HomeCareerAsk a Manager speed round — Ask a Manager

Ask a Manager speed round — Ask a Manager

It’s part 2 of this year’s Ask a Manager speed round! (Part 1 was last month.) Until 4 pm ET today, I’ll be answering questions live (using some of the questions that were submitted but not answered in part 1).

Last month I answered 78 questions in two hours; we’ll see if I can match that today.

How to read answers live: Refresh the page to see new questions/answers. I’ll post new answers at the top as I go so you don’t have to scroll down to see the latest.

How to ask questions: I’m not taking new questions for this round — I received 750 questions in part 1 and only answered a fraction of them, so today is to answer more of the questions from part 1 that I didn’t get to originally.

49. References

I have been interviewing applicants for a position on my team. I had been setting up meetings to call their references, but I’m now told that HR emails the references a form to fill out. At least one of my colleagues thinks it gets a better response rate from the references than calling, but I’m concerned that these form answers are just going to be generically positive and not that informative. Is calling references becoming obsolete?

No, lots of people call references. The forms suck — they take way more of your references’ time, very few people are willing to put less-than-positive info in writing, and they don’t allow for nuance or follow-up questions.

48. Thank you letter

If you’ve had an interview with person A, and were told during that interview that next steps would be an interview with person B, but you’ve already got the invitation for the interview with person B less than 2 hours after your interview with person A and haven’t sent a thank you letter yet, should you still send a thank you letter to person A? And if yes (which I suspect is the answer) should it be any different then a regular thank you letter?

Yes. It doesn’t necessarily need to be different than it normally would be, but you could mention that you’re looking forward to talk with person B as a next step.

47. New Younger Coworker Holding Doors

We have a new younger male coworker that I don’t particularly enjoy working with who is new to the working world. Unfortunately, I am one of his supervisors.

I am fifteen years his senior and he often tries to hold the door open. He goes to great lengths so it doesn’t feel like a coworker thing, but more of a m’lady, chivalry thing.

I feel weird about it, I’m not sure why. Should I say something?

Is he holding it open for men too, or just women? If just women, the reason it feels weird is because he’s relating to you as a woman first rather than as his colleague/boss, and he shouldn’t be. You can make a point of declining — “no, you go ahead” — and see if that gets the message across.

46. Employee with excuses

I’m a new manager with an employee who isn’t meeting expectations. He does the bare minimum when given small, discrete tasks with a clear deadline, but this is a faculty position where we expect him to create and manage much of his own workload. Even when meeting regularly on his progress, he struggles to get from vague idea to plan to execution. And when he receives feedback, he’s a flutter of excuses (“I was too sick to work” -> Then you should’ve taken sick time!” -> “I didn’t know you wanted me to come into the office every day” -> It’s not a remote position!, etc.). I’m struggling to sufficiently communicate that it’s actually not my role to hold his hand through every detail and every intermediate deadline of every project, and our expectation is for him to manage those projects himself. Do you have some go-to phrases to use with employees like this to give them feedback and clearly set expectations?

“The requirements of this job are YXZ, and part of that is working independently to lay out a plan and execute it. I’m here as a sounding board, but the person in your job owns the responsibility of driving those projects forward and managing details like X and Y.” Frankly, it sounds like time to also say, “What I’m seeing as your strengths are ABC, whereas this job needs XYZ.” It sounds like he may not be the right match for the job.

45. Are some organizations more toxic than others?

I came from education and moved to a non-profit organization. My new organization is one of the top workplaces in our area, and it’s like night and day. I hear so much from teachers, and of course we see people leaving the profession in droves. Is that industry more toxic than most? Are small business more toxic than larger ones?

As a rule, I do think you find more dysfunction in small businesses than in larger ones. In larger ones, there are more checks and balances. In smaller orgs, one or two problematic personalities can have an outsized impact.

44. Burnout in employee who won’t stop working

I have a new employee who wants to work all the time (we’re in an industry where work does happen at all hours, but we have plans in place so someone isn’t doing it on their own). I’ve tried to stop him from being ‘on’ at all hours, but he’s salaried and since OT isn’t an issue, thinks he needs to be. A couple weeks ago he told me I was right and he was burnt out already, but then the cycle just continued. Any wording to get him to slow down?

