Q: My 19-year-old son spent six months in jail for a probation violation. He was on probation because he took our neighbor's car without permission to go see his girlfriend.
Recently, he was turned down for a warehouse position after the employer learned about his arrest during a background check. How should he handle his record when looking for a job?
A: Because there are many ways to find work, I can't provide a one-size-fits-all answer to your question. However, I can offer two definite rules, plus some general guidelines.
The first rule is that your son must never lie on an application. In some situations, he may be able to leave the "arrest" question blank and explain later. However, when this is not possible, he should take advantage of any opportunity to provide an explanatory comment or cover letter.
The second rule is that he should never allow interviewers to discover this information for themselves, as he did with the warehouse job. Instead, he must be prepared to discuss his arrest in a way that will ease their inevitable concerns, emphasizing the lessons he learned from this misadventure.
Since "borrowing" a car and violating probation are signs of poor judgment, interviewers are likely to assume that your son would be an irresponsible employee. To counteract this impression, his answers, attitude and appearance must convey maturity and dependability. He will have to master effective interviewing techniques if he wants to outshine other applicants.
Networking will be a better job search strategy than submitting blind applications, because your son needs to be seen as a person, not a set of facts on a form. A reference from a common acquaintance can help to increase his credibility with interviewers.
The good news is that your son is young, and his offense was minor. Once he has a track record of successful employment, people will be less interested in his youthful indiscretions.
Co-worker spending inordinate amount of time on Facebook
Q: "Stephanie," one of my co-workers, has started spending a lot of time socializing online through Facebook and various chat sites. Stephanie has worked hard in the past, so maybe she's just not very busy right now. However, everyone else is completely swamped. What can be done about this?
A: If you think that Stephanie's lighter load is temporary, try asking if she has time to help out with some of your tasks. It's quite possible that she's bored and would appreciate a project. But if this disparity appears permanent, consider broaching the subject with your manager.
For example: "Lately I've noticed that our workloads seem unbalanced. Most of us are overwhelmed, but Stephanie has a lot of extra time. She's always been a hard worker, so I assume she doesn't have enough to do. I wondered if this might be a good time to review everyone's assignments."
Your boss may be surprised to learn about this problem, because managers are frequently clueless about the details of their employees' work.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics."