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Career Q&A | By Marie G. McIntyre, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

Q&A: Should new employee share opinions?

Q: Since joining this company a few weeks ago, I have noticed a lot of areas that need improvement. However, I'm not sure how honest I should be in sharing my views with management. In my previous job, I was always very open about my opinions. If I saw a problem, I simply described it to my boss and proposed a solution, but I'm not sure this would be welcomed in my new organization.  What do you think?

A: As a newbie, you are wise to be cautious about offering suggestions too quickly. Many recent hires unintentionally offend their new employer by criticizing current practices or making comparisons with their previous workplace. This is an easy mistake to make, because new arrivals are viewing everything with fresh eyes.

At the same time, however, you do want to give management the benefit of your experience, since that is presumably why you were hired. The secret is to present your ideas in a way that sounds respectful and helpful, not arrogant and critical.

To accomplish this, you must first take the time to understand why things are the way they are. If you have changed industries or moved to a different area, there will be a lot to learn about your new environment. You must also familiarize yourself with the company's history, culture, and leadership style.

When you do propose a change, make it a suggestion, not a directive. If you firmly declare that the company must get rid of its outdated software, you will sound inappropriately dictatorial. But if you offer to arrange a demonstration of the latest technology, you will appear to be helpful and forward-thinking.

To reduce defensive reactions to your suggestions, try using this simple three-step formula: make a factual observation about the current practice, ask a question to understand the past, then explain the benefits of your idea.

For example, you might start by saying "I've noticed that the shipping department uses a rather high-priced carrier. Was this vendor chosen for a particular reason?" If the justification seems less than compelling, offer your proposal: "I believe we could greatly reduce our costs by using a different carrier. Would you be interested in reviewing some other vendors?"

Finally, avoid making comparative comments that start with "at my last company." If you say this too often, people will begin to wonder why you didn't stay there.

Boss distributed personal info

Q: Is an employer allowed to distribute your personal information to the entire office? My boss recently sent out a list that included everyone's home address, spouse's name, cell phone number and emergency contacts. He never asked our permission to do this.

A: Not being an attorney, I can't answer your question from a legal perspective. However, from a management perspective, I can tell you that sharing employees' personal information without their consent is completely inappropriate. Your clueless boss may have had good intentions, but he apparently doesn't realize that many people like to keep their personal lives private.

Facing firing, new job search begins

Q: I have been told that if my performance does not improve, I will be fired. This company is not a good fit for me, so I want to start looking for another job while I'm still employed. However, I don't know what to say when interviewers ask why I want to leave my present position. What should I tell them?

A: Because there can be many different honest answers to the same question, you need to prepare a truthful response that does not raise any red flags.  Instead of describing your disappointing experience with your current company, explain why you are attracted to the organization where you are interviewing.

This means, of course, that you must do your homework, research potential employers, and determine what interests you about each one. Managers are always impressed with applicants who appear genuinely excited about coming to work for them.

Q&A: Should new employee share opinions? 05/05/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 5, 2012 5:30am]
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