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

1. My coworker keeps making minor corrections to my work

I am experiencing a weird feedback situation at work and don’t know how to handle it. One of my coworkers, Jane, frequently corrects me on how I’m doing my job. It will be small things, like nitpicking on how I answer the phone, and it is usually delivered in a condescending tone: “I don’t know if you know this…” or “I just want you to know we don’t do it that way around here.”

I have never received corrections on any of these things from our shared managers — quite the opposite. I have glowing reviews, am actively encouraged to move up, and have even specifically been told that I have excellent phone manner.

We have the exact same job and title. Jane has been with the company in the exact same department and office location for about 15 years. On the other hand, I have been with the company in two locations and three departments over the course of about a year and a half. Neither of us has supervisory responsibilities, and at our company, seniority doesn’t mean much unless you’re being considered for a promotion.

I’m not afraid of feedback — if any of our managers were coming to me with these concerns, I would take it seriously and adjust my behavior. But she’s not my manager, and I don’t answer to her! Am I correct in thinking that I don’t have to do what she says? Should I speak to her directly? Should I speak to our manager? I do my job extremely well and I just want the commentary to stop.

If you were absolutely sure she was wrong, I’d tell you to say something like, “Thanks, but I think my way is fine.” And then, if it continued, “You’ve been giving me a lot of input on how I do my job, but I’ve talked with (manager) and she’s really happy with my work. I’d prefer you give me the same leeway she does.” You could add, “Of course, if something seems really serious to you, I’d understand you flagging that, but I’d think that would be very rare.”

But is it possible she’s actually right about some of this stuff? The fact that your manager is happy with your work doesn’t preclude the possibility that there are small things she’d want you doing differently but doesn’t see (and which Jane does because she works around you more often). It’s also possible Jane is completely off-base, of course (and I’m inclined to think she is, just by your description). But it might be useful to talk with your manager and say something like, “Jane has been correcting me on things like X, Y, and Z. I think my way of doing those things is effective, but I wanted to check in with you to make sure there’s not something I’m missing.” Then, assuming your manager backs you up, which it sounds like you expect, you can use the language in my previous paragraph with confidence.

2. Employer stopped playing phone tag with my reference

I recently completed a second round interview for a job I was really excited about (according to the search committee, I was one of two finalists.) I know I probably shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up, but two days after the last full-day interview I had, one of my references told me they had gotten a voicemail from someone at the company about me. Later that day, my second reference told me they got a call as well. I was pumped.

Then a few days later, I found out I didn’t get the position. I reached out to my references to see what they thought of their calls and if there was anything they thought I could work on based on the questions they were asked. Guess what? It turns out that the reference they called first never even spoke to them! They left a voicemail like my reference said, and when my reference called back the next day he left a voicemail. His voicemail was never returned.

I don’t know what to make of this. Less than a week has gone by since my last interview. Could my reference not being available right away have cost me the job? I know it wasn’t either reference, especially if they never even spoke to the one. Why would an employee call a reference, leave a voicemail to call back, and then not even wait a day or two to call them back after one round of phone tag? I’m also incredibly embarrassed because now my references know I was being considered for a position and did not get an offer.

Part of me feels like I may have dodged a bullet, but I’m also incredibly disappointed in how things have turned out. I’m trying to figure out what lessons I can take away from this experience to make improvements for the next time.

The most likely explanation is that you were one of several finalists and in between the time they called your references and the time they would have called them back, they decided to hire one of the other people. It could even be that they’d already extended an offer to someone, but were continuing to keep the process moving with you in case that person didn’t accept. Or a really strong candidate emerged late in the process, or so forth.

So it’s not about your references not answering the phone immediately on the first call, but just about someone else ultimately being their pick.

3. Can I use info from recruiters when negotiating salary?

I am preparing for an annual review next month and am looking for some advice about negotiating salary. I’ve been at my job about three years. I’ve performed well, been promoted once, and am generally fairly happy. However, during my last review, I did a lot of research via Glassdoor and other salary estimation sites to help guide what my specific role and title should be in my market. I suspected I was underpaid and those tools confirmed as much.

