wee answer Wednesday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s wee answer Wednesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. My boss told my coworker and me to decide which of us will get a promotion

I’ve been working at a county government job for just about 10 years, and I’m 30 years old. We maintain roads and bridges for our county. My boss called me and another employee to the side and let us know that a master operator position will be available soon due to an employee retiring. The thing that I feel is strange is what he said next, which was that it was up to me and this other employee to come to an agreement about which one of us should get the promotion, because he wasn’t going to decide. He gave reasons why we both have what it takes to be a master operator, and he said he didn’t want to make the decision. I’m aggressive and other employees listen to me and respect me, which the other guy lacks, but the other guy is a better operator, which I feel I can improve with time. How am I and this other employee going to come to a decision of which one of us should get the promotion?

Your boss is a complete and utter ass. Telling the two of you to decide which of you will get a promotion, like it’s Hunger Games or something? Agree between the two of you to go back to him and tell him that neither of you is comfortable making that decision — or that you can’t reach an agreement — and that it’s something he should decide.

2. Contracting with a company that turned down my employer for the same work

I have been approached by a company to do some work for them on a contract basis. This company previously contacted my employer to get a quote on the company doing the contract work. The hourly rate was too high and they did not go with our company. (We work with this company quite a bit. They have many different departments, and this happens to be a new one. The person that contacted me is a colleague of my husband, who said they wanted to hire a person for this position, but there is a hiring freeze. My name had come up a few times as someone to talk to about doing the job on a contract basis.)

I would like to accept this job, in addition to keeping my regular job. I am paid very poorly and could use the extra money. What is the best way to approach my boss with this arrangement? I currently work 37 hours per week, and this job would be an additional 20 hours per week.

You can certainly tell your boss that you were approached about this and are interested in doing the work, but I’d be prepared for your boss to be less than thrilled about you essentially undercutting the company and moonlighting for a client. So approach it as “would this be okay to do?” attitude, not “I am doing this.”

3. Is it weird that I didn’t tell my boss my father is dead?

I graduated from college last May and have been interning for a company since my last year of school. My boss is really easy to get along with and we have casual conversations from time to time, which I enjoy. On more than one occasion, he has referenced my father in passing, such as saying something like, “Your dad probably knows what I’m talking about” after an anecdote from before my time or “Make sure your dad likes him” after I mention that my boyfriend is coming to town. Actually, my father died when I was a toddler. I have no problem whatsoever talking about it, but I’ve always gone along with/simply ignored comments like these while chatting with my boss because I know mentioning such a thing would stop a conversation with someone I don’t have a personal relationship with dead in its tracks and I don’t want to make things awkward for anyone.

However, this week, my boss asked my what my father did for a living, so then, of course, I finally told him my father passed away when I was child. His reaction was perfectly kind and somewhat embarrassed. The moment has passed and I’m not really worried about any lingering effects on our work relationship, but I feel bad because I’m afraid I may have caused some of that embarrassment by not mentioning this earlier. I’d simply like your perspective and what you would think if this happened with an employee of yours. Is it odd that I didn’t just mention it the first time?

Yeah, it’s a little odd but not a disaster. Your boss might feel a little weird that he’s been referencing your dad this whole time, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

For what it’s worth, though, I wouldn’t assume that simply explaining, “My dad died when I was young” will stop a conversation in its tracks or cause so much awkwardness that you should avoid it. It’s perfectly appropriate to mention it if you want to.

4. Can I waive my right to overtime pay?

I have been working at two different jobs for the past few years. One that I really like is a full-time job, and I would like to get more hours there. I have asked my boss to give me more hours so that I could quit my part-time gob. He told me he can not afford to pay me overtime and has refused my request several times. I have mentioned to him I do not want overtime pay, I just love working there, and am happy to get paid regular pay, not overtime. He told me it might be against the law. Even if I request to not be paid overtime, is this true? I just do not like my part-time job, plus this one pays more per hour and I like it.

Yes, it’s true. The law does not allow you to waive your right to overtime pay, and your employer would be breaking the law by not paying it, even if you ask them not to. (Assuming that you’re non-exempt, that is.)

5. Is this rejection letter rude?

I received the following rejection letter after phone interview and three-and-a-half-hour in-person interview (with no break; first with three people at once and then each person separately along with a fourth person): “Thank you for spending your time with us last Wednesday, interviewing for the ___ position. We enjoyed meeting you and appreciated your professionalism throughout the process. At this time, we have decided that you will not be a fit for this position and our recruitment process will continue. We wish you success with your job search. Thank you, again, for your interest in our company.”

I thought it was very cold to say I was not a fit for the position. Maybe something like, “We are looking for difference skill sets, etc.” Is it me, or was this a rather rude, standard email after four hours worth of interviews?

It’s a pretty standard rejection letter and not particularly rude. It’s not the best wording I’ve ever seen, but it’s hardly a slap in the face either. Don’t read too much into it.

6. Answering “when can you start?” on job applications

I am currently employed, but applying to new opportunities as they arise. A lot of electronic applications I encounter ask me to choose my available start date from a calendar (no option to write in text for “2 weeks after accepted offer”). What is the norm here? My instinct is to always choose a month out to allow for the interview process (which would likely be longer) and a two week notice period. I am hesitant to choose today’s date, as that may look like I am not currently employed (which I am). What should I put in this situation where they’re only allowing a date as an entry?

This is a prime example of job applications designed by someone who hasn’t stopped to consider whether the question makes sense or not. When you can start depends on when you get and accept an offer; for nearly everyone, that’s what it will be based on. Even if you use your idea of choosing a date a month away, you have no way of knowing how long their interview process will take; plenty of them takes months and months.

If you’d start two weeks after accepting an offer, I’d just put something between two and four weeks. You’re not going to be rigidly held to it (i.e., if you write “May 24″ today and you’re offered a job on May 20, they’re not going to point to your application and say, “But you said you could start May 24.” Or, if they do, they’re being ridiculous.

7. What should I charge as a freelancer?

I’m in a bit of a pickle and hope you may have some advice for me. In a nutshell, I was approached by someone I don’t know via LinkedIn with a freelance proposal. After checking into his background and exchanging several emails, I’m very eager to work with him in a freelance capacity. However, I’ve never had to negotiate as a freelancer and am not sure how to continue. In our latest correspondence he pitched his proposal to me and said: “This is an investment on my part, so I need to know what rate you’d be willing to work if you were pretty much full-time for 3-4 months.”

I have no idea how to answer this question. As far as experience in the field he’d be hiring me for, I have about 3-4 years of professional experience. I’m also horrendous at math, so the thought of calculating rates for myself seems incredibly daunting and scary.

I guess my biggest concern is not wanting to low-ball myself, but also not wanting to suggest a rate that’s absolutely ridiculous and makes me seem foolish and unprofessional.

Typically people earn a higher hourly rate when they’re freelancing than when they’re doing the same work as a full-time employee. This is because as a freelancer, you’re responsible for your own payroll taxes (and they’re more than you think!), don’t get benefits like health care or paid time off, don’t have the stability of a regular job, etc.

A common rule of thumb is to figure out what a salary for this work would break down to hourly (you can use your past salary if it’s a pretty good match for the work), and then double it. If you’re like most new freelancers, you’ll feel anxious asking for that amount, but it’s really what people do, and if this guy has benchmarked freelancers at all, he shouldn’t be put off. You can also try searching for online forums for people who freelance in your field and seeing if you can find info on typical rates that way — but if you can’t, this is a pretty reliable way to go.

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