Tell him directly to stop. Normally I’d say to use a lighter touch since normally it would be overstepping to say “you absolutely cannot do this” if overtime pay isn’t an issue, but if he’s already telling you he’s burned out while he’s still new, it’s reasonable to say, “I am concerned by what you told me, and I can see that you’re working more than you need to be. For the next month, I want you to stay logged out of work stuff once you leave for the day. No exceptions unless you clear them with me first. You’re worth more to me working reasonable hours and still here in a year, then working round the clock but leaving in three months because you’re exhausted.” You can also mention he’s modeling bad behavior for coworkers, or for other teams who will develop unreasonable expectations about when they can reach him.

43. The waiting game

is it reasonable to wait between an email telling you that you will receive an offer once it is approved and getting the actual offer? At what point can you ask for a status without seeming impatient?

Yes, sometimes there’s a delay in between hearing the offer is coming and it actually showing up. When it’s first mentioned, it’s okay to ask what timeline they’re working on. And if it’s been a few days (four-ish?) and you’ve heard nothing, it’s fine to check in and ask if they’re able to give you a sense of when you’ll hear from them. It’s OK to say, “I’m talking with other companies but I’m most interested in working with you, so I’m wondering if you can give me an idea of your timeline.”

42. AAM

How do you decide what letters to answer?

It’s a combination of what I think is interesting, useful, entertaining, and also frankly what I am motivated to write about that day. There is a LOT of writing that goes into this site every week and the only way to make it sustainable and not feel like a chore is to let myself pick letters based on what is speaking to me at the time I’m sitting down to write. I also think about recency/frequency — if I’ve just written on a topic recently, I try not to do it again right away unless it’s a different aspect of the same issue (and in that case, sometimes doing those close together can be an interesting juxtaposition — there are actually two letters like that coming tomorrow, the first about anxiety in a coworker, and the second about anxiety in a boss).

41. How to gracefully reject a counteroffer you didn’t really want?

I recently received a job offer from another non-profit in my city. When I told my (pretty great) boss, I got nervous and instead of just resigning, I asked for a counteroffer. I like my job and what I do, and more than that I really love my team, but I think I want to accept the other offer. So basically I am putting my boss through hoops, making her look into a potential counteroffer that I should never have seemed open to in the first place. How do I reject it gracefully? Because she’s genuinely trying, but it is time to move on.

Yeah, tell her now so she doesn’t expend any more of her own capital on it. “I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’ve decided to take the other offer. I know you’re in the middle of trying to put together a counteroffer for me, but I’ve realized that I’m committed to moving on because of ___. I really appreciate you trying to make it work though.”

40. Hierarchy Drama

What’s the most tactful way for me to ask my manager if I actually have to take direction from someone I work with?

“Can you clarify Jane’s role in regard to my position? When she makes suggestions for my projects, is that input I can take or leave depending on what I think makes sense, or are those instructions I should definitely follow?”

39. why are we meeting in the metaverse?

My company bought oculus headsets for us so we could have a business meeting in the metaverse. Am I suddenly becoming Old and Out Of Touch or is this as eyeroll-y as I think?

I am also Old but I vote eyeroll-y.

38. How to support ‘toxic’ coworker

I’ve got a coworker who is very knowledgeable and who is mostly very fond of me and we usually work well together. She’s got a lot going on in her life (primary caregiver for a chronically ill relative) and has a tendency to lash out when something goes wrong.

Example: there was a data issue with something we do, and she intermittently makes references that *I* did something to cause it. (This data issue existed BEFORE my time at our company and I actually don’t have any access to update the data.) I decided to just take it on the chin and apologize, but she keeps bringing it up.

That sort of thing doesn’t really bother me, but I’m not the only recipient of this type of behavior, and she’s rubbed people the wrong way and has been demoted. She has a reputation for being someone who is difficult to work with in general. She has asked me to let her know if she’s ever too over-the-top in meetings, and I’m not sure how exactly to give her feedback without damaging our work relationship. (Yes, I know she ASKED – but I’m not sure how she will take the truth.)

You’re not obligated to do something that could be risky to you just because she asked. If you trusted her to take the feedback well, it would be different. But maybe you could ask her: “If I ever notice something like that, how exactly would you want me to tell you? I’ll be honest, I’d worry about damaging our work relationship.”

37. Can I ask to talk with female employees during the interview process?

As a female software developer currently looking to leave her current company (for a number of reasons that could go in a longer question), I’ve been interviewing around, always with a panel of men (almost always exclusively white men at that). One common thing that I hear is how great Company X’s diversity programs are, but always from the viewpoint of white men. My company also has “great diversity programs”, unless you ask the female devs (all 2 of us in a company of 100+ devs).

So, can I ask to speak with, even informally, with female devs at the companies I’m interviewing with to get their perspective on things? If so, what’s the best way to do so?

One thing I have going for me is that female devs with my experience are hard to come by, so I seem to be in high demand (even if only as a token hire).

Yes, absolutely you can. “Can you put me in touch with some female developers so I can hear about their perspective on working here?”

36. Don’t want to work

I like my job and I like the organization I work for, I’ve had a string of fantastic roles but I still never WANT to work. Is there something wrong with me? I’d rather do anything but work, even when it’s work I enjoy?

No, you are normal. That’s why they pay us! Most of us would rather be in control of our own time. Lord knows I’d like to be napping most of the time.

35. Culture question

I’m one of four full-time employees supporting a sales force of about fifty people. The four of us work in the office full time, but there’s space available for any sales personnel who wish to work from the office. Some do, some don’t. The problem is that the ones that spend time in the office REALLY like to party and routinely hold after-hours get-togethers in the office.

It’s part of company culture, but it’s starting to get out of control. They fill the fridge with alcohol to the point that our lunches don’t fit. They forget to close the refrigerator door, leaving our food to go bad. We don’t want to be petty, but we loose food on a regular basis. I feel like like my cottage cheese deserves as much space as their beer, but many days it gets crowded out. They also leave messes: like I spent a week with a giant, plastic tub of warm craft beer floating in ice-melt just hanging out under my desk. I finally threw it all out because it got a little disgusting.

We have spoken to our manager but nothing changes. We have cleaned-up their messes, thrown out partial bottles, etc. Sometimes they notice and complain, but they don’t quite know who did it. Many offices in our company have similar issues, but ours seems particularly egregious. This isn’t personal. I do drink alcohol myself, but I do it with my friends on my own time, not in the office. Liability could be an issue here. We are also concerned about the possibility that there are those who might be triggered by all the alcohol consumption, but are not brave enough to speak up. Do you have any advice on how to address this? Our manager often joins in the parties, but that’s also part of our company culture. And some of the major drinkers are important sales persons who have earned company acclaim. Are we out of line in wanting fridge space? We’re considering just buying our own fridge. Do we have any recourse here?

The drinking culture sounds widespread enough that it’s going to be hard to change without it coming from the top. But you should ask for a separate fridge for the support staff (ideally in a separate location so the sales staff don’t just take it over).

34. Employee insists on “keeping up with emails” while on vacation

I have an employee who has proactively told me that he will be “keeping up on his emails” while on his upcoming multi-day vacation. A lot of our team’s work is initiated via email so keeping up with emails can often translate into actual work tasks needing to be done.

I have repeatedly told my team that no one is ever expected to work while on PTO even if they are enjoying a “staycation”. Team members are expected to back each other up and I am also available to pick up any slack. While I know I can’t physically stop my employees from checking their emails when they are out (nor do I want to become a micromanaging email cop) I am concerned about the impression this sets for the departments we support, that we operate in an “always on” culture, which we don’t.

I remind my team about the need for setting proper boundaries and tell them that just because someone comes to you with an issue that they feel is urgent doesn’t mean it automatically becomes urgent for you. If this employee does end up responding to emails while on vacation, it may cause confusion if his backup is already dealing with that issue.

While I admire his drive to prove he is a good team player, his insistence on keeping up with work while out sets a bad precedent for the team. I am tempted to tell him that going forward, I don’t care if he checks his email but I don’t want to hear about it and he must not respond to messages from his departments. If he ignores these instructions, we will have a serious conversation upon his return. Do you have any other advice about how to get him to stop this behavior or am I making a mountain out of an email mole hill here?

“You’re welcome to check your email if you want to — although I’d prefer that you fully disconnect so you come back refreshed — but I don’t want you responding to anything while you’re away. We’re setting up coverage for you so it’s going to cause confusion if you’re responding to things that your back-up is already working on. Deal?”

And all your points are well taken.

33. Phone in Meeting

What is your opinion about someone quietly playing games on/using their phone in a 4 hour meeting when their contribution is approximately 5 minutes. (Essentially it is several meetings with a customer rolled into one)

If it’s a customer meeting, they shouldn’t be playing on their phone; rightly or wrongly, it looks bad. But I’d argue the bigger questions is: do they really need to be there for that entire time? Can they be brought in just for the relevant section?

32. Multiple letter submissions

What do you think about people who submit the same letter to multiple advice columns (like to you and Dear Prudence and Hax)?

