I don’t want to talk shop outside of work, a weird firing, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. I don’t want to talk shop when I run into a coworker outside of work

I have a coworker who I am sharing a few really challenging, long-term projects with. They’re great to work with and we’re getting a lot done.

Only problem is that we live in the same part of town and frequently bump into each other on the way in — which in of itself is fine but they often immediately start talking about work, including ideas they’ve just had and are expecting my opinion on.

I do care about my work and I am often thinking about it out of hours, but I don’t really trust my own analytical skills while I’m still digesting my breakfast and finishing my coffee and don’t have all the relevant info in front of me. It’s making me feel bad that I’m not ready to dive in immediately when they apparently are.

I know I could just say, “Oh, I don’t feel up to talking shop right now,” but I’m worried I’ll be shutting down their enthusiasm and i really don’t want to come across as saying “we should work less hard.” Any way I can navigate this?

No reasonable person will think you’re saying “we should work less hard” just because you’re not prepared to talk about work when they bump into you at a coffeeshop. Particularly reasonable people may even feel a little bad about not respecting your off hours.

It’s fine to be someone who’s up for talking about work whenever the opportunity arises. But politeness and consideration for others does require being attuned to cues that someone else may not be in the mood — and not judging them for it.

I would say this: “Do you mind if we wait until we’re both in the office? I’m not in work mode yet!”

That way you’re not explicitly saying “I don’t want to talk about work if I’m not on the clock.” You’re just pointing out that most of us have work modes and non-work-modes, and you’re in the latter.

2. My company fired me in a weird way

Two weeks ago, I was told that my job was not going to keep me past my 90-day probation. They told me I could work for the two weeks, get a paycheck, and they wouldn’t record that I got fired. They even told me I could use them as a reference and, if I did, to tell them what I said so they could corroborate it. The other strange part was I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone (clients or coworkers) I was leaving. They told two people who would be covering my duties and that was it.

Today was the first day I am not working. One of my coworkers reached out via Facebook to say they heard I left and then asked if I wasn’t happy or just found a better opportunity. So basically my old job lied to my coworkers about the nature of my departure. I guess my question is, why would they do all of this? As much as it was very nice of them to allow me to work and make some money, it doesn’t make sense to me. Especially if all of a sudden I was “making too many mistakes” that I was never warned of until my termination. People close to me think it’s sketchy. I’m just curious about why this scenario would occur. My manager chalked it up to my CEO’s “Christian nature.”

It sounds like a place that’s uncomfortable firing people and thinks it’s nicer for everyone to handle it like they did. It probably feels less adversarial to them to do it this way, and they’re hoping you’ll walk away feeling less bad than if they did it the traditional way, and they’re hoping it will be less jarring to your coworkers too. (They apparently didn’t count on the very normal possibility that you and your coworkers might still talk.)

Ideally they would have talked to you earlier about whatever problems they were seeing, but it’s also true that sometimes it’s really clear in someone’s first couple of months that they’re not going to work out, regardless of any coaching they’re given, and some companies figure this is what probationary periods are for. (It also wouldn’t be surprising if a company that’s deeply uncomfortable with honest messaging around firing also isn’t comfortable talking to people about performance problems.)

The thing that’s most troubling to me is that they told you to tell them what you tell future employers “so they can corroborate it.” If they’re offering to lie for you, that’s pretty sketchy, and it’s likely a reflection of how important it is to them to feel “nice” in this situation, even if it means being dishonest.

3. How can my resume show I’m a fast learner?

I’ve been looking for a job for several months now with little success in getting any interviews. I think I need to change my resume a bit, but I’m not exactly sure how. I worked as a quality assurance tester for about a year and a half, and I’m not sure how to list accomplishments for it. Sure, in an interview I could mention the things I’m proud of, but they seem like such strange things to put in a resume.

For example, the first week on the job (after training) I ran six times as many test cases per day as each of the other four girls who were hired into the same role. (In fact, I was doing so many that my boss accused me of having someone else do my work for me.) Another example is that I learn things incredibly fast, and all of my coworkers took notice of this fact and complimented me on it regularly. But anyone can write “fast learner” under their skills whether it’s true or not. Given that I have less than two years of full-time experience, I feel like my strength is that pretty much anything that is not already listed on my resume can easily be learned on the job. Is there really a way to say or show that on a resume?

Yes! How did you being a fast learner play out objectively? For example, did you continue running test cases faster than everyone else? If so, you can include something like “Processed X% more test cases than other testers each month” or even “fastest test case processor on team of 12” or “known as fastest test case processor on team of 12.”

And you could use that anecdote about your boss in your cover letter — as in, “I picked up the job so quickly that after my first week my boss asked if someone else was processing test cases for me — and was surprised it was just me.”

If you can, make sure that it’s not just about how fast you learn. Fast learning is great, but make sure you also talk about the differences once everyone else was trained too (if you can) since a few weeks of being ahead of everyone else won’t be as compelling as standing out from the pack longer term.

4. Applying at a company that fired me 10 years ago

I was let go from my very first job, just about ten years ago. I admit it was mostly my fault – I was coasting, and when a new supervisor came in I failed to get with the program. Apparently everything had gotten very lax before I ever got there, and the more exacting expectations were based on what should have been going on in the first place. I was very fortunate to get other work in the same field, and I have a lot more experience now, as well as hindsight of how badly I screwed up back then.

My current job is ending soon, so I have been job searching – and found a position at the same place as my first job, with similar job description. I would love to work there again if I can, but how do I go about it? Should I leave it off the resume, and only mention if they bring it up? Should I include it on the resume? Should I bring up my previous experience in the cover letter? Should I just not even try?

Well … I’d say that deck is stacked against you, but you can give it a try and see what happens. You might be marked as not eligible for rehire in their system, or there might be people there who remember the previous situation and aren’t up for giving you another chance. (To be transparent … unless you have a really stellar track record now, I probably wouldn’t be up for considering you this time around either, assuming there were other good candidates who didn’t have that spotty track record with us.)

If you apply, you definitely should include your previous job there on your resume. You want to be up-front that you’ve worked there before, because it’s in your best interests for that to be known from the beginning and not seem like something you were trying to hard. The worst-case scenario that you want to avoid is that no one involved in hiring remembers you, you get hired, and on your first day someone high-up says “Isn’t that Jane who we fired for poor performance some years back? How did she get rehired?” … and then you have a strike against you in people’s minds from the start and they may even be looking for ways to let you go. If it’s going to be an issue for you to return, it’s better to find that out right away.

5. Paid time office when an office closes for weather

Our company announced on the previous day that they might close at noon the following day due to a hurricane. In fact, they did close the office at noon. Those employees that did come in until noon were not docked four hours of PTO. Salary employees who did not come in put in for four hours of PTO being that the closed at noon but were docked for a full eight hours of PTO. Is this legal?

Yes. It’s also not terribly uncommon. It’s similar to what you see around around the holidays — for example, a company says it might close early the day before Christmas, then does, but still charges people who were out the whole day a full day of PTO. The idea is that if you planned to take the full day off, you got the benefit of planning for the full day off, whereas people who came to work had to plan to be at work the whole day.

More on weather closings here.

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