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

1. My employee spends too much time pontificating

I am a manager for a small but extremely busy office. I have one member of staff who is part-time and comes in only a few afternoons a week. She is a perfectionist and likes to always get everything right, but she wastes a huge amount of time pontificating about every little detail about her job, always making suggestions of how things could be done better, and constantly seeks my advice for even the smallest thing. I am always open to suggestions from all staff, but when she makes suggestions it is normally a long-winded conversation about how and why, etc. and I mostly end up explaining how we have either tried to do this before and it hasn’t worked and these are the reasons why, etc., but I am extremely busy and I am finding it really frustrating and a waste of time. She is also very quick to put other staff members down to me about mistakes she finds, even though they have more complicated and busier workloads and they are all there full-time.

We have two monthly team meeting and I always recommend for staff to email me suggestions for the next meetings, but she has emailed me more suggestions herself then everyone else but together in the whole team. She has also started to text me on my day off even though there are senior staff members to address queries to on that day. Any suggestions of how to handle this would be really appreciated.

“Jane, because you’re only here a few afternoons a week, I need you to spend that time focusing on your work. I’m finding we’re spending too much of your time here talking — going over suggestions and very small details about your job. Let’s plan to have one short meeting to check in each week (or every other week, if that’s more practical for the nature of her work and her limited hours), but otherwise I need you to stay focused on your work the rest of the time you’re here.” Then make that meeting for a specific amount of time (maybe 30 minutes, depending on what’s needed for her work), and stick to an agenda for it. This time should largely be for checking in on her progress, but you can set aside time at the end for anything she wants to raise. But stick to the time you’ve allotted for it, and make it clear that when that time is up, she goes back to her work.

When she puts other staff members down: “Lucinda is a great staff member and I’m surprised by your tone there.” And then if it happens again: “I’d hope you’d speak about any colleague here with respect. I’m concerned by the tone I’ve heard you using about this kind of thing a few times.”

When she texts you on your day off: “I’m not working today. Please contact Cecil.” (Or, if you can reasonably expect her to know what days you don’t work — if they’re always the same each week — it’s fine to address it once and then, after that, not respond until you’re back at work.)

But also: How good is she at her job? Is she a high performer? My hunch is that she’s not and that this might all be symptoms of a larger problem that you need to address. If I’m wrong about that and she’s great at her job, then just be really direct about these specific changes you need from her … but I suspect it’s worth taking a broader look at the situation.

2. Can my manager make me stay at work after I got sick and soiled myself?

I haven’t been feeling good for the past three days and today I ended up getting sick in the bathroom. I hadn’t used the restroom in a while so it caused me to urinate on myself. I found a female supervisor and she told me I couldn’t leave, and that because I’m wearing black no one would see. If I had left, I would be fired. I had to sit in my own urine. Can my manager do that?

Legally, yes. By any other measure — ethics, logic, basic humanity — no.

Throwing up at work is on its own reason to let you go home. Hell, simply saying you were very sick and needed to leave should be enough. Then throw in the rest of it, and you’re dealing with someone who’s most likely drunk on a small amount of power and has no idea how reasonable employers operate.

You said she’s a supervisor, not the supervisor, so it’s worth considering talking with someone higher up about what happened, and finding out if they really endorse her approach. If they do, you are working for extreme assholes.

3. Explaining why I’m looking to leave a job after three months

About three months ago, I accepted a contracted position under the guise that it would be more of a business analyst position. When I got here, it was actually data entry. I was understandably upset, but after talking to my recruiter, it became clear that there was nothing that I could do (besides look for another job).

I am now onto the second and third round interviews for two companies — both jobs I would love to have. The one recurring issue, however, is that my interviewers at both companies have had some very direct questions about how I came into my current position. I don’t want to say the truth — that I was lied to and am now stuck in a dead end contract — so I have been taking the candid approach. I gingerly let them know that I am grateful for the opportunity, but it just wasn’t what I expected. Sometimes this has a positive response, but sometimes it doesn’t. I am sure this is a common issue, so how can I gracefully overcome this career misstep?

Being ginger about it is probably making them think there’s something more to the story. You don’t need to dance around this. It’s better to just come out and say, “I was hired to do a business analyst position, but it’s turned out the work they need done is mainly data entry.”

I suspect you’re thinking that you’ve been told not to badmouth an employer in an interview, but this isn’t badmouthing them — it’s just giving a completely understandable explanation for why you’re looking to leave so quickly, and it’s an explanation that makes sense. If you said it in an angry tone or expressed personal enmity toward them, that would be a problem — but saying it calmly and matter-of-factly is fine.

4. How should I handle unsolicited vendor and recruiter emails?

My question is how to handle unsolicited business-to-business interactions. I work in a hot field (IT/security) and I have “manager” in my title. However, I do not have any direct reports, nor do I make hiring or buying decisions for my organization.

I get a LOT of unsolicited email. Some of it is straightforward junk, which I block and that’s that. However, some of it is from vendors or recruiters I don’t necessarily want to blow off — that is to say, if in five years I do have more hiring or buying authority, I don’t want to burn any bridges.

Until now, I’ve been ignoring both emails and Linkedin connection requests from these folks. I understand (although dislike) the kind of scatter-shot sales approach (email is cheap! even an insanely low conversion rate is revenue!). Should I start sending a short, canned response, clarifying my position and letting them know I’ll keep them in mind for the future? I don’t want to get into a sales-y cycle where they push for contact info for my organization’s buyers, but I also feel like leaving them hanging is a less-than-satisfactory answer for my career in the long term.

You are 100% okay just not responding. Delete and move on!

They are very, very used to get a high rate of non-responses to their emails. They expect it. It’s part of the job. It will not burn a bridge if you just don’t respond. You do not need to take time out of your day to send a polite “no thanks” to people trying to get you to buy things; you are allowed to treat it like any other unsolicited junk mail and just ignore it.

And if at some point in the future you decide you do want to contact them about potentially working together, they will be delighted by that and not irate that you didn’t respond earlier.

(All that said, if someone emails you repeatedly, it can be better for your in-box to reply and say, “I don’t have any purchasing/hiring authority, so please take me off your list.” And if they ask you to connect them to whoever does, you can say, “I’m not sure about that. But it’s definitely not me! Thanks for removing me.” But that’s only if someone is repeatedly contacting you.)

5. I was asked for an Informational Interview but I’m not sure I’m qualified

I just received a LinkedIn message requesting a 15-20-minute informational interview with a current student at my alma mater. She was very polite in her message and said she wanted to get more information about entering the field in which I work.

I’m generally someone who enjoys helping others and providing feedback or advice when I can. But I’ve only been working a little over a year. I graduated college back in May of 2017 and have been in my entry-level role for a little over a year. Am I really qualified to give advice to others when I’m so early on in my career myself? I know you’ve talked about imposter syndrome before, so I’m not sure if I’m experiencing that, or if I’m really just not qualified and should suggest she meet with someone more senior in their career.

You might actually be perfect for her to meet with, depending on what she wants to know. You’re well positioned to talk about entry-level work in the field — what hiring processes are like, what kind of work you’ve been giving, what has surprised you about the field, and lots of other things that people 10 years ahead of you might not remember nearly as well as you will since you’re right in the middle of it now.

But if you want to, you can make it clear to her that you’ll be bringing some limitations in your perspective by saying something like, “I’d be glad to talk to you, but I do want to make sure you know that I graduated a year ago and have only been working in the field since then. I’m happy to tell you about my experience so far, but I wanted to flag that in case you were seeking out someone with more experience to share.” My bet, though, is that she’ll find real value in talking to someone who’s just a little further along than she is.

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