It’s an understandable impulse — I assume they don’t know if they’re going to get an answer from anyone so figure they’ll cover all their bases. Or maybe they want different perspectives on their situation. It doesn’t seem to me like an unfair number of bites at the apple, if that’s what you mean.

And it’s interesting to see how the answers differ when it happens! (And also sometimes not surprising that we all spot that same letter in our mail and pick it to answer — there are some letters that are irresistible.)

31. getting up and sitting down

I’ve read before that if you have a desk job/ sit all day that you should get up every hour and stretch or walk around for ten minutes or so. Is that actually acceptable to do? This sounds like a crazy question I’m sure, but if your productivity isn’t affected by doing this, that seems ok right? But then again you wouldn’t be producing work during those stretch breaks…

It *should* be acceptable, but you’re right that in a lot of jobs it would seem like a lot of time when you add it all up. Capitalism!

Try to combine it with other stuff you need to get up for anywhere — going by someone’s desk to talk to them, getting coffee, hitting the bathroom, etc., although it still might not add up to 10 minutes every hour.

30. Resume

What kind of achievements can I list if I work as a receptionist? There are no goals in the job and no advancements

Imagine someone in the job who was doing it badly, or even just sort of mediocrely. What’s the difference between the way you do the job and the way that person does that job? That’s what your resume bullet points should capture. For example, maybe it’s “Interactions with office visitors regularly elicited unsolicited praise” or “promptly and efficiently answered and directed calls for busy 65-person office” or so forth.

29. New job adjustments

How long should it take to tell if a job is “right” for you or not? I started a job three months ago, and while the promise of projects is exciting, it’s been very slow and the culture around onboarding/filling your plate seems to be a long one. How long is too long to wait for it to pick up?

I think you need more information. Can you talk to your boss and ask what timeline to expect for more work coming your way, and what that process will look like, so you know what to expect?

28. Dishonest manager

I recently resigned from my job. There were many reasons, but one is that I realized my manager was generally a dishonest person. She’s friendly and nice and desperately wants to be liked. As a result of being totally unable to have direct conversations, she often straight-up lies: She says she’s handling a problem that she actually isn’t; she tells one employee that “Joe said they’d be happy to do XYZ!” and then tells Joe the inverse, etc. I know she is going to ask me why I’m leaving. Is there any way I can say “You lie too much” in a way that she will actually hear and process? Or do I just say nothing and stay on good terms?

The only reason to say it would be if you wanted the personal satisfaction of saying it. If you’re hoping she’ll hear and learn from it, she won’t. I’d say nothing and leave on good terms.

27. Interview upcoming

I work in an office with a lot of turnover. In the eight years I’ve been here I’ve had three bosses, six people in the fiscal position, six people in the coordinator position, and various other positions that come and go. Since we have such frequent turnover, my old position was combined with the fiscal one (both grossly underpaid) and I now do two full time jobs for still terrible pay. I have an interview coming up. When they ask me why I am looking to leave my current position, is it okay to say because of the pay and high turnover? Or does that come across as too negative?

The fact that you’ve been there eight years is a very good reason! You could simply say, “I’ve been here eight years and I’m ready for something new.” No one will question that. (That’s not to say the others aren’t acceptable reasons, but this one is even more bland and neutral, in a good way.)

26. In a perfect world…

If you had the power, what single mandatory employment law would you enact?

Would it be something fanciful (like that each employee has the opportunity once every 12 months to vote to keep/change/demote/fire their Manager), or would it be something practical (like minimum annual leave conditions)?

I think I would make it easier to enforce the laws we already have. Employers get away with violating so many workplace laws because the bar for employees to take legal action against them is so high. That’s not generally the case with really straightforward stuff like wage violations, but it’s definitely the case with things like discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

25. Iced coffee or hot coffee?

Is iced coffee or hot coffee better?

Iced coffee. Hot tea.

24. I quit no-notice; could I have handled it better?

This Monday, I quit a job that I’d been working at since March of this year. The advertised job role was one of an “administrative sales assistant” to the semi-retired company founder and his son. In reality, I was performing the role of an executive/personal assistant, a sales administrator, and a salesperson, since the son largely does not perform his job and all responsibility for his performance would eventually fall on me: did I make sure he was following up on his new leads? Did I make sure he’d responded to his current customers? Did I ensure that he passed on updated pricing, sometimes acquiring updated costs, applying the desired margin, and sending along the numbers myself?

