s not a guarantee, of course, but you should factor it into your thinking — this is someone who’s now under scrutiny from his employer and the public and who has probably been seriously reprimanded.) That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ask about it and really do some due diligence about the culture there; you should — but factor this in too.

7. Do I really have to keep my job search hidden from my manager?

I know it might be ill advised to tell my manager that I’m looking for a job in general, but I’m a recent college grad. Would it still be a bad idea to tell them and ask for their reference? I just figured they have to know I’m leaving a minimum wage job for something that could actually pay down my student loans. Am I being paranoid or should I not tell my managers about my job search?

I don’t know. What’s their track record of dealing with other people who mention they’re looking for another position? If they’ve shown that they handle it well, then it’s reasonable to assume they’ll handle it well with you too. But if you don’t know, then assume that you should follow the typical convention of not openly seeking to leave unless you have some sort of strong indication that it won’t jeopardize your job. (If you’re in retail or food service rather than an office job, it might be entirely normal to be open about this — although you should still take your cues from how others have handled it.)

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