However, when I broached the subject following my promotion, I was told that those sites are unreliable and that my title doesn’t necessarily mean the same level of responsibility as it might at other area firms. That seemed fairly reasonable to me at the time, but since my title change, I’ve been approached by quite a few recruiters via LinkedIn, offering me those same jobs with salary ranges that affirm or exceed what I had asked for.

I haven’t accepted any of those jobs (they either weren’t a fit or I just didn’t feel ready to make a move). So, is it possible to relay this information during my next review and let them know that I have real evidence I’m being underpaid?

Ugh, it’s frustratingly true that those salary sites can be really off, but it’s also possible that your employer was BS’ing you when they said that, or that they’re just unaware of what the market rate really is. And your experience with recruiters lends more credence to that idea.

You could indeed raise this again, saying something like, “I know when we talked about this last, you weren’t sure the salary research I’d done truly reflected the market for my specific role and title. I’ve since been approached by multiple recruiters offering me similar jobs in the range of $X-$Y, which I take as really solid information about the market. I’m happy in my role and don’t want to leave, but I also want to make sure that I’m being paid in line with the market, so I’m asking you to consider bumping me to $__.”

(Be prepared for them to ask questions about that — they might want to know that the roles you were approached about really are comparable to the work you’re doing now, and if they’re thinking about this rigorously, they’re going to realize that being recruited for a role isn’t the same thing as being hired, and the very reasons those jobs pay $X might be the reasons you wouldn’t want them, etc. etc. But if you’re confident that the data provides sound comparisons, this is reasonable to raise.)

4. Recruiter sent me a long text about believing in myself after I withdrew

I recently interviewed for a position involving working closely with kids, and after gaining further information about the position, I decided that I would not continue applying. The company itself seemed great, but it was just the position itself that wasn’t working with what I needed. I got this text afterwards, and I’m not sure what to make of it:

“When a recruiter tells you off record that she’s willing to help you with your application because she believes you are a good fit for the team, it may not be the best time to not believe in yourself. There are no perfect candidates. Everyone has something that they could contribute, and I believed you could connect with the introverted kids more. Now, if you truly would like to withdraw from being considered as a mentor, I understand- but you lose nothing by applying. Don’t deprive yourself out of opportunities. Fake it until you make it. While I appreciate your candor, I am sad to hear and am hoping for your reconsideration, especially since I cannot guarantee any results, the director of the program gets the final say. Let me know.”

I appreciate the intent, but I’ve never seen something like this before. What are your thoughts on this?

It sounds like the recruiter assumed you were withdrawing because you didn’t think you were a strong enough candidate. Assuming you didn’t say anything that could be interpreted that way, it’s an odd assumption — and a little condescending. You could reply with something like, “I appreciate your encouragement! I actually decided to withdraw because I’m looking for a role that’s more ____, but I wish you all the best in filling it.”

5. Hiring manager didn’t respond to my thank-you note — should I call her?

So I had an amazing interview last Wednesday. She said she was impressed with my questions, and I showed how excited I was to have the opportunity to grow on her team. She said she had a few more people to interview but I would hear back by the end of next week. Fast forward to the next week. I sent her a thank-you email on Monday and hadn’t gotten a response, so I called on Wednesday to confirm I had the email address correct. I was transferred to her office after I asked if she was available, and I was sent to voicemail. I am trying to figure out if I should call her again today, Thursday, or just wait for her to respond. Is she avoiding my calls because they decided to go a different way?

Do NOT call her again.

Most hiring managers don’t respond to thank-you emails, and you shouldn’t be concerned that you didn’t receive a response. It’s similar to gift etiquette, where if someone sends you a thank-you note for your gift, you’re not expected to then send them a thank-you for their thank-you because otherwise it would become an endless cycle of thanking. So it’s going to come across very strangely to call to ensure she got the note — and multiple calls would come across as really aggressive and pushy.

If you hadn’t called, I would say that if you haven’t heard from her by this coming Monday, it would be fine to check in once by email (not phone!) about whether she has an updated timeline for when she expects to make a decision. But because you’ve already called once, I’d give it longer — maybe until the end of next week. (Really, though, if she wants to hire you, she’s not going to forget to do it, so the best thing to do for now is to assume that you didn’t get the job, put it out of your mind, move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if she does get in touch.)

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