I had tried to negotiate commensurate pay for my increased responsibilities (I was making 37k a year), with consideration that I hadn’t been there long. When it was made clear that that would not happen (even though my boss had hinted at me earning commission around month 1), I asked about implementing a process for delineating between my listed job description and the son’s responsibilities, and how to proceed when he was pushing his job onto me. This conversation was had 2-3 times and nothing was ever implemented by my boss or the son’s (supposed) boss, the VP of sales.

My boss (the company president), the founder, and the son all spoke with vitriol about my predecessors. My boss had also recently laid off one of my coworkers without notice, and had been known to fire people in response to them putting in a notice. So, this Monday, I realized that I would rather be dead broke than work another day at the company. I packed up my things, left my paperwork in order, and told my boss I was quitting, effective immediately. I explained that, based on how the son had spoken about my predecessors, I believed that work would become a hostile environment if I were to put in a notice. He said, simply, “well, I don’t appreciate that. Goodbye.” and turned away from me. I said some goodbyes to my coworkers and walked out.

I’m so, so glad I’m not working there any more, but I still feel a deeply ingrained sense of guilt. The son sent me a long text about his disappointment, and the founder called me and said he was also disappointed. Both expressed that I should have “talked to [them] about it,” but it ultimately came down to that the son was making 6 figures while I did his work.

In short: was I wrong to quit no-notice? Or could I have handled this better? Our HR person and one of the top sales people who trained me both encouraged me to quit as soon as I was ready, and both are providing references as to the quality of my work.

If your boss has a track record of making people leave as soon as they give notice, it shouldn’t be any surprise that people will start to leave without giving notice. Why would they? That’s what this guy gets.

There’s always the question of what you might lose by doing it this way (like a reference if he’s contacted directly) but if you decided any possible trade-offs were worth it to you, you don’t need to feel guilty.

23. What language should I learn?

I am working at a tech company that does business around the world. One of our available “lifestyle benefits” is a subscription to a language learning program. After English, what language do you think would be most valuable in today’s workplace?

It depends on your field and your location! But absent any other information, if you’re in the U.S. I’d say Spanish.

22. Management Tools & Techniques

What are some of your favorite tools (applications, etc.) and/or techniques for effective team/process management? E.g. “Trello”, or “Use a recurring calendar event to reserve time for focused work.” Just the most impactful (and perhaps easiest to overlook) things which come to your mind.

Postmortems — debriefing a project after it’s over to figure out what went well, what could have gone better, and why.

Also regular one-on-ones as a way to stay engaged with the work your staff members are doing and have a regular place to giving feedback and talk about priorities, obstacles, etc. If you use them well, they’re essential. (Too often managers don’t use them particularly well though and they end up not feeling like a great use of time.)

21. Peer to Manager – when everyone leaves

I recently went from being a long standing member of a team (one of the last original members from 3 previous managers ago) to now being the manager. Since my new position, the other 2 long standing members of the team that were direct peers in position have left. They have promised up one side and down the other that “it’s not me,” but it’s certainly hard to not feel that way. On the flip side, I am excited that I now get to build MY team. Is it wrong to feel that way?

I don’t think it’s wrong, as long as you’re taking a rigorously honest look at whether things on the team might have driven them away. Two people isn’t a huge pattern, but it’s always good to look at stuff like that (because people will rarely tell you that it’s you).

20. When will I feel settled at a new job?

I just started a new job in July in a highly technical field (PhD + 5 years post experience) when should I feel ‘settled’? 3 months? 6 months? When will I be ‘useful’?

I can’t speak to your field specifically, but if a general answer is helpful — I think in many jobs there’s often a moment about 3 months in when it suddenly feels like things are starting to click in a way they weren’t before, but it’s often 6 months before you really feel settled and like you’re useful.

19. Probation Period

How much notice is required if you quit within a probation/introductory period? I recently quit a new job while in my probation period, my offer letter did not specify a specific notice period to give, just that employment is at will and both I and the company could part ways at any time. The job was basically a bait and switch and I was really unhappy and dreaded going into work every day. I gave notice and said that I could work through the week if they wanted, assuming that they were going to let me go that same day. They balked and said I needed to give a months notice. I think they’re out of their gourd. What it typical when you quit during your probation period?

It’s less a question of the probation period and more a question of how new you are. Some probation periods last a year or longer! But if you’ve been there a couple of months or less, offering to work out the remainder of the week is perfectly reasonable. Your company expecting a month is ridiculous and they were indeed out of their gourds.

18. Can a candidate be too honest during the hiring process?

I recently had a candidate who cancelled a round of interviews, citing not feeling mentally ready after a breakup that occurred some months ago. This would have already been a factor when the interviews were scheduled initially, so it adds some concern to the sudden cancellation. Normally I’m all for honesty from both sides during a hiring process, but am I right to think this would be a yellow to orange flag?

It’s definitely an unusual thing to say and it raises some questions about … resiliency. And judgment too, really, in that they said it. So yeah, I’d be concerned. I wouldn’t necessarily reject outright over it, but I’d be looking for other indicators on those fronts.

17. Fostering

How is fostering going?

Good! We’re taking a break right now because my mom is sick and I want to be fully available to her but I highly recommend it. Especially fostering teenagers — there is a huge shortage of foster homes willing to take teenagers and a lot of them end up in group homes or sleeping in social workers’ offices as a result.

All: If you have ever thought about fostering, and especially if you have ever thought about fostering teenagers, please contact your city/county and they can tell you more about the process in your area.

(And also teenagers are funny! And you will discover so much new music — my phone is full of Megan Thee Stallion now.)

16. How can I stop helping my friend?

I have a friend from college who truly makes unwise decisions. He has had some bad luck that isn’t his fault but he also quits jobs to get-rich ideas, then whines on social media about being left alone. He needs help I can’t give him.

But now that I’ve gotten to a good place professionally, he keeps asking me to refer him to things. He is very very sensitive, but I wouldn’t trust this guy to complete any job. Is there a gentle way to let him down or am I doomed to slowly freeze him out or enrage him by being forceful?

Am I reading correctly that you’ve never worked with him? If so, there’s your easy out: “I can’t recommend you because we’ve never worked together. My reference wouldn’t carry any weight.” If necessary you can add, “And it’s been drilled into me that I can’t vouch for people professionally unless I know their work firsthand.”

15. What should student employees learn in college jobs?

As someone who manages student employees (in a college/university setting – they are serving as peer educators) – what are the most helpful things for them to learn about working and professionalism? They are working very part-time (3-10 hours/week) and arrive with a range of professional experiences. There is required training as part of the job where we sometimes focus on professional development and their career goals (frequently as they relate to the work) and I want to make that space as valuable as possible for their future work experiences.

How to receive feedback. How and when to ask for help. How to observe what’s happening around you to figure out the culture (in both large and small ways — from how people answer their phones to understanding the dress code to how to be in meetings to how to agreeably disagree). What good business writing looks like (because it’s very different from academic writing). And when someone asks to talk to you, always bring something to take notes.

14. Eating at work events

Please settle a debate I have with my partner. He says at work events with food, you should break the ice and get up to eat first because no one likes the uncomfortable dance of “no, you first.” I am a passive aggressive midwesterner through and through and believe you should eat last (especially if you/your dept is hosting). In 15 years together, this is one of our only disagreements so your input is much appreciated!

I actually think it depends on the context. If you’re very senior, ideally you’d hang back and ensure others get to eat before you do (you don’t want a situation where all the senior people take the best food and the lower-paid staff who have more reason to appreciate free food get left with the dregs). On the other hand, though, if no one is going up to get food, you can do a good deed by leading the way and breaking the ice. It’s also a good deed to say, “Let’s have all the interns come up here first.” (On the other hand, then you will get interns who deliberately take less food than they really want because they worry about looking greedy and they haven’t seen how much others find reasonable to take yet, so really this is much more of a clusterfuck than I thought when I first started writing this answer.) (Except that it’s not because you, I, and your partner are all overthinking it.)

13. good definition of manager/management

In a recent conversation I realised there isn’t widespread agreement on what it means to manage or to be a manager. I didn’t find any simple definitions in your book or the AAM website.

Do you have a simple elevator definition for what the job of a manager is?

In my book for managers, my co-author and I define the job of a manager as to get excellent results through other people. That sounds awfully broad, I know, but so many things follow logically from that — it means you need to set the right goals, ones that represent meaningful progress but without being unrealistic or insufficiently ambitious. It means you need to hire and retain a great team and develop their skills. It means you need to be the kind of manager people want to work for (since otherwise your great team will all leave). It means you need to clear about what you expect, help people meet your expectations, and get everyone aligned around a common purpose.

12. Embarrassed by Age

I (22) am fairly new at my job, it’s my first post-college job, and have realized that the large majority of people in comparable positions at other organizations are usually in the mid-30s to 40s. People often assume that I’m in my mid to late 20’s but not that I’m fresh out of college. I’m worried that if they found out my actual age that I would not be taken as seriously as I would be if I was older. Is it weird/unethical, if when asked what I did before I got here, to be vague about my past job history and just go “oh I worked at XYZ” but leave out the fact that I was actually just an intern there?

It’s not unethical. It’s accurate!

But I also, I think you might be feeling more weird about this than they would if they knew your age.

11. We Don’t Talk About Sal-a-ry, No, No

I know it’s not legal for employers to tell you you that non-supervisory coworkers can’t talk amongst themselves about salary. Is it legal for employers to put clauses in their handbooks/sign-on paperwork stating non-supervisory coworkers can’t talk about salary amongst themselves then pull the “Well you signed this, so you can’t talk about it, stop” routine?


10. Recommended books

Do you read all of your recommended books the week that you recommend them? If so, what happens if you don’t like the book you read that week? Are you reading multiples books every week? (Love the recs!)

No, they’re not all from that week! Sometimes I didn’t read anything that week, and sometimes I didn’t like whatever I read enough to recommend it. So on those weeks I just pick a book that I read and liked in the past — long ago when I first started doing a weekly book recommendation, I made an initial list of stuff I loved and wanted to recommend. So when there’s not something I read and loved this week, I just pick something off that older list.

9. How do I respond when I get a raise?

How should I respond when I receive notice of a raise? We are notified several months after performance reviews, usually through a somewhat formal letter emailed by my boss (I work remotely). I never really know what to say. I usually say “Thanks!” and end up feeling like a clod.

“Thank you, I appreciate it!” is perfectly fine (and normal).

8. No Contact After Interview

How common is it to just never hear back from a company after you’ve applied and interviewed? This has happened to me twice now, both with presumably reputable agencies – I applied, interviewed, thought it went well, and never heard from them again. Is this normal?

So, so, so, so common. Companies routinely ghost applicants, even after multiple interview rounds. It’s rude as hell, but it’s incredibly common.

7. Bring straightforward about performance issues

I have two direct reports current struggling with performance – one due to quality issues in his work, and the other with attitude problems. I’m somewhat new to managing and I’m really struggling with how to talk to these two:

For the first, it seems like either his past manager wasn’t totally up-front with him about the quality issues being the main reason for not being promoted/given increased responsibilities – that, or the past manager was, and he just refuses to acknowledge it. I get the feeling like he drastically underestimates the effect past quality issues have had on our trust in him and seems impatient for us to move past it. He also is starting to display some bitterness about other people being promoted before him. I’m sort of concerned that no matter what I say, he’s already got this idea in his head that we’re taking a couple of minor issues too seriously and are committed to being unfair to him.

For the second, I’m just not sure how to say “you need to be not completely unpleasant to deal with.” She has a habit of jumping to the worst possible conclusion about others’ motivations/intentions and responding aggressively to people outside our team. Part of her job is dealing with other people effectively; I genuinely don’t understand how she could have gotten as far as she has if she behaves this way. I keep having conversations with her about individual behaviors/incidents, but it feels like this is a bigger problem (ego/overall negative outlook) that seems inappropriate for me to try to address.

For the first: I would name what you’re seeing. “I’m getting the sense that you think too much weight is being put on X and that you’re impatient that it’s still an issue. I want to be up-front with you that I see these are serious issues and I will need to see significant, sustained improvement in those areas before I can give you additional responsibility. I’m of course willing to listen to your perspective if you want to share it, but I want to make sure you have a full understanding of where things stand right now.”

For the second: “Part of your job is maintaining good relationships with colleagues, which includes things like XYZ. That’s part of what you’re being paid for, and it’s as much a part of your job as meeting deadlines or producing error-free work. I need to see changes like ____ in how you work with people.”

I would also start thinking about what you’ll do if you don’t see those changes — is it bad enough that you’d move her out of the role? If so, I’d be up-front about that too if the first conversation doesn’t get through to her.

6. I’m seeing a coworker… we aren’t “out” yet, and this offends a third coworker.

Per my company’s policy, the dating thing is above board. We’re at the same level of seniority so neither of us is in charge of the other. We’re both… shy, private people, so we haven’t come out at work yet, which wouldn’t be an issue if me being “single” didn’t apparently physically pain another coworker.

Short of coming out as “I’m dating so and so,” is there a way to say “Please don’t involve yourself in my relationship status?”

Good lord, whether you were dating someone or not, your pushy coworker needs to back way off! How to say it will depend on how pointed you’re comfortable being, but it would be very reasonable to say, “I don’t want to discuss my dating life at work, please stop bringing it up” … and if it continues, “It’s really weird that you keep raising this after I’ve asked you to stop.”

5. Rejected for being an MBA candidate

I was recently laid off and am now job hunting. I am also in the process of getting my MBA. I have it on my resume with an expected graduation date about a year and a half in the future.

I recently made it to the final round of interviews at a company and they asked about my plans with my MBA. I said most of my experience was self taught or hodge podge (I’m an analyst with a liberal arts degree and I learned most of my skills from free classes or Google). I want to fill in the gaps, advance my career, and I just genuinely love learning. The interviewers were unimpressed. I did not receive an offer because they said MBA candidates would always want a promotion once they had their degree and they didn’t envision one. My degree is close to two years in the future so a promotion doesn’t seem that unreasonable (I didn’t say this).

Is this a thing? Do MBAs in progress read as too aggressive? Did I answer the question wrong?

If you’re in the middle of getting a graduate degree, most interviewers’ assumption is going to be that you want to use it professionally in some way. (That’s especially true of an MBA.) So yeah, they’re going to assume you’ll either leave quickly, or want a promotion quickly, or just that your professional interests don’t line up with the job. Or even if they don’t assume it’s *definitely* going to be the case, they’ll figure it’s likely enough that they’d rather focus on other candidates who don’t have that particular risk profile.

4. Am I doing everything wrong?

I read an article that said that you should apply for jobs that you meet 40-70% of the criteria because recruiters don’t want to hire people who are 100% a match because there isn’t enough room for growth and people are more likely to get bored and leave. Is that accurate?

Assuming it is, I am wondering if I have been choosing jobs to apply for poorly, because I am attempting to change fields. I have a masters degree and some experience from my previous job which I was in for like a decade. I have been mostly applying for jobs that require 0-3 of experience because my experience is mostly in a different field (although I was able to get some experience in my previous role and there is crossover). Should I be looking for positions that are more of a stretch?

I’d say a lot of hiring managers do like to hire people who meet 100% of the criteria, but that they’re often very, very willing to hire people who meet less than that — like 75-80% of the criteria, as long as the ones you do meet are key things. You’re not entry level because you have a decade of work experience, even though it’s in another field, so I wouldn’t apply to jobs that are targeting people with zero years. Try applying for more of a mix and include positions that are a little higher than what you’ve been going for, and see what happens!

3. Is everyone really saying “commentariat”

Or are you editing them and putting that word in there? I see it so much here!

It’s not me! I say “commenters.” I think “commentariat” is an internet thing though.

2. Should I give my co-worker advice

I recently had a meeting with my manager and other 2 co-workers. At this meeting my much younger and new to the company co-worker expressed how bored she is, how slow things are, and have been since she got here. She came from another company doing a similar job but in a different setting. Think an urgent care nurse versus private clinic. My manager was trying to be sympathetic and supportive, but didn’t just honestly say that this is how things are in this practice, and they aren’t going to change. Should I have a talk with her and let her know that this is just how things are, and if she isn’t happy she should look for other opportunities? Or keep my mouth shut and do my job?

It sounds like it would be a kindness to let her know what to expect there. There’s some risk that if you have this talk, it could get back to your manager, so if that’s a concern I’d choose your framing with that in mind — i.e., maybe don’t suggest she job search, but do lay out for her a realistic picture of how things work there and what’s reasonable/isn’t reasonable to expect. (And yes, it’s BS that you have to think about whether to pull your punches, but I think you can convey the important stuff here regardless.)

1. Should I take away responsibilities from an employee because they seem to trigger anxiety/panic attacks?

One of my team members overseas a large team of people. He is amazing at his job! And the reason he is so amazing is that he is personally invested in every person on his team. Unfortunately, he is so invested that when things happen outside of his control, like schedule changes or people quitting, he gets anxious, even to the point of panic attacks.

Some aspects of our job are not going to change: we work in an industry with high turnover, so people are going to quit. But one thing I can change is to take responsibilities off of his plate that seem to cause more anxiety.

I hesitate to do this, because he is amazing at his job and I don’t want to undermine him. However, I want the best for him as a person; I don’t want him to be in a role that causes so much anxiety. However, I think if I asked him about this, he would balk at losing those responsibilities. But should I do it anyway, for what I see to be his own good? That seems to be a huge overreach in trying to solve someone else’s problems, but it is hard for me to see him get so anxious.

I don’t think you should take things off his plate if it’s just because it’s hard for you to see him get anxious. But I do think you should look at the impact on you/others/the workflow when he starts panicking — if it’s affecting you/others/the work, that’s a legitimate discussion to have with him.



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